Is Mountain View the Best Place on Earth?

There is no answer to that question. It all depends on what one seeks and values. I met a man in New Mexico who said that whenever he could see the lights of his nearest neighbor at night, he knew it was time to move to a more remote location. That man would not be happy in Mountain View.

Mountain View, and much of Silicon Valley, could be the best place on earth if you are interested in technology, value a fine climate, and enjoy access to many conveniences and perhaps to some luxuries. It is a quiet, conservative place.

Character and Climate

Mountain View is near the northern end of what most people call Silicon Valley. Silicon Valley is actually not an official piece of geography, it is part of the larger Santa Clara Valley. Silicon Valley is the nickname for an area that has a lot of companies related to computers and integrated circuit chips, which are made from silicon.

The climate is outrageously pleasant. I've been here for fifteen years, and I'm still nervous that the long spell of good weather will break. Many people are aware that San Francisco is chilly ("The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco." - Mark Twain.) and that central California is hot. Mountain View is in-between. It gets to the mid-80's typically in the summer, and there is light frost a few times in the winter. The "wet" season is from about October to April, but it actually does not rain very much. The rest of the year has almost no rain. A summer rain shower occurs once every few years and always gets major coverage in the local press.

For people who "love the four seasons" note that there are actually three of the four seasons here. Autumn foliage drags into December, the trees are bare for a month or two. Winter can be had by four hours drive to the Sierra's, where 200 inches of snow is the norm. By late January, apricot trees are in bloom, and spring is underway. For those who have a choice of when to visit, Spring is the best time of year, say March or April.

Mountain View has quite a few high technology firms, but it also has residential and commercial areas. The general character is not a whole lot different from neighboring communities Palo Alto, Los Altos, and Sunnyvale. (Though each community has its points of pride.) All-in-all, Mountain View and its neighbors are prosperous communities.

For the rest of our tour, a sketched map be useful for reference. If you actually drive around Mountain View, you will probably want to get a real map with details. Getting around can be quite confusing, possibly because a number of streets start out in one direction and then curve to another direction.

Transportation and Lodging

The San Jose airport (SJC) is more convenient than the San Francisco airport (SFO) to reach Mountain View, but there is really not too much difference. If you can get a nonstop to SFO, that is better than suffering a connection to get to SJC.

A business person visiting Mountain View will almost certainly need a car. Taxis can be obtained by phone, there is a train to San Francisco, and there is bus service, but all of this is for the very, very patient person who enjoys walking a lot. With a car, reaching Mountain View is easy. Take Highway 101 South from SFO about 30 miles (SFO is south of the city) or take 101 North from SJC about 15 miles. There are five exits into Mountain View.

The only lodging in Mt. View with its own web page (at least that we could find) is the The Crestview Hotel. A commercial reservation service has linked more than half dozen other local hotels . For fancy accommodations, the Stanford Park in Palo Alto is among the nearest.

VeriBest, Inc. has a page giving information about hotels, etc., in the neighborhood of their training center in Mountain View.

Downtown Mountain View

A few years ago, the city decided to make the downtown area more attractive. The sidewalks and "street furniture" were upgraded, and a new complex for the city government was built. It looks quite attractive. The main downtown area surrounds Castro Street, from El Camino to Central Expressway.

Chief among the attractions in the downtown are the many restaurants. The restaurants have a strong Oriental representation, and the general standard is first rate. I am prepared to argue that if one in seeking high quality Chinese cooking, you are better off in downtown Mountain View than in San Francisco's Chinatown. Chinatown has many exotic attractions that make it a worthy destination, but the food in Chinatown is definitely a hit or miss proposition; there are fine restaurants in Chinatown but also a lot of poor quality restaurants. In Mountain View, a stroll down the street and a more-or-less random choice of what looks good is more likely to provide a satisfying dining experience than a similar stroll in Chinatown.

There are many good restaurants on Castro Street.

Residential Mountain View

Mountain View has substantial residential area. Compared to neighboring towns, there are is higher ratio of renters to home owners in Mountain View, so its a good place to find an apartment. Census data on housing gives the prices and mix in 1990.

This apartment complex is along San Antonio Road, actually in Palo Alto.

Realtor PenWest in adjacent Los Altos provides information about demographics, schools, and city services. They report that in 1994, the average home sale price in Mountain View was $313,409.

Mountain View has a typical mix of elements that characterize Silicon Valley lifestyles. The housing is a little older than in some places. Older is often better in terms of having pleasant shady streets. The Mountain View area is in a very dry climate zone, about 15 inches of rain a year, so unless you plant something and water it all you will have is grass and scrub oak.

Local laws now prevent high rise construction. Two and three story buildings predominate. The population density is enough to make it a city, but it is way short of being a metropolis.

Looking at the pictures, see if you agree that the vegetation somehow looks different than from most other places. To me, the vegetation in much of the temperate zones of North America, Europe, and Asia all seem similar. California is different, and that remains slightly unnerving for a long time. Little of the flora is native, but the climate is hospitable to many species. The California vegetation that looks so different to me has plants from all over the world. Eucalyptus from Australia is a popular variety, for example.

Continue to "North to the Bay".

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copyright 1995-7, updated April 26, 1997, Roy Latham,