A Hike and Photo Tour Through Belgatos Park

April 03, 2007

Bella, the Handy Family black labIn my house, if you ask the question “do you want to take a walk?” outloud, you’d better be prepared to make a quick exit, leash in hand.

Our family dog, Bella, will begin to jump and run to convey her response: “yes! yes! yes, I want to go on a walk and I want to go right now!”   So like with small children and words like “candy”, in our home, sometimes we have to spell out the word or use code to see if other non-dogs under the roof want to come along. “Do you have time for a ‘W’?” usually works, although I suspect that Bella is catching on – just like kids who learn to spell “candy” before anything else.

At Belgatos Park, Brian and Bella enjoy the view. Bella actually wants to find something to chase.The main attraction is Belgatos Park (330 Belgatos Lane, Los Gatos),  which offers a few entrances, including one on our street just about 3 blocks from our front door.  Like most parks, Belgatos has a playground, picnic areas, large grassy areas for frisbee throwing and other games, and benches. It also has a public restroom and a parking lot.  Beyond the useful spots at the main entrance that are fairly common to most parks, though, there lie many many forested and grassy trails stretching up the hill – a full 17 acres plus connections to huge open space preserves and trails as well (those being the Heinz Open Space Preserve, reached off Regent Drive, and the Santa Rosa Open Space Preserve, accessed from either the top of Harwood Road or off Santa Rosa Drive or Madera along the ridge of the hill).  I can’t tell where the park ends and the open space begins – but the combined acreage is enormous and it’s a delight to explore.

Belgatos Park is where nature meets suburbia.  The base looks like any city park but Jim, Tish (Jim's sister), Clair and Bella exploring Belgatos Parkwith a backdrop (the rising hill and winding paths) that beckons: come and see what you can find.

And it also seems to work the other way, too.  The park is a bit of a conduit for nature to find its way into east Los Gatos too.  You don’t always need to go far to find it. 

In a tall eucalyptus tree in the parking lot (as you enter the park, it’s on your left side), there’s a large hawk’s nest.  Depending on the time of day, and perhaps the bird’s mood or appetite, you may hear repeated screetches coming from this tree or another nearby.  The hawk is lovely to watch and it will be fun when the little ones hatch. 

Belgatos Park trail, Los Gatos, CALate in the afternoons or early in the mornings, particularly in winter, deer are seen nibbling on the bright green grass close to the same small parking lot too. There’s a little cluster of trees and bushes down by a neighbor’s fence, perhaps 15 feet from the pavement, and you sometimes find an entire family of deer enjoying pre-prandials.

Jim Handy, volunteer Town of Los Gatos Parks Commissioner, keeping an eye on things in Belgatos Park with Bella, the family poochNot wild, but fun for kids, are the goats which belong to the homeowner living to the right of Belgatos Park. Walk up the hill on the asphalt path and you will hear them, and then, most likely, you will smell them. They are cute!  You can’t touch the two goats, but it’s always a delight to see something so unusual a stone’s throw from a regular neighborhood. 

Continue up the hill on the paved path and you will see the usual assortment of small creatures – squirrels, birds, lizards, and possibly more.  Possum and racoons abound.  My husband, who hikes there frequently, saw a bobcat close to the playground on the trail there.   We’ve seen deer many, many times.  Jim has seen coyotes as well.   Watch for poison oak, rattle snakes, ticks and black widow spiders: these are a part Peeking through the trees at a view of San Jose from Belgatos Park, Los Gatos, CAof nature you want to know about, but not encounter first-hand. Ditto that for the mountain lions who inhabit this land and have been known to walk down past Belwood and into Cambrian Park too. Pay attention.

