Despite being flush with cash and surrounded by pioneering wineries like J. Lohr, Mount Eden and Ridge, Silicon Valley has never been considered particularly wine-savvy. There are splashy hotels, great outdoor attractions and entertainment options from pro football, hockey and soccer to top-flight concerts, but the beverage scene has markedly lacked luster compared to the other expansive offerings of the tech-driven cultural hub.
Thankfully, however, things are slowly changing, as Silicon Valley begins to embrace gourmet restaurants that have expertly curated beverage programs.
There’s no real epicenter to the loosely defined region that stretches roughly from San Jose north along the San Francisco Bay into San Mateo County. Many of the most interesting restaurants and wine-tasting experiences are huddled along the leafy downtown streets of small suburban cities like Saratoga, Mountain View and Palo Alto, while there’s also a handful of estate wineries perched atop the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Here’s a geographically organized rundown of how to make the most of your wine-and-food-fueled trip.
Awarded three Michelin stars each of the last four years, Manresa in Los Gatos is considered one of the world’s best restaurants. Chef David Kinch’s tasting menu comprises 14 courses, give or take, served with top-tier global wines selected by the wine director, Jim Rollston, MS. It’s an unending revelation of texture and technique, from dishes like iced geoduck with Champagne to veal sweetbreads with Vosne-Romanée. Unlike many star chefs, Kinch still cooks in his kitchen, though he may emerge sporadically to lay foam on your next course.
His empire has also expanded into more casual expressions like Manresa Bread in downtown Campbell. Here, the savory egg sandwich showcases beloved Benton’s bacon, and the avocado toast has been known to be topped with chestnut chips or tarragon. Mentone, a new restaurant from Kinch in the seaside Santa Cruz County town of Aptos, is scheduled to open later this year.
In the mountains above, in Los Gatos, Testarossa Winery pours single-vineyard Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays inside the old Novitiate Winery. Jesuit priests started to produce wine here in 1888, and their historical photographs line the stone walls.
In the adjacent city of Saratoga, the Plumed Horse stands as the region’s fine-dining veteran. Up the street is a collection of wine tasting rooms worth checking out, including Big Basin Vineyards, Cinnabar Winery Tasting Room and Savannah-Chanelle Vineyards.
California’s third most populous city upped its culinary commitment with the 2002 opening of Santana Row. A mixed-use development, you can find a Tequila bar, raw bar, Parisian brasserie, stylish Chinese-influenced cuisine, gourmet Indian food, California bistro, Vintage Wine Bar and Hotel Valencia’s dimly lit Vbar bar all within two blocks.
About three miles away is the J. Lohr San Jose Wine Center, in the original winery of J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines, which established the property on part of the old Falstaff Brewery in 1974. Though the tasting room is popular, many locals don’t know it exists. “Even after 40 years, we’re still the hidden gem of downtown San Jose,” says Steve Lohr, CEO and chairman of the firm.
For Old World wines, head to Little Italy’s Enoteca La Storia. Third-generation San Jose native Michael Guerra curates an expansive list of bottles from Venice to Puglia to pair with an assortment of appetizers and entrées. The restaurant also has a location in Los Gatos.
Across town, Adega gives traditional Portuguese cuisine the haute treatment, thanks to Chefs/Owners Jessica Carreira and David Costa. Carreira’s parents, who are also co-owners of the restaurant, have imported wine from their homeland for decades. Dishes like red mullet with cauliflower three ways; seared venison with yam purée, roasted wild mushroom and quince; and pistachio bushes with hazelnut mud and chocolate rocks are paired with superb selections of Portuguese white, red, rosé and fortified wines.
Monte Bello & Palo Alto
To explore the Santa Cruz Mountains properly, brave the winding roads to take in endless views that span from the Pacific Ocean to the entire Bay Area. That’s where Ridge Vineyards has made head-turning wines since 1962, like the Monte Bello Cabernet Sauvignon that wowed the world at the historic 1976 “Judgment of Paris” tasting. Its Monte Bello tasting room, open by appointment and on weekends, offers multiple flights that showcase American oak-aged Zinfandel, Chardonnay and more.
Back down the slopes is Mountain View, whose quaint downtown’s wine-focused offerings received a major boost from last year’s opening of Le Plonc Wine Bar. Exciting, varying options like orange wine from Oregon, Sicilian Frappato and Alsace Sylvaner go great alongside the shared plates menu of pâtés, tartines, cheese and more.
Next door is Palo Alto, home to Stanford University and tech titans. At Protégé, Chef Anthony Secviar and Dennis Kelly, MS, both alums of The French Laundry, serve otherworldly pairings like brilliant cocktails alongside kampachi fish ’n’ chips, Cru Beaujolais with caviar-topped crab salad and Rioja with black walnut-crusted lamb loin. A hard table to land, it shows that high-tech culture is ready for high-class restaurants.
Points North & Skyline Drive
The Village Pub in Woodside has been elevating eating and drinking south of San Francisco since its debut in 2001. It serves contemporary Californian cuisine matched with a deep wine list. Across the street, the owners recently opened The Village Bakery, a more relaxed, yet still upscale experience complete with an array of beverage offerings.
Up the mountain on Skyline Drive is Thomas Fogarty Winery & Vineyards, where its winemaker, Nathan Kandler, crafts some of the best Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from about 30 acres of mountaintop vines. The tasting room also offers rotating limited-edition wines, like skin-contact Chardonnay or acid-focused, Aussie-style Sémillon that you can’t find elsewhere.
In downtown San Mateo, Pausa Bar & Cookery brings big-city vibes with creative cocktails like the Fico d’India (mezcal, Opuntia prickly pear, tamarind, agave, lime and a Tajin rim), an Italy dominated wine list and inventive pizza, pasta and entrées.
San Carlos boasts an urban wine and beer scene in its warehouse district down by the tidal flats. Families converge to patronize food trucks and take in live music every Friday at Devil’s Canyon Brewing Company. Just down the street are tasting rooms for small wineries like Flying Suitcase Wines, Cuvée Wine Cellars, Domenico Winery and Russian Ridge Winery.
Last Updated: May 5, 2023