The Santa Cruz Mountains beckon with adventure and intrigue a quick skip from San Jose. Here’s how we’d spend a day exploring the mountains and coast.

With so much to do within a block or two of Hotel Valencia Santana Row, it’s hard to imagine you might be interested in venturing away from the fashion and finery. However, an equally enthralling day trip adventure awaits travelers in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

A daylong road trip to the nearby mountains offers a change of scenery and the opportunity to see some once-in-a-lifetime, nowhere-else-on-Earth sights. Follow this route to the Santa Cruz Mountains, and in no time, you’ll find yourself wandering among towering redwoods, nibbling on gourmet ice cream, watching 25- to 60-foot waves crash, and more.

The Redwood Grove Loop Trail at Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park

From San Jose, head south on Route 17 toward the Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park. Deep in the heart of the Santa Cruz Mountains, this pristine park is home to the only remaining old-growth redwood grove in the area, and the three-quarter-mile Redwood Grove Loop Trail that winds its way through the massive giants is a must-see walking adventure.

The vivid and saturated green of the undergrowth is juxtaposed with the towering trunks of the redwood trees in this temperate coastal rain forest. The redwoods along the trail top out at 300 feet tall, and some of the behemoths might be as old as 2,000 years. Just make sure you have some headphones and your phone on you so you can queue up the Henry Cowell Redwood Loop Trail Interpretive Audio Tour as you explore the park.

The Penny Ice Creamery

After working up an appetite in the redwood grove, head back south on Graham Hill Road to downtown Santa Cruz for a taste of artisanal ice cream so good it has a cult-like following. Housed in a Spanish Colonial Revival building renovated into a bright, warm, and modern gathering space, you’ll find Penny Ice Creamery.

Everything is made in small batches with locally farmed, organic ingredients, and flavors change seasonally, so you never know what whimsical ice cream experience you’ll find. While Curried Caramel Peanut, Candy Cap Mushroom, and Cardamom Pistachio Chocolate Chip all offer wonderfully quirky takes on traditional favorites, make sure you try the exceptional Tahitian Vanilla Bean – it’s rumored to be made with Thomas Jefferson’s original recipe.

Maverick’s Beach

Satiated from a sweet treat, hop in the car and head north on Highway 1 for a drive along some of California’s most beautiful coastline. After an hour and 15 minutes, you’ll find your way to your next stop: Maverick’s Beach in Princeton-by-the-Sea.

In the waters off of Pillar Point, there lies a unique underwater rock formation that results in a massively big break in the winter, when the waves can swell to as high as 60 feet. The waves are so big, in fact, that their crash can be recorded on the Richter scale. This legendary surf spot is one of the state’s best to watch world-class athletes throughout the year, although come winter the competition really heats up at Maverick’s Beach thanks to the invitation-only Titans of Mavericks surf competition.

To view the surf from the safety of the shore, take Highway 1 into Princeton-by-the-Bay, then turn north onto West Point Avenue. Head to the Pillar Point Marsh parking lot, then hike down the trail to the harbor. Take a right to follow the trail around the jetty, keeping an eye on the surf. What looks like a massive golf ball on a tee marks the end of Pillar Point – it’s part of the Pillar Point Air Force tracking station. Just below the point and slightly offshore is where the waves will be breaking, if the conditions are right.

Alice’s Restaurant

Even if you didn’t surf the big waves at Maverick’s, the adrenaline is enough to work up an appetite. From Maverick’s Beach, take Highway 1 south to Half Moon Bay, then hop on Highway 35 and head southeast to Alice’s Restaurant.

This quaint burger joint along Highway 35 is known as a gathering spot for those visiting the Santa Cruz Mountains, including motorcyclists, hikers, equestrians, writers, musicians, locals, tourists, and even Silicon Valley entrepreneurs.

Named for both former owner Alice Taylor and the Arlo Guthrie song of the same name (the song’s real namesake is actually in Massachusetts), this world-famous eatery serves mouthwatering food made from the finest locally sourced ingredients. Grab one of their craft burgers and savor it outdoors while you people-watch on Alice’s deck, or take it to go in order to have a snack on the road.

Thomas Fogarty Winery

At this point, you’ve crossed off some of the must-visit sites beyond San Jose’s limits, but there’s one last stop you need to make before you complete your return leg to Hotel Valencia Santana Row.

Northern California is known for its high-elevation vineyards, and one of the pillars of the Bay Area’s wine scene can be found on the Skyline Ridge of the Santa Cruz Mountains just a few miles south of Alice’s Restaurant. The 30-acre Thomas Fogarty Winery, founded by Thomas Fogarty and Michael Martella, has been honing its organic farming techniques, which include minimal irrigation, since 1981. The tasting room is open most afternoons and offers sweeping views of the Bay, a sweet finishing note to your day trip as you sip one of vineyard’s signature chardonnays and pinot noirs.

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