The Santa Cruz Wine Guide: A day trip itinerary to sip and see the sights in our favorite seaside city.
Santa Cruz may be known for its red woods and ocean breeze – but we’re in it for the wine, too. Ranging from 2600 ft at the summit to 400ft elevation on the coastal side of the mountains, Santa Cruz Mountains is one of the most interesting and diverse American Viticulture Areas (AVA). Santa Cruz wineries are exposed to a massive range of humidity, sunlight and temperature leading to complex, terroir-driven wines upheld by only the finest of vintners – so we couldn’t help but create a Santa Cruz winery guide to introduce you.
In the last few years, there have been an increasing number of world class wines coming out of the Santa Cruz Mountains and people are beginning to recognize the appellation. With tiny vineyards tucked away amongst the redwood mountains, access is less direct – and the wine is more boutique. Directly influenced by the Pacific Ocean with its sandstone and schist soils, the region boasts some not-to-miss cool-climate wines like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. The future of this seaside city’s cool-climate wines is a bright one – here’s where to start.
Most come to Santa Cruz for the ocean, and stay for the wine, so it’s best to start the day with a bit of an adventure.
Nisene Marks State Park is our go-to. It offers incredible hiking and biking in the lush redwood forests of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Bring a sundress or shorts to change into afterwards – the vibe in Santa Cruz is casual and outdoorsy.
If walking between tasting rooms is enough movement for you (zero justification needed), head to the ocean instead. You can park at Seacliff State Beach, enjoy a breakfast picnic, and soak in views of the Pacific.
Need a boost before a day of booze? We can’t recommend the charming Cat & Cloud Coffee enough. Swing by and grab one of their esteemed cups of joe – you’ll be smack dab in the middle of the tasting rooms and ready to roam.
There are too many good ones to choose from, but we have three tasting rooms you can’t miss – and they’re all walkable from one another.
First up, Nicole Walsh’s Ser Winery offers a range of unique wines and wine styles sourced throughout the Central Coast from Sparkling, White, Rosé to Red wine. They have rare and distinct varieties – like Cabernet Pfeffer – you may not have an opportunity to taste anywhere else. There are only ten acres of Cabernet Pfeffer planted in the world, most of it from Wirz vineyard – a dry-farmed, old-vine vineyard in the Cienega Valley. We loved this wine so much that we put it in a Maker can! Grab a reservation and taste through these special wines on their outside patio complete with canopies and heaters and enjoy a sneak peak of the ocean – they’re open Thursdays and Friday 3-7pm, Saturday 2-7pm, and Sunday 2-6pm.
Sante Arcangeli is a family-owned winery with Pinot Noir worth traveling miles for. Small but mighty, they’ve recently been recognized as one of most iconic wineries in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Right now, their Aptos tasting room is open for outdoor tastings from 12-5pm Friday-Sunday. In quirky Aptos fashion, they share a building a shoe shop so you can browse footwear while sipping some vino (it really can’t get better than that).
Armitage is another hotspot for Pinot. Winemaker Brandon Armitage has a knack for cool-climate grapes from time spent in New Zealand, and carries that passion forward in his Santa Cruz wines. Reservations are recommended to try his swoon-worthy wines; visit the tasting room from 3-8pm on Fridays, 12-8pm on Saturdays, and 12-7pm on Sundays. We can’t recommend it enough.
Keep the momentum going and walk to one of the delish dining options Aptos has to offer for dinner.
If you’re still in the wine tasting spirit, Cantine Winepub is the place to go. It’s got the homegrown feel of your local dive as well as the taste and trendiness of a California wine bar. Grab a bottle of a local wine and dig into their delish menu
Steps away you’ll find Mentone, which is another tried and true favorite. Grab a Neapolitan pizza to go with your vino and devour it on their cozy dog-friendly patio.
For a treat, make a reservation at Cafe Sparrow to enjoy unbeatable French food by Michelin star chef David Kinch.
Desert? Some Maker Cab Pfeffer (our Santa Cruz wine) and your favorite chocolate bar – it really is the little things.