As you climb, the views become increasingly more lovely with knotted oak and manzanita trees shading the trails, sometimes redwoods too, grassy spots emerging from time to time around bends, and glimpses of the valley below peeking through the openings in the skyline.  Most days, the sky is a bright blue with only a few clouds dotting the horizon for interest’s sake.  Jim and Bella take a break after an uphill hike, and get a view of the Santa Clara Valley as their rewardSome days, though, we have a “heat inversion” and there’s a lid of air sitting atop our valley, holding in what would normally blow off with breezes from the San Francisco Bay each afternoon at around 4pm. That lid keeps the heat – and the poor air – trapped.  When that happens, the sky turns a disgusting shade of brown or taupe.  When you see it, you don’t need to hear the advisory that it is a “spare the air” day.   Luckily, the air has gotten cleaned up considerably since I was a teenager here in the 70’s.  In any event, the view won’t lie. You’ll know, when you get a little elevation, how the environment is doing that day.  No need to read about it online or in print. Take a hike, and you’ll see for yourself.

Where will you go?  Depending on which path you choose, you may end up at the top of Harwood Road or you could be on Santa Rosa Drive.  As mentioned, Belgatos Park also connects with the Heinz Open Space Preserve and View of the Santa Clara Valley and downtown San Jose from a landing in Belgatos Park, Los Gatos, CA (Photo by Mary Pope-Handy)The Santa Rosa Open Space Preserve so there are a myriad of possibilities.  No matter which path you take, it will be scenic.  You may run into mountain bikers or folks on horseback.   Or you may get up close and personal with some wildlife.  I do suggest long pants and shoes, not flip flops  – just last week, our daughter came home from a hike with a tick who decided to hitch a ride.   Since Belgatos Park touches the suburbs, it’s easy to ignore the fact that it is basically untamed land and, as my buddy (a Realtor and fellow blogger) Steve Leung points out, we are then encroaching on their space.   So realize where you are and pay attention.  I happen to think the park is a very photogenic place, so my other suggestion is bring a camera along too.

Trains in Los Gatos

April 02, 2007

On a quiet night, anywhere in Los Gatos you can probably hear the occasional, faint sound of a train rumbling on by down on Winchester Boulevard, or perhaps as it crosses Southewest Expressway at Bascom.  It used to be that the train extended into downtown Los Gatos, and, in fact, the trainline ran all the way to Santa Cruz in one direction and San Francisco in the other, right through Los Gatos The land once claimed by the trains is now filled with cars and constitutes the town of Los Gatos’s largest parking lot, set perfectly between two busy roads: University Avenue and North Santa Cruz Avenue.

With the congestion and danger of driving on the weavy-windy Highway 17 to the beach, having the train route re-established from Silicon Valley to Santa Cruz may be a good idea and it is not an infrequent debate. At a minimum, it should be on the table for discussion – even if the route didn’t go directly through downtown Los Gatos anymore.

I would agree.  Between overcrowding on the roads and the crazy way in which some people drive (you’d think it were a video game with no real consequences if a turn were missed!), plus the cost of gas and concerns for the environment, I believe that the train talks should be revived.

People in Santa Cruz County don’t want the commute to be too convenient, though. And so there are many protests each time a discussion surfaces about a tunnel under “the hill” or a train going over it again.

I’m not a City Planner and I can’t tell you the ins and outs of the whole discussion. Truthfully, I wouldn’t even know who to ask about it, either.

Meanwhile, though, in Los Gatos we can continue to instill a simple love of trains.  At the corner of Blossom Hill Road and University Avenues, Los Gatos enjoys two interconnected parks: Vasona Lake County Park and Oak Meadow Park (belonging to the town).  One of the unique features of these parks is the Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad, which runs from one park to the next. A friend of mine from southern California, Jay Freeman, brought to my attention an ad for a video about how the railroad works – and the ad is a video of the train in action itself

In addition to the practical reasons for considering the train’s reestablishment between here and the coast, this video clip reminds me of one more: riding the train is fun.

How's The Market?

March 31, 2007

 

The question consumers always ask real estate professionals is “how’s the market?”  For a month or so, I have been telling my clients, friends, prospects – anyone who has asked me – that the market is “running hot and cold”.  It’s got a split personality. Some homes are flying off the market, and others are just sitting. The real answer? “It depends.”

