Parks and wineries line Hecker Pass Highway near Gilroy


With so many twists and turns on the way to Mt. Madonna's1,309-foot peak, driving up sloping Hecker Pass Highway (State 152)is invigorating. The views up top are equally thrilling, lookingeast over Santa Clara Valley and west to Monterey Bay. But don'trush: This drive is best enjoyed by taking your time, stoppingalong the way at pretty parks and boutique wineries.

Just west of Gilroy, wineries beckon before the road begins toclimb. After passing the colorful 17-acre flower gardens atGoldsmith Seeds (2280 Hecker Pass Hwy.; 408/847-7333), you can check out therides and botanical marvels at Bonfante Gardens Family Theme Park ($32; 10-6 Sat-Sun; 3050 Hecker Pass Hwy.; 408/840-7100). Orhead straight to Hecker Pass Winery (10-5 daily; 4605 Hecker Pass Hwy.; 408/842-8755) and SolisWinery (11-5 daily; 3920 Hecker Pass Hwy.; 408/847-6306).

A detour north leads to Chitactac-Adams Heritage County Park(10001 Watsonville Rd.), where a 1-mile loop trail follows UvasCreek. Rocks here are pocked with grinding holes, and interpretivesigns describe life long before the Spanish planted winegrapes.

One mile farther north, Kirigin Cellars (10-5 daily; 11550 Watsonville Rd.; 408/847-8827) offerssamples of Cabernet and Pinot, and, surprisingly, weekend cricketmatches in the field behind the tasting room.

The real payoff is at the mountain's peak: At Mt. Madonna CountyPark ($4 per car; 7850 Pole Line Rd., at summit of State 152),you can explore cattle baron Henry Miller's crumbling estate, savorshade under the redwood trees, and hunt for wildflowers on thepark's 20 miles of trails.

A deviled egg sandwich and iced tea at the Mt. Madonna InnRestaurant ($$$; 1285 Hecker Pass Rd.; 831/724-2275) are a nice cap forthe day. The dining room offers magnificent views looking west tothe ocean over the fields of Watsonville ― a preview in caseyou're itching to continue the long, winding road to the sea.

Where's Hecker Pass?

From Gilroy, State 152 heads west 18 miles to Watsonville,crossing Hecker Pass. For area information, contact the GilroyVisitors Bureau (408/842-6436). For information on all parks listed, contactSanta ClaraCounty Parks and Recreation (408/355-2200).

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