Tradition intersects with tech in a community that continues to turn heads—flying cars and all.
The Parisian-style hotel known as Enchanté anchors the downtown.
Los Altos is the only place on the planet where you can buy an authentic secondhand Louis Vuitton handbag, a hammer and a flying car.
Yes, a flying car.
Welcome to downtown Los Altos, where the 44-year-old BK Collections (bkcollectionslosaltos.com) gift shop lives blocks from ASKA (askafly.com), a startup showcasing its electric vehicle resembling a helicopter on wheels. Over the past decade, new restaurants and shops, plus a revitalization effort put forth by Los Altos Community Investments, or LACI (losaltoscommunityinvestments.com), is transforming the area while seeking to retain its village charm.
In the ’70s, the town center of Los Altos was a respite for Silicon Valley entrepreneurs and CEOs. State and Main streets were home to staid coffee shops, hair salons and boutiques. Many agree the neighborhood might have been getting stodgy. As Robert Hindman, managing director at LACI, says politely, “Downtown was very, very quiet.”
The culinary team at the new State Street Market’s Băo Bèi
Today, things are different. At least 20 recent businesses are fueling the revival of this six-block parcel. Among other things, the enclave is fast becoming a haven for gourmands. The largest of these enterprises is State Street Market (statestreetmarket.com). So far, the gourmet food hall features seven eateries, including Little Blue Door (Indian comfort food) and Băo Bèi (Korean and Taiwanese cuisine).
A few streets over resides Sweet Diplomacy (sweetdiplomacy.com), a gluten-free patisserie, notable for its seasonal floral archway. Amandine (amandineproject.com), a lavish speakeasy, stays open until midnight, sparking a rich nightlife. Asa (asarestaurants.com), with New American fare, already draws crowds. Spicing up the downtown scene is Hiroshi (hiroshi328.com), which offers a decidedly luxe Japanese omakase experience.
Gourmands will discover exceptional fare at Hiroshi.
THE HILLS ARE ALIVE
All of these additions are on point with the residents of Los Altos, an affluent 6.5-square-mile city hailed as the most educated in California. It’s the childhood home of the late Steve Jobs, founder of Apple. More than 80% of its 32,000-plus residents boast a bachelor’s degree and higher. The median home price is $4.2 million, confirms Los Altos native and local luxury real estate expert Nicole Colclough (the median annual income in Los Altos is $235,278).
The nearly 8,200 residents of tony Los Altos Hills, above Los Altos, are tech gurus, Hollywood producers and innovators with the next disruptive idea. ASKA founders Guy and Maki Kaplinsky chose to base their company in Los Altos, since city leaders and the business community understood their vision and welcomed them freely.
“Los Altos is a place where people are appreciative of cutting-edge technology,” says Guy. Adds his wife, Maki, “We love Los Altos. That’s why we live here too.”
Chef Lawrence Chu, owner of 50-yearold Chef Chu’s (chefchu.com), has become a celebrity in his own right as having one of the most popular Chinese restaurants in town. And when his son, Jon Chu, directed the hit movies Crazy Rich Asians and In the Heights, the chef’s notoriety grew even more.
Flying vehicle company ASKA is based in Los Altos.
GENEROSITY AND SUPPORT OF BUSINESS
Los Altos is also a generous town. During the pandemic, residents came together and shopped locally in order to keep the enterprises alive, according to Kim Mosley, president and CEO of the Los Altos Chamber of Commerce (losaltoschamber.org). Says Mosley, “The Chamber is the glue that holds our community together. It was a primary point of contact for sharing COVID protocol information with all employers and organizations, large and small.”
Through constant communication, the Chamber helped everyone “to emerge safely and more quickly from the pandemic than many of our neighboring communities.” Los Altos lost very few businesses as the Los Altos Village Association (downtownlosaltos.org), the Los Altos Chamber of Commerce and city leaders linked arms to weather the storm.
Meanwhile, newly minted retail and entertainment venues make families smile. Kids can nab a drink at the Boba Guys (bobaguys.com) tea shop or the hip and healthy iJuice (ijuicepress.com) after school. Parents are booking party rooms at HyperSpace (hyperspacelosaltos.com), an upscale arcade with karaoke, mini-golf and virtual reality games. The city recently welcomed Skateworks (skateworks.com), a family-owned skateboard shop. Recently expanded 41-yearold Linden Tree (lindentreebooks.com) children’s books continues to offer its outdoor weekly story time.
Work by Los Altos artist Jan Meyer
In light of gaming arcades and flying cars, Los Altos still has storybook appeal. Consider the Victorian lamp posts, fairy lights, public benches, flower bowls and planter boxes. Generations of customers still count on the personalized services of Los Altos Hardware (truevalue.com) and Smythe & Cross Jewelry (smytheandcross.com).
City traditions form tight relationships. The Los Altos Pet Parade steals hearts every May. At the Festival of Lights holiday parade, residents park camp chairs on sidewalks hours before start time. During the pandemic, the Rancho Merchants Association and the Festival of Lights Parade organizers hosted a drive-through version of the event to keep the town safe, festive and in the holiday spirit.
Adding to the montage is Enchanté (enchantehotel.com), a Parisian boutique hotel. Opened in 2015, the chateaulike building with limestone facade represents Los Altos’ chief landmark. Owner and real estate developer Abby Ahrens earlier said the hotel is “the legacy that I wanted to create to honor the town that I hold so dear to my heart.”
Changes, both big and small, are coming. Approved for construction are eight condominium projects with approximately 150 units. Occupants will be able to walk to the Thursday night farmers market and shop at the Rancho Shopping Center (visitrancho.com), a low-rise of shops and cafes, anchored by Andronico’s Community Market. The new Redwood Grill (rwgrill.com) serves everything from California comfort food to craft cocktails.
Cafe culture thrives in downtown Los Altos, with plenty of outdoor dining popping up during and after the pandemic.
Draeger’s (draegers.com) gourmet market is slated to offer cooking classes, catering to budding chefs of all ages. Additional murals and sculptures will be installed, thanks to Arts Los Altos (artlosaltos.org). Says artist Jan Meyer, “Art murals and sculpture add humanity to our high-tech world. People have always commented to me how much they enjoy my murals, which were the original ones in Los Altos.” Residents have been waiting a long time for a vibrant town revival. Visionaries shaping the look and neighborly feel of Los Altos are betting that the new food emporiums, millennial-appealing storefronts and innovative startups will woo travelers while elevating community pride.
Photography by: COURTESY OF LOS ALTOS CHAMBER OF COMMERCE; COURTESY OF LOS ALTOS CHAMBER OF COMMERCE; COURTESY OF HIROSHI; COURTESY OF ASKA; BY JAN MEYER; BY KATHY LEONG