(credit: Laurie Jo Miller Farr)
From shoreline to mountaintop, a few special places in the South Bay and on the Peninsula have outstanding views and a series of easy to moderate hikes. Remember to take plenty of water and use sun protection.
21000 Big Basin Way
Saratoga, CA 95070
In pretty Saratoga, one of the oldest Japanese gardens in the Western Hemisphere is an oasis of tranquility overlooking Silicon Valley. Currently celebrating its centennial, Hakone’s 18 acres are peaceful, a glorious place where visitors can relax in quiet contemplation, join a Japanese-themed festival, see a demonstration, join a class, or celebrate a private corporate or personal occasion. Thousands visit Hakone each year to escape the city without traveling far. They come to take a leisurely stroll around the landscaped gardens, cross the moon bridge over the koi pond or pause to reflect in the bamboo garden. Hakone is on the National Register of Historic Places and has an exhibition on display through spring 2017 to tell the story of the garden’s first 100 years, free with admission ($10 adults).
86 Cañada Road
Woodside, CA 94062
Charming doesn’t begin to describe Filoli. One hundred years old and just 30 miles south of San Francisco, this National Trust for Historic Preservation site is a superb example of an early 20th century country estate (containing an astonishing 54,000 square feet) surrounded by 16 acres of English Renaissance-style gardens set on a 654-acre property. Twenty-two trails covering five miles display a variety of ecosystems, including mixed forests, redwood stands, chaparral, riparian, pond, and cultivated grasslands. A docent-led visit takes you to the Sally MacBride Nature Center, an old barn displaying Ohlone artifacts and taxidermied native specimens. Explore at your leisure February through October, except on Mondays and holidays, with an adult admission of $20, children $10. Come early and enjoy the indoor/outdoor café; last admission is at 2:30 p.m. Did you know? The name Filoli was created by the owner by combining the first letters of each word in his motto: “Fight for a just cause; Love your fellow man; Live a good life.”
26870 Moody Road
Los Altos Hills, CA 94022
Calling all future farmers. As the name suggests, this organic farm and nonprofit education center is well tucked away in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Imagine…1600 acres of open space with eight miles of trails ranging from 0.4 miles to 1.75 miles, connecting to more difficult hikes up to 10.5 miles roundtrip. Most Hidden Villa trails head up from the valley and return back down, with the exception of the gentle grade one mile Creek Trail. Hiking aside, kids love Hidden Villa. Perhaps they’ll see eggs gathered, visit baby lambs, see sheep being sheared. For pre-schoolers, kindergarteners, and first graders, a farm tour (called Scoop on the Poop) lasts an hour and 15 minutes. For students in second to sixth grade, full-day programs are available every day but Mondays and during summer camp weeks. There’s even an overnight stay combined with an introduction to farm chores. Splash in the creek and explore plenty of hiking trails that spread out from the farm. Parking is $8, admission is free.
3160 N. Shoreline Blvd.
Mountain View, CA 94043
The 750-acre wildlife and recreation area has gorgeous views of the mountains to the west and east, and across San Francisco Bay. The Boathouse and lakeside American Bistro are smack in the center of Silicon Valley, yet a world away from the Googleplex campus that many associate with Mountain View. This 50-acre, manmade saltwater lake is surrounded by five miles of flat trails looping around San Francisco Bay. A wildlife sanctuary, rental paddle boats, rowboats, canoes, kayaks, bike trails, windsurfing, sailing lessons, and bird-watching walks are a few of the fresh air, water, and nature-oriented activities here. There’s also a dog park, a lawn for flying kites, barbecue stations, and an 18-hole golf course. Walk 1.5 miles farther, right to the edge of the bay, at Stevens Creek Shoreline nature Study Area. Visit seven days a week; admission and onsite parking are free.
7281 Mount Hamilton Road
San Jose, CA 95101
If you don’t know the way up Mt. Hamilton, this is the last place you’d discover by accident. Lick Observatory is the world’s first permanently occupied mountain-top observatory. Visit by day for a docent talk and a look at the 1888 Great Lick Refractor and the Shane reflector. The facilities are used by University of California astronomers to discover extrasolar planets. Get some of the Bay Area’s best panoramic views out over Silicon Valley and the region from 4,200 feet up. The site is 20 miles east of San Jose, but can take over an hour on the scenic and steep approach. Have a strong stomach and a steady driver, as the narrow roadway is sprinkled with switchbacks and bicyclists. A summer “Music of the Spheres” evening concert series has drawn visitors to the summit for 36 years, providing the only access for the public after dark. There’s an opportunity to get a rare glimpse through the observatory’s antique telescopes when you attend one of the occasional astronomer lectures.