Once strictly a special-occasion town ― somewhat oversupplied with old-school French restaurants ― Saratoga has diversified.
Find your Zen in one of Northern California's most authentic Japanese gardens. Or your inner explorer, on horseback overlooking the whole of Silicon Valley.
Then dip back into town for some lively wine tasting and a more creative dinner (sans tie) than this mountain gateway has ever served up.
Saratoga is about 50 miles south of San Francisco and 15 miles west of San Jose. From San Francisco, take I-280 or U.S. 101 to State 85 south; exit Saratoga Ave. and turn right, then follow it to Big Basin Way. From San Jose, take I-280 north to State 17 south to State 9 north. Follow State 9 to Big Basin Way.GO
Hakone The oldest Japanese estate and retreat in the Western Hemisphere. Stroll around serene koi ponds and a remarkable bamboo forest. INFO: $5; 21000 Big Basin Way; 408/741-4994.
Horseback riding at Garrod Farms A guide leads you up past Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc vineyards to hilltop views that take in Mt. Hamilton, the Bay Bridge, even Oakland on a clear day. Make it the last Sunday of the month, and your ride can end with wine tasting and hors d'oeuvres ($75). INFO: 1-hour ride $40 (ages 8 and up); last-Sunday brunch reservations required; 22647 Garrod Rd.; 408/867-9527.
Cinnabar Winery Tasting Room Try the Cabernet Franc. INFO: Tasting fee from $5; 14612 Big Basin; 408/867-1010.
Uncorked The tagline of this shop is "Fine Wines Without the Attitude," and they nailed it. INFO: Tasting fee from $10; 14500 Big Basin; 408/741-9000.
The Plumed Horse The best splurge restaurant in town. Go for broke with the likes of foie gras and chestnut ravioli with a truffle-poached egg, plated tableside. Or save some cash and just split a great bottle of wine in the lounge. INFO: $$$$; closed Sun; 14555 Big Basin; 408/867-4711.
Sent Sovi Ingredients shine ― lobster on a colorful tangle of root vegetables, for instance ― in what feels like the village's private dining room. The most interesting wines-by-the-glass list in town. INFO: $$$$; closed Mon; 14583 Big Basin; 408/867-3110.
Saratoga is a great jumping-off point for meandering through one of the most beautiful wine regions in the state, the Santa Cruz Mountains. Our favorites: Ridge Vineyards, David Bruce Winery, and Burrell School Vineyards & Winery. Visit scmwa.com for a complete directory of wineries.