Living in the San Francisco Bay Area, we have more day-trip options than most people. While Napa and Sonoma are popular wine country destinations, when's the last time you visited Saratoga? The suburban enclave is home to Villa Montalvo Arts Center, upscale shopping, gourmet dining and The Santa Cruz Mountains American Viticultural Area.
Who knew there was horseback riding and wine tasting 25 minutes from downtown San Jose? Tucked away in the California hillside, Garrod Farms offers trails rides in the Fremont Older Open Space, followed with wine tasting at Cooper Garrod Estate Vineyards. Save time for lunch at Bella Saratoga, located in a historic Victorian building. If you are saddle sore, or simply want an afternoon of pampering, schedule a massage at Preston Wynne Spa.
Overnight in Saratoga
If you are planning to take in a concert at Mountain Winery -- formerly the home of Paul Masson Mountain Winery -- or don't want to drive after a day of wine tasting, reserve a room at Saratoga Oaks Lodge. The hotel is within easy walking distance to the Michelin-starred Plumed Horse restaurant and minutes by car to Villa Montalvo Arts Center or Hakone Gardens.
A member of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Hakone offers 18 acres of beautifully landscaped Japanese gardens. The oldest Japanese estate garden in the western hemisphere, Hakone was one of the film sites for "Memoirs of a Geisha."
Puerto Vallarta all-inclusive resorts
Are you good at keeping secrets? Here's a secret you can share; Secrets Vallarta Bay recently opened in Mexico. The adults-only, all-inclusive resort pulled back the curtains in April 2012. What I liked about the all-suite property, besides the views of Banderas Bay from every room, was the option to dine at all seven resort restaurants and next door at Now Amber's reservation free restaurants. The sister property, also situated beach front, is family-friendly — good for families wanting adjoining rooms for friends, teenagers or grandparents.
Flights introduced in Oakland and San Jose
Good news, Bay Area -- beginning Jan. 11, travelers to Japan have another option besides San Francisco Airport for direct flights to Tokyo's Narita Airport. All Nippon Airways' 787 Dreamliner is coming to San Jose's Norman Mineta International Airport.
While this is an 11-hour flight, Boeing's 787 makes travel dreamy. I spoke with All Nippon's USA General Manager Masaki Yokai about the Dreamliner. The mid-sized aircraft is made of carbon fiber, which makes for a light plane, yet is stronger than steel. According to Yokai, "Business class seats lay down 180 degrees, and all seats are aisle seats, so no bumping neighbors." He adds, "The higher humidity will contribute to a more comfortable cabin experience for long-haul flights such as San Jose to Tokyo."
Also in January, Cal-Jet Air will introduce nonstop flights from Oakland International Airport to Mazatlán, Mexico. I'm headed to "the Pearl of the Pacific" mid-January and will report back later.