Saturday, March 31, 2012

The SF Zoo, Humphry Slocombe and LYFE Kitchen

Each year on my Birthday hubby takes the day off work and we go do whatever I want and eat wherever I want! Sometimes these excursions are imperfect.

Like the year hubby announced as we were getting our parking ticket validated that I should pay for the parking because he was buying me my Birthday present, a $40 shopping spree of baked goods at Miette. The horrified cashier's eyes widened and she began to slowly shake her head in slow motion as she mouthed the word "Noooooooooo" at hubby. I turned to him and said "Are you serious? You want me to pay for the parking while you're buying me my Birthday present?" The cashier felt so bad for me she actually gave me a free cupcake. LOL :D

But this year was perfect. This is a bit of an odd post, a combination of what I wanted to do for my Birthday along with photo tips, my thoughts about and hopes for the San Francisco Zoo, and wildlife conservation. I realize I may sound critical at times but it seems to me a city like San Francisco should have one of the best, most modern, natural and environmentally friendly zoos in the United States. Instead the zoo consists of a hodge podge of enclosures with far too many that are too small, unnatural and/or outdated.

The African Savanna exhibit is the most successful when it comes to an enclosure that affords the animals space, naturalness and freedom while still allowing visitors to easily view them. Hopefully someday all of the animals will be given enclosures and habitats designed with the same considerations.

East African Crowned Crane shot with my 14-140mm lens

I chose going to the zoo because I was long overdue to try out the super-duper tele-photo lens hubby got me two months ago. Back when we first went there for our Aperture Academy workshop I had a 14-140mm zoom lens which allowed me to take pretty good, but not great, pictures. With a 100-300mm lens I knew I'd be able to take better pictures. Above was the "closest" I could get with the 14-140 lens.

And the same crane from a different angle shot with my new 100-300mm lens. Wow, what a difference!

Hubby had given me the  LUMIX G VARIO 100-300mm / F4.0-5.6 / MEGA O.I.S. camera lens back in January. For my Birthday he asked if there was any camera equipment I needed. I said YES I'd like to have a monopod. So, we went to San Jose Camera where he helped me pick out the Manfrotto 294 Aluminum Monopod and a Mini Ball Head to go with it.

Here's what I've figured out: When it comes to long distance photography, particularly wildlife photography, you simply have to have the best tele-photo lens you can get your hands on and using a tripod or monopod is essential when you're using long focal lengths. I have a tripod but hate lugging it around. Guess what? I was right. I LOVE the monopod. It's small, fast to set up and take down, and light. It's perfect for my needs.

Check out the detail in the crown feathers of the East African Crowned Crane using the 100-300mm lens and a monopod. Overall the detail is incredibly sharp compared to the closest I could get shooting with my 14-140mm lens.


Of all the animals at the zoo the Crowned Cranes seem to have one of the most ideal environments. I watched them bathe, rest, preen and run around their enclosure in a manner that seemed to be far more natural than many of the other animals I saw that day.

Flapping after a bath to dry out its feathers

The picture above shows how the birds are kept from flying away. Notice how the bird's right wing (your left) looks shorter than it's other wing. That's because the tip of it's right wing has been pinioned. Pinioning is the removal of the last section the wing where the flight feathers grow. Removing those feathers either by clipping them off with scissors (causes no pain) or removing the entire pinion joint (a surgical procedure), means the bird will not be able to fly. Pinioning is a permanent solution, while wing clipping must be done once a year when the clipped flight feathers have molted and have been replaced by new feathers.

The Reticulated Giraffe came in for its close up :)

Because the Scimitar Horned Oryx have such long horns, I used my less powerful 14-140mm lens to shoot them. A close up of just their faces with no horns wouldn't have been nearly as interesting.

Sadly this species of Oryx are extinct in the wild. This is one of the two main reasons I choose to support the zoo. Though there are many things about it that may need improvements, I don't think there is a more effective way to help educate the public about why conservation is important and due to things like habitat loss and poaching, zoo's are often one of the few ways of guaranteeing that endangered species have some protection from extinction.

Waldrapp Ibis is one of the most critically endangered birds in the world

Here are two of my favorite pictures I took that day. In the African Savanna exhibition there is a small aviary that I wish could be far larger for the ibis and stork to be able to fly more freely as nature intended. There are several types of free flying birds that sit on the roof top of the viewing area building and in the branches of the treed canopy above. Both of these pictures were taken shooting up at the birds as they sat on the roof with the overcast sky as the backdrop.