Today’s San Jose Mercury News (March 31) runs a cover story with huge print and graphics, exclaiming, “Home Sales Run Hot, Cold”. The online version of the article is titled In Silicon Valley, Real Estate Market Has Two Faces. It is typical that what we are seeing happening in the market gets reported about a month after the Realtors have noticed what’s going on.

So what are these two situations, why are they different, and how can a buyer or seller take advantage of a market so weird?

The homes that are selling for top dollar tend to be in these categories: (1) in the northwest part of the valley (Palo Alto, Cupertino, etc.) , (2) completely fixed up (we are talking granite and high end appliances, A/C, newer windows, no significant structural repairs or updating needed),   (3) priced lower than recent sales.

Sellers are confused and when they read about multiple offers, they think they can put a home on the market that is priced high for recent sales and that doesn’t have a lot of curb appeal or staging inside.

Generally, buyers want a turnkey home that is value-priced.

What to do? Sellers:  If your home isn’t a “10”, don’t price it as if it were – it will just sit there (in any part of the valley).  Clean your home (and keep it clean for the duration of the listing – some sellers treat a home sale like a sprint and the place is only clean for the first two weeks after it goes on the market). Make the “right improvements” to your home. Realtors will gladly advise potential clients on the improvements which pay. Some don’t!  When you are looking to market your home, whether it needs work or not, take a hard look at the competition – and price lower.  The value homes are the ones getting all the attention, and this is true in every part of the valley.

And buyers, what about you? If you see a good value, don’t wait around – it could turn into multiple offers. Go into the market pre-approved and ready to move if you see the right home. Have a great Realtor, whose advice you trust, to assist you at each step of the way.

It’s not a bad market.  It’s just not 2000.

Highest & Best Use

March 29, 2007

Have you ever noticed the Verizon Building on Los Gatos Boulevard? It has an architectural style that screams “1960’s” with apparently no windows facing the front but a strange sort of grille decorating the facade instead.  It backs into one edge of Blossom Manor (a neighborhood in Los Gatos – well, mostly in the county but with a Los Gatos mailing address – that was once apricot orchards).  Verizon, with its huge network (I’m assuming you’ve seen the ads), needed more space and wanted to do an expansion on the current site. The neighbors didn’t agree that this was a good plan. The result: the Town of Los Gatos is going to buy the property from Verizon, for $3.2 million,  and it may well become the new police headquarters. I’ll keep you posted!

No Prohibition in Los Gatos: Bars in Los Gatos

March 28, 2007

Carrie Nation is probably turning over in her grave.

A strong advocate for the Women’s Christian Temperance Movement, Carrie Nation was opposed to alcohol in a very big way. History has it that she attacked dozens of bars together with a band of praying & singing women and eventually wielded a a hatchet to make her point. In fact, in later years this seems to have become her “niche market” as her newletter was called “The Hatchet”. Though jailed some 30 times, she paid her fines with lecture fees and  (believe it or not) the sales of small souvenier hatchets. 

I suppose it is true that “actions speak louder than words”.  But it’s also true that irony is one of the funniest forms of humor.

And so it is quite humorous indeed to most folks in Los Gatos that the town’s most popular bar (and there’s no shortage of them)  is named none other than “Carrie Nation’s”.  In case you don’t know this colorful bit of history, the beveled glass in the main door portrays an ax.  (If nothing else, it’s a conversation starter!)   Located at 8 North Santa Cruz Avenue (close to Main Street), Carrie Nation’s is a fun place to stop in for a drink if you have a sense of humor and enjoy the old “fern bar” atmosphere.

