Springtime in Saratoga
Bucolic Saratoga is imbued with a rich sense of history that belies its proximity to the bustle of Silicon Valley. It’s not just a place, it’s a state of mind.
Originally a lumber mill town, renowned as much for its nefarious saloons as for its mineral springs, Saratoga has been through many phases, and Big Basin Way, the main road through town, has long been a major thoroughfare.
For a spell, the resort at Congress Springs, which reminded East Coast transplants so much of those in Saratoga Springs, New York, that the town was eventually named after it, was a big draw, and the lovely mountainside community became a summer home for the wealthy of San Francisco.
Most people know the Mountain Winery as a place for concerts, but it was vintner Paul Masson who really put his imprimatur on the town in the early 20th century as a “gateway to wine country,” a moniker more true today than ever. At one point, there were nearly 100 small wineries throughout the Valley, but Prohibition put an end to that.
For decades, apricots, plums and prunes ruled until the advent of high technology, which brought with it the demise of the bountiful orchards, paved over by the concrete jungle of Silicon Valley. Look at the label on any Cooper Garrod wine bottle to see an image of the stunningly beautiful blossom-covered Valley taken in the 1950s.
Hospitality comes naturally here: Village residents and merchants welcome visitors with warmth, and charming shops are the rule. The wide streets and sidewalks encourage leisurely strolling, and you can easily walk from one end of town to the other, drinking in the natural beauty the town works hard to preserve. You’ll find no chain stores here, just a string of delightfully unique boutiques, world-class restaurants, wine tasting rooms, classic antiques, salons and yes, even a saloon, called The Bank, an homage to its original role.
History buffs will enjoy dropping into the Saratoga History Museum (Fri.–Sun., 1–4pm) for info on guided walking tours. If you’re fortunate enough to drop in on Heritage Day (usually at the end of September), you’ll see the town come alive with costumed characters, including the lovely Olivia De Havilland, reprised by longtime resident Laurel Perusa, who delights in relating how the actress was discovered while part of many theatrical productions once staged here.
Walking is the key to taking in the timeless luxury of Saratoga: The ginkgo trees are glorious in any season, but electric in springtime. And trees are the pride of Saratoga, with many enormous ancestor oaks towering above you as you amble down the wide sidewalks, pausing to admire the flowers in front of shops, carefully tended by a dedicated group of Saratoga gardeners.
Spring brings the Saratoga Wine Stroll, Saturday, May 11, with live music, food galore and merriment throughout the Village. Be sure to wear your bonnet! It’s the perfect Mother’s Day activity. Every Saturday there’s a farmers market at nearby West Valley College, and every Wednesday Blaney Plaza springs to life with a bounty of fresh local produce, artisan products and prepared foods. Wine tasting options abound, with Cinnabar, Big Basin Vineyards, M4 and Ruthe Roberts tasting rooms all boasting outdoor patios, and you cannot visit Saratoga without enjoying a fine meal at one of its many epicurean establishments. Saratoga is indeed a destination worth visiting, again and again.
A Weekend in Saratoga
Begin with a visit to the Chamber of Commerce or Saratoga Historical Museum for a handy map of town and area attractions. Grab a smooth cup of coffee and a slice of homemade quiche or pie at Big Basin Coffee Roasting, then peruse the many in-town shops, like Fat Robin (linens and things), Saratoga Eyes (high-fashion eyewear), Skin Prophecy (eclectic mix of couture and cosmetics) or the Barn Owl, brimming with garden and home accents.
Browse the galleries and antiques shops dotted throughout the Village, stop for a Thai massage or a bite of Thai food at Bai Tong. Cruise over to Ruthe Roberts Wine Collective for a taste of local gems, including her popular flight of bubbly, then head to the Echo Shop, a 50-year town tradition, brimming with consigned treasures. Pop into Saratoga Chocolates for a sweet treat, then drop into Vine Life, packed with delightful gifts for everyone, including local wines and accessories.
You’re just steps away from the three wine tasting rooms that frame the end of town, including M4, Big Basin Vineyards and Cinnabar. Relax on their patios and enjoy a glass of wine, while tapping your toes to live music on Friday evenings and weekends. Bejewel yourself or a loved one at Deja & Co, filled with dazzling creations.
If pampering is in order, stop for a mani/pedi, custom facial or a warm rose oil massage at Preston Wynne Spa, or relax with a cup of tea or java at nearby Coffee Grounds.
Delicious dining options abound. Choose from sushi (Masu), authentic Italian (Ristorante da Mario), haute-cuisine Mexican (Casa de Cobre), Asian fusion (Mint Leaf), classic Mediterranean with a California twist (the Basin), Old World French (Mere Michelle), sensational Mediterranean-modern cuisine (Sent Sovi) and iconic elegant (Michelin-starred Plumed Horse). Dine on the porch or inside the lovely Victorian at Bella Saratoga, or have a martini before digging into sumptuous fare at the Basin.
Fancy some gelato? Yola Tea and Blue Rock Shoot have you covered, and the latter features local talent in the evenings.
Rest your head at the Inn at Saratoga or at the Saratoga Oaks Lodge to fortify yourself for a visit to the glorious gardens and art gallery at nearby Villa Montalvo, where tours are held Sundays and Tuesdays at 10am (self-guided tours daily), or to Zen-heaven Hakone Gardens, where meditation comes naturally. An 18-acre authentic replica of a Japanese samurai or shogun’s estate garden, Hakone beckons with waterfalls, koi ponds and quaint structures. Tour the grounds, including the Moonviewing House, on a docent -guided tour (for five or more adults), or attend a public tea ceremony, typically the third Sunday of each month. Open from 10am–5pm weekdays, 11am–5pm weekends; $8. Splendidly panoramic views of Silicon Valley provide a sublime backdrop for opera, yoga, tai-chi and art classes, all of which are held regularly. (408.741.4994; www.Hakone.com)
Head for the hills, where local wineries abound. Visit Cooper Garrod for a horseback ride through the vineyards, to Savannah-Chanelle for idyllic mountain views, take in a concert at the Mountain Winery (July–October) or visit the stunning House Family Winery with sweeping views of the Silicon Valley, surrounded by vineyard-studded hillsides.
Laura Ness, aka “Her VineNess,” spends a lot of time in vineyards, fields, cellars and kitchens, observing the magical process of turning Earth’s bounty into heavenly delights. She writes for a variety of publications, including Wine & Travel, VINO, WineOh.Tv, M and several Bay Area newspapers, and blogs at MyVineSpace.com.
Photo credit: Jerry Venz Photography
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