Because the Waldrapp Ibis is one of the most critically endangered birds in the world, the fact that it has successfully reproduced at the SF Zoo for the past three years shows why captive breeding programs are needed. I do believe that it's better to allow an animal to go extinct in the wild only, and not in captivity too. Without healthy breeding programs in captivity there would then be no chance to ever reintroduce extinct-in-the-wild animals, back into the wild someday when awareness, sanctuaries or laws are in place to protect them.

African Open-billed Stork

The aviary is so far from the natural habitat for the large Open-billed Storks that it makes me upset to look at all of the open space around the zoo and see them stuck in their small flight enclosure. As they flew overhead it reminded me of kids jumping from couch to couch for exercise in a living room, when what they really need is to go to a big park so they can run and play. The storks need a park of their own, preferably one with a large pond with muddy banks they can root around in, a natural feeding behavior.

Hadada Ibis

The Hadada Ibis is a resident in the same enclosure as the Waldrapp Ibis and Open Billed Stork but is much less flamboyant, camouflaging nicely into the leaf and branch ground cover with its slightly iridescent brown and green feathers.


Next we moved to the Mandrill exhibit. WOW. The male Mandrill is gorgeous. They move quickly so shooting them can be challenging. I started at ground level then captured this shot from a staircase that leads to a higher viewing deck.

Here's what I realized while photographing the Mandrills: If you want to photograph zoo animals, and get great shots, you have to be willing to invest more than ten minutes in front of their enclosures. I could easily spend 4 to 5 hours shooting at just one exhibit. Especially if the animal is one that moves around a lot. The backdrops, lighting and most importantly, their expressions can change dramatically.

The peacocks were everywhere! They wander around the grounds at will. It made me wonder how they know which enclosures not to land in. They seem to know which animals are safe to be around and which to avoid. They are so beautiful. This is one of my favorite pictures I took that day. The intensity of the colors in his feathers was stunning.

They are as gorgeous from behind as they are facing you.

A tail feathers close up.

White on white is one of the most difficult things to photograph because it's easy to let in too much light and "blow out" the picture causing the shadows that create definition to disappear leaving you with a big blob of bright white. So I was very pleased that I was able to capture a fair amount of definition in the Pelican's feathers.

There are two American White Pelican's at the SF Zoo. Both were injured in the wild necessitating part or all of one wing having to be amputated. They have been residents of the zoo since 1966 and 1991. Considering the alternative of dying in the wild or being euthanized because of the inability to ever fly again, a life in captivity swimming in their large lagoon seems to be the most ideal compromise for these beautiful birds.

Double-wattled Cassowary are indigenous to New Guinea

Here I was able to learn about another function on my camera. To date I've always used the auto focus by default. In most cases it works just fine. But here, when I was photographing the Double-wattled Cassowary the auto focus kept selecting the mesh on the exterior of the pen to focus on. So Hubby said use the manual focus instead. I had no idea where the function was. Doh! So I poked around in my menu a bit and was able to locate the controller to switch it over to manual. WOW. What a difference that made!

Fishing Cat

Both the Fishing Cat and the Sumatran Tiger below were shot through viewing glass. Shooting through thick panes of glass or plexi glass can be challenging for several reasons:
  1. The glass can distort the color adding in more green or blue to your photos
  2. Windows, both plexi and regular glass, are often scratched and/or dirty so finding the cleanest area to shoot through can improve your end results dramatically
My best tip is to place your camera directly against the glass to remove glare and if you have a white balance settings use them. They will help you to create a more natural color balance.

A sleeping Sumatran Tiger

The Amur Tiger

I captured this image of the Amur Tiger with no glass between us. Also known as the Siberian Tiger it is the largest cat in the world. The Amur Tiger was once so highly endangered there were as few as 40 left in the wild. Following a concerted effort to protect them their numbers have risen and are becoming more stable.

Just like in December, watching this beautiful tiger in its small enclosure really broke my heart. Shortly after I took this photo the tiger got up to drink from a small pond in its enclosure then began pacing back and forth, back and forth along the lawn :( I'm no tiger expert but I know that is not a natural behavior, it's a stress behavior. This tiger lacks the habitat and stimulation it needs to create a level of natural contentment.

