[Best of the Santa Clara Valley 1998

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Playlandia

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[Sports & Recreation]

OK, enough already about the jamming job base in Silicon Valley. And the high cost of housing and the long work hours to pay for it all. Yes, it's true that out in spaceparkland the lights stay on in Silicon Valley's boardrooms too late. But the casual observer need look no further than the continuous stream of humans in the valley's parks, trails and amusements for living proof that there's a thriving play ethic at work here. At all hours, for that matter, in all seasons. Fact is, from the tightrope-walking venues of downtown to the stargazing nights in the local foothills, the valley is a perfect place to run away in, and an escapee doesn't have to go far to find both cubicle-defying thrills and zones for Zen.


Best Way to Join the Circus Without Running Away
Each summer, looky-loos drawn by the towering tilting cones and bouncing balls of the Euro-tinged mural painted on the warehouse wall are in for an even bigger jawdropper: Third-graders on the highwire! A 6-year-old jumping rope atop a giant ball! Little girls who can hang perpendicular by one hand from a wickedly helixing rope before they've learned their times tables! Pre-adolescent acrobats, tumblers and jugglers galore! It's just another day at Taylor's Acro Gymnastics Circus Camp, where kids 6 to 16 learn the ropes from teachers like the former national coach of the U.S. Sport Acrobatics team, guests from Cirque du Soleil and Ringling Bros. Barnum and Bailey Circus, champion gymnasts and members of Cirque San Jose. At the end of each five-day session, costumed campers put on a circus show with the pros complete with lights, music, the works. It's a shame the Circus Camp may have to pull up stakes--they're probably next to get redeveloped right out of the neighborhood.
634 N. Eighth St., San Jose, 408/295-ACRO

Best High/Low Culture Confluence
The faux-18th-century estate of Villa Montalvo takes its name from an ancient author who created a fantasy land called "California," an impossibly beautiful Utopia kind of like ... well, never mind. Anyway, the villa itself is grand without being obnoxious, the arboretum hosts trees and plants from around the world, and moderately steep trails through redwoods in the back yard afford majestic views. But all of this--plus all the art shows, concerts, wine tastings and other fabulousness that are typical here--is merely backdrop for Villa Montalvo's front lawn, the best Frisbee-throwing spot in the valley. Gently sloping down from a bank of steps, it's slightly narrower and slightly shorter than a football field, shaded and bordered by exotics. Occasionally it's necessary to dodge family picnickers, but that gives the sport some challenge.
15400 Montalvo Road, Saratoga

Best Camp Spot Under the Stars
No, not stars like Leonardo DiCaprio. We mean the real stars. The twinkly ones, up in the sky. Members of Thousand Trails Inc. have access to some 50 parks nationwide: nine in North Central California, and two near San Jose (Morgan Hill and San Benito, in the hills near Hollister). Memberships are offered through the individual camps. Advertised amenities include such things as meals, RV hookups, swimming pools, nature trails, spas and organized activities for the kids, but members say that the best thing about Thousand Trails camps is that the bathrooms get cleaned quite regularly (try saying that about a state camping ground). To really get away from it all, campers can take the battery out of the cellphone, trash the pager and just sit out under the stars. And on movie night, there might even be a flick starring Leonardo DiCaprio.
12895 Uvas Road, Morgan Hill, 408/778-1143 and 16225 Cienega Road, Paicines, 888/460-2267

Best Pickup Basketball Game
Warning: This ain't no "friendly" pickup game, dog. These are serious ballers. Perhaps a little too serious. Errant elbows and trash talk about your game, or lack thereof, are what pass for court etiquette here. Newcomers who don't have a 30-inch vertical leap should expect no respect. Nevertheless, Paul Moore Park (a.k.a. Cherry Park) offers the best regular pickup game around on weekends in the South Bay. People have been known to drive all the way from Oakland to run a few games. For unremarkable but steady role players, the games on the side court are less likely to result in hundreds of dollars in dental work and repeated verbal tauntings.
Corner of Cherry and Hillsdale avenues, San Jose

