The idea of “small-town America” comes loaded with stereotype – one image that often comes to mind is that of the provincial, isolated hamlet overrun with fast food chains and big box stores. It's been said that America has lost the true meaning of a small town, twisting the term to describe glorified rest stops stuck in cultural vacuums.
Quarter Finalist 2013 FTF Teen Travel Writing Scholarship
My hometown of Los Gatos, CA, defies those preconceptions. Nestled at the base of the Santa Cruz Mountains in the south San Francisco Bay Area, Los Gatos combines old-world charm with cosmopolitan living, exemplifying the ideal of a “small-town” community. It is a portal from the prosperity and tech of Silicon Valley to the laid-back beauty of the beach communities and easily balances those lifestyles.
Founded around the booming milling, logging, and canning industries, Los Gatos grew in prominence throughout the 1800s as a crucial point between the Pacific and the “valley of heart's delight,” making the town no stranger to opportunity even in its early days. Today, Los Gatos has maintained that spirit of progress and continues to reflect the quintessential “California Dream.” The vast majority of its businesses are independent, and it is populated by, among others, modern “pioneers” of Silicon Valley. At the same time, however, Los Gatos maintains a strong sense of community and unity through many traditions that tie its residents together.
It would be seriously remiss to begin discussing Los Gatos without mentioning its popular restaurant scene. Home to some of the best dining in Silicon Valley, downtown harbors everything from authentic Thai and Vietnamese to the kitschy shake mecca Main Street Burgers to the much-lauded upscale and experimental cuisine at Nick's Next Door, Manresa, and Cin-Cin. Most restaurants offer outdoor seating, bringing the streets to life each night with patrons who enjoy great weather and fantastic ambiance under the year-round Christmas lights!
It seems like everyone in Los Gatos is a “foodie,” but our love for great dining is actually matched by our love for great shopping. The streets are peppered with unique boutiques and galleries selling everything from antique hats to artisinal furniture. Even just window shopping in Los Gatos is fun – my friends and I particularly like to admire the gorgeous, detailed chocolates in Fleur de Cocoa, our local pâtisserie, and the trendy styles at Kitsch Couture or Bella Rosa.
Apart from shopping and dining, there are always events going on that can only be described as “uniquely Los Gatos!” During the summer, the community comes out in droves for free concerts in the main square (look out for kids hopping on stage with the bands!), and our annual 4th of July party draws visitors from all around the Bay. In addition, arts lovers can enjoy free Shakespeare in the Park and outdoor movie screenings at Oak Meadow Park. The holiday season in Los Gatos is pretty magical, as well: it's always a thrill to watch the huge redwood on the Town Plaza lit up for the first time, and the Chamber of Commerce even sponsors horse-drawn carriage rides through beautifully decorated neighborhoods, bringing a touch of nostalgia that is a favorite tradition of many. Year-round, local growers and artisans flock to the Plaza for every Sunday's farmer's market, featuring specialty foods and entertainment.
Although it's a tired slogan, there is really something for everyone in Los Gatos. From paddleboating on Vasona lake to trick-or-treating through Tait Street's extravagent displays, it is impossible to be bored here. Couples should visit Los Gatos for the incredible spas, wineries, and romantic hotels, but families will be just as entertained with a trip to Powell's Sweet Shop or a hike along the Lexington reservoir. All of these reasons make me firmly believe that Los Gatos is more than “just” my hometown – it's the perfect place to stay for a long weekend or a lifetime.
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