The Lion House is one the most outdated of all of the enclosures at the SF Zoo. The Snow Leopard habitat on the side of the building feels almost like an afterthought and I'm certain, even without discussing it with them that the Fishing Cats would appreciate more space.

This Black Rhino came up to me, not vice versa.

Sadly the Black Rhino population in the wild had declined by 97.6% since 1960. Since the 1990's their numbers have increased slightly so that their numbers in the wild are now 90% lower than they were in 1960.

Elly at the SF Zoo is one of the most prolific breeding female Black Rhinos in captivity having given birth to 14 calves many of which now reside at other zoos helping to diversify the captive breeding gene pool.

The Nile Hippo was very active and inquisitive that day.

I also dropped by the Eugene Friend Carousel just outside the Children's Zoo entrance.

The carousel itself is a vintage, hand carved, Dentzel carousel. It's gorgeous!

A female Common Golden Eye sea duck. There were several of them in the pond at the Children's Zoo. They are much smaller than a mallard duck. They were my second favorite kind of duck I saw that day.

The top image is with the 100-300mm while the lower is from the 14-140mm lens.

The Blue-billed duck was my favorite. Also smaller than a Mallard, with a sky blue bill, chestnut plumage and a black tail that it holds upright as it paddles about, it's a very striking little duck!

For lunch we had stopped at Subway beforehand. The last time we were at the Zoo we ate at the Leaping Lemur Cafe and to be honest, I had a very lackluster slice of vegetarian pizza. So after dining on a fresh sandwich loaded with veggies before our day of shooting began, five hours later we headed to Humphry Slocombe, an ice cream shop located in the Mission at 24th and Harrison for a pick me up.

Humphry Slocombe: A quirky and modern ice cream shop

My friend (and hair stylist) Armando had told me about Humphry Slocombe years ago. The shop is very understated on the outside. There was a small sandwich board with their name on it near the corner, a few bistro tables and chairs and you'll see the words "ice cream" on the edge of a bright blue awning. Inside there's a small ice cream case that holds up to 12 flavors a day. The flavors are amazing, imaginative and some have an "ewwwwww" factor I've never experienced at other ice cream shops. The most odd thing about the shop itself is the rather creepy taxidermy of a two-headed calf hung directly over the bar. Though I was sitting directly beneath it I didn't notice it until hubby pointed it out. The brim of my baseball cap had obstructed it from my field of vision.

Salt and Pepper with Pepper & Mint Chip shot with My Leica 45mm Macro Lens

So what flavors did I try? Well, Aramando said the "Salt and Pepper" was one of his favorites so I paired it with the "Pepper & Mint Chip" another black pepper infused flavor. OMIC. It was fantastic! So now my favorite ice cream shops are (in alphabetical order):
  1. Humphry Slocombe in San Francisco's Mission District, CA
  2. Jeni's Splendid in Columbus, OH
  3. The Penny Ice Creamery in downtown Santa Cruz, CA.

Since I'm such a foodie Hubby got me this giant fork for my Birthday!

And for dinner Hubby let me pick so I chose one of my most favorite restaurants, LYFE Kitchen. I had my usual Art's Unfried Chicken Dinner with a Gardein chicken cutlet and oven roasted Brussels Sprouts, sweet potato and dried cranberries. It was the perfect meal to end a perfect day.

About the San Francisco Zoo

In a previous post, featuring a visit to the SF Zoo in 2011 I wrote:

"I do appreciate that the SF zoo participates in conservation projects and takes in wounded or damaged animals that might otherwise be destroyed. IMO, in a perfect world, these would be the only animals kept in zoos.

So there's good and bad but to me, the most important thing about the SF Zoo in particular is that they want to improve the outdated enclosures many of the animals live in but they need to raise more funds, about $5,000,000.00, to do so. So visiting the zoo is, at the end of the day, helping the animals who are already there to one day have a better quality of life."

