“ALL I NEED IS that I breathe and some love, too,” sang the Hollies but in the imported European village of Los Gatos, everything else will cost a pretty penny. After a little digging, there are plenty of free things to do in the land of Los Gatos. And hey, with all the money you save on your activities, you’ll have enough left for a snack and a cuppa joe, or a great meal in this place that has dozens to choose from. The town is the quintessential place to hang out, people watch and imbibe.
1. First Things First: Park Your Car
Yeah, we know that parking your car sounds like a particularly lame activity, but since it’s a very necessary step when you plan to explore a town on foot, we’re happy to tell you that the bustling downtown Los Gatos area is a meter-free zone. Los Gatos is one of the last provinces in the world that banned the ravenous quarter-sucking, metal-plated toadstools from its limits. LG has free street parking, including a couple of unlimited time parking lots, four timed lots and underground garages to handle the load of visitors and locals. Parking is monitored between 9am and 6pm, so don’t think coffers are missing out on any significant revenue streams. Still, you can save quarters for a Reno trip and meter maids are free to pursue other interests, like consorting with DMV workers, Comcast phone operators and other people whose jobs deem them irritating.
2. Drift Off to “If I had a…” Land
“If I had a Bentley, I’d be infinitely cooler than my neighbor and I would make him think twice about bragging about his ‘student of the month’ again.” The Silicon Valley Auto Group’s showroom in downtown Los Gatos is the place of daydreams. Bentleys, Lotuses, Saleens, Rolls Royces and more pose proudly on display, waiting for some deep-pocketed wanderer to take them home. Standing outside, staring in at the downright sexy collection of cars, it’s easy to let your mind wander off to satisfying PG fantasies. “If I had an Aston Martin, I could park it on sidewalks outside of high-end clubs to let everyone know that I’m the hottest thing since Paris Hilton doing time.” Just remember that, if you stand there too long ogling the wheeled beauties and wiping drool from the corners of your mouth, the employees might call 911. If you had a Lamborghini, you could outrun the police.
66 East Main Street, Los Gatos CA 95032
620 Blossom Hill Road, Los Gatos CA 95032
3. Take a Walk on the Artsy Side
For all its upper-crust trappings, Los Gatos takes its art scene very seriously. There are 10 art galleries, two museums, three public art sites and six merchants displaying local artists. And unlike the Louvre or Musée D’Orsey, both the Forbes Mill History Museum and the Los Gatos Museum of Art and History don’t have an admission fee. All they want is the highest currency: a genuine interest in local history and a desire to support local artists. Pick up a Walking Tour Guide or go to the attractions guide and discover the riches.
Los Gatos Museum of Art
4 Tait Ave., Los Gatos; 408.354.2646
Forbes Mill Museum of Regional History
75 Church St., Los Gatos, 408.395.7375
4. Satisfy Your Taste Buds
The Sunday-morning ritual for Los Gatos foodies takes over Town Plaza and turns it to a fresh fruit, vegetable and specialty-food lover’s paradise. There’s a good amount of free sampling going on; it’s tempting to sample ripe strawberries, baked breads, a honey-roasted almond, kettle corn and ravioli and call it a meal. But it’s so hard to ignore the mobile crepe maker without shelling out the dough. Give in to temptation. A side attraction is the unofficial dog show that takes over the canine friendly park adjacent to the food booths. It’s a dog-fancier’s delight with purebred pooches that would make Triumph the Insult Comic Dog’s pink thing stand at attention.
Los Gatos Town Plaza Park, N. Santa Cruz Avenue and Main Street, Los Gatos; 408.353.4293; Sun 8am-1pm
5. Hit the Dirt
Los Gatos is the entry point of two of the best walking and jogging trails. Los Gatos Creek Trail is the domain of moms and joggers. Kennedy Trail is for more experienced hikers and mountain bikers, winding up into the hills with a few crazy switchbacks and boasting some seriously awesome views. If you choose Los Gatos Creek Trail, take some sunscreen, bottled water and sturdy hiking shoes. Come to think of it, bring a friend or some pepper spray, as every once in a while miscreants take to the path to flash unsuspecting joggers or engage in other forms of deviant behavior.
