The history of Saratoga, California, began way back in 1848 with the emergence of a succession of sawmills, gristmills, furniture factories, and paper factories. But these days, the city has transformed itself into a small town cultural outpost and a nest for successful Silicon Valley techies. Just 46 miles south of San Ramon, and less than an hour’s drive on the freeway, Saratoga is a great place to spend the afternoon discovering high-end, one-of-a-kind boutiques, world-class wineries, and the natural beauty of nearby redwood forests.
For visitors who want to discover Saratoga’s mélange of art and culture, the Montalvo Arts Center (14000 Fruitvale Ave., 408-961-5800) is probably the best place to start. Located at the base of the Santa Cruz Mountains, the arts complex revolves around the Villa Montalvo, an historic Italian Mediterranean style mansion dating back to 1912. Beyond the full calendar of concerts, theatre, dance and other performing arts, the surrounding grounds are perfect for a day of casual hiking, picnicking, and sightseeing.
Saratoga is also the home of Hakone Estate and Gardens (21000 Big Basin Way, 408-741-4993), the oldest Japanese-style residential garden in the West. The 18-acre site was first established in 1915 and features a strolling garden, a bamboo garden, and a Zen garden along with teahouses and a replica of a 19th century Japanese home. A Cultural Exchange Center was built in 1991 to promote further conversation between Japan and the United States. Of interest to film buffs, the Hakone Estate was used as a filming location in 2005 for the Hollywood blockbuster, “Memoirs of a Geisha”.
Long before Saratoga became a Silicon Valley hotspot and one of the most expensive places to live in the United States, it was known as a bountiful agricultural area. Prune and apricot orchards dotted the landscape for years and years. And still to this day, the area’s vineyards yield quality grapes that reinforce Saratoga’s highly regarded viticulture reputation. If you’re interested in an afternoon of wine tasting tours, here are a few wineries worth visiting:
The Mountain Winery is an expansive facility that features a wide array of events (wine related and otherwise), and includes a well-attended annual summer concert series. (14831 Pierce Road, 408-741-2822)
Cinnabar Vineyards and Winery features award-winning wines from the Santa Cruz Mountains and up and down California’s Central Coast. (14612 Big Basin Way, 408-867-1012)
Cooper-Garrod Estate Vineyards is a 28-acre farmland that unites two of Saratoga’s pioneering families. (22645 Garrod Road, 408-867-7116)
Savannah-Chanelle Vineyards is famous for its five award-winning varietals, including Chardonnay, Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, Carignane, and Cabernet Franc. (23600 Big Basin Way, 408-741-2934)
Big Basin Vineyards puts an emphasis on modern, organic winemaking. Its mission is to reflect the nuances of the surrounding ocean and mountain vineyards. (14598 Big Basin Way, 408-564-7346)
There’s a lot of history in Saratoga and there are plenty of fascinating landmarks to see. If you enjoy historical sites, the Saratoga Historical Museum, the Saratoga Federated Church, and the Madronia Cemetery are all worth visiting. Most day-trippers, however, head straight for the Village, the city’s historic downtown shopping district. Filled with one-of-a-kind boutiques, restaurants, and spas, the Village successfully encompasses the spirit and uniqueness of Saratoga.