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Saratoga, Calif.: Culture and Country

In the Santa Clara Valley, a classy village that sits at the foot of the Santa Cruz Mountains combines top-notch offerings and
country getaways.

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  • Sempervirens Falls in Big Basin Redwoods State Park, image
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    You can catch the trailhead to Sempervirens Falls in Big Basin Redwoods State Park near the park headquarters.
  • plate of abalone at the Plumed Horse, image
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    Try the Plumed Horse's dish of Davenport abalone, with crisp chicken skin, slow farm egg, and tamari chili glaze.
  • Jin Suzuki of Hachi Ju Hachi in the kitchen arranging food, image
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    Owner Jin Suzuki of Hachi Ju Hachi carefully prepares a dish.
  • Hakone gardens in Saratoga California, image
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    Hakone was one of the film locations for the movie Memoirs of a Geisha.
  • a box of Saratoga Chocolates, image
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    A California poppy graces the box of handcrafted Saratoga Chocolates.

Founded at the mouth of a canyon in the Santa Cruz Mountains, this town west of San Jose attracted hard-working, hard-playing lumberjacks and boasted boisterous saloons. Nowadays it’s known for refined restaurants, a superb arts scene, and easy access to the outdoors. Area code is 408 except as noted.

Hachi Ju Hachi is not your typical Japanese restaurant. Chef-owner Jin Suzuki creates washoku, traditional dishes based on the principles of harmony, balance, simplicity, and restraint. He also makes his own salt, miso, tofu, and dried mackerel. 14480 Big Basin Way, 647-2258, hachijuhachi88.com.

The confections at Saratoga Chocolates combine ingredients from California—liqueurs, fruits, and local cream—to make delicacies such as the Valencia orange bonbon, with a dark chocolate ganache center laced with Grand Marnier and fresh orange juice and zest. 14572-B Big Basin Way, 872-1431, saratogachocolates.com.

Every season has something to offer at Hakone, the oldest Japanese garden in the Western Hemisphere. Established in 1915, the 18-acre spread is a replica of a samurai’s estate garden, complete with koi pond, moon bridge, and waterfalls. 21000 Big Basin Way, 741-4994, hakone.com.

The family-owned Cinnabar Winery makes 24 different wines. Try them at the tasting room or go online. Don’t ignore the rich and spicy Mercury Rising, a Bordeaux-style blend of five different varietals. On Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays kick back and listen to live music. 14612 Big Basin Way, 867-1012, cinnabarwinery.com.

There are few prettier places to take in the arts than Montalvo Arts Center a 175-acre Mediterranean-style villa built in 1912 for James Duval Phelan, California’s first popularly elected U.S. senator. Throughout the year you can attend concerts and gallery exhibitions at various settings on the grounds. 15400 Montalvo Rd., 961-5800, montalvoarts.org.

Picture a 1,800-bottle wine cellar with glass walls and a translucent floor, then conjure up a luxurious dining room hung with blown-glass chandeliers bearing fiber-optic bulbs that slowly change color. What Plumed Horse’s chef, Peter Armellino, puts on the plate is equally stunning, from the tuna tartare to the slow-cooked king salmon. 14555 Big Basin Way, 867-4711, plumedhorse.com.

Scenic Highway 9 winds away from the city’s main drag to Big Basin Redwoods State Park, California’s oldest state park, protecting 18,000 acres of lush redwood forest. Explore it on hiking trails that follow narrow valleys cut by mountain streams. 21600 Big Basin Way, (831) 338-8860, bigbasin.org.

Photography by Carolyn Jung (Jin Suzuki and Saratoga Chocolates); courtesy of Plumed Horse (abalone); courtesy Gnissah/Wikipedia (Sempervirens Falls); courtesy LPS.1/Wikipedia (Hakone Gardens)

This article was first published in November 2014. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.