Rob D. Brodman
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.