Nature in Silicon Valley? A near perfect California climate in a stunning natural setting primed for outdoor adventure.
Home to the Intel Museum, Apple Park and Googleplex, Silicon Valley certainly has plenty to offer tech-minded tourists. But visitors and residents don’t spend all their time behind screens.
Before it was ever Silicon Valley, a nickname picked up in the ’70s, it was the Santa Clara Valley, a lush and fertile landscape with orchards, farms and vineyards. Still today, you’ll find a near perfect California climate in a stunning natural setting primed for outdoor adventure. Here’s how to make the most of it.
Head to the Hills
The picturesque town of Los Gatos, famous as Netflix headquarters, is a dream destination for hikers thanks to its location in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains. If your time is limited, visit Castle Rock State Park for caverns, waterfalls and a few beginner-friendly trails. Mountain bikers and backpackers should hit up the nearby Monte Bello Open Space Preserve. That’s “beautiful mountain” in Italian, and the 3,436-acre park lives up to its name with sweeping panoramas of the valley.
For scenic views without the sweat, drive to the top of the Sierra Vista Open Space Preserve, where you can see all the way to the bay on clear days right from the parking lot. Across the street, the 1.1-mile Aquila Loop is a great option for all ages with benches along the way so you can sit and admire the rolling hills.
Experienced hikers will enjoy the long trek back through Alum Rock Park in the Diablos Range foothills, passing by mineral springs and stone grottoes. For a real adventure, brave the winding mountain road up to the tallest peak around, Mount Hamilton, towering at more than 4,200 feet and crowned with the free and fun Lick Observatory. On the drive back into town, you’ll pass the Mt. Hamilton GrandView. At this upscale steakhouse, you can splurge on fresh farm-to-table fare from a patio overlooking the entire valley.
Stop to Smell the Flowers
Every spring, Edgewood Park and Natural Preserve in Redwood City puts on an impressive wildflower display: California poppies, buttercups, larkspur and more. During the season, join one of the free wildflower walks where a guide will show you the best trails to find blooms.
Less than 5 miles away in the small town of Woodside sits another floral attraction, but you won’t have to hunt to find flowers here. The historic Filoli estate dazzles with 16 acres of gardens, ranging in style from 17th-century English Renaissance to 18th-century Georgian. Clipped hedges, hanging wisteria and romantic allées will make you feel like you’ve stepped into a fairytale. Grab lunch at the on-site cafe, and you might even see their resident peacock.
In Saratoga, another country retreat, Hakone Estate and Gardens has more of a Japanese influence. Ponder the stone lanterns, moon bridge and zen garden as you soak up the atmosphere of tranquility. While you’re in town, swing by the Montalvo Arts Center. The grounds vary from intimate groves and a sunken courtyard to open lawns accented with sculptures, all completely free.
Also free, the San Jose Municipal Rose Garden is a must-see in the valley’s largest city, headquarters of tech titans like eBay, Paypal and Adobe. Bring a picnic and bliss out in the beauty of nearly 200 distinct varieties. This city park isn’t to be confused with the Heritage Rose Garden just up the street, but rose lovers will want to visit both.
Make a Splash
Birdwatchers, rejoice. As the San Francisco Bay dips into the valley, it creates mudflats and marshes that are a haven for marine wildlife. On Bair Island, you might spot egrets, pelicans and endangered shorebirds. The much larger Baylands Nature Preserve is almost crowded with birds when they’re migrating south along the Pacific Flyway.
Just steps from Google’s campus in Mountain View, Shoreline Lake has its fair share of birding opportunities, too, but so much more. Go for a walk at the 750-acre bayside park. Then fill up at the American Bistro’s all-day weekend brunch. A hearty stack of buttermilk banana pancakes, smothered in apple compote and homemade chantilly cream, can give you motivation for another few miles. It might even lend you the courage to sign up for windsurfing lessons, kayaking or standup paddleboard yoga.
If you still can’t get enough of those waterfront views, hop onto the San Francisco Bay Trail. It runs through this park and dozens of others for more than 350 miles (and eventually the full 500 miles) along the bay. Bring your camera to capture spectacular sunsets reflected in the water.