Ultimate Food + Drink Guide to South County

Tacos and Craft Beer
Photo courtesy of Garrick Ramirez

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.


Elkhorn Slough Brewing
Elkhorn Slough Brewing Co. – Photo courtesy of 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.

corralitos brewing company
The porch at Corralitos Brewing Company – Photo courtesy of Garrick Ramirez

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.

Martinellis Tasting Room
Martinelli’s Tasting Room – Photo courtesy of Garrick Ramirez


Dulce Milk Ranch Tacos
Dulce Milk Ranch Tacos – Photo courtesy of Garrick Ramirez

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 Trejo 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 Farmer’s Market including pupusas, Mexican street corn, and loaded baked potatoes.

El Frijolito
Veggie Burrito at El Frijolito – Photo courtesy of Garrick Ramirez
Taylor Bros Hot Dogs
Taylor Bros. Hot Dogs – Photo courtesy of Garrick Ramirez

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 Hot Dogs who cranks out killer creations like the Perrito 831 topped with bacon and an amazing homemade salsa.

Mike's Dogs
The Perrito 831 at Mike’s Hot Dogs – Photo courtesy of Garrick Ramirez

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 Lockers, 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 Boatwith ship-shaped platters stuffed with turkey, cranberry, and mashed potatoes.

Freedom Meat Locker
Freedom Meat Locker – Photo courtesy of Garrick Ramirez
Guadalajara Bakery
Pan Dulce at Guadalajara Bakery – Photo courtesy of Garrick Ramirez

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.

Gizdich Ranch Pie
Apple Pie at Gizdich Ranch – Photo courtesy of Garrick Ramirez

Hungry for more? Check out our site for more South County activities and destinations. 

  • Elkhorn Slough Brewing
  • Corralitos Brewing Company
  • Martinelli's Company Store
  • Nicholson Vineyards Winery
  • Wargin Wines
  • Dulce/Ranch Milk Market
  • Carnitas Trejo
  • El Frijolito Restaurant
  • Watsonville Farmer's Market
  • Taylor Brothers Hot Dogs
  • Mike's Hot Dogs
  • California Grill
  • Freedom Meat Lockers
  • Turkey Boat
  • Guadalajara Bakery
  • Top Donuts
  • Gizdich Ranch