A full guide to the most beautiful Santa Cruz wineries and how to get the most out of wine tasting in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
When you think of California wine regions, your first thought is probably Napa or Sonoma, but one of the most underrated wine regions in the state is actually nestled right next to Santa Cruz.
Many people don’t realize just how many stellar wineries are hidden around the Santa Cruz Mountains. I know I didn’t, even though I grew up in Santa Cruz, until a few years ago when I did a wine weekend getaway in the area.
The region’s underrated nature is part of its charm though, with laidback wineries that are welcoming and which offer relatively inexpensive wine tastings that you don’t usually need reservations for.
You can expect Tuscan architecture, hiking trails, and sweeping views of the Santa Cruz Mountains and the Pacific Ocean below at some of these wineries.
And many of them are only a stone’s throw away from San Jose and not much further from San Francisco, so the area is also ideal for a day trip from either city.
If you’re looking for a good wine tasting alternative to Napa or Sonoma, it doesn’t get much better than this, which is why I put together this full guide to wine tasting in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
In this post, you’ll get the full rundown of how to do a self-guided tour of my favorite wineries in the region, what to expect, and how to get the most out of the experience.
Note: this post contains affiliate links, which help run this site at no extra cost to you so I can keep providing free travel tips and advice.
An Intro to the Santa Cruz Mountains Wine Region
The Santa Cruz Mountains have been a player in the California wine scene since the 1870s when the first vineyards were planted by Paul Masson and Charles Lefranc, but it wasn’t until 1981 that the region was recognized as an AVA.
Today, there are just under 300 small growers and wineries tucked away in the mountainous area between San Francisco and the Monterey Bay and even extending as far down as Gilroy.
This wine region is a unique one in that it’s a mountainous AVA with a rugged terroir that’s not the easiest for growing and harvesting grapes. But the grapes that do make it through the process turn into delicious wine.
Most notably, this region is known for its award-winning Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
The vineyards you’ll come across in the Santa Cruz Mountains are also small in size compared to the rolling vineyards you might visit in Napa.
Unlike the valley, in the mountains, vineyards stay compact and are usually located at higher altitudes that have more hospitable soil. This also means you’ll often get plenty of stunning views from the wineries in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Overall, when it comes to wine tasting the Santa Cruz Mountains, you can expect the following: unique and tasty wine, fewer crowds, less expensive tastings, stunning vistas and mountain views, and a convenient location that’s easy to get to from other parts of the Bay Area like San Francisco and San Jose.
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Wine Tasting in the Santa Cruz Mountains (Your Self-Guided Tour)
There are around 1,600 acres of wine country to explore in the Santa Cruz Mountains, including over 70 wineries and 100 small vineyards. In other words, there’s a lot to see and taste.
With so many options, it can be hard to know where to start, which is why I put together this self-guided wine tour for you that includes Regale Winery & Vineyards, Loma Prieta Winery, and Picchetti Winery.
These are my top three favorite Santa Cruz Mountain wineries, which I also think are some of the most beautiful.
Take your time at each one and really soak up what this wine region has to offer. And if you have more time at the end of it, I listed a few more wineries below that are also well worth a visit.
Regale Winery & Vineyards
24040 Summit Road, Los Gatos, CA 95033; (408) 353-2500
Open Saturdays 11 am – 4:30 pm (last pour at 4 pm) & Sundays 11am – 5 pm (last pour at 4:30 pm)
Price: $10-$15 tasting fee
Features: Tuscan-inspired architecture, colorful gardens, dog-friendly (must be on leash)
Regale Winery & Vineyards makes you feel like you’ve been transported to the Tuscan countryside. This beautiful winery was only established about a decade ago, but its features Old World vibes and a good variety of delicious wine. It’s especially known for its Pinot Noir and Cabernet.
I generally recommend starting with Regale because it’s such a tranquil and colorful spot with friendly staff.
It’s also usually the least busy of the three wineries (although it still has its busy days), so it’s a nice spot to relax while you gear up for your full day of wine tasting in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Before you leave, don’t miss walking around the property with its peaceful stone fountains and colorful gardens.
And just as a heads up, Regale Winery can only accommodate up to groups of six or less for wine tasting and it’s first-come, first-served with only wine club members able to make reservations. This is also a dog-friendly winery if you want to bring your pup.
Loma Prieta Winery
26985 Loma Prieta Way, Los Gatos, CA 95033; (408) 353-2950
Open Saturdays & Sundays (12 pm – 5 pm), Fridays (12 pm – 5 pm but only in June, July, and August)
Price: $5 tasting fee
Features: Stunning views, bocce ball court, giant chess/checkerboard, outside food allowed, kid-friendly, can accommodate large groups
Just down the road from Regale Winery, you’ll come across the unpretentious Loma Prieta Winery. This is one of the busier wineries in the Santa Cruz Mountains, but it’s popular for a reason.
