The Best of Silicon Valley 2011

Shopping & Services | Editors' Picks

Best Place to Get
Your Hands Dirty

Common Ground Organic Garden Supply and Education Center

559 College Ave., Palo Alto; 650.493.6072. This outpost for sustainable and organic gardening products, seeds and plant starts, classes and gardening advice is near to celebrating 40 years serving the peninsula and South Bay. While "sustainable" has become a catch phrase in the last couple years, Common Ground has promoted this way of life since it opened in 1972, beginning as a branch of the Ecology Action nonprofit organization, which works with and promotes the Grow Biointensive style of gardening. Over the years, Common Ground has planted its roots in the community through events such as classes on eating seasonally and composting, as well as its annual Edible Landscaping Tour.

Best Remnants

FabMo With a sweeping embrace of upcycling, crafting and material reusing and repurposing, the team at FabMo diverts the waste stream of remnants and redirects it right into a creative community that is thrilled to get its hands on high-quality and designer fabrics it couldn't normally come by. FabMo started out just dealing in textiles, but has since grown to include wallpaper, leathers, tiles, trims, carpets and more. A donation-run nonprofit, the vision for FabMo is that crafters and creatives can turn this "trash" into treasures to use as fundraisers for schools, churches and do-good organizations of all types.

Best Place to Get Tied Up

Green Planet Yarn

368 E. Campbell Ave., Campbell; 408.871.9196. Crafters, unite! Michael's hasn't got anything on Green Planet Yarn. They're completely different animals, really. To the layperson, yarn is just yarn. But serious knitters and crocheters want to talk with someone who can explain what worsted weight yarn is, how to work in the round, and what size and type of needles or hooks will work best for hats vs. doilies vs. afghans. The staff here can do just that. The small store also prides itself in being stocked to the hilt with brightly colored, quality yarns, including those made from eco-friendly materials, some of which are fair trade and others are made from recycled fibers.

Best Space to Make the Pieces Fit

Jigsaw Java

846 Main St., Redwood City; 650.364.3634. Puzzled as to how to spend one these recent rainy days? Jigsaw Java has a free table of hot beverages (donations requested) and loads of puzzles to do some yoga for the brain. The jigsaw shop offers hourly and daily rates, as well as monthly memberships (which come with discounts on events and merchandise), and welcomes patrons to use their stock of used puzzles, buy and put together a new puzzle or bring in one from home. Jigsaw Java also serves as a team-building or birthday party location, and puts on its own events for young and old alike, including an upcoming class on the history of puzzles.

Best Wardrobe Rethinking Team

Urban Darling

San Jose; When the time comes to drag a tired, old wardrobe into the light of day for a serious evaluation, the darlings at Urban Darling have just what it takes to get you out of the old and into a new look; and it doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg. As adept at rethinking the clothing that you already have as they are starting from square one with a complete closet-clearing wardrobe makeover, the Urban Darling team of trained stylists at can help transport you from faded and frumpy to fitted and fabulous.

Diva Sharon DIVA SHARON The best in retro-wraps can be found at Diva Sharon's Divine Vintage.

Best Purveyor
of Vintage Wraps

Diva Sharon's Divine Vintage

1318 Lincoln Ave., San Jose; 408.294.9893. From stoles, boas and shrugs to jackets, coats and muffs, Diva Sharon's is the spot to go for mint-condition vintage wraps that bring the glamour and style of bygone eras strolling right into today. The diva's sharp eye for quality and long history of acquiring and wearing vintage clothing make her an invaluable resource and source of information and clothing from the fabulously fashionable mid-20th century; a time when dressing up was the norm and clothing was made to last.

Best Place for Harried Parents

Tiny Tots Baby Boutique and Diaper Service

138 Railway Ave., Campbell; 408.866.2925. This local spot, located just outside downtown Campbell, is part cute boutique, part wash-and-reuse diaper service and part community-building organization, making for a one-stop shop for parents. Tiny Tots' website alone provides a lot of information for new parents or parents looking to try new things in caring for their children, but the store also hosts workshops and events, including a baby sign language class and "diapering 101." Parents-to-be can create a baby-shower registry and browse the colorful toys and accessories in the boutique or talk with knowledgeable staff about what options they have for diapering, co-sleeping, breastfeeding and more.

