A Playground for Every Age Group
Bordered on one side by the Pacific Ocean and the other by the San Francisco Bay, the Santa Cruz Mountains are a short drive south from San Francisco. Part of the Pacific Coast Ranges, the region provides a relaxing escape from city life. Whether you’re looking for a round of golf, water activities, wine-tasting at mountain wineries, or good eating, the Santa Cruz Mountains are a playground for every age group.
On our first evening in the area, we opted for Chaminade Resort and Spa, located off Highway 1 south of Santa Cruz. Set atop a hillside with views of Monterey Bay, this Mission-style casual retreat is a great place to unwind. The 300 acres of woodland surrounding the resort make it feel like summer camp. The rooms are comfortable, but with all of the activities, you won’t spend much time inside.
The next night, we stayed in the foothills on the Eastern side of the mountains at the 1,700-acre luxe CordeValle Resort and Spa in San Martin. This secluded, lush resort offers top-of-the-line accommodations, amenities, and service. Whether you choose a room, a bungalow, a villa, or a house, your view is of the beautiful Robert Trent Jones, Jr. championship golf course. With a winery, spa, and delicious food on the property, there’s really no reason to leave.
Local ingredients are plentiful in the Santa Cruz Mountains. We started with lunch at the Summit Store near the start of our wine tour. This family-owned market has everything. You can’t miss with the loaded tri-tip sandwich and delicious food from the hot and cold buffets. Enjoy it all on the sun-drenched patio.
Even with the variety of restaurants in the area, we chose to eat where we stayed. At Chaminade, we enjoyed dinner at Linwood’s Bar and Grill. The spacious terrace with its gorgeous vistas is a peaceful spot, serving everything from ostrich carpaccio from Watsonville to homemade butternut squash and sage ravioli.
For Sunday brunch, we tried the sumptuous buffet at Chaminade’s Sunset Restaurant. The patio was a delightful perch from which to take in the view, watch the people and savor everything from appetizers to desserts.
Situated course-side outside the Pro Shop at CordeValle, the Lion’s Peak Grill is a comfortable setting for a light lunch. Whether it’s a sandwich, a salad, or a fresh fruit plate, you’ll find a good selection – but leave room for the chocolate-chip cookies.
The creative dinner menu at Il Vigneto, the signature restaurant at CordeValle, is locally derived and inspired by its Italian chef. For starters, we feasted on pressed watermelon and Dungeness crab with chili-lime dressing and aged balsamic vinegar. And for the main course, butter-braised lobster with sweet corn custard and a sea urchin and lobster emulsion. Choose one of your favorite Santa Cruz Mountain wines, warm up near one of the fire-pit heaters, and watch the sun set over the course.
If beaches and the Boardwalk are on your agenda, head straight for Santa Cruz and Capitola, only five minutes from Chaminade. Find surfing, kayaking, sailing, whale-watching, and many other water sports.
To unwind and rejuvenate, both the Spa at Chaminade and the Sense Spa at CordeValle offer luxurious treatments. Whatever you choose from the menus, the stress and strain of everyday life melt away. Then take a swim or just hang out at one of their pools.
There are links near Santa Cruz, but some of the best golf around is the 7,460-yard Course at CordeValle. With an environmentally sensitive blend of creeks, sycamore trees and meadows creating the course’s landscape, it’s made to be played by golfers of every skill level.
If golf isn’t your game, spend time in the redwood forests hiking, mountain biking, and visiting wineries. The Santa Cruz Mountains appellation has a unique combination of mountain terrain and ocean influences and boasts more than 70 wineries making rich, appealing wines.
We followed our own version of the Summit-to-Sea Wine Trail beginning at 1,600 feet and the Burrell School Vineyards and Winery. Known for their handcrafted estate wines (and historic red schoolhouse), try the 2007s – Teacher’s Pet Chardonnay, Spring Break Syrah and Extra-Credit Cabernet Franc. Right next door is Regale Winery and Vineyards, an elegant setting complete with rose gardens and Italian architecture. Their small lot wines include estate 2008 Pinot Noirs and 2007 Barbera.
Continuing south on the trail through the forest, our next stop was Soquel Vineyards with its knockout views of Monterey Bay. This boutique winery produces a number of wonderful varietals. Don’t miss the Lester Vineyards Pinot Noirs, the 2007 Sangiovese and the 2008 Zinfandel.
Just down the road, an old apple orchard was transformed into Hunter Hill Vineyard and Winery. This family-operated winery makes award-winning wines (like the 2010 Estate Pinot Noir and the 2010 Old Vine Zinfandel) which visitors can taste at the redwood bar (see if you can find the dog’s face in the wood burl surface!) or outside on the scenic grounds.
Nestled in the foothills on the CordeValle property, take in the scene while enjoying wine at Clos LaChance Winery. Savor the 2009 Liebeler Vineyard Chardonnay and the 2007 Reserve Petite Sirah among the other varietals produced.
In downtown Santa Cruz, stroll tree-lined streets full of stores, sidewalk performers, and great people-watching. From surf shops to boutiques full of jewelry, ceramics, and glassware, local artisans abound. There’s even a public art walking tour.
If you want shopping in a smaller, quainter environment, visit Capitola. For wonderful antique shops, try Soquel and Aptos. The Santa Cruz Mountain Arts Center offers classes, workshops, and music events in addition to the gallery exhibits.
All of the towns have fantastic farmers markets. Many of the museums and state parks operate specialty gift shops. And don’t forget to purchase wine at the wineries you visit.