If you know the way from San Francisco to San Jose, you will also know that that route runs through “Silicon Valley,” an area best known by marquee names in the high-tech industry such as Apple, Google, Hewlett-Packard (aka “HP”) and Intel.
Those American companies now overshadow their once-dominant counterparts in Japan.
But a little bit of Japan that has nothing at all to do with computers, TVs, smartphones or tablets, is tucked away in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains that separate the southern end of the San Francisco Bay Area from the Pacific Ocean.
Just about a 15-minute drive south of Cupertino, California where Apple is building a new 21st century campus that resembles a giant flying saucer that has literally “come down to earth,” sits Hakone Estate & Gardens, built nearly one hundred years ago by philanthropists Oliver and and Isabel Stine as a summer home in a style based on the Japanese gardens and pavilion that they had seen at the 1915 Pan-Pacific International Exposition in their hometown of San Francisco.
Although Mr. Stine died suddenly in 1918, Mrs. Stine and her family continued to own the property until she sold it in 1932.
Thereafter, it passed through the hands of several owners until 1966 when the City of Saratoga purchased Hakone Gardens to be a city park. Today it is managed for the city by the Hakone Foundation.
According the estate and gardens Website , “in 2004 Hakone Estate and Gardens was chosen by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as one of the twelve national sites to receive funding under their ‘Save America’s Treasures’ program. Hakone was the dramatic location for the movie, ‘Memoirs of a Geisha,’ winner of three Academy Awards.”
Hakone serves as a quiet retreat from the urban congestion, high-tech industrial parks, and suburban sprawl of the Silicon Valley. You can walk the property on your own, or take a docent-guide tour.
There are several distinct gardens, including one with a fish pond filled with large, colorful koi.
Hakone Estate and Gardens is open year-round, except for Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. But a great time to visit is during late winter and spring when the cherry trees and wisteria are in bloom.
A picnic area is located on the property just outside of the gardens themselves. You can also have a meal in Saratoga, and taste wine at the nearby Mountain Winery (formerly Paul Masson), which also hosts a series of summer concerts, and Cooper-Garrod Estate Vineyards.
(Hakone Estate and Gardens is located at 21000 Big Basin Way, Saratoga, CA 95070, about 50 miles south of San Francisco and 15 miles west of San Jose. Tales Told From The Road editor received complimentary admission to the gardens along with other members of the non-profit professional associate of travel writers and photographers, Bay Area Travel Writers, which held its monthly meeting at Hakone in March, 2016.)