Best Place to Make the Cut at SJSU

Spartan Barber Shop

487 S. Fourth St., San Jose; 408.993.0717. Frank Annino has been cutting hair at this little downtown shop for more than half a decade, bringing a little bit of history to the seemingly ever-younger crowd of SJSU students while still keeping his cuts up-to-date. Annino's charm and skill combined have helped keep Spartan Barber Shop in business, but his stories about San Jose's past are what make him an invaluable part of the community. He has cut the hair of famous SJSU alums Jeff Garcia and the Smothers Brothers; he has seen neighborhoods shift and change and grow and wane. He can educate students in ways that many teachers at SJSU cannot.

Best Bullet-Shell Earrings

Shannon Amidon

San Jose; If you haven't seen them around, you will. If you have seen them around, then you already know: Shannon Amidon is creating something thought-provoking and lovely by upcycling and repurposing bullet shells into jewelry. The longtime and multitalented Amidon pairs the used bullet shells with feathers, stones, fossils and more to create one-of-a-kind pieces that catch the eye and imagination with their colors, textures, shapes and originality.

Best Polynesian Paradise by the Freeway

Kumar's Island Market

1440 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose; 408.287.0557. Located just off Highway 101, this unique hole-in-the-wall establishment transports one to countless islands all in one petite crammed-up little place. The store really is an exotic island in the middle of a discarded portion of Santa Clara Street. Inside one finds unusual cuts of meat and fish from Australia and Polynesia, as well as XXXXL-size Hawaiian shirts, fenugreek seeds, boxes of sarongs, Guam-logo hoodies, Samoan music CDs, magazines, canned goods, homemade bread and who knows what else. A perfect place to search for the lost exotic piece of yourself.

Best Weekly Street Fair

Campbell Farmers Market

As downtown Campbell continues to evolve into an ever-more-vibrant hub of cafes, shopping, dining and nightlife, its farmers market remains one of the valley's best Sunday-morning destinations. In addition to the dozen or so local farm stands colorfully stacked with mostly organic veggies and fruit, there's local honey, a seafood stand, a rich mix of prepared foods and a knife sharpener. Usually some local musicians are present to serenade shoppers, and down the street there are some arts and crafts.

Best Way to Start the Work Week

Restorative Yoga

Mondays, 7:15-8:45pm; Downtown Yoga Shala, 450 S. First St., San Jose; 408.885.1000

So it's Monday again and already the week can't end fast enough? Restorative yoga, to the rescue. Instructor Lorien Neargarder gently runs yogis through the paces with light stretching, deep breathing and the help of blankets, bolsters and blocks. An hour and a half may seem like a stretch (har, har), but the time flies by. This class is also a great introduction to yoga; the poses aren't challenging, the pace is slow, and Neargarder quietly paces the room assisting those who need a little extra help settling into a pose.

Best Place to Ease Into Your Thirties

Fishing at Lexington Reservoir

17770 Alma Bridge Road, Los Gatos; 408.356.2729. Once your bathroom routine extends an extra half-hour to facilitate the finding and removal of gray hair that appear "out of nowhere," and you notice an unfamiliar jiggle coming from your mid-section while dancing at '80s night, it might be time to retire the skinny jeans and highlights. You have entered a place even stranger and scarier than the "Twilight Zone." Welcome to your thirties. To soften the blow, you might consider some new hobbies. Fishing is one of the best, and Lexington Reservoir is one of the most enjoyable spots to do it. It's fun, relaxing, and best of all, that mustache that went from "cool" to "creepy" on your birthday will fit right in.

Best Birdwatching

Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge

Main entrance is off Zanker Road in Alviso; 9500 Thornton Ave., Newark; 510.792.0222. Sure, backyards provide easy access to a few bird sightings. But for those seeking a wider landscape and a broader array of our feathered friends, Don Edwards Wildlife Refuge is an excellent, expansive locale for birding. The park stretches from Alviso up to Newark/Fremont and out to the west to Menlo Park/East Palo Alto, encompassing 30,000 acres. Here, waterfowl, tree nesters and scavengers alike can be found co-mingling, including house finches, great white egrets, song sparrows and double-crested cormorants. The visitor's center also includes a log for birders to compare notes on what others witnessed during their trek around the park.

