Want to do an epic food and drink tour of Santa Cruz? Start in South County. The agricultural communities of Watsonville, Freedom, and Corralitos hide amazing food finds — some old, others new — with great craft beer, killer tacos, juicy sausages, and mind-blowing homemade pies. Take a peek at some of our favorites and start planning your South County food crawl.
All Photos by Garrick Ramirez
You’ll think you took a wrong turn before reaching Elkhorn Slough Brewing Co, Santa Cruz County’s newest craft beer destination hidden in an industrial park near the Watsonville airport. Grab a pint of Mothership ale and hang out in the comfy living spaces of their warehouse tasting room. Nearby, a pleasant front porch, regular food trucks, and great beer have made Corralitos Brewing Co a South County fave ever since they swung open their doors last year.
Martinelli’s has been a Watsonville staple since 1868. This year, the famous apple juice producer opened their first company store complete with a complimentary tasting bar. Stop by and sample rare flavors like Sparkling Apple Mango and Prickly Passion Lemonade. For juice with a little more kick, head to Nicholson Vineyards where you can sip estate Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in a pastoral setting at the base of the Santa Cruz Mountains. In Watsonville, Wargin Wines pours Italian varietals like Montepulciano, Sangiovese, and popular blend dubbed Big & Beautiful.
Four tacos for $5 and 22 craft beers on tap? You do the math. Dulce/Ranch MILK Market, a gloriously renovated gas station mart, is one of South County’s best hidden gems. And take a guess at what Carnitas Trejos does really well. Hulking platters of tender, shredded pork served with all the fixings adorn the tables at this bustling dinner hall. Everyone loves El Frijolito, aka The Bean, a downtown institution known for cheap, delicious eats -- a huge veggie burrito will set you back $1.85 -- and rich, earthy salsas like abuelita used to make. You’ll also find some good grub at the Friday Watsonville Farmers’ Market including pupusas, Mexican street corn, and loaded baked potatoes.
Taylor Bros. Hot Dogs is an old school stand whose tangy chili dogs wrapped in wax paper have been holding it down on the Watsonville Plaza since 1954. For new school dogs, go see Dane of Mike’s Dogs who cranks out killer creations like the Perrito 831 topped with bacon and an amazing homemade salsa.
Crowds pack the dining room at California Grill of the Pajaro Valley for true farm-to-fork dishes like burgers and salads made with produce direct from surrounding farms. At lunchtime, you'll need to grab a number at Freedom Meat Locker, a hugely popular butcher shop and grill that slings some of the best sausages in the state. It's Thanksgiving all year round at Turkey Boat with ship-shaped platters stuffed with turkey, cranberry, and mashed potatoes.
It's worth seeking out 26-year-old Guadalajara Bakery, a cozy hidden gem with shelves overflowing with colorful, freshly-baked pan dulce. Over at Top Donut, a line forms each morning for the sweet creations that would have Homer Simpson drooling. Gizdich Ranch is a fall favorite with an idyllic country setting of apple orchards and homemade pies. Wander the orchards plucking juicy varietals and return to picnic gardens for a slice of seasonal pie like apple and olallieberry fresh out of the oven.
Hungry for more? Check out our site for more South County activities and destinations.