Whenever anyone refers to San Francisco’s South Bay, the region that is popularly known as Silicon Valley, they’re most likely thinking of San Jose or Palo Alto. Rarely do people mention or make it a point to visit Saratoga. But it’s time for all of that to change. With a small-town feel, upscale restaurant scene and intimate grape-growing community, Saratoga is quickly become the wine country escape for savvy San Franciscans.
Located on the western edge of the valley, suburban Saratoga is an hour-long drive from SF that’s best avoided during commuting time. Book a suite at the finest hotel in town, The Inn at Saratoga. A quaint and stylish spot with a distinctive 1970s vibe, the Inn is within walking distance to most restaurants, shops and tasting rooms on the main strip. If you prefer something even swankier, the Rosewood Sand Hill, a Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star property, is a 20-minute drive north of Saratoga in Menlo Park.
After you’ve dropped off your bags, start your adventure with a trip to the Hakone Gardens, a stunning traditional Japanese zen garden that happens to be one of the largest Asian-style sanctuaries in the Western Hemisphere. You’ll feel instantly relaxed amongst the bamboo and camellia. Memoirs of a Geisha was filmed on the serene grounds that house a koi pond, waterfalls and, when in season, beautiful blossoms of pink cherries and purple wisteria.
Up the hill from Hakone, you’ll find Mountain Winery, a vineyard, tasting room and concert venue that was originally founded in the 1890s. In the early 1900s, Frenchman Paul Masson became known throughout the world for his delightful champagne that he produced from pinot noir and chardonnay grapes grown on his land in Saratoga.
Although the 1906 earthquake ruined his cellar, Masson persevered to rebuild his beloved winery. Paul Masson sparkling wine flourished after prohibition. In the 1950s, the winery was sold to Seagrams, who, in turn, added a concert bowl to the property.
Today, Mountain Winery is known for its Estate wines (the chardonnay and pinot noir are noteworthy pours) and summer concert series. Musicians such as John Legend, Ziggy Marley, Stevie Wonder and Justin Beiber have graced the stage, which is framed by the 12th-century portal that Masson stole from a nearby cathedral so many years ago.
Another must-visit winery is Cooper-Garrod, a lovely family-run operation that has used the same land since 1893. When you drive up to the tasting room, which is a barn painted a pale mint green with a rusted vintage car to the right of it, you can’t help but feel as if you’ve stepped back in time. Originally apricot and prune farms, Cooper-Garrod became a winery in 1994, when George Cooper, a retired NASA research test pilot, started growing grapes. Today, the winery is run by Cooper’s son and wife, Bill and Doris Cooper. It truly is a family business here: on a recent visit, one cousin ran the tasting room, another one was fixing the harvesting equipment and another monitored the barrels.
Horse fans will be thrilled to know that Cooper-Garrod is also a functioning stable with over 100 horses. On the weekends, you can take a horseback ride through the trails that dot the 120-acre property and, afterward, enjoy a picnic and tasting of Cooper-Garrod’s varietals. They also produce a series of excellent red blends known as the Test Pilot Series. The 2011 F-104 Starfighter syrah viognier blend is another favorite.
Hungry? Head to Plumed Horse, the fine-dining centerpiece of Saratoga. The first thing you should know about this sleek and sexy restaurant is that it has an assortment of settings, including a chef’s table that looks through a glass wall at the entire kitchen, five private rooms, a main dining room, and a lively bar with a fireplace.
The second thing you should know: With a three-story wine cellar and over 16,000 bottles, the Plumed Horse has one of the largest wine selections in the U.S.A., making it the tech crowd’s eatery of choice. (Former Oracle CEO Larry Ellison is rumored to be in a wine club that hosts dinners here.) Chef Peter Armellino serves up exceptional cuisine that is at once elevated and comforting. His black pepper and parmesan soufflé is so delicious that you’ll want to swim in the Australian spanner crab and uni fondue that accompanies it.
At the just-opened Relish, a gastro lounge from Josiah and Khin Khin Slone, diners can nosh on gourmet cuisine in a tech-influenced dining room that has a lighting scheme that will change throughout the course of the night. Menu highlights include seared foie gras with raspberries and braised greens, delectable miniature ham and cheese sandwiches on brioche, and oysters with Meyer lemon.
No trip to Saratoga is complete without a stop at Deja & Co., a luxurious jewelry store that’s been helping couples in Saratoga find the perfect engagement rings since 2004. Originally founded in Cupertino in 1974, Deja & Co. is a family-run business from the luminous Deja Laufer. An expert on gems and a lover of color, Laufer has filled her jewelry box of a shop with a highly curated collection of dangly earrings, breathtaking rings and exquisite necklaces. Pop in and try on a few of the gorgeous pieces and you might just end up splurging on a glittering pink sapphire bracelet. Deja produces its own line of custom jewelry but also carries world-renowned designers like Jack Kelége, Paradé, Zaffiro and Peter Storm.