Best Polyurethane Paradise

House of Foam

150 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto; 650.327.4300. For cubes, wedges, cylinders and rectangles, Palo Alto's Bob Tallman is Mr. Foam. That's all you really need to know. He is a specialist in supplying poly foam for all of his customers, both online and in person. This sounds like a butcher's description, but he really does carry almost all cuts, types and sizes of poly foam imaginable. No matter what you're looking for—mattresses, pillows, luggage, insulation or custom cases—Bob knows all. Choose your foam—poly, high resistance or 180—and Bob will provide the goods. He is the one and only. And his tireless crew of seamstresses can also reupholster any seat cushion currently on the market. Welcome to the House of Foam, now I've come of age.

Best Family Friendly Liquor Store

Kelly's Liquor Store

498 N. Fourth St., San Jose; 408.297.4411. There's something comforting about going into a liquor store to buy a bottle of whiskey and seeing a friendly face at the register. It makes a lonesome night of raging feel a little warm and fuzzier. The beer selection isn't half bad, either.

Best Alternative to Gideon Bible Distribution

ISKCON Temple at Bhakti Yoga

951 S. Bascom Ave., San Jose; 408.293.4959. If you go to the Best Western in Milpitas, Hotel San Carlos in San Carlos or the Knight's Inn of Santa Cruz, make sure to open all the drawers. The Hare Krishnas are putting copies of the Bhagavad Gita in cheap motels all over the Bay Area. That alone should be enough for a Metro Best-Of award. The "temple" is actually a while building just across the way from Streetlight Records in San Jose and offers a wealth of activities. Daily services and weekly programs are provided, as are regular lectures and meals.

Best Place to Watch Planes Land

Taylor Avenue near Highway 87, San Jose

Between Highway 87 and Coleman Avenue, there sits a grassy mound on Taylor Avenue. It is directly underneath the landing path of San Jose Airport and is an excellent location to administer alternative medicines on a sunny California day. If that's not your bag, it is also a nice spot to take your honey and administer muchas smooches (an effective cure to many human ailments as well).

Best Place to Dirty Up a Wedding Dress Before the Honeymoon

Mount Madonna County Park

7850 Pole Line Road, Watsonville; 408.355.2201. Where some popular spots to seal the deal are snagged years in advance, some outdoor amphitheaters like that at Mount Madonna County Park are a little easier to book mere months before the big day. Just 10 miles outside of Gilroy off Highway 152, Mount Madonna's beautiful, tree-enveloped amphitheater has ample space for a wedding party, plus wood-slab seating for up to 150 attendees, and a nearby picnic area serves as a simple space for a small reception on a warm summer day. Plus, mere feet away, the park houses a family of beautiful white fallow deer.

Best International Outdoor Recreation Spot

Rancho San Antonio County Park

23500 Cristo Rey Dr., Cupertino; 650.691.1200. The walk out to historic Deer Hollow Farm, up the somewhat steep and then vista-rich High Meadow Trail, through Wildcat Loop and back down the PG&E Trail (only one of countless hikes available at this open-space treasure) covers about five miles. Along the way, on an average sunny Sunday, hikers will encounter people from every continent except Antarctica, many taking their exercise with their families, speaking in their native tongues. The place is a celebration of the cosmopolitan valley that is displayed beautifully at its feet.

Best Bargain Superstar Show

Stanford Cardinal & Andrew Luck

The show takes place at Stanford Stadium—home of the 1985 Super Bowl, the 1994 World Cup and "The Big Game" going back to 1921. It's the nation's biggest privately owned stadium, and even the nosebleed seats afford a nice view. Last year, this historic arena witnessed the emergence of the Heisman-nominated quarterback Andrew Luck, who helmed the squad to a 12-1 season. Luck will be back in the fall, and tickets can still be had for a little more than the price of a movie.

Best Place for the Key to Success

Mountain View Lock and Key/Jehning Family Lock Museum

171 Castro St., Mountain View; 650.968.3323. The locksmith shop sits in one retail unit, while the museum sits next door. Both constitute a classic mom 'n' pop business right smack in the middle of downtown Mountain View's restaurant strip. The family locksmith business has served customers for decades and the store looks like one would expect: racks and racks of every key blank imaginable, old perforated fixtures from years past, signs, memorabilia and more. And it doesn't stop there. Next door, the museum contains antique doorknobs, safes, cash registers, key chains, historic locks and chains, handcuffs, machinery and glass display cases. Even better, a sign that glares: Do not bother the locksmith business.