We discovered a whole new world of Northern California when we took the back roads to Gilroy, Watsonville, Salinas and Carmel.  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.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.”

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. 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 activities of our existence in Silicon Valley.

Gilroy Gilroy Gilroy

After spending some time at this vista point by the Uvas river we hopped back into our car and continued driving through  to Gilroy. The road looked kind of familiar to me when it suddenly dawned on me that 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. And, if you are a cricket fan then you may like to wander to the back of the winery and take a dekho at the cricket filed. Apparently this is the only winery in Northern California that has a cricket field.

kirgin Cellars


After that pleasant break at Kirigin we continued on our journey 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 take a break and look around and find out more about this place. I had heard a lot about the famous Gizdich Ranch pies at my local grocery stores, but had never bought one. I realized that I had never had a slice of their pie either and that needed to be rectified right away.

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 to get a slice of that famous Gizdich Ranch pie. The lady ahead of me in the pie line recommended that 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?

Gizdich Ranch

Gizdich Ranch


Gizdich Ranch


Gizdich Ranch

Gizdich Ranch

We left Gizdich Ranch and 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. After we had fed ourselves it was time to resume our journey to Salinas.

We slowly made our way through the narrow back road to Salinas  known as America’s Salad Bowl. We were flanked by farms on either side as we drove down to a town that I first encountered in John Steinbeck’s work. Boy! this town was a total surprise with its wonderful downtown and art deco buildings. 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 of Salinas.




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 roads to Carmel. We were in  for  lots of little surprises as we meandered through the narrow mountainous roads to Carmel. The surprises were the wonderful glimpses of Carmel valley as we drove down into 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.

Carmel Bakery

After walking around for a bit we reluctantly got 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 certainly made our day.

Here are the places we visited on this trip.

Kirigin Cellars11550 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

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We sat down with Vic Vanni of Solis Winery of Santa Clara Valley to talk about how his family got into the wine business and also taste some wine from his winery. Vani remembers the good old days when they lived in the “Valley of Heart’s Delight,” which is now known as Silicon Valley. His grandfather had a cut flower business in Mountain View, which is now known for its hi-tech companies like Google and LinkedIn.

Vanni’s family moved to Gilroy when they bought a winery in the 1970s. His father bought a vineyard and started making wines. Today, Vanni and his brother along with their father grow a range of grape varietals and make red and white wine.

This interview was aired on TV in the USA.

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Meet Tom and Sandy Moller of Satori Cellars of Santa Clara Wineries. Tom is a techie-turned-winemaker, while Sandy is a yoga teacher and winemaker.

The Mollers started Satori Cellars over 10 years ago and have gone on to win awards for their wines. We spoke to them to find out how they got started with the winery and how they choose fun and unusual names for their wines.

The tasting room of Satori Cellars are open only on weekends. Please check their website for the timings.

Address2100 Buena Vista Ave, Gilroy, CA 95020

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Gino Fortino of Fortino Winery in Gilroy talks about Charbono wine, which is made out of an Italian grape varietal. There are only 80 acres of the Italian grape varietal Charbono grown in California and Fortino’s grows some of them. “Cult wine,” is often a phrase used when talking about Charbono.

Fortino Winery was founded in 1970 in Gilroy by Gino’s parents – Marie and Ernest Fortino. The winery is part of Santa Clara wineries, one of the oldes wine growing regions in California.

Address: Fortino Winery, 4525 Hecker Pass Hwy, Gilroy, CA 95020

Tasting Room is open from  10:00am to 5:00pm Tuesday through Saturday and on Sundays it is open from 11.00 am to 5.00 pm.



Meet Mr. Garlic aka Gerry Foisy. For 28 years come rain or sunshine you will find him at the annual 3-day Gilroy Garlic Festival. His wife, Jeanne put down his name as a volunteer and ever since then he has continued to play Mr. Garlic dressed in his trademark garlic bulb suit topped with a “Garlicky” hat. We spoke with him and his wife to find out what drew him to the festival and why he continues to volunteer.

The 37th Gilroy Garlic Festival is on July 24-26, 2015. For ticket and information visit their website.



Garlic. The smell of stinking rose will tickle your nose as you travel south on Highlway 101 from San Jose to Gilroy. Located about 25 kilometers from San Jose, Gilroy is often described as the “Garlic Capital of the World.” And it comes as a surprise to many people when they discover that Gilroy is part of Santa Clara county, which is home to many Silicon Valley hi-tech companies. Agrictulture and farming was a big part of Santa Clara county before hi-tech companies made this “Valley of Heart’s Delight” their home. Gilroy located on the southern corner of Santa Clara county continues to preserve some of that agricultural tradition to this day.

Every year for 3 days the Gilroy Garlic Festival draws thousands of people to the event that celebrates garlic in many different forms from ice-cream to wine to fries and much more. The money collected from the festival is then distributed to various charities in the area.

What is in store for this year’s 37th Gilroy Garlic Festival,? How did Gilroy become the “Garlic Capital of the World?” We spoke with Brian Bowe, execuitve director of Gilroy Garlic Festival to find out. Tune in to find out what he has to say.

This year’s Gilroy Garlic Festival is from July 24-26, 2015. For tickets and information please visit here.

Gilroy Garlic Festival 2014

I just got back from the famous Gilroy Garlic Festival. Today is the first day, and apparently the best time to visit if you want to beat the huge crowd. For years I vicariously read about the garlic festival, but never gathered the courage to venture down down to Gilroy, the garlic capital of the world. This year I finally decided enough is enough and I should go and check out this 3-day celebration of stinking rose that takes place right in my backyard. And for heaven’s sake we use garlic in our cooking on a regular basis. It was about time to find out a little bit more about Allium sativum, an intensely pungent bulb that you can alway find in our kitchen.

The festival was quite an eye-opener. It was both interesting and educational  to see how creatively garlic is used  – right from garlic infused wine to garlic fries. I tasted the wine and quite liked it and I can see that wine paired with a nice plate of pasta. Since this was my first time I did not make it to all the events and missed out tasting that famous garlic ice-cream that is served free. Here is a tip if you get in early make a beeline for the garlic ice-cream stand since that is the number one question that folks will ask you. Trust me on this one.The other thing  I missed out was the cook-out competition, which is a big crowd pleaser. Next time I know what I need to taste and see.

I spent my time either dawdling or running around interviewing people. For example, I stood  transfixed by the culinary antics of the famous pyro chefs. It was quite fascinating to see how these chefs worked their magic and barely flinched when the flames leapt a couple of feet into the air as they were cooking their dishes. I got to meet the famous Mr. Garlic, who is the ambassador to the festival. There was a special wine tent with local wineries from Santa Clara Valley and one of them had that garlic infused wine, which I had to try.

And did I mention the food that is served there? What is your recommendation I asked a bunch of folks and most of them mentioned the garlic scampi and garlic fries. I skipped the fries, but tried the scampi, which was pretty good.

I managed to walk around and see most of the booths at the festival and realized that the next time I should be better prepared and arrive a little earlier so that I can beat the heat.

If  you go to Gilroy’s Garlic Festival do check the weather and how hot it is going to be. Don’t be fooled by the weather in the bay area. It gets pretty hot down in Gilroy and it is best to wear a hat or carry a brolly. And remember to carry a bottle of water.