Los Gatos Creek Trail, Kennedy Trail
6. Get Your Tile On
Los Gatos Scrabble Club #244 meets every Sunday at noon at Tomato Thyme, a fun pizza restaurant, on Los Gatos Boulevard for open competition. Participants of varying scrabble-skill levels are welcome, from beginners to established word freaks. There are five rounds and no entry fee and no prizes, except bragging rights. Bring score sheets, Protiles, playing boards, a chess clock and your mental list of two-letter words that begin with “x.”
Tomato Thyme Pizza 15525 Los Gatos Blvd., Los Gatos; Director: Bruce Tritch 408.629.9954
7. Lounge Lakeside
Not technically free if want to park ($4), but enterprising visitors have found nearby streets to stash cars or use alternative transportation to enjoy the open space that Vasona and the adjacent Oak Meadow Park generously afford. There are plenty of barbecue pits, jungle gyms, jogging and biking paths—oh, and a big huge lake. It hasn’t been the same since Vasona banned duck feeding and ice sliding (the cause of many drunken head injuries back in the ’70s), but there are still plenty of things to do, like fishing, paddle boating and volleyball. Sometimes the best thing to do in a park is absolutely nothing, like taking a calming siesta in the warm sun. When that light rail extension to Vasona finally opens, look for attendance to spike and worker productivity to plummet.
Vasona Lake Park
333 Blossom Hill Rd., Los Gatos; 408.356.2729; 8am-sunset
8. Listen to the Rhythm
During the summer months, the lawn outside of the Civic Center is transformed into a concert venue filled with appreciative music fans and strollers digesting a twilight meal. The Sunday Music in the Park concerts offer live music ranging from salsa to reggae to opera to rock, and they doesn’t have people in yellow jackets frisking you for bottled water. Jazz on the Plazz is the Los Gatos Summer Jazz Series that runs on Wednesday evenings in the Los Gatos Town Plaza Park (in the heart of downtown), supplying ear-candy from some of the top jazz performers.
Los Gatos Civic Center
110 E. Main St., Los Gatos; 408.354.6834; Sun 5-7pm, through Aug 24
9. Feel the Pain
The Cat’s Hill Criterium is one of the nastiest road races on the Northern California bike-racing circuit. It’s a one-mile loop course at Tait and Nicholson that attracts many masochistic racers looking for a race that offers no margin of error. The course is notorious for its steep (23 percent) climb and six nasty 90-degree turns which have lead to many broken collarbones, slipped gears, broken chains and broken egos. The course is known for pavement separations, potholes, narrow parts, dips and the usual Caltrans indignities that Santa Clara Valley drivers have become accustomed to. Fans of road biking set up camp early, and the hard core stake out space at one the six turn’s apexes. Also fun is watching the up-and-coming names grinding it out on the treacherous Nicholson Avenue hill or sprinting toward the finish line. Tour de France winner Greg Lemond won the Cat’s Hill in 1978, and Olympian Eric Heiden placed fifth in 1983.
Cat’s Hill Criterium
Second Saturday in May; www.catshill.org
10. Take in the Two-Legged Sights
If people watching has crossed over from nervous tic to full-blown hobby, N. Santa Cruz Avenue offers a fascinating petri dish of nouveau riche. You haven’t done Los Gatos until you have spotted the following: Perfectly groomed golden retriever on a leash. Man in Lycra bike shorts and clacking shoes drinking coffee. Woman with yoga mat drinking coffee. Infant twins in a buggy pushed by 40-ish woman in sunglasses. At least 20 Tommy Bahama/khaki short and topsider combinations on middle-aged men. Old-timers with takeout bags. A Hummer that has never seen action or a Rolls Royce that has. A VW Bug with surf racks. A Harley-Davidson parked outside of Black Watch. San Jose Earthquakes eating pizza at Pizza My Heart. Cute, well-behaved kids you want to pinch for being so good. Bachelorette party in C.B. Hanegan’s. Carmen Electra wannabe with implants.