Spanish for “the heights,” Los Altos does indeed boast a higher elevation than its two neighbors to the north, Palo Alto and Mountain View, yet it’s often hidden in their shadows. It’s a small community and one of the few in Santa Clara County that isn’t home to a tech company campus. There aren’t any Google, Apple, or Facebook buildings to be found here. In fact, the largest private employer is Whole Foods. Yet it’s a town that occupies a place as one of Silicon Valley’s holiest sites. In 1976, in the garage of his childhood home, Steve Jobs, along with cofounder Steve Wozniak and others, built what would become Apple computers and changed history. While the major hardware and software companies didn’t choose to make the city their home, many of their wealthy founders and executives did. Some of the largest and most expensive homes in the country are located in Los Altos and neighboring Los Altos Hills. Many people may feel inclined to write Los Altos off as merely the suburb of choice for the digerati. But upon further inspection, it is a dynamic, welcoming community filled with rich history, culture, and character.
To begin a day in Los Altos, visitors should head straight to Voyageur du Temps for an authentic European-style coffee and pastry. Housed in one of Los Altos’ early train stations, this chic cafe lives up to its name (French for “Time Traveler”) by transporting people back to an era where strangers were friends that simply hadn’t been met yet and baked goods were made from scratch with the finest ingredients. But while visitors will be tempted to stuff themselves on Voyageur’s rustic baguettes and matcha tea croissants, they should save some room for the next stop, Manresa Bread. This popular bakery is a spinoff of David Kinch’s celebrated Manresa restaurant in Los Gatos. Order a kouign-amann (Breton for “butter cake”), a crown-shaped pastry made with butter, sugar, and salt that will dazzle the taste buds.
After wiping the crumbs off their lips, visitors can head next door to Linden Tree Books, a colorful and quirky bookstore that prides itself on being a destination for both the “head and the heart.” Much of their collection is geared towards younger readers, but they really do have something that will appeal to everyone. It is easy to get lost in one of their several reading nooks, and their warm and dedicated staff are always ready to provide recommendations. After getting in the mood to learn, it’s time to head over to the Los Altos History Museum. Located in a former apricot orchard, this community museum has a diverse array of impressive, hands-on displays that include interactive video and audio elements. Visitors should be sure to check out all of the subtle details of the miniature model of early Los Altos—complete with working train—to examine the ancient pottery of the area’s first inhabitants, the Ohlone, and to spin the prize wheel that movie theater patrons spun during intermissions for the chance to win free plots of land.
By this time most people’s stomach will be starting to rumble, so it is the perfect time to take a short drive over to San Antonio Road to enjoy some of the best Chinese food in the country at Chef Chu’s. Diners have to call and give advance notice if they want to try the signature Beijing Duck, but it’s worth the effort. It’s crispy, juicy, and full of flavor. If duck doesn’t sound appealing, the whole steamed Chilean Sea Bass is sure to please with its flaky white meat and spicy-sweet black bean sauce. On the way out, guests should make time to check out the gallery wall to see pictures of Chef Chu’s celebrity patrons, including Bill Clinton, Justin Bieber, and Jaden Smith.
Hopefully visitors have saved some room for dessert, because once they’re back downtown, they’ll want to head over to Tin Pot Creamery to sample some of the creamiest and richest ice cream in the area. This small-batch ice cream parlor uses local, organic ingredients to concoct all kinds of delicious flavors. With a full belly, it’s time to swing by the Los Altos Stage Company, an intimate 99-seat theater that hosts a variety of productions by enthusiastic and passionate local performers. Whether it’s a classic people think they’ve seen done to death or something modern they’re unfamiliar with, audiences are in for a surprising live performance that will captivate and enthrall. If it’s a Friday night, another great option is to stargaze at the Foothill College Observatory during their public viewing hours.
To end the evening, visitors can head over to Honcho for a night cap. This cozy, mellow watering hole displays a sign that both patrons and staff take very seriously: “Good Vibes Only.” Los Altos may have given birth to one of the biggest companies in tech, but it’s a community that prefers being the quiet corner of the Valley. So visitors are invited to sip their drinks slowly, strike up conversations with the people next to them, and for heaven’s sake, put their iPhone away.
Built on land purchased from Sarah Winchester, widow of the inventor of the Winchester rifle, the town of Los Altos was initially created by employees of the Southern Pacific Railroad to serve as a midway stop between Palo Alto and Los Gatos. In 1976, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak started Apple computers in a Los Altos garage, cementing its place in Silicon Valley history. Today, Los Altos is home to some of the most valuable real estate in the entire country.
Places to Visit in Los Altos
FOOTHILL COLLEGE OBSERVATORY
4100 Perimeter Rd
Los Altos Hills, CA 94022
This article originally appeared in Issue 10.0 “Seek”