Of course, I’m not saying that the folks who run the bar have a sense of humor themselves. Once, when my kids were small, we’d seen the Holiday Parade on a cold December morning and one of small our kids desperately needed to use a restroom. My office was too far down the street for practical purposes (that is, when the child says “I need to go” he or she usually means NOW). We went in the back door of Carrie Nation’s, and zoomed down the stairs like folks on an urgent mission to the restrooms. There was no walking through the bar area or anything like that. When we emerged, two minutes later, there was a scowling employee waiting for us and quite ready to escort us out.  You’d have thought we had pick pocketed our way down the stairs.

All I could think of was that the dour disposition of the gal for whom the bar was named had somehow been imparted on a unsympathetic employee.  (That was a lot of years ago, and I imagine that person has since had children of his own and perhaps has learned to think about the urgency of a young person’s need for a restroom.)

I have never been back since! But even so, I love that front door. It tickles me every time I see it.

There are many fine bars in Los Gatos. I was intent upon writing about them here until I found an excellent article in the San Jose Mercury News which did a beautiful job reviewing them. Depending on your mood and the circumstances, you may prefer Viva (at Los Gatos Blvd and Blossom Hill), Mountain Charlie’s, The Black Watch, or Johnny’s, or Double D’s or any of the great sites in town from Steamer’s or The Wine Cellar or who knows what. Read the article.  If you have kids in tow, I do suggest Double D’s  (at Highway 9 and North Santa Cruz Avenue) or Johnny’s Northside Grill (532 N Santa Cruz Ave)Both are most welcoming!

But whether you frequent bars or not, next time you are in downtown Los Gatos, take a gander at 8 North Santa Cruz and enjoy a chuckle at the image of the hatchet on the door there.  Imagine what Carrie would have to say!

Blog entry by Mary Pope-Handy,
Los Gatos Enthusiast,

Do not use without permission, please.

The Haunted Opera House of Los Gatos

March 25, 2007

Mary Pope-Handy's Los Gatos, CA, Ghost Tour

More Haunted Places in Los Gatos

When people first hear that there are ghosts in Los Gatos, they want to know – right away – where they are!  The old cemetery location doesn’t surprise them, at least not once they hear that there’s a former graveyard that now has shops residing there.

But aside from a final resting place, where else are there ghostly sightings and activities?

One of them is the popular Los Gatos party destination, The Opera House. Apparently it’s just too much fun to leave!  Seriously, the ghost there is said to be a woman – she has been seen and heard so many times, by so many people, that it is one of the few spots absolutely not in doubt to be inhabited by a spirit of a former human being. One of the most remarkable things is not just that she has been seen and heard, but that she has even been photographed.

But not to worry, whatever her name is (there is some dispute about that), she is known to be benevolent. I spoke to several employees there myself a few years ago. Those who’d had an experience of her (not all had, but many did) all claimed that she was kindly, protective. One told me that this gal has a conscience. The worker wanted to sneak out early but amazingly, the door was unable to be opened until her shift was over. Scary? The woman I spoke with said no. “She was not about to let me leave early – this is a ghost who’s ethical”, she confided.

Great Places to Kiss in Los Gatos

March 18, 2007

Clair and Brian, Mary Pope-Handy's kids, May 1996 Los Gatos is a wonderfully diverse place to bring or enjoy a date, or just spend time with your loved ones, whether you’re 15 or 105.  If you’re looking for a romantic place in Silicon Valley, you’ve got it in Los Gatos!

For the young, and the young at heart, a great creative outlet in Los Gatos is Petroglyph, where you can try your hand at pottery designs.  We have several momentos from there around our home. It’s nice to have useable art too – our daughter made a teapot eons ago that she continues using to this day. This is a fun spot ,and for dates, it can really break the ice to have something to do beyond talking. I recommend it highly as a starting point, especially if this is relatively early on in the relationship.

