I moved to the Los Altos area from San Francisco years ago, largely because it felt right for my growing family. It’s not an unusual story for local transplants, as many relocate for their careers, the benefits of Peninsula living and/or the high-performing schools.
Although our move wasn’t major when measured in miles, it was huge emotionally. I figured that leaving San Francisco meant bidding farewell to the liveliness, the quirkiness and the food scene I so loved.
It turns out, however, that I worried in vain. Los Altos and the surrounding cities are exceptional places to live that provide both suburban comforts and urban zeal.
I have learned much about the area in the years since I’ve moved. I’ve come to see Los Altos as a place where ambition becomes reality and families flourish.
Roll out the welcome mat
While Los Altos doesn’t experience substantial population growth year-over-year, it is a community that welcomes newcomers.
If you’re a newly minted resident, make an effort to strike up conversations with people you meet at parks, grocery stores and coffee shops. I found upon moving to the area that the natives truly love Los Altos and are anxious to share their passion with newcomers.
If you’re a joiner, check out the Los Altos-Los Altos Hills Newcomers Club. Founded more than 50 years ago, the club helps new residents assimilate. Members tend to stay active in the club long after they consider themselves newcomers to the area.
In addition to hosting social gatherings to encourage friendships among neighbors, the club sponsors a variety of activities ranging from walking and book groups to bridge games, luncheons and dinner parties.
"There is nothing as welcoming as meeting friendly people who offer fun activities, learning experiences and friendship," said Karen Bonke, club member and publicity officer.
Los Altos has the good fortune to claim residents of varied talents, including movers and shakers in academia, finance, high-tech, philanthropy, sports and more.
The entrepreneurial ethos of Silicon Valley permeates the community well beyond the workplace. A tangible energy and curiosity fill the air, with lifelong learning in all its forms encouraged at every turn. Want to take up guitar in your 60s? Go for it. Your neighbors and friends will surely support your new hobby.
Stanford University, Santa Clara University and Foothill and De Anza colleges offer continuing education studies. The Los Altos Recreation Department boasts a robust calendar of programs and classes, too.
To familiarize yourself with the community, explore its roots.
"The Gold Rush left an enduring mark on the personality of Los Altos," said Laura Bajuk, executive director of the Los Altos History Museum, of the city’s origins.
Thanks to California’s early history as a place where people came to make a better life for themselves, Los Altos is a community where the impossible feels possible. I heard one 20-something describe his work at a local startup as "grabbing my pan and mining."
Los Altos earned its place on the map, in many ways, thanks to the railroads. Sarah Winchester, heir to the Winchester Rifle fortune, once owned the land the city now encompasses. When Altos Land Co. needed to purchase a strip of Winchester’s land for the growing Southern Pacific Railroad line, she insisted that it buy her entire property. With more land than Altos Land Co. required for the railroad, the company set about making Los Altos a destination.
Visitors can find a wealth of information on Los Altos’ early days at the Los Altos History Museum. It’s a must-see for new residents.
Another useful stop for newcomers is the Los Altos Library, the busiest in Santa Clara County. The main library, a vibrant hub of community information, is bustling with children, teens, adults and seniors. The quieter Woodland Branch offers a serene respite for the literary minded.
Los Altos and Los Altos Hills are flush with natural beauty. Tree-lined streets and lovingly cared for gardens lend neighborhoods a parklike feel.
Redwood Grove Nature Preserve and the adjacent Shoup Park, just a block from the busy downtown area, serve as oases amid the circling cars searching for midday parking. The preserve and park include picnic tables, observation decks, a playground and a hillside trail that runs alongside Adobe Creek.
Cyclists and hikers pour out of their homes on weekend mornings to ride through the hills surrounding Los Altos. Rancho San Antonio offers a variety of trails, from stroller-friendly paths to elevation-gaining treks.
Celebrate the seasons
There may not be snow on the ground in winter or sweltering humidity in summer, but the Bay Area’s mild Mediterranean climate encourages year-round celebrations that herald the seasons. Los Altos marks each season with long-running community traditions.
The Los Altos Chamber of Commerce sponsors the Fall Festival every October. Downtown merchants oversee the annual Festival of Lights Parade, held the Sunday after Thanksgiving. The Los Altos Village Association hosts a variety of events, including the Easter Egg Hunt, the Arts & Wine Festival, outdoor Friday Movie Nights, the Halloween Spooktacular and the seasonal farmers’ market. Los Altos Forward organizes monthly First Friday events that draw thousands downtown for strolling, shopping and dining. Local service clubs get in on the act, too - the Kiwanis Club stages the beloved Pet Parade every May, which precedes the Rotary Club’s Fine Art in the Park show.
Tasty culinary scene
The diverse population of the Bay Area, access to the freshest produce and a devoted artisanal food movement combine to offer a variety of top-notch local food choices.
Recommendations from local residents are always valuable - everyone is sure to have a list of favorites. Following are a few of mine.
• Los Altos Grill, 233 Third St. Hearty food and live music make this popular eatery the ideal choice for date nights and family birthday dinners.
• Casa Lupe, 185 Main St. The casual atmosphere enhances the thoughtfully prepared Mexican food.
• Esther’s German Bakery, 987 N. San Antonio Road. The excellent bread, fresh salads and hidden jewel of a beer garden make this a fun spot.
• Cafe Vitale, 987 Fremont Ave. Loyola Corners residents are sure to become regulars at this tasty Italian cafe.
• Bumble, 145 First St. Housed in a lovely old cottage, Bumble is the ideal spot for mothers with young children. The kids can play while the moms have coffee and converse.
For eating in, the area has a number of markets and farms with passionate and informed employees. A few favorite food sources:
• Draeger’s Market, 342 First St. The customer service and selection at this independently owned grocery store are unsurpassed.
• Dittmer’s Gourmet Meats & Wurst-Haus, 4540 El Camino Real. The old-fashioned butcher shop supplies meats for summer barbecues and holiday dinners.
• The Milk Pail Market, 2585 California St., Mountain View. The cheese selection is truly drool-worthy.
• The Los Altos Farmers’ Market runs 4-8 p.m. Thursdays May through September on State Street.
• The Mountain View Farmers’ Market is slated 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sundays year-round in the Caltrain parking lot, 600 W. Evelyn Ave.
• Craig Murray’s Garden on Dori Lane in Los Altos Hills offers organic produce on the honor system.
Resources for new residents
• City of Los Altos: losaltosca.gov
• Town of Los Altos Hills: losaltoshills.ca.gov
• Los Altos Recreation Department: losaltosca.gov/recreation
• Los Altos Chamber of Commerce: losaltoschamber.org
• Los Altos Village Association: downtownlosaltos.org
• Los Altos Newcomers Club: losaltosnewcomers.com
• Los Altos Forward: losaltosforward.org
• Los Altos and Los Altos Hills are the only "Age-Friendly" cities in California, earning the distinction from the World Health Organization.
• Los Altos is the 35th safest city in America, according to Location Inc.
• Los Altos is a "Bicycle-Friendly Community," a designation bestowed by the League of American Bicyclists.