Day Trip: Ahlgren Vineyard & Castle Rock State Park

Ahlgren Vineyard, one of the best wineries in the Santa Cruz Mountains, is a classic small family operation. Its cellar is simply the cellar of the Ahlgrens' house, and the tasting room is (as you can see on the left side of the photo) just a table in the corner.

Ahlgren is probably best known for one of America's best Semillons, made from old-vines Livermore Valley fruit. In a blind tasting of the 2005 vintage, you could easily mistake the aromatic, concentrated, balanced wine for French. Ahlgren also makes excelent Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah.

The winery's tasting room is open only on Saturdays from noon to 4pm. The winery is about 60 miles from SF, in a sparsely populated area a few miles north of Boulder Creek. As long as you're schlepping all the way down there, you should also visit the area's major tourist attraction, Castle Rock State Park.

The most scenic route from San Francisco is to take 280 south, head west on 92 toward Half Moon Bay, and turn left on 35 aka Skyline Boulevard. Stay on 35 until you you cross Highway 9. After another 2.5 miles, turn into the Castle Rock parking lot on the right. If you're up for a serious hike, the 4.7-mile loop trail is one of the best in the Bay Area -- see Bay Area Hiker for details. Otherwise, take the easy two-mile hike down to the waterfall viewing platform and back.

To get to the winery, head back north up 35, turn left on 9 toward Boulder Creek, and go about seven miles. After the turnoff for 236/Big Basin, you'll have about 8 tenths of a mile more to go. Ahlgren is at 20320 Hwy 9, just before a hairpin turn. You can't see the winery itself from the road, and it's easy to miss the sign. You can't necessarily trust your GPS, either; ours took us halfway to Boulder Creek before we realized we'd overshot.

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