Saratoga is built around a small, historic downtown that packs plenty of foodie punch into its three-block length. Quieter and smaller than neighboring Los Gatos’ bustling town center, Saratoga’s downtown boasts three wine tasting rooms, boutique shopping and a lively restaurant scene including the Plumed Horse, which has been awarded a Michelin star annually since 2008. Downtown is one of Saratoga’s best perks, but it is far from the only one.
Saratoga residents generally focus their energy in three areas: family, the outdoors and the arts. The city is intentionally family-friendly, with public schools that rank among the California’s best and a year-long slate of community activities and family-oriented events. Saratoga’s annual downtown holiday lighting is also a “wine crawl,” a clear indication that this suburban Eden hasn’t forgotten about its 21-and-over residents.
As for the outdoors, Saratoga is blessed with a multitude of hiking trails, public tennis courts and a local country club, which features its own courts and an executive golf course. There are fourteen parks within Saratoga’s city limits, not counting the city’s two protected open spaces, Sanborn Skyline Park and the Fremont Older Open Space, which combined have 20 miles of hiking trails.
Local arts-lovers enjoy an impressive array of arts venues for a city of 30,000; Villa Montalvo, the lush, 175-acre one-time estate of California Senator James Phelan, holds concerts, theater and art events year-round. The Mountain Winery, located two miles from downtown on twisty Pierce Road, hosts comedy events and concerts featuring musicians like Lyle Lovett and the Beach Boys. Saratoga also has an active local theater scene centered around the Saratoga Civic Theater, home to the West Valley Light Opera and the South Bay Musical Theater.
Once a thriving mill town, Saratoga has reinvented itself as Silicon Valley’s premier landing spot for successful executives and entrepreneurs looking for a quiet, family-friendly place to put down roots. Its suburban, small town setting merges the opportunity to relax with the sophistication of a big city. Saratoga is one address that can’t be beat.
It’s not difficult to see past the suburban paradise of 21st-century Saratoga and into the humble origins of its past; all you have to do is take a stroll through downtown and head west into the hills.
It is in the hills where a few pioneers interested in taking advantage of its wooded setting put down roots. In 1848, William Campbell built the first sawmill in the area on a location approximately two miles from downtown. Campbell also lent his name to the embryonic town. For several years, the municipality was known as “Campbell’s Gap,” one of the many names it went by before being christened Saratoga.
In 1850, Campbell leased his mill to Martin McCarty, who built a road leading up into the mountains from what eventually became downtown Saratoga. McCarty charged users of his road a toll; hence, the name of the settlement eventually evolved from “Campbell’s Gap” to “Tollgate.”
Tollgate (McCartysville, or Bank Mills, as Saratoga was later known) was a thriving lumber town for the next half century. The town centered along Big Basin Way, at the time was unimaginatively called “Lumber Street,” grew quickly, adding commercial businesses that weren’t always standards of clean living. In the 1880s, Saratoga was “a notorious town” with seven saloons and whispers of opium dens and illegal lotteries.
By this time, Saratoga had begun to diversify, adding farming, manufacturing and resorts to its economy. Cardboard and paper were important local products, but it was agriculture, primarily fruit orchards, that eventually became the small town’s calling card. Beginning in the 1860s shortly after Saratoga’s “timber period,” apricots, cherries, walnuts, almonds, grapes and, most commonly, prunes, slowly became the west valley’s most enduring export. This period lasted all the way up to and past World War II, when, during Santa Clara County’s greatest period of sustained growth, the potential profits of replacing orchards with residential developments became too tempting for local farmers to resist. Worried about rumblings of annexation from the city of San Jose, Saratoga incorporated in 1956.
Saratoga has come a long way since the days of the “Saratoga Drunk,” a 19th-century pejorative for mill workers who came down from the hills on payday and blew their entire checks in Saratoga saloons. But the town continues to honor its past through its historic downtown, its yearly Blossom Festival and its robust local historical society.