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.
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.
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?
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.
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 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