[Best of the Santa Clara Valley 1997]

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Best of Saratoga

Hakone Gardens
Pandas Prohibited: Explorers of Hakone Gardens can walk along paths encircling exotic stands of bamboo, authentic Japanese landscape design and koi ponds, all within a short hop of downtown Saratoga.

Best Place to Bushwhack Buddha
"If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him." That's the advice the student was given before setting out on the path to enlightenment, anyway, and it's a good bet that at least one road to satori leads through Hakone Gardens. It's easy to get lost in this compact park of bamboo groves, meandering paths and Japanese architecture, with sunlight filtering through the trees and a hidden bullfrog rumbling to itself in the central koi pond. Well, not lost, but relaxed enough not to bug the Buddha. The garden is open every day except Christmas Day and New Year's Day.
21000 Big Basin Way, Saratoga (408/741-4994)

Best Place to Spend Eternity
We're not about to speculate on where a person's spirit goes after death, but it's bound to be a happy place if one's body rests in Saratoga's Madronia Cemetery. Graves of Saratogans dating back to 1854 lie beneath the redwoods and magnolia trees on a 10.5-acre island of peace amid the urban hustle. Like Saratoga itself, Madronia is somewhat exclusive. Only Saratoga or Monte Sereno property owners can buy plots. The occupants include many of Saratoga's founding fathers and mothers, from Painless Parker the dentist to Rev. Edwin "Everlasting Sunshine" Sidney Williams, who started the Blossom Festival. Cemetery manager Gary Reed estimates the cemetery has 2,530. With 75 to 90 funerals there a year, "there's room for another 75 to 100 years," Reed says.
14766 Oak St., Saratoga (408/867-3717)

Best Rustic Dining Enclave
The West Valley and Peninsula abound with enviable restaurant rows, but Big Basin Way in Saratoga Village offers a special appeal to the senses. Not only is the cuisine along this quaint strip of top-drawer quality, but so are the views--both inside and out. Well-appointed spots such as Viaggio, Sent Sovi, La Dolce Vita, Le Mouton Noir and La Fondue--to name just a few--offer sophisticated ambience, and some, like the Plumed Horse and Bella Saratoga, look out onto the natural beauty of the village. And for those who really want to get back to nature, an long list of eateries--Blue Rock Shoot, Vienna Woods deli, the Trattoria and the Village Rendezvous, among the multitudes--serve up food to go, suitable for picnics along Saratoga Creek. And this list just samples the delicious surface.
Head west on Big Basin Way from Saratoga- Los Gatos Road, Saratoga

Best Painless Way to Absorb Culture
Yes, it's an art show and a fundraiser put on by the Rotary Club, which sounds kind of stodgy, but the annual Saratoga Rotary Art Show is not only good for you but just plain fun. One can sip wine, eat pepperbelly sandwiches and enjoy an It's It ice cream bar while strolling through the biggest one-day art show west of the Mississippi, featuring 175 of the country's finest artists. In addition, the show includes a display of children's art from local schools, creations by West Valley College students, live music all day, and the Olympiad of the Arts awards ceremony, at which some of the writing and performing winners present their work on the WVC stage. The money raised from sales goes to good causes, and admission is free. The 1996 show grossed half a million dollars. Obviously, somebody liked it.
West Valley College, first Sunday of May Saratoga Rotary Club (408/725-2434)

Best Outdoor Music Venues
The sun is setting, and deer browse among the sculptures that ring the lawn in front of the Phelan mansion. A crowd gathers as musicians tune up on the Garden Theater stage. Soon the lights will go down, the audience will hush, and Johnny Cash, Shawn Colvin, Dianne Schuur or Grover Washington Jr. will take the stage, so close you can see them sweat. Villa Montalvo's Garden Theatre is one of three outdoor venues where the Villa Montalvo organization hosts concerts. In addition to the intimate Garden Theatre, thousands gather for performances on the vast "front lawn" to see the acts. The historic Mountain Winery up the hill off Highway 9 is back in action again under Montalvo's management. Programs at all three venues are top-notch, and they sell out quickly. Parking being scarce, shuttle buses transport ticketholders from West Valley College.
Villa Montalvo and the Mountain Winery (Box office: 408/961-5858)

Best Place to Get far Away From It All
Thoreau had his Walden Pond, and we have ours. Deep within Sanborn-Skyline County Park is a pond covered with lily pads, beside which one can sit among the trees and contemplate ditching urban life for something more peaceful. The pond is part of the Sanborn Youth Hostel, which rents rustic accommodations for travelers. Pines shelter a handful of picnic tables and paths that lead to the pond. The vast park also houses the Walden West complex, where people gather for meetings and youth activities, an amphitheater where couples recite wedding vows with garrulous jays as witnesses. When life is really too much, Walden Pond draws the weary worker out of the city to sit beside the water and ponder: Why lily pads?
Walden Pond, Sanborn-Skyline Park 16055 Sanborn Road, Saratoga (408/867-9959)

Best Place to See Million-Dollar Homes
Saratoga has more multimillion-dollar homes than anyplace else in the valley. Those of us who will never own such a home can cruise among them and gawk. Off Highway 9, the road to Villa Montalvo leads through some of the finest architecture in the valley. Sobey Road, Pierce Road, Bohlman Road and other byways reveal the mansions where Santa Clara Valley's leaders live. One has arrived when he can move into Saratoga's priciest neighborhoods. The higher the hill and the better the view, the higher the price. Local real-estate agents occasionally host tours of million-dollar homes, where one can stroke marble countertops, walk through room-sized closets, admire murals above spiral staircases and dream.

Best History Walk
Saratoga Village is full of history, if one knows where to look. The Saratoga Historical Museum hosts walking tours on Sunday afternoons, starting at the museum, housed in a 1905 building that has been a drug store, candy store and dress shop. Circling down Oak Street to Sixth Street to Big Basin Way, up Park Place and back to the museum, the easy walk includes the boarding house where actresses Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine once lived, century-old Oak Street School, Sam McCloud's store, the old livery stable, The Bank--a bar which began as Bank of America--and a dozen homes built more than 100 years ago. Reservations are required for the guided tour, offered from late spring until Labor Day. The museum has free maps for self-guided tours.
20450 Saratoga-Los Gatos Road, Saratoga (408/867-4311)

Best Places to See the Valley
On a Saturday night, up Highway 9 past Saratoga Village, cars hide in the darkness along the sides of the road. Are they rocking just a little? Yes, it's a great place to make out. Valley lights below, stars up above, the only disturbance being a deer wandering by or maybe a sheriff's deputy knocking on the window ... We were just waiting for the eclipse, officer. During daylight hours, up that same road, Mariani Vineyards may have the best view of the valley. In early spring, before the smog sets in, wild mustard adds a yellow tinge to the grass, and the valley spreads out below like a vast painting. For those with friends who live in high places, some of the best views may be from homes in the hills above Saratoga.
Anywhere in the Saratoga foothills

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From the Sept. 18-24, 1997 issue of Metro.

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