Best Bet for Commoners Preparing to Siege the Courts
Tennis, the other sport with a country-club image, is actually rather accessible to anyone within walking distance of a city park or high school court--anyone with the racket and know-how, that is. Don Johnson, a tennis pro who went from the streets to seeing the world as Arthur Ashe's practice partner, is committed to eliminating those two obstacles that stand between the less-privileged and a victory leap over the net at Centre Court. Every summer, twice a week for seven weeks, he gathers 20 to 30 neighborhood kids at the Backesto Park tennis courts and introduces them to the world between the white lines. And it's completely free--rackets are even supplied.

The sports section of San Jose's Parks Department runs various low-cost ($3-$5/hour) classes, free clinics and tournaments throughout the city for all ages, from peewee (4-7 years) to adults. All classes are taught by credentialed pros. At Cataldi Park in the Berryessa area, kids can join a league team that competes throughout San Jose from March through November.
Jackson and 13th streets, San Jose, 408/280-7355

Baylands Best Place to Visualize the Endangered Salt Marsh Harvest Mouse Eating Pickleweed
One of the few places in Sunnyvale that is forever saved from becoming pavement is the 105 acres of wetlands located in the newly completed Sunnyvale Baylands County Park. Workers recently finished a 500-foot-long boardwalk that extends out over the wetlands where sheets of green pickleweed flourish in the brackish water. The pickleweed is the favorite meal of the endangered salt marsh harvest mouse, a resident exclusively of the South Bay. "This is all for him," park supervisor Julie Oliver says as she gazes out into the wetlands. The park also offers 72 acres of rolling green hills, walking trails, barbecue pits and an amphitheater. Just don't expect to catch a glimpse of the rare critter munching on pickleweed. The mouse is nocturnal, and the boardwalk, where birdwatchers can also get a great view of rare birds, closes before dinner is served.
999 E. Caribbean Drive (Highway 237 and Lawrence Expressway), Sunnyvale, 408/730-7709

Best Place to Keep Your Ear to the Ground
It's your fault. The San Andreas, that is. Get to know it, 'cuz it's not going anywhere--except maybe through the living room. Only Californians would make a tourist attraction out of an earthquake fault, and the masterminds who created the San Andreas Fault Trail have, er, seamlessly combined the love of nature with the thirst for spectacle. An interpretive brochure deciphers nine fault-related landscape features along the mile-and-a-half trail: trees growing parallel to the ground, a fence offset three feet by the 1906 quake, ancient landslides, sag ponds and other geologic anomalies. The imaginative text plays up the site's history of disasters--past and future--with breathless lines like "Imagine the amount of energy that is currently locked beneath your feet!" It's the only hike we know of that's angling to get optioned as a Hollywood screenplay.
Los Trancos Open Space Preserve, Palo Alto

Best Place to Go on a Shooting Spree
There aren't many places where a would-be sharpshooter can take aim and fire away at will without racking up a long list of felonies. But at the Santa Clara County Field Sports Park Shooting Range, that's just the point. Happy gun-toters can shoot pistols and rifles at 25, 50 and 100 yards, and every fourth Sunday long-range riflemen can dig out the scope and shoot at targets 200 yards away. Park rangers are on hand to run the show and make sure no one gets hurt (remember, it's all fun and games until someone loses a body part), and when it's slow, as it often is, they help out youngsters and novices with safety tips. If onlookers can get over the nervous habit of ducking for cover every time a hand-canon fires, they might have a good time, although this is more of participatory than a spectator sport. It's Bring Your Own Firearms here, where a leisurely day discharging weapons of destruction is surprisingly affordable, even if the pricing structure is a little disturbing: $7 for adults, kids, $3.50.
Santa Clara County Field Sports Park Shooting Range, 408/463-0652

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Urban Survival Tip #4.