The wine is delicious, the tasting fee is cheap, the views are incredible, and frolicking through their vineyards on a sunny day is hard to beat.
The unique touches you’ll find around the winery, such as the bocce ball court and life-sized chessboard, are fun additions, especially if you have kids since this is a kid-friendly winery.
Guests are also welcome to roam around the mountainous vineyard that features stunning views on a clear day and which only adds another layer to the wine tasting experience.
Another plus to this winery is that they allow outside food so this is an ideal spot for a picnic.
Loma Prieta Winery is the largest producer of Pinotage in North America. This is usually a very rare grape in California so you won’t want to miss out on tasting it at this winery. They also have a tasty Petite Sirah.
13100 Montebello Road, Cupertino, CA 95014; (408) 741-1310
Open daily from 10:00 am – 4:00 pm
Price: $15 tasting fee
Features: Historic property, nearby hiking trails, allows outside food, open every day
I recommend ending with Picchetti Winery because it’s located on such a large property that’s fun to explore after spending some time in their tasting room.
Located in rural Cupertino, Picchetti Winery is one of the largest wineries in the Santa Cruz Mountains (by square footage).
This is because it’s located on a large ranch that dates back to over 100 years ago. The property also features hiking trails and a beautiful tasting room that looks like a rustic barn inside (it’s every Pinterest dream come true).
When I visited, the staff were friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable with the 10 different wines we tried. We went through the spectrum of wine styles, but I especially liked their White Pavone.
They also offer Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Rose, Pinot Noir, Grenache, Malbec, among other common varietals.
This is another winery that you can bring outside food into. Although it doesn’t have the views that Loma Prieta has, it has a designated picnic area, complete with white and red checkered tablecloths that can be a good place to bring a picnic for the end of your wine tasting adventure.
Another great aspect about the winery is that it’s open daily instead of just on the weekends, a rarity with Santa Cruz wineries. So if you’re able to visit Picchetti Winery during the week, you can trade in the usual busy atmosphere with a more peaceful one.
Other Wineries to Visit if You Have More Time
17100 Montebello Rd, Cupertino, CA 95014; (408) 867-3233
Open daily, 11 am to 4 pm (by appointment only)
Another one of the more popular wineries in the Santa Cruz area, Ridge Vineyards is the next winery I’d recommend visiting after Regale, Loma Prieta, and Picchetti if you have more time.
At their Cupertino winery, you’ll be treated to sweeping views overlooking the Santa Cruz Mountains from 2,300 feet up.
Known for sustainable single-vineyard winemaking and organic wines, Ridge Vineyards has been making wine since 1962. Well, actually they’ve been making wine since 1885 when they were called Monte Bello Vineyard, but they rebranded to the winery they are today in 1962.
At Ridge Vineyards, tastings are $15 per person by appointment only and kept to six people or less. They’re especially known for their Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, and Chardonnay. No outside food or dogs are allowed.
24900 Highland Way, Los Gatos, CA 95033; (408) 353-6000
Open Thursday through Sunday from 12 pm – 5 pm
If you’re looking to pair your wine with live music, look no further than MJA Vineyards. This winery has two locations, but I highly recommend making the trip up to its summit location in Los Gatos for the panoramic views.
The founder of the winery, Marin John Artukovich (hence MJA), grew Kona coffee beans for over 20 years before making his way to California to start vineyards in Napa and the Santa Cruz Mountains.
You’ll still find some Hawaiian touches around the winery (and sometimes for the musical acts too) as well as their Kona Coffee for sale in addition to their variety of wines.
Since its opening, MJA Vineyards has won various awards in local competitions. They’re most well-known for their Napa Cabernets, but they also have a good Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc too.
Wine tastings are $15 per person and reservations are encouraged.
Bargetto’s Santa Cruz Winery
3535 N. Main Street, Soquel, CA 95073; (831) 475-2258 Ext. 14
Open daily, 12 pm – 5 pm
With a tasting room that’s located right in Soquel, Bargetto’s offers a convenient wine tasting stop for those who are based in Santa Cruz.
The winery has been producing wine since the 1930s and is especially known for its Pinot Noir, Merlot, Pinot Grigio, and Chardonnay. Don’t miss their signature La Vita wine, which is a blend of Dolcetto, Nebbiolo, and Refosco, and their award-winning fruit wine and honey mead.
Their tastings cost between $15-$20 and it’s recommended to make reservations ahead of time since their tasting room can get busy. This is another winery that’s open daily so a good one to visit during the week if you want to avoid the crowds.
