Passing through my Mountain View on the way to SB50? Here are 6 reasons to make it a pit stop
On Sunday the corporate, media and entertainment glitterati will trek down the San Francisco Peninsula followed by the NFL's most rabid fans on their way to Super Bowl 50. At least 12,000 will pause in Mountain View, the designated transfer station for moving ticket holders from train or car to light rail and bus for the final few miles.
While this might seem like that nether-moment at Disney World after your park your car in a massive lot and board a putt-putt train to nirvana, you'd be doing yourself a disservice if you didn't stop and walk around a while. Start at the train station at the foot of Castro St. and stroll its five blocks south in 15 minutes or less. You will probably decide to dawdle a bit longer.
1) See the real heart of Silicon Valley
Sure, everyone knows of Palo Alto, our neighbor a few miles north, but while that city has the Stanford academics and buttoned down venture capitalists, it's in Mountain View where the people who do the actual product work live. This place is crawling with young engineers from all over the world, many with spouses and toddlers in tow. They have sparked a boom in innovative, casual dining that's made Castro St. a bustling center of foodie fun.
This is where the silicon in Silicon Valley was born. In 1956, William Shockley set up the first semiconductor lab in Mountain View. Today it's home to names from Google, LinkedIn, Mozilla/Firefox and Symantec (not in downtown) to What's App, 23andMe, and Pure Storage (all around Castro). Instagram a selfie next to the company sign of your favorite startup and prove to your friends they're not just virtual.
2) Soak up 70-degree sunshine in cafe society
Sidewalk dining is everywhere here. My favorite is the Olympus Cafe, just a few steps from the depot, which has an expansive, tree-lined patio. The Greek name belies its Turkish cuisine, whipped up by the grandmas in back as stern Turks slap giant coffee cups on iron tables. There are so many other choices too: The Dana St. Roasting Company is a laid back, Birkenstock style coffee shop which offers jazz music in the evenings. A new French-inspired cafe is La PanotiQ, where service can be a bit slow, but the quiche and sandwiches (say it with a French accent) are well worth the wait.
There is also a creperie, a couple Mexican restaurants, two spectacular artisanal pizza places, a chic Vietnamese bistro, a new lobster roll joint, my favorite grocery ever with wine, beer, a deli and poke bar and a hummus shop. That accounts for perhaps ten percent of the restaurants within a five minute stroll. They go in- and out of business about every week here, so there's no keeping up. And nearly every place on Castro's first few blocks offers outdoor seating. If the day is as warm as the weather predicts, I bet I'll see you at one of them.
3) Roll out the beer barrel
We've caught the craft beer craze bad here. Not only are there regular beer fests and tasting weeks, we've got our permanent local beer brewers too. If it turns out that your ticket is a fake, you can watch the game in good company. For craft brew plus burgers, try the Tied House. I like Steins because it's got a great patio packed with heat lamps. There's also Bierhaus, which is really just for beer, a pretzel and friends packed on long outdoor benches. No TVs there.
For a twist on the theme, dine at Buffalo | Beers, Burgers and Bao, a casual spot that offers sliders inspired by two continents: North America and Asia. "Bao" are those puffy dumplings, and this place fills them with duck confit, my favorite, among other barbecued meats. We've also got our own specialty beer package store. Jane's is a tiny shop that stocks cold, single bottles from around the world. My family bought me a $100 gift certificate one year and I used it to try a $30 limited edition ale. You won't see Pabst Blue Ribbon here.
4) Find free fruit for breakfast at the Farmer's Market
It may be Super Bowl Sunday, but the weekly Mountain View Farmer's Market is still on! We ride our bikes to it now and then, not just to stock up on fresh fruit and veggies for the week, but also to sample what's ripe from the fields all around Northern California. Normally the market sets up in the train station parking lot, but now that Levi's Stadium is here, on game days they move about a 10 minute walk away, just off Castro near our library.
