These driving tours show the Santa Cruz Mountains at their best. You’ll probably want to do only one per day. The curviness of the roads and the beauty of the scenery make these journeys worth savoring rather than rushing through.
For general information about the area, contact the Santa Cruz County Conference & Visitors Council (1211 Ocean St., Santa Cruz; www.santacruz.org, 800/833-3494, or 831/425-1234). For appellation information and a free wine-touring map, contact the Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Association (7605 Old Dominion Ct., Ste. A, Aptos; www.scmwa.com or 831/479-9463).
This 65-mile, 5-hour tour starts in Saratoga and runs along State Highways 9, 236, and 17. Highlights include California’s oldest state park and the towns of Boulder Creek, Ben Lomond, and Felton. The road to Big Basin is quite winding, with nice views and awe-inspiring trees.
1. Savannah-Chanelle Vineyards. Established in 1892; great Pinot Noir. 11–5 daily. 23600 Congress Springs Rd., Saratoga; www.savannahchanelle.com or (408) 741-2934.
2. Big Basin Redwoods State Park. California’s oldest state park encompasses 18,000 acres, with 80 miles of trails. The 11 1/2-mile round-trip Berry Creek Falls hike is challenging but rewarding. For a shorter loop, take the 1/2-mile Redwood Trail. $5 per vehicle. 21600 Big Basin Way, Boulder Creek; (831) 338-8860.
3. Blue Sun Cafe. Wholesome organic breakfasts and lunches. 13070 State 9, Boulder Creek; (831) 338-2105.
4. Scopazzi’s. Traditional Italian lunches and dinners. Wed–Sun. 13300 Big Basin Hwy., Boulder Creek; (831) 338-6441.
5. Hallcrest Vineyards and the Organic Wine Works. Both brands are produced here, with Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Zinfandel. 12–5 daily. 379 Felton- Empire Rd., Felton; (800) 699-9463 or (831) 335-4441.
6. Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. The 3/4-mile-long Redwood Grove Trail loops around some of the park’s most impressive trees. $5 per vehicle. 101 N. Big Trees Park Rd., Felton; (831) 335-4598.
Start this ambitious but highly enjoyable 84-mile, 4 1/2-hour westside tour―actually two loops―in Santa Cruz, and cut through Felton and Scotts Valley to take in three stellar parks, plus wineries and views of the ocean. Or just do one of the loops for a shorter but still very scenic trip.
7. Empire Grille. Excellent burgers. 6250 State 9, Felton; (831) 335-2127.
8. Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park, Fall Creek Unit. Hike the Kiln Trail in this discrete section of Cowell state park to see Fall Creek, bigleaf maples, and abandoned limekilns. Off Felton-Empire Rd., about 1/2 mile west of junction with State 9, Felton; (831) 335-4598.
9. Bonny Doon Vineyard. Unusual, character-filled wines. 11–5 daily. 10 Pine Flat Rd., Bonny Doon; (831) 425-4518.
10. Wilder Ranch State Park. The moderate 3-mile Engelsmans Loop Trail passes the historic ranch and offers views of the ocean. $5 per vehicle. 1401 State 1, 2 miles north of Santa Cruz; (831) 423-9703.
11. The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park. Hike through redwoods to the Loma Prieta quake’s epicenter on the Aptos Creek Trail (3 1/4 miles). $2 per vehicle. Aptos Creek Rd. at Soquel Dr., Aptos; (831) 763-7063.
12. Burrell School Vineyards. Nice Pinot Noir and Chardonnay; tastings in a white 1890 carriage house. 11–5 Sat–Sun, or by appointment. 24060 Summit Rd., Los Gatos; www.burrellwine.com or (408) 353-6290.
This 73-mile, 4-hour route starts in Los Gatos; after following State 9, the trip passes through Boulder Creek and Ben Lomond, and cuts over to State 17 via Bear Creek Road. Riding along ridgetops, you'll catch great views both of the ocean and of Monterey Bay. You can rent a paddleboat, hike, or fish at Loch Lomond Reservoir. David Bruce and Byington are large wineries by Santa Cruz Mountains standards.
13. Castle Rock State Park. The Skyline-to-the-Sea Trail starts at the ridgetop here. $5 day-use fee. 15000 Skyline Blvd., Los Gatos; (408) 867-2952.
14. Ciao!Bella!! Wacky, kitschy Italian restaurant where servers also sing and dance. Dinner only. 9217 State 9, Ben Lomond; (831) 336-9221.
15. Tyrolean Inn Restaurant. Smoked fish, schnitzel, and other German food. Dinner Tue–Sun, brunch Sun. 9600 State 9, Ben Lomond; (831) 336-5188.
16. Loch Lomond Recreation Area. Three-mile-long reservoir in a hidden valley is popular with fishermen. $4 per vehicle. 100 Loch Lomond Way, Felton; (831) 420-5320.
17. Byington Vineyard & Winery. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, with views of redwoods and Monterey Bay. 11–5 daily. 21850 Bear Creek Rd., Los Gatos; (408) 354-1111.
18. David Bruce Winery. Excellent Pinot Noir in a sleek tasting room. 12–5 Mon-Fri, 11–5 Sat–Sun. 21439 Bear Creek Rd., Los Gatos; (408) 354-4214.
Boulder Creek Golf and Country Club. Close to Big Basin Redwoods State Park, with condo-style lodging around a golf course. From $116. 16901 Big Basin Hwy., Boulder Creek; www.bouldercreekgolf.com or (831) 338-2111.
Historic Sand Rock Farm B&B. 1910 house with five rooms. From $185 (includes breakfast). 6901 Freedom Blvd., Aptos; www.sandrockfarm.com or (831) 688-8005.