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Best Place for a Family Reunion
Hecker Pass ... A Family Adventure feels like a secluded resort, or at least the ones we've seen on TV. A lavishly landscaped facility owned and operated by the former president of Nob Hill Foods, these lush gardens and the elegant atmosphere lend themselves well to large family reunions, birthday parties, company picnics and other private gatherings for which people behave nicely. It's extremely well suited for die kinder, too, with a variety of games, crafts, storytelling, puppet shows and other live entertainment, as well as a fun train ride. Everyone can enjoy the gymnasium, racquetball courts, swimming pool, softball fields, volleyball courts and horseshoe pits. And the nice folks at Hecker Pass cook up a fine mess of good food, too--appetizers, main courses, snacks and, of course, the all-important beverages to make everything run just a little more smoothly.
3050 Hecker Pass Hwy., Gilroy, 408/842-2121

Best Place to Let Your Child Play in Green Water
In Sunnyvale, the sky is blue, the grass is green and the water is ... also green. Each of the neighborhood parks in Sunnyvale is as well-manicured and choice as a professional golf course. But at Serra Park, an unusual element makes a Sunday at the park with the family a bit surreal. Water flowing through the shallow S-shaped stream takes on a fluorescent emerald glow. Freak of nature? Old forgotten Superfund site? Nope. The water is laced with a harmless dye that keeps the sunlight from cutting through to create slimy algae. Knowing parents gladly allow their children to wade in the stream on hot summer days. The city's parks remain the gems of the valley, which of course makes neighboring residents green with envy.
Hollenbeck Road and The Dalles Avenue, Sunnyvale

Best Car-Free Long and Winding Road
Folded into a thin strip of green that meanders for more than a dozen miles along the 101, the Coyote Creek Parkway is one of the longest automobile-free paved paths in the county. For folks looking to get out on the old two-wheeler without risking a hostile encounter with a 2,000-pound chunk of metal, this is the place to go. Largely flat as it follows Coyote Creek, this trail is a great spot for beginners or rusty athletes just beginning to get those legs working again. The 13.7-mile trail starts at Coyote Creek Park just off the Hellyer Avenue exit on 101, and it winds all the way down to Morgan Hill. Open to cyclists, inline skaters and pedestrians, it gets busy on the weekends--but it's still a far sight safer and more pleasant than the dance with death that is a bicycle ride on a city street.
Coyote Creek Park

velodrome
Christopher Gardner

Velo Fellow: Serious cyclists rule the velodrome at Coyote Creek Park during the week, but the public gets its chance to make the rounds on weekends, when the track mellows out a bit.

Best Place to Realize You Really Are Going Nowhere
Big, round and made of concrete, it's practically one of a kind. The velodrome, a .3-kilometer oval with banked turns, is Northern California's only bike racing track. For those who like to zoom around in circles this miniature hippodrome is a treasure, one of only six loop-de-loops west of the Rockies. Races are held every Wednesday and Friday night, and college teams take up track time during the week, but there is ample time for everyone to lean into the steep banked curves. On weekends the velodrome is open to the public; one Sunday a month, kids take over. In case your wheels are out of commission, the Velodrome Association, which runs the loop, rents out cycles for between $5 and $10 dollars a pop. Voyeurs will find there's not a bad seat in the house. Racing season gears up in the spring and peters out by October, but the track is open year-round.
Coyote Creek Park at Hellyer Avenue, San Jose, 408/226-9716

Best Place to View a Meteor Shower
Perched loftily atop the treacherous Hecker Pass Highway/Highway 152 and far away from the bright city lights is one of the most beautiful camping spots within the valley's reach. Mount Madonna County Park offers sweeping views of Monterey Bay to the west and Santa Clara Valley to the east for those who enjoy nothing more than startling contrasts. With more than 100 drive-in and walk-in campsites situated within a thick redwood forest, the park's facilities make for exceptionally civilized camping. But despite the RV hook-ups, fire pits and public restrooms tucked discreetly away, entering the forest is like walking into a fairy forest or the Ewok village--warm, friendly and magical. During the day there's plenty to keep visitors busy with the park's 20-mile trail system (open to hikers and equestrians), archery range and visitor center, and though most of the campsites are set in the trees, there are plenty of wide-open spaces perfect for a moonlight picnic under the stars.
Summit of Highway 152, 408/842-2341