Parks can be naturally romantic (if there are not a lot of screaming kids, anyway).  Los Gatos boasts many, many excellent parksOak Meadow Park is usually called “The Airplane Park” by local children as it features an old WWII plane – one of very few left in parks around the nation (it is a decommissioned USAF T-33 Jet). It also offers a neat hand-painted carousell and a small guage railroad, the Billy Joans Wildcat Railroad, which runs from Oak Meadow Park (owned by the town of Los Gatos) into adjoining Vasona Lake County Park.  Vasona is really a resevoir but it’s sooo pretty and you can rent either sailboats or paddleboats and enjoy the many, many scenic (and romantic) views. So bring your honey to the parks. Walk through Oak Meadow and get nostalgic.  Indulge in a ride on the merry-go-round and another on the train.  Feel playful. Then go out on the lake – where it’s quiet and peaceful and the views are lovely.   My first nomination for “Great Places to Kiss” in Los Gatos, then, is out on Vasona Lake, taking in a view of the hills (El Sombroso on the left and El Sereno on the right as you look toward the coastal hills and downtown Los Gatos).  By the way, the Parks and Rec department offers sailing lessons in the summers and they are open to kids too. A couple of years ago, Jim and I had Clair and Brian do this class and as their grand finale, they sailed us around the lake.  That was a trip.  But I digress. Back to romance in the park. Something else about the Vasona – Oak Meadow setting is that there are free concerts in the summer! The series is called Vasona Vibrations and it’s every Saturday from 5 – 7pm.  So the parks are a fun and scenic date place, but they are also very kid-friendly too. Allow a couple of hours.

My next nomination is really more of an adult venue. Another beautifully romantic spot worthy of kissing is Testarossa Vineyards.  Located at the historic Jesuit Novitiate (built in 1888), it is essentially a downtown Los Gatos spot but with some elevation.  The building is old, the wine is great and the valley views are timeless!  We enjoy bringing visitors there for tasting.  The patio with the view is very inviting and feels like something out of a & (Los Gatos has no & Bs, but that’s another post).  A little wine, a view, and thou: what more could you want?

Many parts of downtown Los Gatos beckon for dates.  The town is overflowing with bars, restaurants, and desert shops, among others.  You could hardly go wrong to just stroll down Main Street or North Santa Cruz Avenue and see what you find, maybe ending up at Dolce Spazio for some yummy gelato. But I particularly like Old Town on University Avenue.  It’s a bit bustling, but I’d start at Steamer’s for a drink…Then stroll across the street to the older part of Old Town, and just browse (and probably buy) awhile. Both the California Cafe and The Wine Cellar have outdoor seating, if the weather is right and you want to people-watch.  Both are great restaurants. The California Cafe has tables near the windows which enjoy a view of the hills – great ambiance.  And the Wine Cellar has booths for cozying up ( they aren’t nearly as dark as they were 30 years ago, but are still dating material).  Personally, I think fondue makes for a romantic meal – and if you think so too, do make it to the Wine Cellar, as their fondue is fantastic.  But either way, you really can’t go wrong. 

After the meal, perhaps a stroll through Border’s Books is in order.  Or not – your choice!  If it’s not too cool, walk to the back of Old Town. There’s a small amphitheater there.  Concerts and plays used to happen in that spot, and sometimes now you catch a person just playing a musical instrument there.    A pedestrian bridge beyond the amphitheater will take you over the freeway (highway 17) to Forbes Mill (now a Los Gatos history museum).  There’s something nice about just making that little walk, and for some reason it has always struck me as romantic too.  So my third nomination for most kissable spots in Los Gatos has to be somewhere on or near this pedestrian bridge linking Old Town and Forbes Mill.  One time it might be by the old museum itself, another time at the amphitheater, and maybe another time – I know, a shock – right on the bridge with the whole world seemingly passing underneath.

There are many other nooks and crannies around town which may inspire a romantic moment.   The many trees and hills and views, together with some beautiful old architecture and fun shops, can certainly make romance feel imperative in Los Gatos.  It’s spring.  And I think I must be overdue on a “date night”.  Don’t tell my kids! (It’s my kids pictured above, in May 1996 just before my sister’s wedding in Boston, MA.)