Los Altos Hills

Already known as one of the country’s wealthiest towns, Los Altos recently got a boost from one of its most prominent citizens. In 2009, Google co-founder Sergey Brin, a resident of Los Altos Hills and new father, joined with a handful of others to establish a real estate investment firm whose aim was to buy and renovate commercial properties in downtown Los Altos. The company, Passarelle Investments, has since been instrumental in the rebirth of Los Altos’ once sleepy downtown, both adding new businesses and preserving existing ones. That many of the new concerns are family-focused is a bonus to Los Altos’ large and growing population of young parents.

Though it may seem otherwise, Los Altos wasn’t always a center of affluence. Prior to its 1952 incorporation, Los Altos was dominated by prune and avocado farms and ranches, the living embodiment of the “valley of the heart’s delight,” as the Santa Clara Valley was known prior to the Silicon Valley explosion.

Most of Los Altos’ growth -- those large, sprawling houses Silicon Valley types snap up the minute they hit the market – came in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, as farmers sold off parcels for residential development; which is fitting, since the town came into being as the result of a single landowner’s subdivision.

Los Altos was established in 1906 by a Southern Pacific Railroad man named Paul Shoup, who created the Altos Land Company after buying 140 acres of a ranch owned by Sarah Winchester – the same Sarah Winchester who later went insane and built the Winchester House of Mystery. Promoting the newly-platted town as “The Jewel of the Peninsula,” the Altos Land Company began selling lots in 1908.

Despite early enthusiasm, Los Altos grew slowly until World War II. Today it’s difficult to find evidence of the young town. Even “Old Los Altos,” the oldest of the city’s eight residential districts, includes a mix of new and old – with the “old” mostly going only back to the 1930s and 40s.

Most of Los Altos’ other neighborhoods have buried their agricultural under waves of large homes in beautiful settings. Original plans for Loyola Corners called for the construction of a new campus for Santa Clara University, the idea being that fledgling Los Altos would become a university town rivaling its next-door neighbor, Palo Alto. The 1906 earthquake derailed those plans, however. Today, what would have been a college campus is instead the Los Altos Country Club.

Instead of universities and avocados, present-day Los Altos is instead known for its luxurious, spacious homes and high-end suburban lifestyle. Los Altos has something for every high-end homebuyer, with classic post-war suburban neighborhoods, semi-rural neighborhoods like Country Club, which backs up to a 4,000 acre nature preserve, mini-mansions with views in Woodland and even neighborhoods promising pedestrian-friendly lifestyles, with easy access to downtown’s upgraded shopping and dining.

Downtown is a mixture of world-class restaurants and comfortable local favorites, high-end boutiques and decades-old mom-and-pop businesses. The Los Altos Village Association stays busy, fillin each year with events and festivals including the annual Los Altos Arts and Wine Festival, a summer Farmer’s Market and the monthly First Friday’s event, during which locals convene on downtown streets to enjoy live music and extended shopping hours and maybe follow up with a meal at a downtown restaurant.

Even without the efforts of a particular local tech tycoon, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more family-friendly place than Los Altos, with its big yards, numerous parks and highly regarded public schools. The Los Altos School District, which is made up of seven K though five elementary schools and two middle schools, is consistently lauded for scoring among the state’s highest districts for Academic Performance Index and integrating cutting edge teaching methods and technology into its curriculum.

The orchards may be gone, but the fruits of success continue in Los Altos. This is where Silicon Valley goes after it leaves work, to a large, comfortable home with a yard, friendly neighbors, good schools and a revitalized downtown whose upward trend only makes this a-list town more attractive.