Los Gatos, Calif., may be the perfect walking town. Located 10 miles southwest of downtown San Jose, it's a community of wide, tree-shaded sidewalks that pass through a polished historic downtown and well-heeled residential neighborhoods. It's also set against the Santa Cruz Mountains, whose foothills are full of trails. You can hike along a meandering creek, end up at the Los Gatos Coffee Roasting Company for a cappuccino, and then poke around Los Gatos Antiques, a collective across the street. It's easy to do a lot here without ever getting into your car.
Start your promenade at the Town Plaza, a grassy square with a grove of redwoods and a fountain designed especially for children. It's the perfect spot to enjoy a burrito from nearby Andalé Taqueria. On Sundays, a farmers' market takes over the area. Popular vendors include Tony the crepe maker, who folds Nutella into his thin pancakes, and Bill the oyster man, who shucks freshly harvested bivalves.
From there, you can amble down the three primary commercial roads: Main Street and North Santa Cruz and University avenues. Handsomely replicated and restored buildings with various architectural styles front these streets. The current art deco look of the Los Gatos Cinema was adopted in 1929, after the original silent-movie theater burned. And Old Town, a grammar school built in 1923 and styled after Mission San Juan Capistrano, houses shops and restaurants.
The town's oldest structures, the 1880 Forbes Mill Annex and a stone wall from the 1854 flour mill, are what remains of the area's first commercial building and business. The annex now houses the History Museum of Los Gatos, which offers free brochures for a historic walking tour and changing exhibits that explore local lore.
Manresa's prix fixe menu starts at $58 for three dishes. But for a true splurge, try chef David Kinch's $94 tasting menu, which features between eight and 14 innovative courses. 320 Village Ln., 354-4330.
Downtown is also chockablock with a mix of high-end chains, such as Smith & Hawken, and one-of-a-kind boutiques. On the main shopping drag, North Santa Cruz Avenue, a store called Upstream sells fly-fishing rods and more than 300 varieties of flies. Down a block, home accessories—from wall clocks to cookie cutters—clutter the maze of rooms at Domus. Next door, at the Maids' Quarters, baby-soft European linens invite you to run your fingers across them. Treasure hunters shouldn't miss the antique stores at the intersection of University Avenue and Main Street. Antiquarium specializes in advertising memorabilia; some 45 chandeliers dangle from the ceiling of the Opera House Studios.
If you prefer to walk on rugged terrain, try the challenging Jones Trail. Beginning on Jones Road, the hike leads to the St. Joseph's Hill Open Space Preserve, where a tangle of skinny trails wind past madrone trees. On the corner of Main Street and College Avenue, you can also access the 16-mile-long Los Gatos Creek Trail, which travels from San Jose into the foothills, to Lexington Reservoir. The trail's last 1.7-mile stretch climbs to the reservoir dam but has been closed due to construction. It will reopen in mid-February.
If you walk north on the trail (toward San Jose) for one mile, a paved path takes you to the adjoining Oak Meadow and Vasona parks. Families can enjoy more than 50 acres of picnic-perfect lawn. Kids hop on board the miniature steam train at Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad or ride the restored carousel, originally built for the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco. In the summer, you can rent a paddleboat at Vasona Lake, which is surrounded by cattails.
Of course, you could drive to all these places. In fact, the town is quite car friendly, with lots of free street parking and a few garages. But that would be missing the point. Los Gatos is pedestrian—in the best sense of the word.
A Local Speaks "One of my favorite things is our beautiful Los Gatos Creek Trail up to Lexington Reservoir. The view of the Bay Area alone is worth the climb." —Peggy Fleming Jenkins, Olympic gold medalist (figure skating, 1968) and longtime Los Gatos resident
Photography courtesy of Mike24/Wikimedia Commons
This article was first published in January 2004. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.
Area code is 408. Pick up AAA's Sunnyvale-Santa Clara-Western San Jose map and the Northern California and Nevada TourBook. Contact the Chamber of Commerce, 354-9300, or visit losgatosca.gov.
History Museum of Los Gatos Changing exhibits. January to March, history of local cemeteries. 75 Church St., 395-7375.
HAVE A BALL
Campo di Bocce An Italian restaurant with eight bocce ball courts. Reserve ahead; staff provides brief lessons. 565 University Ave., 395-7650.
Vasona Lake Paddleboat and rowboat rentals, June through August. 972-1188. William E. "Bill" Mason Carousel and Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad 395-7433, www.bjwrr.org.
Chamber of Commerce Hiking trail maps. Los Gatos Creek Trail Contact Santa Clara County Parks and Recreation, 355-2200. St. Joseph's Hill Open Space Preserve Contact Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District, (650) 691-1200. Summit Bicycles Information on mountain biking trails; rentals. 111 E. Main St., 399-9142.
Los Gatos Brewery Pub grub. 130 N. Santa Cruz Ave., 395-9929. Los Gatos Cinema Art, foreign, and independent films. 41 N. Santa Cruz Ave., 395-0203. Mountain Charley's Saloon Live bands on weekends. 15 N. Santa Cruz Ave., 395-8880.
Andalé Taqueria Burritos filled with smoky grilled chicken. 21 N. Santa Cruz Ave., 395-8997. Café Marcella Excellent double-cut pork chops. 368 Village Ln., 354-8006. A Matter of Taste Croque monsieurs. 35 E. Main St., 399-1599. Tapestry Globally inspired small plates. 11 College Ave., 395-2808.
Los Gatos Coffee Roasting Company More than 30 types of java. 101 W. Main St., 354-3263. Southern Kitchen Worth-the-wait French toast. 27 E. Main St., 354-7515.
Dolce Spazio Creamy gelato. 221 N. Santa Cruz Ave., 395-1335. Fleur de Cocoa Chocolate tarts. 39 N. Santa Cruz Ave., 354-3574. Icing on the Cake Moist carrot cakes. 50 W. Main St., 354-2464.
FRUIT OF THE VINE
The French Cellar French wines. 32 E. Main St., 354-0993. Testarossa Vineyards 1888 sandstone building just a 10-minute walk from downtown. 300-A College Ave., 354-6150.