Santa Cruz Wine Country

Wining, dining, and bowling in California's bohemian gem


Welcome to Snooth's guide to visiting Santa Cruz, or: "Going to San Francisco and taking a wrong turn on the way to Napa." This, of course, could also lead you to Sonoma, or the Sierra Foothills, or Santa Clara -- but none would deliver the same experience as a trip down coastal highway 1 to Santa Cruz.

Wine country can be a weird place. Certainly Napa is about as removed from reality as you can get and still be awake (and in the US). Santa Cruz is, and always has been, a refreshingly down-to-earth stop on my wine country tours. Where else can you taste great mountain Cabernets, ride a roller coaster, go bowling and get two scoops or a taco and call it a day?

The appeal of Santa Cruz is a bit, shall we say, bohemian in all its splendor. What’s not to like here? There is literally something for everyone: From the boardwalk to the farmer’s markets, the beach to the mountains, Santa Cruz is simply a great holiday destination.

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Not headed to Santa Cruz? Join on us on Snooth to discuss everything else wine-related, from travel to gifts to all of the little things that make this hobby so much fun (Cellars vs. Fridges - what's the verdict?). Drop by for a visit and let us know what's on your mind (and in your glass!)
Any visit to Santa Cruz has to start on the boardwalk.  For many people, it's what Santa Cruz is all about (besides the University), possibly because of the many movies that have been shot here. I mean, who can forget those scenes from Lost Boys filmed on the boardwalk? Check out the rides, mini golf, and arcade here for hours of adolescent fun.

After a visit to the boardwalk and an obligatory corn dog or (and) cotton candy you might want to indulge your adult side with a load of farm fresh fruits, veggies, and prepared food. The Santa Cruz Community Farmer's Market, at least the one located in downtown Santa Cruz, is open rain or shine every Wednesday afternoon from 2:30pm to 6:30pm.

If you need to find something a bit more “indoorsy” to do, check out the Seymour Marine Discovery Center. This aquarium is actually part of the University of California and is dedicated to preserving the unique biodiversity of the California Coastline.

Of course the real reason I’m visiting Santa Cruz is to try the fabulous wines. There are too many wineries in the region to visit in one day, but my short list of favorites would have to include the following:

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  • Soquel Vineyards is a must visit if you're in the Santa Cruz area. It's a beautiful drive up into the Santa Cruz mountains.

    The staff in the tasting room are wonderful whilst the winemaker prepares great pairings and lovely wood fired pizzas outside.

    The Partners Reserve Cabernet and the Pinots are fabulous. The barrel tastings are enlightening.

    + you can stop at the "Mystery Spot" on the way up/back and defy gravity.

    Do *NOT* miss this opportunity to experience such a beautiful vineyard in a mountain setting.

    Mar 23, 2010 at 2:12 PM

  • Google "Santa Cruz Mountains Wine Growers Association" (SCWMA passport) to find more information on this area and the wineries. Many of the them are located near the towns of Saratoga and Los Gatos which is inland 20 miles from Santa Cruz. Some of them are only open for tastings on "Passport Weekends".

    Mar 23, 2010 at 2:52 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    Great info. Thanks to you both.

    The mystery spot is a hoot!

    Mar 23, 2010 at 3:06 PM

  • Snooth User: bigtsur
    380658 94

    Ridge, Ridge, Ridge, need I saw more - used to be a SCruz resident - hopefully the Seabright Brewery and the Cafe next door is still going strong. Best mocha-chino I ever had.

    Mar 23, 2010 at 3:10 PM

  • Napa may be out of sight for most, but Sonoma is still wonderful as is the Alexander Valley.

    Mar 23, 2010 at 3:35 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    Love Ridge!

    Napa is sort of easy to, incorrectly, characterize as one place. Sonoma still has more diverse character, the north is different from the south, east from west. I know all you Napa-ites hate me for saying it, but that's just one man's view!

    Mar 23, 2010 at 3:46 PM

  • Snooth User: alex4
    Hand of Snooth
    318168 26

    Though they lost their original estate vineyard to Pierce's disease in 1994, and had to replant in Monterey County, you neglect to mention Bonny Doon Vineyard, who along with Jeff Emery and Michael Sones of Sones cellars forms a lovely small group of Santa Cruz-based wineries right at 328 Ingalls St.

    Mar 23, 2010 at 6:23 PM

  • Snooth User: palex
    420207 1

    River Run Winery in Aromas area is a gem.
    Check it out.

    Mar 23, 2010 at 9:37 PM

  • Couldn't agree more. I've only been to California once, and that was a long time ago (shame on you!), and I really liked Santa Cruz. Did quite a bit of all the cliché stuff such as that great coastal drive, but has to be done. And goes without saying that there are one or two rather good wineries in that neck of the woods!

    Mar 24, 2010 at 5:22 AM

  • Snooth User: NickG63
    435037 1

    Consider visiting the Santa Cruz Mountains this weekend. Pathway to Pinot Paradise will be held at 15 local wineries on Saturday, March 27. On Sunday, March 28, 32 local wineries will be pouring only Pinot Noir from the SCM AVA - location Villa Ragusa in Campbell.

    Nick Guerrero
    Vine Hill Winery
    Santa Cruz, CA
    Founded 1877

    Mar 24, 2010 at 2:37 PM

  • Snooth User: SMV
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    100512 13

    There are now some 80 wineries in the Santa Cruz Mountains - at least those listed on the SCMWA website at Maybe half have tasting rooms. You will find some of the best wine ever here - no kidding. And a wonderful tasting experience, with small boutique wineries where you can actually meet and talk with the winemakers; enjoy a drive through the mountains and the redwoods; breathtaking views; and then end up at the beach. Come and visit us!

    Thank you to Gregory Dal Piaz for visiting and writing about us.

    Join the Santa Cruz Mountains regional page here on Snooth at . Let's make it a vibrant, relevant page for fans of Santa Cruz Mts. wines.

    - Mary Lindsay
    Silver Mountain
    Muns Vineyard

    Mar 24, 2010 at 8:42 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 238,748

    Thanks Mary.

    Great tips, especially about joining the fan page!

    I'm looking forward to visiting several SCM wineries soon!

    Mar 25, 2010 at 2:23 PM

  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 4,989

    Kathryn Kennedy has often made interesting wines over the years. Too bad she's no longer around to interview, but the wines still bring their pleasant surprises....

    Apr 05, 2010 at 9:56 PM

  • Snooth User: Eekamouse
    479266 28

    I must also recommend the Chardonnay II tours - relax, take in the clean salt air and breathtaking views of the coast, while sampling local wines and savory samples of local chefs. They also have a myriad of other excursions.

    May 31, 2010 at 9:47 PM

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