We discovered a whole new world of Northern California when we took the back roads to Gilroy, Watsonville, Salinas and Carmel. These towns are located in the verdant Santa Clara Valley, Santa Cruz & Monterey counties that is home to “Artichoke capital of the world,” and “Salad Bowl of the world.” The arrival experience to these towns via the back roads was delightful and so different from the highway experience. We got to see a very different side of these towns famous for their produce, wineries and art deco buildings.
For our road trip we used Google maps with the option to avoid highways. We discovered that in some parts of our journey we lost our phone connection, but that was ok with us. You may want to download the directions and maps as a backup in case you need help. We started off from Silicon Valley and our goal was to enjoy the ride and not be stressed about when we reach Carmel. Typically, you can reach Carmel in about 90 minutes when you travel via highway 101 that runs like a deep, ugly gash through these verdant towns. The highway experience totally robs you of a delightful drive through these towns to discover and savor new vistas, food and wine along the way.
Our first stop was Gilroy. For the first time I saw the Uvas river that flows through this region. We stopped at a vista point and watched a fly-fisher lost to the world of fishing. Now, this is not a common sight in the humdrum of our lives in Silicon Valley.
We hopped back to our car and continued driving through Gilroy. The road looked kind of familiar to me. I suddenly realized we were on a road where a bunch of wineries are located. In the past I had traveled to this part of Gilroy after exiting highway 101. I had not traveled to Gilroy using the back roads and that is why I did not recognize the road right away. We made a quick stop at Kirigin Cellars and tried a flight of red and white wines. The wine tasting at Kirigin Cellars are free.
After that pleasant break at Kirigin we got into our car and bowled along a narrow and winding road flanked by thick vegetation on either side. We drove past Mount Madonna County Park and descended into Watsonville, which is famous for its fruits and vegetables. We drove through mile after mile of farmland growing berries, apples and other crops.
I suddenly spotted a sign for Gizdich Ranch and we decided to stop and check it out. I had heard a lot about the famous Gizdich Ranch pies, but had never tasted it. Sure, I had seen those Gizdich Ranch pies in my local grocery stores, but had never bought one.
Gizdich Ranch turned out to be a delightful experience, where we discovered fresh pressed apple juice, freshly picked apples and a very, very long line for a slice of that famous Gizdich Ranch pie. The lady ahead of me in the pie line recommended I try the Dutch Apple pie, and that is what we got. The pie, apple cider and apples were a big hit with us. Next time I go to Gizdich Ranch I am picking up a full pie and not settle for a slice of that heavenly pie. Why is there no picture of the famous pie you ask. Well, I got to save something for my next visit, right?
We left Gizdich Ranch and discovered a whole bunch of places that I wanted to explore. I put these places down on my list for our next trip to Watsonville. It was way past lunch time and I was feeling peckish. We made our way to downtown Watsonville in search of Mexican food. We ended up at Jalisco Restaurant in downtown Watsonville and had a tasty meal of vegetarian burrito. Now that we had fed ourselves it was time to resume our journey to Salinas, which is known as the World’s Salad Bowl.
We slowly made our way through the narrow road to Salinas known as America’s Salad Bowl. Boy! this town was a total surprise with its wonderful downtown and art deco buildings. Salinas is the home to John Steinbeck, the American author, who wrote so eloquently about his town. We did not stop by the Steinbeck library or his home saving those visits for our next trip to Salinas. We stopped by the visitor center in downtown Salinas and discovered a trail of wineries just a few miles down south. Since it was already past 4 pm that left us with little time to explore the wineries. So, the wineries made it to my list of things to see in Salinas for our next trip.
In the past we had driven past Salinas on highway 101 and had no idea that we had missed out on this wonderful little town.
We had a wonderful cup of coffee in one of the cafe in downtown Salinas and continued on with our unhurried drive to Carmel. It was a little after 4 pm when we left Salinas for Carmel.
We had been on the road for a little over 6 hours and were surprised how relaxed we felt. I had never taken the back road to Carmel and was in for lots of little surprises as we meandered through the narrow road to Carmel. The surprises were the wonderful glimpses of Carmel valley as we drove down to the town. By the time we arrived in downtown Carmel it was a little past 7 pm. The place was packed with visitors and tourists. We slowly made our way to Carmel Bakery & Coffee House where we had some pastries and coffee. The bakery is over 100 years old and is a popular place to nosh.
After walking around for a bit we reluctantly got back into our car and made our way back home via Highway 101. Yes, we ended by using the highway back home.
If you have never taken the back roads to Gilroy, Watsonville, Salinas and Monterey may I suggest you give it a spin? It will make your day. It made our day.
Here are the places we visited on this trip.
Kirigin Cellars: 11550 Watsonville Rd, Gilroy, CA 95020
Gizdich Farm: 55 Peckham Road, Watsonville, CA 95076
Salinas in Monterey county
Jalisco Restaurant: A 618 Main Road, Watsonville, CA 95076
Carmel Bakery: Ocean Avenue, Carmel-By-The-Sea, CA 93923