Bordered by the Pacific Ocean and the San Francisco Bay, the Santa Cruz Mountains are a short drive south from the the City. 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, or good eating, the Santa Cruz Mountains are a playground for all ages.
On our first evening, we opted for Chaminade Resort & Spa (One Chaminade Lane, Santa Cruz, 831-475-5600, www.chaminade.com) 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 surrounding woodlands 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 & Spa (One CordeValle Club Drive, San Martin, 408-695-4500, www.rosewoodhotels.com). This secluded, lush resort offers top-of-the-line accommodations, amenities and service. Whether you choose a room, bungalow, villa, or 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.
There are also a full range of accommodations in down-town Santa Cruz and colorful Capitola.
If beaches and the Boardwalk (www.beachboardwalk.com) 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 to melt away the stress and strain of everyday life. Afterward 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 for 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 (www.summittoseawinetrail.com) beginning at 1,600 feet and the Burrell School Vineyards & Winery (24060 Summit Road, Los Gatos, 408-353-6290, www.burrellschool.com). Known for their handcrafted estate wines (and historic red schoolhouse), try the 2007 Teacher’s Pet Chardonnay, Spring Break Syrah and Extra Credit Cabernet Franc. Right next door is Regale Winery & Vineyards (24040 Summit Road, Los Gatos, 408-353-2500, www.regalewine.com), an elegant setting complete with rose gardens and Italian architecture. Their small-lot wines include estate 2008 Pinot Noirs and 2007 Barbera.
Just down the road in a transformed old apple orchard is Hunter Hill Vineyard & Winery (7099 Glen Haven Road, Soquel, 831-465-9294, www.hunterhillwines.com). 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 (1 Hummingbird Lane, San Martin, 800-487-9463, www.clos.com). Enjoy 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 jewelry, ceramics and glassware boutiques, 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 (9341 Mill Street, Ben Lomond, 831-336-3513, www.mountainartcenter.org) offers classes, workshops, and music events in addition to the gallery exhibitions.
All 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.
Local ingredients are plentiful in the Santa Cruz Mountains. We started with lunch at the Summit Store (24197 Summit Road, Los Gatos, 408-353-2186, www.facebook.com/SummitStore) near the beginning 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 & Grill. The spacious terrace with gorgeous vistas is a peaceful spot, serving everything from Watsonville ostrich carpaccio to house-made 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, people watch, 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 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 driven 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.
Santa Cruz County Conference and Visitors Council: www.santacruz.org
Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrowers Association: www.scmwa.com
Santa Cruz Travel Guide: www.santacruz.org
Capitola Village by the Sea: www.capitolavillage.com
Patty Burness can be found on Twitter at @pattygb or reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org