Geography - Los Gatos

Los Gatos began as El Rinconada de Los Gatos, Cat’s Corner, situated where El Sereno Mountain meets its twin, El Sombroso. This land is a bit warmer and rainier than San Jose proper, and things grow green easily here.

Today the town spreads about 11 square miles, bordered by State Route 85 and Campbell to the north, and bisected north to south by State Route 17. Though most of 17 is a twisting two-lane mountain road connecting San Jose and Santa Cruz, it roars through Los Gatos, a full four lanes each way. Thus the town differs from other suburbs, in that the closer you get to the noise pollution of the center, the less pleasant the neighborhoods. The nicer houses tend to cluster on the outer edges of town.

West of the 17 lies the older, hillier part of Los Gatos. Here, Victorian painted ladies rise and fall with the foothills, quaint avenues host trendy shops with quirky names, and it feels almost like a section of San Francisco. Most of the historic landmarks lie west of the highway as well, giving that half of the town the mountain lion’s share of its trademark personality.

East of the highway, Los Gatos is more suburban, indistinguishable from any other American suburb save by the more upscale shops in its intersection mini-malls and higher quality townhomes and McMansions. Eastern Los Gatos is smaller and flatter than the western part, and stands in the shadow of prettier, more woodsy Monte Sereno — where Steinbeck wrote his Grapes of Wrath — to its east. When Silicon Valley was thriving, the tech industry had its office parks east of 17, but now those buildings are shuttered. As the Second Depression rolls on, western Los Gatos radiates a Victorian creepiness, in contrast to the eastern section’s slow-spreading suburban decay.

As housing near route 17 is in low demand, Los Gatos’s two parks lie closer to the city center. Vasona Lake Park and Oak Meadow Park — really one large parkland — stretch north to south right alongside the busy highway. These give the city center a lush green look, though visitors are encouraged not to enter the green after dusk to avoid rising rates of vagrancy, drug use, and assault.

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The stately peaks of El Sereno and El Sombroso guard the way into the Santa Cruz mountains, their breathtaking beauty utterly unremarkable among the gorgeous Pacific Coast Ranges. Dark evergreen forests rise thousands of feet into the air, where wildlife is still abundant and the woods are deathly quiet just miles from busy San Jose. When the polluted skies are clear, visitors to the Sierra Azul and El Sereno Open Space Preserves high in the mountains can even see stars. Los Gatos Creek begins in the Santa Cruz Mountains, rambling through town before joining the Guadalupe river, which empties into San Francisco Bay. Deeper in the mountains looms Loma Prieta Peak, the tallest point in the range and the epicenter of the devastating 1989 earthquake.

Close to the mountains as it is, Los Gatos is surrounded and criss-crossed by hiking and biking trails, and people are known to lose themselves — or get lost, on these winding, sometimes thorny paths.

Geography - Los Gatos

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