Instead of spending $30 for admission on this visit ($15 per adult) we opted instead to buy a one year, fully tax deductible, $95 family membership. It includes:
  • Free entrance to the SF Zoo for an entire year for hubby and myself (and up to two kids we don't have)
  • Two one-time use parking lot passes (There's also free street parking a short distance away on Sloat Blvd)
  • Two one-time use guest passes
  • Two one-time use tickets for the carousel or train
  • Invitations to members only events at the SF Zoo
  • 10% discount at all Zoo shops, cafes and carts
  • Discounts on education classes, Zoo camps and activities for kids and adults
  • Free or discounted admission at over 120 zoos nationwide
  • Zoo Views online magazine and monthly Animail e-newsletter filled with stories, videos, pictures, events, and the latest animal updates

Friday, March 30, 2012

Saratoga, CA: From elegant European to rustic Americana

This month's photo tour features Saratoga, CA. While one of the most affluent areas in the Bay Area, anyone can afford to spend a day in Saratoga shopping, dining, wine tasting or enjoying a concert. My photo adventure buddy Carl Mindling and I visited four locations that are great for a day of Northern California tourism and for weddings and special events. We also had a delicious lunch. I'll be writing about the tourist aspect of each location and Carl blogged about how, from informal to elegant, each location is also ideal for hosting weddings. His post includes really beautiful wedding photos, taken by local photographers, from each venue.

We visited a range of venues beginning at the very European Montalvo Arts Center, had lunch at the Bell Tower Bistro, moved on to the zen Japanese gardens at Hakone Gardens, visited The Mountain Winery and concluded our day at the Saratoga Springs camp and picnic grounds. The sky was a dreary grey most of the day but we were happy enough because at least it wasn't raining.

I've written about the Montalvo Arts Center and Villa Montalvo on several occasions in the past. As you drive down Highway 9 just west of downtown Los Gatos you'll see a sign and a pair of stone griffins on the south side of the HWY. Driving between them on Montalvo Road you'll meander through a neighborhood of beautiful homes and estates. You'll pass through a second pair of stone griffins before you turn onto Piedmont Road as you enter the private drive to the Montalvo Arts Center. The centerpiece of the 175 acre property is the gorgeous Mediterranean-styled Historic Villa built in 1912.

There is no charge to tour the grounds or walk the hiking trails on your own. Two hour long docent led tours of the Villa and grounds are available. Reservations must be made ahead. The walking tours are free to members and their guests. Cost to non-members is $10 per person.

The Carriage House theater often hosts performances of many different styles. I once saw Tibeten monks there singing and chanting. It was a really cool cultural experience. There's also a small art gallery called the Project Space Gallery that features contemporary art by current and former artists in residence. The gallery is open Thursday through Sunday from 11:00 AM - 3:00 PM.

Parking is free when no events are taking place. If you're going to visit the grounds or take a hike you'll want to park in lots 3 or 4 to the left of the Villa. If you're attending a concert or event there are a limited number of paid parking passes available as well as an offsite lot that offers free parking and shuttle rides directly to the Villa.

For weddings many couples use the Oval Garden for their ceremony site and the Spanish Courtyard for their cocktail hours. The ballroom inside the Villa is used for formal receptions.

The Lilian Fontaine Garden Theatre

Behind the Villa is the outdoor amphitheater. Last year I saw Pete and Sheila Escovedo along with the rest of the "E Family" in concert there. It was the first concert I've attended at Montalvo. It was fantastic. Such a lovely location and we had front row seats. The sculpture pictured above is nestled back at the top of the seating section. It's so different from most concert venues. Once the acts have been announced for the current season you can check them out online by CLICKING HERE.

We even saw one lone banana slug on one of the hiking trails.

Just west of the seating area is an aged stone staircase that leads up into the trees. This is "The Poet's walk" one of the entrances that leads to 2.5 miles of hiking trails, open to the public, behind the villa. Click here to view a map of the trails on the Montalvo Arts website.

The Love Temple and Italianate Garden

After the hiking trail we walked along the Great Lawn in front of the Villa to the Italianate Garden. According to Webster's dictionary Italianate means: Italian in quality or style. Italianate gardens were first developed during the mid to latter part of the 1500's. The gardens would typically include architectural elements as well as sculptures and sometimes water elements. They would often be divided into sections of use. In Montalvo's Italianate Garden the Love Temple is a standing structure with a water feature sculptural element housed within. There is also a seating section of benches partway down the main walkway and to the left of the walkway this beautiful sculpture:

A statue of Adam and Eve. How do I know this is Adam and Eve? Because when I looked behind them I saw this: CLICK HERE.

There are also many other modern sculptural projects displayed around the grounds so if you go visit the Villa be sure to take a peek at their current list so you can get a jump on which pieces you'd like to see while you're there.

