You don’t have to go to the tourist hellscape that is Muir Woods to spend a day in the redwoods. The coastal giants still reign in the Santa Cruz Mountains (with just a fraction of the chaos of the northern groves) along with a quaint, old-school vibe that most of the Bay Area lost years ago.
It’s only about a 40 minute drive from San Francisco to the junction of Highway 35 in San Mateo. From there, it’s unspoiled forest, gorgeous views, low-key wineries, and comfort food all the way to Boulder Creek.
Hit the best of what the area has to offer on this day trip through the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Hike at Castle Rock State Park
The view from the Saratoga Gap Trail in Castle Rock State Park.
(Courtesy of @castlerock_sp)
Start the day with one of the Santa Cruz Mountain’s most beautiful hikes. The 5.6-mile Saratoga Gap and Ridge Trail Loop in Castle Rock State Park sweeps you out over craggy cliffs to reveal forest ridges that roll all the way to the Pacific. The path begins at the park’s generous parking lot and passes through redwood groves on its way to the grand (in the winter, at least) Castle Rock Falls. From there, take the trail clockwise. If you’re pressed for time, take Saratoga Gap only as far as the Interconnector Trail instead of completing the full loop.
// 15451 CA-35 (Los Gatos), parks.ca.gov
Lunch at the Sawmill
The Sawmill Restaurant and Alehouse in Boulder Creek.
(Courtesy of @thesawmillbc)
Head a few miles back to the junction of highways 35 and 9, then head south towards Boulder Creek and lunch. About 10 miles down, you’ll hit the Sawmill Restaurant & Alehouse, whose name nods to the logging origins of the forest hamlet. On nice days, their beer garden is a sunny place to dig into mammoth artisan burgers, overstuffed wraps, and towers of onion rings. If it’s foggy, they’ll have the heat lamps pumping.// 15520 CA-9 (Boulder Creek), thesawmillbc.com
Shop Local or Tour Hakone Gardens
Hakone Gardens in Saratoga.
(Courtesy of @hakonegardens)
After lunch, choose your own adventure.
Hunters of antique and vintage goods, head a couple miles south to Boulder Creek’s little downtown where a handful of small, locally owned shops are open for business. Swag(13026 Hwy 9) and Boulder Creek Antiques & Art(13164 Hwy 9) sell everything from vinyl records and fairy lamps to retro furniture and garden accouterments. You’ll find plants, tea, and other sustainably sourced items at Manipura Apothecary & Marketplace(125 Forest St.), and hand-blown glass vases, dishes, and jewelry at Viscosity Art Glass(13158 Hwy 9).Garden nerds, drive back up Highway 9 and continue almost all the way to downtown Saratoga. There you’ll find Hakone Gardens(21000 Big Basin Way), one of the oldest Japanese estates in the western hemisphere. Stroll among Hakone’s pools, waterfalls, cherry trees, and maples, each positioned precisely to evoke elements of the natural and spiritual world.
Santa Cruz Mountain Wine Tasting
Thomas Fogarty Winery.
If you’ve timed your day right, you should have just enough time to stop for a tasting at a Santa Cruz Mountain winery. If you’re coming from Boulder Creek, return up Highway 9 to Highway 35 and pull into Thomas Fogarty Winery(19501 Skyline Blvd., Woodside) where the grapes for their chardonnay and pinot noirs are grown on the estate’s 350 acres. Advance reservations are required.You can stop at Fogarty if you’re coming from Hakone too, but if you have extra time on your hands or you just can’t wait to get that sweet, sweet nectar, stop by Savannah Chanelle Vineyards(23600 Congress Springs Rd., Saratoga) on the way back to Highway 35. The adorably rustic winery, which makes pinot noir, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, and cab franc, is first-come, first-served and often has live music on the weekends.
Windy Hill + Dinner at Alice’s Restaurant
Alice's Restaurant in Woodside.
(Courtesy of @aliceswoodside)
For 60 years, Alice’s Restaurant(17288 Skyline Blvd., Woodside) has been a Santa Cruz Mountain fixture for everyone from bikers and hikers to local families and visiting tourists. Snag a seat on their patio and order up some Texas-style barbecue or a prosciutto, arugula and burrata pizza to nosh under the setting sun. Before you do though, make a quick stop at the Windy Hill Open Space Preserve(555 Portola Rd., Portola Valley) for knock-out views of the entire Bay Area. The summit is just a 10-minute walk from the road but you can get a good look from the parking lot if your legs have already clocked out for the day.