[Best of the Santa Clara Valley 1997]

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Best of Los Gatos

Best Place to Imitate Jack Kerouac
Despite the miserable fact that Neal Cassady's house got ground to splinters last month, some comfort must be taken in the fact that the beat marches on at Cafe Rouge in Los Gatos. Crackling with the energy that inspired a generation, this cozy java joint sponsors monthly readings by featured poets and invites audience members to stand and deliver their own verses. Singers and acoustic musicians are welcome, too, and on a good night the place rocks. Rounding out the artsy ambiance, the walls display the paintings and mixed-media works of other local artists. Ample bookshelves comprise a bookworm's delight: volumes in all sizes and genres, including many vintage reads. The cafe makes for a great place to go after a long week of cubicle containment, to feel like a human being again and to know that the beat is still alive.
42 Elm St., Los Gatos (408/395-1599)

Best See-and-Be-Seen Scene
A combination of restaurant row, outdoor mall and nightclub district, Los Gatos' main drag, North Santa Cruz Avenue, attracts almost as many window-shoppers at night as it does during the day. Only difference is, at night they're just as likely to be checking out the crowds as they are checking out the shops. And unlike many suburban hangouts, North Santa Cruz attracts a broad demographic representing various ages and tastes. Beeper-bearing business guys and gals eye each other at Los Gatos Brewing Co., LG locals mingle with the tourist trade at such landmarks as the Black Watch, C.B. Hannegan's, Mountain Charley's, #1 Broadway and Carry Nations, and the underage set mills about in the many coffeehouses and gelaterias. There's something for everyone--except a dose of urban grime, which is in noticeably short supply in this tidy Carmel-away-from-the-sea.
North Santa Cruz Avenue between Highways 17 and 9, Los Gatos

Best Place to Hunt and Gather
Every Sunday from 8am to noon, shoppers swarm around the Town Plaza like hungry ants at a picnic. And why not? The Plaza holds the Los Gatos Farmers' Market, where the best stuff is snapped up faster than a virtual pet at a playground. Keeping cool beneath colorful awnings, vendors and farmers peddle organically grown salad greens with edible flowers, fragrant bundles of fresh herbs, and exotic mushrooms not found in the garden-variety markets. On a given morning, shoppers can also buy goat's milk cheese, preserves and jams, nuts, salad dressings and tapenades. But what really sets this farmer's market apart is the oyster guy who shucks freshly harvested, iced oysters on the spot. Some are wrapped and taken home, but most are sucked down immediately, leaving one to contemplate exactly what separates modern civilization from the folks who left those giant prehistoric shellmounds.
Los Gatos Town Plaza, Montebello Way and W. Main Street (408/353-4293)

Best Place to Play Julia Child
Even the hardiest hearty breakfast eater might encounter a Maalox Moment upon eating an omelette with all the ingredients listed in the Los Gatos Cafe's extensive menu, but that's not the idea. At this neighborhood breakfast club, guests are invited to "invent" customized omelettes with ingredients from a list of 30 tasty options. For 50 cents each, the Mediterranean-inclined might add olives, bell peppers, fresh chopped garlic and tomatoes. Seventy-five cents brings on cilantro, spinach, or black beans. For 90 to 95 cents, asparagus, chili or avocado can join the party. Carnivorous additions, such as bacon, ground beef, sausage, turkey and chicken, range from $1 to $1.25. For those who don't feel like decision-making early in the day, the restaurant offers more than a dozen creatively concocted scrambles.
340 N. Santa Cruz Ave., Los Gatos (408/354-4647)

Best Park to Do Almost Anything
There's a twinge of local resentment at times over rampant countywide use of Vasona Lake County Park, and it's easy to see both sides of the story. The park's wealth of venerable trees, grassy knolls, the meandering Los Gatos Creek, Vasona Lake, the kiddie railroad, the carousel and nearby Oak Meadow playground make Vasona Lake County Park the most efficient use of 151 acres to be found in suburbia. For picnickers, the park offers individual tables and barbecues along with eight reservable group areas. Grassy turf areas invite Frisbee tossing, kite flying, softball, soccer or volleyball. And then there's the water therapy. Visitors can rent paddle boats and rowboats, don floppy hats and play Walden Pond. Licensed anglers can try their luck catching black bass, crappie, catfish and bluegill. About the only activities prohibited at Vasona are camping and feeding the animals. Just don't tell the ducks.
Blossom Hill and Roberts roads (408/358-3741, information; 408/358-3751, reservations; 356-4945, Youth Science Institute)

Best Place to Feel the Force
The portion of the Los Gatos Creek Trail leading out of town and toward the mountains is the best place to feel the force--of gravity, that is, in those body parts most vulnerable to gravity's awesome time-proven powers, the derrière and thighs. This is the dam run--or the damn run, as it is known to its minions--which satisfies the need for a workout in a woodsy, oxygen-producing setting just seconds from civilization. Among its Dockers-resisting regulars, the double-humped trail is known for its torturous power to liquefy fat cells in a relatively short but intense jog from Main Street, along the creek trail to the top of Lexington Dam. First-timers be warned: There are rocks, dogs, bikes and, almost always, a pair or two of beautifully ripped thighs sauntering past in small shorts. Not for the faint at heart or the improperly equippeds.
Los Gatos Creek Trail, between Main Street and Lexington Reservoir

Best Unmarked Shortcut
As civic-minded journalists, we're glad there isn't a road sign on Highway 17 telling tourists driving over from Santa Cruz and Monterey that they can skip all of San Jose's traffic by heading north on Highway 85 in Los Gatos, and hooking up with 280 above Cupertino on their way to San Francisco. In fact, maybe we should petition Caltrans to place a sign directing drivers on their way to "The City" to head south on 85 (which actually runs east) to 101, so they have to drive through San Jose and see that it, too, is a real city.

Best Proof That the Rich
Are Merely Eccentric
Don't get us wrong here. Despite how it looks on the Los Gatos Police Department blotter, Los Gatos officers do, at times, respond to some very serious calls, including domestic violence, burglaries, fights, drug sales, drunk drivers and stolen vehicles--even dismembered body parts. However, it's the quirky calls that make law enforcement in the town of the cats suitable for prime-time television. Once officers responded to a "botanical conflict" and discovered neighbors arguing over flower-pulling. Another time, an officer helped a resident catch a frightening prowler--a rat loose in the house!

Here's a small sample from the blotter: Malicious mischief: Someone threw salsa or a similar substance on the caller's new white truck. Police gave advice. Alarm: Police responded to a commercial alarm and discovered a squirrel in the building. Person calling for help: The caller heard a woman calling for help and telling someone to stop. Police searched the neighborhood and discovered it was a couple tickling each other. Suspicious animals: The caller reported seeing a man with a boa constrictor in a fountain. When police arrived, both man and snake were gone.
Los Gatos Civic Center, 110 E. Main St., Los Gatos (408/354-5257)

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

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