The Bell Tower Bistro and Patisserie

After all of that walking we were hungry! I'd read about the Bell Tower online and because it's not on the more well known stretch of Big Basin Way, the heart of Saratoga Village, I wanted to give it a try. Plus its name includes two of my favorite words: Bistro and Patisserie. LOL

As it turned out every location we visited that day has a history that dates back to the 1800's or early 1900's and the Bell Tower was no exception. Built in 1895 the building was first used as a Methodist Episcopal Church in1896. The property also served as a Red Cross facility during World War I, as the city's Town Hall and was once a school. In 1924 the church became an art gallery and was later used as a bridal salon. The Bell Tower restaurant opened in 2010 and I'm surprised it took me until 2012 to discover it!

Since Pure closed in Campbell last year this is my new favorite Panini. 

The Roasted Red Pepper Panini: Roasted red bell pepper, caramelized onions, gruyere cheese and pesto

The Veggie Burger was fantastic!

The Veggie Burger: A house made patty on a sesame seed bun served with butter lettuce a tomato slice, red onion rings, crunchy pickles and house made potato chips fried fresh each morning.

My Delicious Soy Mocha

Go up the driveway when you see this sign

Onward to Hakone Gardens. Not only is this my favorite Japanese garden I've ever been to, it's also the oldest Japanese garden in the western hemisphere established in 1915. You may recall I've blogged about it in the past.

It's located on Big Basin Way just west of the downtown shopping district. The driveway and sign appear rather quickly as you follow the curving road so don't speed or you'll roll right past it and have to double back. It will be on your left very shortly after passing downtown. If you make it to The Mountain Winery you've gone too far. I did the on my first two visits.

There is a nominal fee to visit the garden but parking and visiting the gift shop there is free. You purchase tokens at the gift shop at the entrance of the parking lot. Once inside you have access to several areas. This is the main entry. I love how the open entrance way creates a framed picture that you pass through.

Once you step through the entryway there is a koi and turtle filled pond and a moon viewing house that faces east perched on the hillside overlooking the pond. In March the flowering cherry trees are blooming. They're so lovely!

Hoping for food the large and colorful koi will flock towards the edge of the pond as you approach creating a great photo op! Along the south end of the pond is a foot path that leads you to a small waterfall. There is also a short hiking trail that cuts up into the hillside and a path that leads to bamboo gardens (at the top of the parking lot) that also create great backdrops for touristy photos. Be sure to walk up to them from inside the park. Access is restricted once you exit. Next month I plan to return to see the wisteria arbor in bloom just below and behind the moon viewing house.

This is my favorite photo I took that day. I don't know if that pudgy little bird is a sparrow, finch or chikadee but it made for a beautiful image sitting atop the pink, blooming, weeping, cherry blossom branches.

Hobby and tourist photography is allowed at no charge. A permit and fee is required for professional or commercial photography.

It is so peaceful and serene I could easily spend a couple of hours here each time I visit.

Left: March after a storm - Right: During the month of June

A Tourist Tip: If the weather has been particularly stormy the pond may be clouded with mud. When we went last March it was after a storm and the pond looked like a mocha coffee drink with fish swimming in it. By contrast during a visit in June the water was pretty clear but very green from algae.

Our next stop is two things: An internationally renowned winery and my favorite concert venue in the Bay Area. The Mountain Winey was formerly known as the Paul Masson Mountain Winery. I've blogged about it once before. It's just down the road from Hakone Gardens on Big Basin Way. It also kind of sneaks up on you so when you see the sign above immediately turn north onto Pierce Road.

If you're a Paul Masson fan there are many wonderful, touristy, photo ops here. The rolling vineyards, large oak barrels scattered around the property (both on your walk in and around the amphitheater), sweeping views of Silicon Valley and pieces of history like The Chateau all make perfect backdrops for photos.

The Chateau, built in 1905, sits atop the property with an amazing view of Silicon Valley below. After purchasing the property in 1901 Masson used this location to produce his sparkling champagne. According to the the Mountain Winery website:

"The prestigious Paris Award, which he won at the Paris Expo of 1900, did not go unnoticed by the French press. Suddenly the whole world knew about Paul Masson Champagne of California."

In the mid 1950's the winery stopped producing wine and in 1958 hosted its first summer concert series. The series has endured to this day with world class musicians performing at the winery each year. The first concert I saw there was Willie Nelson back in the late 80's. As I can best recall, the seating was long wooden bleachers and the ground was dirt. With recent upgrades the current amphitheater is an absolute gem. The South Bay is very fortunate to have The Mountain Winery summer concert series right here in our own backyard.

