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May 17-23, 2006

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The Great Outdoors

Metro Summer Guide 2006:
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The Santa Clara Valley, peninsula and coast abound with strolling, day hiking and camping spots, far more than we could corral for one guide. Below are just a few of our favorites.

Alum Rock Park
A natural, rugged getaway lies just minutes from downtown San Jose in 720-acre Alum Rock Park, San Jose's first and largest park. Visitors can partake of many leisure activities, including bicycling, horseback riding, picnicking or taking a scenic hike.

Hakone Gardens
Tucked away in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains just outside of Saratoga, at 21000 Big Basin Way, this is one of the few truly authentic Japanese gardens in the United States. It features four unique gardens created to offer beauty in all seasons, twisting gravel paths, waterfalls, a koi pond, a bamboo park and a replica of a 19th-century Kyoto tea merchant's home. The terrain is uneven, so wear low-heeled shoes. Sumptuous meals and snacks can be had a few minutes down the road in nearby Saratoga. Open 10am-5pm Mon-Fri, 11am-5pm Sat, Sun.

Los Gatos Creek Trail
How is it possible that this little strip of open-space heaven can be so close to everything people hate about living in a massive urban area, and yet so far away? Traffic, noise, development—they all melt away on this winding corridor from the Lexington Reservoir through suburbia into San Jose. Even when the paved hiking and biking trail comes within a few dozen yards of Highway 17, you barely notice, and at other times this almost-10-mile route transports you to an entirely different world of pastoral natural beauty, lakeside strolling and country living. It's like the Joni Mitchell song in reverse: they took out the parking lots and put back up paradise.

Lexington Reservoir County Park
This is the place that makes thousands of Highway 17 drivers every year drool with the possibility of being at that place over there, instead of where they are. Arguably the top choice in the county for runners, hikers and those weird little dogs that you barely believe can exist, let alone walk around on their own power, Lexington has top-notch trails and a great picnic spot at Miller Point. The icing on the cake is the reservoir itself, as close as we get to a Great Lake and the go-to boating and fishing spot.

Ed R. Levin County Park
Probably the best-kept secret in Silicon Valley in terms of prime park space. This has a lot to do with the fact that it's hidden in the hills behind Milpitas, to be sure, but it's more than worth a little driving. You can take a walk around gorgeous Sandy Wook Lake, or hike the hills, which thanks to the heavy rains are more lush for this time of year than locals remember seeing them in quite some time.

Elhorn Slough Reserve
This coastal wetlands nature preserve just inland from Moss Landing on the coast between Santa Cruz and Monterey is worth the drive. The diversity of bird life provides a constant parade of color of motion—from the giant blue herons and nesting egrets to the darting swallows and mud-dabbing willets and dowitchers. Some 200 species have been identified so far. Add to this avian cornucopia, wildflower meadows and the occasional passing otter, and Elkhorn is a supremely serene getaway. The reserve is open Wednesday-Sunday, 9am-5pm; the best visiting days are Wednesday-Friday when it is less crowded.

The Pacific Ocean
Click here for an insider's guide to the best surfing spots around Santa Cruz and up the North Coast.

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