California byways never disappoint. Interstates and boulevards wind their way through the outskirts of San Jose to Big Basin Way and Saratoga Village. The small-town charm and pedestrian-friendly Main Street beckons visitors to walk and explore Saratoga’s finest diningwine tastingart galleries, and fabulous retail.

Close by, performing arts venues provide astounding entertainment including year-round and seasonal top-name performers. Historic gardens, hiking, horseback riding, wineries, and breathtaking views are just a few distractions to bring you back again and again.

Unwind and Snooze
Many years ago, Saratoga Oaks Lodge shed its 1955 motel cocoon and turned into a beautiful butterfly. From a single-queen room to two-room suites, it’s the ideal hibernation destination. Treehouse bungalows accommodate couples or groups; the perfect haven to de-stress following the day’s explorations. In-room whirlpool bathtubs and steam-bath showers help you find your bliss. Shaded by majestic oaks, balconies and garden patios are a joy any season. Amenities include microwave, mini-fridge, coffeemaker, free Wi-Fi, and modified continental breakfast.

Utterly tranquil, pour yourself into village wine tasting rooms Cinnabar Winery, Roudon Smith Winery, Ruth Roberts Wine Collective, and Uncorked.  Walking makes designated drivers obsolete. Nothing goes better with wine than luscious, handcrafted chocolates. Yes, this sinful pleasure is close enough to see and taste at Plumed Horse Chocolaterie by Angelica. Chocolate addicts, this is your new home. Angel’s career as a certified chocolatier was divine intervention. An artist since childhood, she taught herself the fine art and science of chocolate. Delicate works of art, each chocolate gem is hand-painted with colored cocoa butter. Angel created all the recipes – more than 25. Some of the favorites include salted caramel, passion fruit, jalapeno, strawberry, and Sprinkles are for Winners in the shape and flavor of a baby donut.

Vineyards, Views & Performing Arts Preview
On the edge of the Santa Cruz Mountains, zigzagging and sometimes precipitous roads lead from Saratoga Village to stunning vistas, hidden gardens, and a captivating villa and chateau, vineyards, and tasting rooms. Be swept away by the magic!

Arriving at the regal Mountain Winery, you immediately understand why Paul Masson – the original owner – called it his “vineyard in the sky”. Views of the Santa Cruz Mountains and Silicon Valley below are inspirational. A Saratoga landmark since the early 1900s, the world-class wines and cuisine, and summer concert series catapult Mountain Winery to the top of your bucket list! A sacred feeling exudes within the inner sanctum of the winery.   

Just a few miles away, sequestered on a hillside, the Mediterranean-style Montalvo Arts Center is another Saratoga jewel. The 175-acre estate offers extraordinary performing arts programs, year-round concert series, hiking trails, and gardens. Visitors are invited to discover miles of woodland hiking trails, and formal and informal gardens. Go in search of Sculpture on the Grounds – a multi-faceted installation of works of art.

Enjoy the music of waterfalls and Mother Nature at her finest at Hakone Estate & Gardens. Influenced by Buddhist and Zen cultures, this ever-changing 18-acre landscape presents something new each season. In spring and summer, multi-hued wisteria, azaleas, and rhododendron await. Delicate maples show their best fall colors. Winter brings a wall of camellias. The oldest Japanese and Asian estate garden in the Western Hemisphere, it is also a treasure of the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Visitors wander the gardens and meditate on benches overlooking the koi pond or bamboo forest. Hakone also conducts several events including tea ceremonies and Maturi (Spring Festival).
Family-owned and operated since 1893, the 28-acre organic and sustainable Cooper-Garrod Estate Vineyards and Garrod Farms is an experience like no other. Just minutes from the village, enjoy scenic horseback-riding adventures through the vineyards and Fremont-Older Open Space Preserve followed by wine tasting and small bites on the shaded garden patio.

A stunning Victorian houses Bella Saratoga Restaurant. Superbly prepared Italian fare served in an intimate setting makes this a popular destination. Award-winning pastas, local vegetables, fresh fish, filet mignon, and pizzas – plates are bountiful so come hungry. Fronted by a lovely covered patio, ask about dining alfresco in spring and summer.

Haute cuisine! Haute décor! The Michelin-rated Plumed Horse is that. The ambiance exudes chic elegance and comfort. Draped in golden light and warm woods – dining rooms are elegantly decorated – a visual feast. Feel free to roam and ogle the towering wine cellar housing more than 1,800 wines from around the world. But brace yourself! You are about to be treated to gastronomic artistry. Every berry, vegetable, meat, fish, wild game, sauce, and dessert is painstakingly plated. Executive Chef Peter Armellino’s fresh seasonal menus will captivate your palate. Fourteen years on both the tasting and entrée menus, the signature Black Pepper and Parmesan Soufflé, served with Uni and Dungeness crab, is the most requested dish. Open Wednesday-Sunday, 5:00 to 10:00 pm. Reservations are available only online and require a three-day advance cancellation.

One Last Tip
Cyclists adore road trips up Highway 9 into the Santa Cruz Mountains. At Big Basin Café, a wide selection of fresh-roasted coffees and specialty drinks make this a perfect locale for a morning wander or post-bike ride hangout.

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Barbara Steinberg

Barbara Steinberg is a freelance travel writer and omni-local. Recognized as a California travel authority, she’s been exploring and writing about the Golden State for more than 30 years. She is everywhere you want to be in California – off road and on, urban and rural, 5-star resorts and hidden hot springs, gourmet or dive, but never happier than when she's exploring back roads. Barbara has been a member of California Watchable Wildlife for more than 25 years and serves as their Outreach Coordinator representing the organization at wildlife and nature festivals throughout the state. She graduated cum laude from California State University, Sacramento with a BA in Communications Studies. She is a member of the Outdoor Writers Association of California and California Roundtable on Recreation Parks & Tourism and Subaru Ambassador.


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