Winery & tasting room: 1560 Pleasant Valley Road, Aptos, CA 95003; (831) 724-5030
Open Saturday & Sunday (by appointment only)
Tasting Room only: 303 Potrero Street, no. 35, Santa Cruz, CA 95060; (831) 458-5030
Open Friday & Saturday 12 pm – 5 pm (for sales and pickups only but they’re currently not doing tastings at this location)
Another winery that’s located right in Santa Cruz, Storrs Winery is probably the most popular tasting room for Santa Cruz residents and those based in Santa Cruz to visit. And they have two locations – their tasting room at the Old Sash Mill in Santa Cruz and their newer tasting room and winery in Aptos.
Started by two winemakers who went to UC Davis, Storrs Winery has been in operation since 1988 and is known for its organic, sustainably-produced wine, especially its Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Grenache, and Petite Sirah.
This small winery definitely has a local feel to it and is a good place to explore the wine scene in the city of Santa Cruz.
Tastings are $22-$30 per person and require a reservation.
300 College Ave, Los Gatos, CA 95030; (408) 354-6150
Open Thursday through Sunday from 12 pm – 7 pm
Similar to Regale Winery, Testarossa leans into that Old World ambiance with its Italian-inspired grounds and original stone cellars that date back to the 1800s.
Testarossa Winery is one of the more expensive wineries you’ll come across in the Santa Cruz Mountains but they produce high-quality wines that you can taste in a beautiful setting.
They’re most well-known for their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, which have both won numerous awards throughout the years.
And even though it’s one of the most popular wineries in the area, the sommeliers are always friendly and knowledgeable. And as an added bonus, they sometimes have live music at their Wine Bar that’s just behind the tasting room.
This is a good one to stop in at the end of the day if you’re heading back up north since it’s right on the outskirts of San Jose. It’s also a better one to visit on a Thursday or Friday afternoon if you can swing it since it can get very busy on the weekends.
Tastings at Testarossa start at $20 per person and reservations are encouraged.
How to Get Around the Santa Cruz Mountains
Since the Santa Cruz Mountains aren’t as popular of a wine region as others in California, there are not as many options for wine tasting tours.
Unfortunately, public transit isn’t a viable option either for getting between wineries. There’s no public wine shuttle and local buses are few and far between in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
If you have a designated driver, I’d recommended doing a self-guided tour. This also gives you more time to spend at each winery and the freedom to craft your own itinerary.
However, if you’d rather do a tour to not have to worry about driving, I’d recommend going with Mountains to the Bay or a private wine tour with The Santa Cruz Experience if you’re traveling with a bigger group and staying in Santa Cruz.
If you’re coming from San Francisco or San Jose, you can book a tour with Tommy John’s Wine Tours.
Tips for Visiting the Wineries in the Santa Cruz Mountains
- Roads can be winding – A good bulk of the Santa Cruz Mountains wine region is based around Hwy 17, Santa Cruz’s most accident-prone highway. And the roads off the highway to get to the wineries are usually just as winding. Be careful and give yourself plenty of time as you make your way to each winery and be prepared for winding mountain roads and highways when you’re getting around.
- Most wineries are only open on the weekends – Because of how small a lot of the wineries are around the Santa Cruz Mountains, most are only open on the weekends. There are some exceptions, but in general, it’s best to plan for a wine weekend as opposed to a wine tasting experience during the week because you’ll have a lot more options.
- Bring layers – Although the Santa Cruz Mountains are often warmer since they’re higher up from the coastline compared to the city of Santa Cruz, this is still the Bay Area so you’ll want to bring a layer or two in case the fog rolls in or it gets breezy.
- Pack a picnic – Although it can be fun to grab a wine and cheese plate while you’re at a winery, if you’re on a budget and looking to just spend money on the wine tastings themselves, it’s fun to pack a picnic. There are quite a few wineries that allow you to bring outside food in (like Loma Prieta Winery above) and with the stunning views, you can’t ask for a much better area to picnic in.
Where to Stay Near the Santa Cruz Mountains
Hotel Valencia Santana Row is easily my favorite hotel in San Jose with an impeccable location, super comfy beds, a delicious in-house restaurant and bar, and many Italian touches (it reminded me a lot of my time in Florence, Italy).
They’re also set up well for exploring the wines of the Santa Cruz Mountains with their Wine Weekend Getaway package, which includes free tastings and discount coupons for a bunch of different wineries, as well as a fully packed picnic to take with you.
This is the package we got when we stayed at the hotel and it made the whole experience of planning our wine trip around the Santa Cruz Mountains very stress-free.
Plus, San Jose is a good base for exploring the Santa Cruz Mountains wineries, especially if you’re coming from San Francisco but don’t want to go all the way down to Santa Cruz.
Check out their current rates here.
Note: Hotel Valencia Santana Row hosted my sister and me for our wine weekend getaway but, as always, all opinions are my own.
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