Los Gatos: Your ticket to carousel, train rides, kid-style shopping
By Kathy Chin Leong
 
The historic town of Los Gatos, city of the cats, is named so for the proliferation of wildcats that were around during the days of the Ohlone Indians, the original settlers. Fortunately, few large cats roam the streets anymore, so you and your family can freely and safely explore this charming locale.

Interested in taking your kids on a creek walk? Bicycling along a wooded trail? Creating art? Los Gatos, next to San Jose and Saratoga, is a quaint town filled with kid-friendly shops and restaurants, and is only a short drive away from outdoor activities. 

 VASONA PARK


Today, Los Gatos is popular among local families for Vasona Park , a multi-purpose recreational area. Vasona is connected into the Los Gatos Creek Trail , a 14-mile long and moderately flat bike route that feeds right into downtown Los Gatos. You can plan a bike ride for a day by bringing a picnic lunch on your bike pack or backpack. You start in Campbell near Lexington Reservoir , and this paved trail shares a lane with baby strollers, roller bladers, walkers, and runners.

Many families enjoy the grassy real estate of Vasona for its generous collection of shade trees, small lake, and boating activities. Coming here gives you an opportunity to save up your bread crumbs and feed the ducks, too. You can contact the Los Gatos Park and Rec department if you want to book a group barbeque or party. The park will accommodate groups of several hundred comfortably. Further, the Youth Science Institute , which has a site on the premises, houses interesting birds and animals with local information on the flora and fauna of the area. The YSI is open to the public, and docents can give mini-talks to families who come by to visit.



Little ones will love the Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad and Bill Mason Carousel at Oak Meadow Park , located next to Vasona. The train has quite a history as it was almost scrapped for junk metal before Billy Jones rescued it. Over the years, this beloved train has been restored through private donations, and kept alive through the arduous labor of volunteers who offer time and energy to keep it in top condition.. Prices of $1.50 per passenger are a steal, and kids 2 and under are free.

EATING

When you are in the mood for food, downtown Los Gatos features a myriad of delis, coffee shops, bakeries, and restaurants to satisfy everyone. The town has a pleasant mix of independent and well as familiar chain eateries. A few kid-friendly favorites along Santa Cruz Avenue, the main artery, include: Pedro's Restaurant, Andale for fast, real-fresh Mexican cuisine, Los Gatos Bar and Grill , Le Boulanger for sandwiches, Great Bear Coffee , Willow Street Pizza , Swenson's Ice Cream . When you go to Los Gatos, do not leave before visiting Fleur de Cocoa , a bakery and chocolate confection shop known for the best hot chocolate you will ever sip, hands down!


SHOP, SHOP, SHOPPING


And kids will even enjoy shopping with you along Santa Cruz Avenue . Purrsnickety and BowWowzer are back-to-back boutiques for every type of dog and cat doodad imaginable. Domus features kitchen and home décor, but also has a nice stationery, and a small toy section. The Learning Game will captivate your children's interest with books, toys, craft, and educational boardgames.

Adults will love the variety of art galleries, garden stores, kitchen stores such as Sur La Table and Williams Sonoma, and boutique clothing as well as popular chains including Gap and GapKids . There's the one and only theater, The Los Gatos Cinema , so you can catch a movie if you are here for more than a day.

And if your kids love art, Petroglyphs pottery painting studio welcomes walk-in customers who want to paint their own mugs, plates, or ceramic decoration. Petroglyphs staff will fire up your creation and have it ready in a few days. Downtown Old Town Los Gatos on University Avenue is also home to Borders Books, so you can rest your weary bones while the kids get their fill of storybooks.

The Sunday Farmer's Market is a pleasant way to spend a morning. Held from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., the market vendors are spread on aisles on the Town Plaza.

And if you are lucky enough to come for a weekend with a friend or spouse who will share babysitting duties with you, you can run and get a massage or facial at the Preston-Wynne Spa at the trendy Los Gatos Hotel and Spa , a boutique hotel on with rooms ranging from $189 to approximatey $259. The full-service spa, which also will treat children upon special request, features a 30-minute massage for $50. The hotel itself features a terrific pool and patio with an on-site, high-end restaurant called Kuleto's.

Another hotel walking distance to shops and restaurants is the newly-renovated Toll House Hotel , a larger accommodation with rates at $139 to $410, depending on the season and type of room. The recent remodel is more trendy and up to date. Across the street from the park, the Toll House is great for parents with preschoolers who like to run to burn off their energy before naptime.

This little town has plenty to offer, so don't pass up the opportunity to visit, for it is indeed, the 'cats' meow.'

****


WHEN YOU GO:

*Consider bringing your bike for a wonderful ride.
*Think picnic at Vasona.
*Bring your appetite to enjoy and sample the many cuisines in town
*Suncreen and hats are good for walking through this sunny area.


NOTEWORTHY WEBSITES:

* www.jdvhospitality.com   - for info on Los Gatos Hotel and Spa.
* www.prestonwynnespa.com    - details on Preston Wynne Spa and services.
* www.los-gatos.ca.us    - for info on the town.
* www.parkhere.org  - offers list of parks in Santa Clara County.
* www.bjwrr.org  - times and prices for the railroad at Oak Meadow Park.
* www.tollhousehotel.com  - pictures, rates, and online booking at Toll House Hotel.

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