Some of my favorite shows I've seen there were Styx, INXS and Don Henley. Some, not all, performers allow photography during their shows. The only restriction is that your camera has to be either a phone or point and shoot camera. Detachable lens cameras are not allowed. These photos were all taken with my Panasonic Lumix DMC-LX3 point and shoot.

Backstage with INXS at the Mountain Winery: The Original Sin Tour, 2011

If you've never been to a concert there I highly recommend going to one. The space is so beautiful and intimate with the stage literally a stones throw (well, if you have a good throwing arm) from wherever you're sitting. Three course dinner packages are available as are light meals, snacks and beverages including wine and beer at the concession stands. Car poolers are rewarded with a discounted event parking rate so try to drive up with at least three people in your car and go early so you can enjoy a glass of wine and the views of the valley before taking your seat.

This is a favorite photo backdrop for tourists who visit The Mountain Winery.

There are multiple locations to have a wedding, party or corporate event including the Historic Winery Building, and Chateau, Winery and Vista "Decks." Wine tastings are offered in the lower level of the Historic Winery Building Thursday-Sunday.

Last year we took out of town guests for a tasting. That's them in the bottom left with bartender and site historian Jesse Montegnegro 

The tasting room has a comfortable, rustic, swanky feel. Chatting with bartender Jesse Montenegro we learned there is more history to the winery than I'd ever imagined. As he began telling us stories about the origins of the portal you see center stage during concerts, photos by Ansel Adams in the tasting room, and more, I realized there is far too much history to properly share in this post so I'm planning to revisit the winery again just to hear more of Jesse's stories.

Our final stop was Saratoga Springs, just a bit further down Big Basin Way

One of the things I really loved about this day was that every location was so different beginning with the very formal Mediterranean villa, moving to a Japanese garden, followed by a French chateau-winery-concert venue and ending at Saratoga Springs, a location that has specialized in picnic-style gatherings for over 150 years. While not a tourists destination per say it is a place for travelers and party goers.

There'e an RV park, tents, a small General Store and two creeks, Booker and Saratoga, that run through and around the property. For the most part the space is used for organized small and large gatherings as the picnic areas must be reserved in advance. All picnic food is provided through the venue.

I once attended a large corporate picnic at Longbridge picnic area.

It was great fun and there was a plentiful supply of BBQ meats and salads. I had fruit salad, Cesar salad, potato salad and pasta salad. This is definitely a family friendly venue where kids can be kids and adults can act like kids too!

In or around the seven picnic areas there are many activities that can be provided for events including; volleyball, swimming, bocce ball, inflatable jump houses, an inflatable obstacle course, basketball, kids swings and a slide, a dunk tank.

This wall is a remanent of the original William Campbell Sawmill

Just across from the General Store is a piece of history. The plaque says:

"Built 1848
This water powered mill marked the beginning of the lumber industry in these
mountains that led to the founding of the village that became Saratoga."

This is all that remains. While reading more about the history of Saratoga online it was funny to learn that back in the 1800's town lots in sold for between $10 and $50 and farming land sold for between $10 to $40 per acre. Now? My guess is you can't get an acre of land there for less than a million dollars. Can you even imagine?

If you follow our route you'll drive smack through "The Village." Saratoga's historic downtown shopping district is full of restaurants, shops, beauty salons and the Preston Wynn Day Spa. Restaurants I would visit again include La Fondue, Masu Japanese BistroThe Basin and the Blue Rock Shoot coffee house. A restaurant on my list to try is Mint Leaf Cuisine, which offers an asian fusion menu.

So if  you've never been to Saratoga and live in the Bay Area a day trip might be in order! If you have out of town guests Saratoga is a great place to take them to spend a relaxing day especially if you can attend a concert that same evening at The Mountain Winery or Villa Montalvo. I've always loved Saratoga though I must admit I've always saved it for visitors. This year I think I'll be spending more time there for my own enjoyment and think you should too :)

Here is the route we took that day:

Villa Montalvo
15400 Montalvo Road
Saratoga, CA 95070

Hakone Estate and Gardens
21000 Big Basin Way
Saratoga, CA 95070

Bell Tower Bistro
2490 Saratoga-Los Gatos Road
Saratoga, CA 95070

The Mountain Winery
14831 Pierce Road
Saratoga, CA 95070

Saratoga Springs
22801 Big Basin Way
Saratoga, CA 95070