You won't get hot food here, but every farmer offers handfuls of free fruit as they entice you to test their produce. They'll be there this Sunday from California's bread basket - the Central Valley. Long before Silicon was a thing, this region was full of orchards and vegetable patches of all kinds. California still provides much of America's produce, and here you can taste the freshest just hours after it was picked. I don't know what's ready for market now but if you're handed sliced pluots or strawberries or peaches or plums, grab seconds. There's also a coffee booth, of course, and fresh bread, cheese, homemade cookies, kale chips, spiced almonds and a free raffle for a basket piled with farm produce. We've actually won it twice! (We had to give away bunches of food to friends and neighbors.)
5) Browse books in the epicenter of digital life
Who would have thought that one of the most inviting bookstores on the planet would be in the same place that houses the companies trying to make everything you do bits and bytes? It's true. We have Book Buyers, the life's work of Rammurti and Sita Reed, who opened the comfy, overflowing, used book store on Castro over 20 years ago. You can't miss it; they have a rolling sidewalk cart stuffed with old National Geographics for 50-cents each. I regularly buy a few just to drop on our coffee table at home.
Locals like us bring in our old books, and get store credit to buy other peoples' old books. They stay open late into the night, and it's a favorite after dinner hangout. There are worn couches to sit and sip coffee at as you contemplate what kind of tome you want to seek out next.
That's not all, just next door is a branch of the local unused book chain, Books, Inc., which features a coffee nook upstairs, 'natch, and gifts too. If it isn't yet at Book Buyers, often I'll drop in Books Inc. because I just can't wait. (I'm looking to get Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari next.) For mystics, we also have a renowned metaphysics bookstore, East West Books. Not my thing, as I'm an astrophysics grad, but there's something calming about Zen.
6) Wave at us on your way out... and keep looking!
There's so much more here. Our performing arts center has a great lineup of shows, from regional ballet and orchestra, to original theater and lectures. But if you're headed back to the VTA light rail, don't forget to wave as you pass through our neighborhood, Whisman Station. Even though our rail stop is just a few stops from the stadium, this weekend, they've closed it so you can get there more quickly. But don't forget to look out the window on your way.
Not only will you see our cute community, know that before it was housing, in latter half of the 20th century, it was a huge GTE facility. Don't blink after that, because you'll miss one of the last open fields left in Mountain View. This used to be an orchard, and on Whisman St. there's still a broken down fruit stand slowly rotting into the ground. It's about to be plowed over and turned into new homes, because so many aspiring entrepreneurs want to move here; prices are astronomical. You'll pay over $1,000,000 for a 1300 sq. ft. townhouse in our city today.
As you glide past Middlefield, look left at what was Netscape's headquarters. (It's now Symantec.) That's the company that brought the first commercial browser to market, before Microsoft's Internet Explorer crushed it to death. At Middlefield station, you'll see the antivirus company Symantec's headquarters, and then a couple low outbuildings for Google, which can't beg for enough space in our town. (I'm convinced Larry and Sergei will be knocking on our door shortly.)
You'll fly by Moffett Field, where NASA has a welcome center and a bunch of man-on-Mars science going on. Those giant domed buildings once housed military dirigibles and blimps. The biggest structure is Hanger One, which the Navy built in the 1930s for the massive airship the Macon. The world thought they'd be the warships of the future. But even though they used inert helium, they still crashed like the Hindenburg, which was filled with flammable hydrogen instead. Hangar One's skin will soon be replaced by Google, which leased it recently. It's a cause celebre here.
Next, still looking left, you'll round the last vestige of an infamous Cold War landmark, the Blue Cube. Secret satellite surveillance was directed from this windowless building which had many mysterious antennas pointing at the sky until it was demolished in 2014. I think one still remains. Lockheed Martin's stop is after that, where thousands of people work and no one around here ever talks about them, because if you're building space satellites and guided missiles that's not cool like iPhone apps that rate your dates.
From there you'll pass by Yahoo, where I used to work, and apparently a lot more people will soon "used to work" too. You're in tilt-up country now, at the bottom of the Bay, where anonymous office parks house anonymous companies, plus a dump, which you can sometimes smell mingled with the scent of wetlands muck if the tide is out and the wind is in the right direction. Soon you'll be at Great America (which ain't so great) and Levi's, which may seem a bit sterile by comparison to where you've been all week. That's OK. It's brand new, and we like reinvention here in the Bay Area. Come back again sometime. It'll all be different again.