Best Place to Become a Vegetarian
Come on in and meet the family at Deer Hollow Farm: There's Clyde (OK, he's something of a pig), Michelle the milk cow, a rare St. Croix sheep named Desert, Bosey the angora goat, Tule the farm cat, and over the course of the year their assorted offspring: piglets, kids, lambs, kittens, ducklings, goslings, chicks, the occasional calf and lots of beanie ... er, bunny babies. Deer Hollow Farm, built around the turn of the century, is a working farm that doubles as an elementary school field trip destination. The animals are all friendly and easy-going, probably because they don't speak English and thus cannot read the educational signs posted on their pens that describe their various traditional uses--some of which are inevitably culinary. Getting to the farm is a leisurely 2-mile round-trip hike. Open 8am to 4pm, every day but Monday.
Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve, Los Altos, 650/903-6430

Municipal Stadium
Christopher Gardner

Take Me Out to the Ball Game: For an inexpensive and friendly baseball-watching experience, Municipal Stadium beats its more famous northern cousin by a landslide.

Best Park to Root for the Home Team
No long lines. Tickets under ten bucks. No perilous journey through Hunters Point with doors locked. And the weather is nice enough to wear shorts and a tank top. Such are the welcoming conditions at Municipal Stadium when attending a SJ Giants game, a marked contrast to the frosty hell that is Candlestick. OK, so it may not be the major leagues, but the SJ Giants make it a fun outing. Only in the minor leagues will you find a great gimmick like offering $1 beers if a particular player from the opposing team strikes out. The ballpark food and beer are reasonably priced, though still not exactly a bargain. But the parking is cheap and abundant. And unlike Sharks players, everyone in the Giants lineup has last names with consonants and vowels. Very exciting.
Senter Road and Alma Avenue, San Jose, 408/297-1435

Best Reason Get Your Rear in Gear
Once a year, as part of Gilroy's garlicky festivities, the Tour de Garlique brings together a small army of bicyclists--up to 1,500 of them--for a healthy dose of exercise and fresh garlic-scented air. The Tour de Garlique is a multicourse bicycle tour set along the back roads and rolling countryside of San Benito and Monterey counties. With 20-, 40-, 45-, 100- and 126-mile options, this extensive summertime tour is open to both adults and children. And it's a good reason to keep up the workout schedule during those sluggish fall, winter and spring months--or at least to take a few baby steps come May. Those prepared for the challenging rides will be rewarded with a Garlic Festival lunch and a commemorative patch. Marked routes, maps and rest stops are provided.
Late June in San Benito and Monterey counties, 408/842-1625

Best Place to Spread Your Wings
Concealed behind a pink jumble of two-story houses and condominiums is Metcalf Park, a spacious sanctuary for San Jose's active types. Boasting a vast lawn with picnic tables, a fully equipped jungle gym, a volleyball court and a nature trail, Metcalf Park draws the recreationally inclined like the Rainbow Gathering draws hippies. But the break-away rims that always have nets and well-marked courts make the two regulation-sized basketball courts the main attraction. Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays the courts quake with a mix of high schoolers doing their best Koby Bryant--no longer Michael Jordan--imitations, a few JC players, one or two ex-CBA scabs and a healthy serving of streetball scraps. Play is continuous throughout the year but sizzles in the summer months, when everyone in the area, it seems, turns out to take advantage of Metcalf Park's many amenities.
South on Monterey Highway just past Bernal Road in San Jose

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From the September 17-23, 1998 issue of Metro.

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