It’s easy to pass right through southern Santa Clara County while driving along Highway 101 headed into or out of the Bay Area. In South County, there are fields, greenhouses, goats and sheep grazing, and of course, outlet stores in Gilroy. To see more, you need get off the busy highway and take some quieter roads to get to know the area that’s home the cities of Gilroy and Morgan Hill and the town of San Martin. 

Morgan Hill is 20 miles south of San Jose, separated by the greenbelts that define the region. Gilroy is 10 miles further south, and unincorporated San Martin is in the middle. 

This is wine country, although the vineyards are on the edges of the cities, most of them far away from Highway 101. Visitors will see signs for the Santa Clara County Wine Trail, or they can look online for directions to the wineries at Several of the wineries are located at Hecker Pass, on Highway 152 west of Gilroy.  

South County boasts agricultural lands, vineyards and dozens of wineries. (Courtesy Larry Sokoloff) 

Each city is surrounded by county and state parks. Henry W. Coe State Park, east of Morgan Hill, is the largest state park in Northern California with 87,000 acres of rugged terrain for hiking and camping. Other parks include Uvas Canyon County Park, known for its waterfalls. 

Gilroy boasts proximity to Gilroy Gardens, an amusement park geared toward young children. Continuing on Highway 152 west into the Santa Cruz Mountains, you’ll also come to Mt. Madonna County Park, which has redwoods. 

Both Gilroy and Morgan Hill have compact old downtowns, filled with shops and restaurants. It’s easy to park nearby and walk the four or five blocks of each. Both are located on Monterey Road. 

Two murals in downtown Gilroy speak to the city’s agricultural roots. One mural, from 1993, shows Gilroy as the Garlic Capital of the World. An adjacent mural shows a map of the two dozen nearby wineries. 

Gilroy is best known for garlic and its big garlic festival, which ran from 1979-2019. (Courtesy Larry Sokoloff) 

While the wine country in Napa and Sonoma offers deluxe resorts, there’s only one here that’s comparable: CordeValle, located in the foothills west of San Martin. It’s an exclusive resort of 45 guestrooms and suites, with a golf course, spa, tennis courts and on-site winery and vineyard. Rooms rates are often over $1,000 a night. Security guards, a gated entrance and fences keep out anyone who doesn’t have a hotel reservation. 

One way to get a feel for the South County region is to stop in Morgan Hill at Villa Mira Monte, where a rose garden in front shows highlights of local history.  

If you thought Morgan Hill was named for a geographic feature of the South County, a visit here will set you straight. The villa, built in 1884, was the home of early landowner Hiram Morgan Hill and his wife Diana. The restored Queen Anne style house and adjacent historical museum are framed by the garden, which details the history of the city.    

The garden contains raised markers explaining what happened in a given year.  One for 1896 says “Railroad called area Huntington but passengers ask off at ‘Morgan Hill’s Ranch.’” For 1950: “Anderson Dam constructed”; for 1961: “Bonfante family opens first Nob Hill Food Center”; for 1982: “El Toro Mountain becomes permanent open space.” 

Placards noting historical points of interest are in the rose garden at Villa Mira Monte in Morgan Hill. (Courtesy Larry Sokoloff) 

Villa Mira Monte is located at 17860 Monterey Road, a few blocks from the city’s downtown. For more information on visiting the house or an adjacent history museum, visit