[Best of the Santa Clara Valley 1997]

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Best of Sunnyvale

Serra Park
Wheel of Fortune: Sunnyvale's Serra Park, home to the SS Sunnyvale, is just one of the model city's 18 spotless parks.

Best Parks
At any location in Sunnyvale, chances are good there's a park within a mile. The Sunnyvale Parks and Recreation Department maintains 18 parks, plus facilities at several local schools, and does it well--the playgrounds are so spotless, toddlers can safely scamper barefoot. Though the old playground themes are falling to newer, safer structures, there's no "cookie-cutter" feeling between sites. Serra Park's old S.S. Sunnyvale riverboat and Western storefronts are always a delight. At the other end of the city, and the recreation spectrum, cool and quiet Baylands Park stays close to nature.
Sunnyvale Parks and Recreation Department (408/730-7506)

Best Silicon Valley Wetware Firm
The Faultline Brewing Co. facility is ergonomically designed for comfortably grabbing a bite and tipping back a few. The big, open room, with its glass-and-steel architecture, vaulted ceilings and partitioned dining areas, seems at home in the neighborhood that holds the giants of the valley's electronics industry--just as a vintage brick-and-oak tavern feels right in an older city's well-aged neighborhoods.

The hardware inside--a state-of-the-art brewery and fully appointed kitchen--turns out user-friendly programs: unpretentious, reasonably priced California cuisine and, best of all, good beer. And when even these spacious confines feel too close, there's a cool deck out back overlooking a willow-shaded pond.
1235 Oakmead Pkwy., Sunnyvale (408/736-2739)

Best Six-Year Facelift
Murphy Avenue was not much to speak of six years ago. Now for the first time since the city started pushing for a revitalization of the historic street, every building and storefront has a tenant or soon will. Two businesses in particular, Stoddard's Brew Pub and The Palace, heralded the happy turnaround of this now-hopping hundred yards.
Murphy and Washington avenues, Sunnyvale

Best Place to Give Wheels a Brake
Skaters, bikers, skateboarders and cars alike enjoy smooth rides across Sunnyvale streets, where there are no potholes to mar the asphalt. These pristine surfaces result from the well-oiled local government, leaders boast, because any reported road problems are fixed as soon as possible. Also to the delight of alternative transport fans, almost all of Sunnyvale's residential streets have sidewalks.

Golfland USA
Speed Racer: Golfland USA provides sensory overload for kids of all ages.

Best Place to Cultivate Unnatural Pallor
All the latest in video-game technology brings crowds to Golfland USA for more than just miniature golf. The dark, cavernous arcade echoes with beeps and shouts, but to gaming enthusiasts, it's worth it. Kids, teenagers and Silicon Valley's computer programmers line up quarters along the control panels and wait patiently in line for their turns. Judging from all the Starbucks cups threatening a short circuit, more than fast-paced virtual stimulation keeps those digits flying.
855 E. El Camino Real, Sunnyvale (408/245-1322)

Best Last Stands for Agriculture
C.J. Olson's cherry stand on El Camino Real has survived numerous attempts to sell the property and chop down the aging orchards, but every year they open it up again to sell fruits you can practically see dropping from the trees behind the road. Apricots are dried the old-fashioned way on the premises. As the old water tower proclaims, Olson's is also the mythical home of Sunnyvale State University; T-shirts and mugs emblazoned with "SSU" allow anyone to share the fantasy.

But the famed cherry pit stop is not the last stand in town--there's also Chuck's Garden Fresh Produce. Chuck Stowell's grandfather came out West from Iowa "after the snow melt in 1899" to purchase 30 rich acres of farmland. A produce stand has been in operation there since 1950. Stowell took over the business in 1971, and on the seven acres remaining from his grandpa's original holdings, he raises cherries, tomatoes, apricots and persimmons. Each autumn, customers can wander through a pumpkin patch to pick their jack-o'-lantern right off the vine. Chuck's harvests memories from the days when roadside produce was a way of life everywhere, not just in Gilroy.
C.J. Olson's Cherries, W. El Camino Real and Mathilda Avenue, Sunnyvale (408/720-1483)
Chuck's Garden Fresh Produce, 901 Sunnyvale-Saratoga Road, Sunnyvale (408/736-3226)

Best Endorphin Generator
Treadmills can get tiresome, and high school tracks tend to bring unwelcome memories of PE-class purgatory. The West Valley Elementary School jogging trail not only offers a pleasant setting right next to Stevens Creek, but it also ranges far afield from anything resembling disruptive traffic or after-school practices. And the swings make for great cool-downs.
1635 Belleville Way, Sunnyvale

Best Place to Get Involved
Volunteers for nonprofit groups. Leadership programs. Tutors. Special events. Techies for community theater. Art classes. Exercise classes. Sunnyvale Volunteer Services manager Sophie Horiuchi steers the willing and able toward a niche waiting to be filled by those who seek fulfillment in nonmonetary terms, suggesting there are multiple reasons that Sunnyvale has become the Heart of Silicon Valley.
603 All America Way, Sunnyvale (730-7533)

Best Neo-Pagan Ritual
December 22, sunrise: A very small cluster of people gather at El Paso de Los Sueños/Gateway to Dreams, the pyramidal sculpture by artist Gene Flores on the corner of Mathilda Avenue and El Camino. They have brought offerings for a Winter Solstice ceremony--not blood sacrifices, but small items representing hopes and wishes for the coming seasons. At dawn the sun rises directly between the two bronze wedges strategically placed for the effect to be realized with minimum aperture on this date, maximum on summer solstice. For one brief moment, centuries of science fade away as watchers in the city that high-tech built experience one of the first mysteries to spark human imagination: the changing seasons.
Corner of Mathilda Avenue and El Camino Real, Sunnyvale

Best Haunt for the Lovelorn
Legend has it that a poor farmhand fell in love with one of the Murphy girls. She either rejected him or their love was nipped in the bud by her father, but the result was indisputably tragic: The lovelorn laborer killed himself in his shack. The orchards were razed, a warehouse was built on the spot and now Toys 'R' Us occupies the site where forbidden love's sweet taste turned sour. Though he was unable to "get on with his life," as the saying goes, apparently the ghost has since developed more constructive methods of coping. Recurring reports of phantom skateboards would seem to indicate this spirit's penchant for pursuing passions that bottom-liners brand as criminal.
130 E. El Camino Real, Sunnyvale (408/732-0331)

Best Example of Know-How Meets Can-Do
President Clinton was right on the money when he came to Sunnyvale to recognize Government Gone Right. His focus was the controlled budget, but residents know it's more than just that. Or maybe they don't--the City Council isn't intrusive and runs quietly, but there's no question about its effectiveness. One look at the city's thriving programs and policies demonstrates that everyone, not just the councilmembers, is doing what needs to be done.
City Hall, 456 W. Olive Ave., Sunnyvale (408/730-7500)

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

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