If city living is wearing you out and you’re wanting a bit of fresh air, family-friendly mom-and-pop stores with plenty of free parking nearby, look no further than Los Altos. Almost every single restaurant in this suburban utopia south of Palo Alto is family-friendly, and on any given day, its sidewalks are filled with tots and stroller-pushers enjoying the gorgeous weather. Park your car and take a leisurely walk down Main, State, and First streets or buy tickets to see a community-based theater performance. Whatever you fancy, Los Altos has something for the family who wants to play and explore at their leisure.
Like its name suggests, not many people living outside of the 94022 area code know about Hidden Villa. This hilltop gem has stroller-friendly hiking trails, accessible farm animals, an educational organic garden, and pockets of shaded areas and picnic tables. Your little ones will get up close and personal with hens clucking outside of the coop and a large mama pig tending to her piglets. Enjoy a picnic (under the shade of a tree if you can — it can get pretty hot in the summer) on the sprawling lawn of the Duveneck House and marvel at the fact that it only cost you $5 for a day pass to give your kids some hands-on experience on sustainability and organic farming.
Tip: Hidden Villa is a pack-out park, so there are no public trash receptacles on the premises. Bring a few compostable or recyclable bags for your trash or stop by the organic garden to drop-off your compostables. Check their calendar for organic garden tours, sheep shearing days, and spring and summer camps for preschoolers to teenagers.
For outdoor play, locals recommend Shoup Park, which is tucked away in the middle of a residential neighborhood, has access to a slow-flowing creek and is surrounded by redwood trees, to boot. For indoor ‘playtivity,’ there’s Play! Los Altos, an all-in-one playhouse with a well-stocked arts and crafts room, reading area, and spacious play space where kids can slide, tumble and jump around. Just a few blocks away is Area 151, an arcade for older kids who want to play shuffle ball, pop-a-shot, and skeeball. Pics at the arcade’s photo booth make a cute souvenir for you and your kids, and you can sync the images directly to your Facebook profile.
Tip: Area 151 provides homework help, task management assistance, and access to the arcade — but only after all the homework’s been completed, of course.
Follow the path to the yellow door next door to Bumble, where you can dine al fresco, at the bar or by the aquarium. There’s also a communal harvest table in the main dining area, ideal for brunch days where your kids are enjoying an hour in Bumble’s drop-off playroom ($10 for 30 minutes; $20 for 2 hours) and you’re nursing your Four Barrel coffee while munching on a sandwich. If you want to take your food to-go, try one of Armadillo Willy’s family packs, which has enough Texas barbecue rib slabs to feed a hungry family of four. In the mood for a more laid-back, down-home feel? Locals recommend snagging a patio table at Brian’s Restaurant. Brian’s is close to Gymboree, has a great kids’ menu, loads of crayons for idle hands, and has a grassy area to tumble around in before the food comes.
Tip: Have room for dessert? Stop by Satura Cakes for delectable vanilla cream puffs, powdery wedding cookies, homemade marshmallows, and a decadent raspberry brioche.
If you love European brands like Petit Bateau, 3 Pommes, and Primigi Shoes, a stop at Kids Only is a must. Raid their sale racks for half-off dresses and pants and discounted shoes, or browse their extensive selection of tutus and swimwear. After, linger a bit at Linden Tree Books; a visit to this Los Altos fave makes the drive — especially if you’re coming from the city or the east bay — worth it. Owned by avid readers and local moms, Linden Tree is not just a bookstore, it’s a family destination stocked with games, puppets, puzzles, and loads of other stuff that’ll tickle your child’s imagination. And of course, a visit to downtown Los Altos with kids isn’t complete without going to Adventure Toys & Teachers’ Supplies. Sure, it has the token train table and every imaginable wooden toy, but its educational slant and wide selection of goods (kids’ sunglasses, Singapore math workbooks, Stephen Joseph lunch boxes) sets it apart from other toy stores in the area.
Tip: Getting a dash of culture in the ‘burbs is always money well spent, so spend more than you would for movie tickets and head to the Bus Barn Stage Company, where the Los Altos Youth Theatre Company performs for its under 8 audience. Although tickets for The Little Mermaid Jr. are already sold out, check Bus Barn’s website for updates on their next performance, Gretel & Hansel.
What are your fave spots in Los Altos? Share any local hangouts and hidden gems in the comments section below!
Photo credit: Bumble and Cathy Lara