There’s a lot of history in the village of Saratoga, as the downtown area of the South Bay city is known. Look for dozens of historical plaques, restored old buildings, a cemetery and Julia Morgan-designed structures amid the shops and restaurants at the foot of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Entry to the village is marked by Blaney Plaza and Memorial Arch, which pays tribute to local veterans who died in World War I. It’s also the home of a piano placed there in 2022 for members of the public to play.

The Saratoga Historical Foundation Museum has a new exhibition devoted to blacksmithing. (Courtesy Larry Sokoloff)

Visit the Saratoga Historical Foundation Museum, open Fridays to Sundays, located nearby at 20450 Saratoga-Los Gatos Road. There’s a main building that dates from 1905, along with a pioneer cottage from the 1850s, a trolley stop from 1904, a one-room schoolhouse and even a new blacksmith exhibit.

Annette Stransky, president of the Saratoga Historical Foundation, which operates the museum, calls blacksmiths “VIPs in the 1850s, who provided lots of services in that time. They didn’t have Ace Hardware.”

A block away, across busy Saratoga-Los Gatos Road, is the Foothill Club, one of San Francisco architect Morgan’s masterpieces. Located at 20399 Park Place, it has a brown-shingled exterior that looks familiar to those who know Morgan’s work. One of the nation’s first female architects, Morgan designed more than 700 buildings in the Bay Area, and seven in Saratoga, Stransky said. Morgan’s other famous buildings include Hearst Castle and San Francisco’s Fairmont Hotel.

Esteemed California architect Julia Morgan designed seven buildings in Saratoga, including the Foothill Club. (Courtesy Larry Sokoloff)

Continue onto Big Basin Way, the commercial hub of the village, which is a good place to walk and learn more about the colorful past of this city of 31,000.

The village is home to many historical plaques placed by the city’s Heritage Preservation Commission. Each plaque provides a history lesson on such subjects as Saratoga’s Chinese community in the 19th century, the Ohlone natives and Saratoga’s long-time movie theater.

Historical plaques with information about many different topics are abundant in Saratoga. (Courtesy Larry Sokoloff)

One plaque tells the story of this former untamed logging town, noting that it had as many as 17 saloons in the 19th century. But the Women’s Christian Temperance Union fought to make it dry, and in 1905, Saratoga became the first liquor-free city in the state. The ban lasted over 40 years. Today there are plenty of bars and restaurants in the village serving alcohol.

The Historical Foundation provides docent-led tours of the village, and also provides extensive walking and biking tours of the city’s historical sites. Call (408) 867-4311 to arrange a tour or visit for more information and self-guided tours as well.

Close to Big Basin Way, among the historic buildings on Oak Street, is the city’s tree-lined Madronia Cemetery, founded in 1854. Among those resting here is Mary Brown, widow of abolitionist John Brown, who organized a famous raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859. She moved to the area after the Civil War.

Madronia Cemetery is one of Saratoga’s oldest sites. (Courtesy Larry Sokoloff)

Follow Big Basin Way into the mountains to find one of Saratoga’s best-known attractions, Hakone Estate and Gardens, an 18-acre site of Japanese gardens with a koi pond. Many of the original plantings, trees and ornamental fixtures came from the Japanese Pavilion at San Francisco’s 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition. More information on hours and admission fees is at