[Best of the Santa Clara Valley 1997]

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Best of Los Altos

Costume Bank
Faking Faces: Loans from the Costume Bank help customers get in touch with their inner animal.

Best Place to Reinvent Yourself
Need a 1930s gangster outfit or Roaring-'20s flapper togs to knock 'em dead at one of those murder-mystery dinner parties? Searching for the perfect Santa suit? There's no better resource around for making a sartorial statement than the Costume Bank. This downtown Los Altos shop has been renting out its eclectic fashions for more than 30 years. Run by the all-volunteer Assistance League, its prices are among the lowest in the Bay Area, and its revenues support a variety of charitable projects. Most of the costumes are donated, and the result is something like Hieronymus Bosch's closet: big animal heads sharing shelves with Mad Hatter chapeaux and platinum-blonde wigs; matador outfits hanging beside fuzzy jumpsuits and yellow tutus. Skull masks! Kitty-cat ears! Scary teeth! It's not just for Halloween anymore.
169 State St., Los Altos (650/941-2610)

Best Place to Save Children
From Purple Dinosaurs
For parents who refuse to surrender offspring to the tender, cloying mercies of Barney and Big Bird, the Linden Tree Bookstore is the answer to their prayers. The selection at the Linden Tree starts at conception with volumes about parenting and concludes with books for young readers into the middle-school years. Plenty of "board books" for tots, lots of classics (can you say Willie Wonka?) and enough Animorphs to distract hyperimaginative preteens make the store the next best thing to full-time day care. The Linden Tree features a menagerie of cloth-critter hand puppets and is reportedly the largest retail outlet for children's music on the West Coast. Shoppers will find a few videos and CDs, but the printing press is the technology best represented here. "Plopping a child down in front of a computer screen while mom fixes dinner kind of defeats our purpose here," salesperson Helen Williams explains.
170 State St., Los Altos (650/949-3390)

Best Chance to See Iguanas
March With Llamas
As truly local events go, nothing quite compares with the sheer barking-meowing-whinnying-hopping-slithering spectacle of the Los Altos Kiwanis Club Pet Parade. A tradition for 50 years, the event marches local kids and their companion animals down Main Street in a one-of-a-kind parade. Sure, the critters are mostly dogs, but spectators will also see some rabbits in cages, a few horses (at the end, of course), the occasional iguana or boa constrictor, and even a llama. Petless kids are allowed to bring their stuffed animals (though they don't march very well). And the pooper-scooper brigade that follows the procession is a marvel of efficiency. Next year's parade is set for May 16, starting at 10am.
Downtown Los Altos

Best Place to Thrash
It's hard to imagine skaters and bladers tearing it up together at a single venue, but the Los Altos Skateboard Park proves that mixed marriages can work. "There's this big, well-known rivalry between [skateboarders and in-line skaters]," explains Robert Acosta, a former "thrasher" (geezerspeak for skateboarder) and the current recreation coordinator for the local rec department. "But here they all skate together with no problems. It's very cool." So's the park. Set up on the fenced-off parking lot at the Los Altos community center during the summer months, the facility includes ramps, quarter pipes, rails and two funboxes. It's one of the few places in the Bay Area where the well-wheeled can skate without being hassled. Dude!
97 Hillview Ave., Los Altos (650/941-0950)

Best Place to Squeeze Melons
There are produce stands and there are produce stands. And then there's DeMartini's Orchard Produce. Not much has changed at this family-owned store since the original owners set up shop in pre-Silicon Valley Los Altos. Back then, the DeMartini family dried apricots on property now occupied by condos.

"We're surrounded!" says Craig Kozy, who, with brother Tony, has owned and operated the store for the last 14 years. But this anomalous little shop is more than just a curious grocery stop. It is a place to chat with the neighbors while gathering the family's greens, to soak up the local gossip over the honeydews. And for those who can't tell a casaba from a cantaloupe, Craig is always on hand to squeeze, sniff and slice.
66 N. San Antonio Road, Los Altos (650/948-0881)

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From the Sept. 18-24, 1997 issue of Metro.

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