Sunnyvale surprise

Shop, lunch, and linger on South Murphy Avenue
Julie Chai

Discovering Sunnyvale's South Murphy Avenue is as exciting as finding a $20 bill in the pocket of a favorite coat. The Silicon Valley town is most often associated with high-tech companies and acres of suburbia. But tucked away from the main thoroughfares, the downtown stretch of South Murphy maintains a friendly, villagelike character.

Named after Martin Murphy Jr., one of Sunnyvale's first settlers, the avenue is lined with buildings that date back to the early 1900s. On the corner of South Murphy and Evelyn Avenues, the circa-1904 Del Monte Building, once used for drying and packing produce, is now home to a restaurant and coffee shop.

Locals still gather on South Murphy. Drop by on a Saturday to experience the lively year-round Sunnyvale Farmers' Market (9-1; 510/745-7100). On market days, you can stroll the sidewalks alongside regulars toting canvas grocery bags, and enjoy live music while lingering over baked goods.

In the midst of all the action, the Bean Scene (186 S. Murphy Ave.; 408/738-4523) is a perfect place for people-watching. Leslie Lawton, a 28-year Sunnyvale resident, says she sees the same people congregate here every weekend to gab, read the paper, and play chess. "People of all ages feel comfortable here."

When the market vendors call it a day, stop for lunch at one of South Murphy's dozen-plus restaurants. Dishdash (closed Sun; 190 S. Murphy; 408/774-1889), a favorite, serves Mediterranean specialties.

After lunch, explore the specialty stores. It's Delicious (closed Sun; 127 S. Murphy; 408/746-9711) carries unusual and imported oils, preserves, and teas. Donna Did It (closed Sun-Mon; 152 S. Murphy; 408/524-2738) sells hand-painted chocolates. Buy unique three-dimensional cards at Jerdon (closed Sun-Mon; 125 S. Murphy; 408/245-5594). At Kiss It Good-Buy (closed Mon; 121 S. Murphy; 408/730-9300), find new and used home decor and clothing.

"There was a time when I wouldn't have come down here in broad daylight," Lawton says. "Now, even at night, I feel like I'm on Main Street in Disneyland."

SEEING SUNNYVALE

WHERE: From U.S. 101, exit Mathilda Ave., drive south 2 miles, turn left on Washington Ave. to S. Murphy Ave.

CONTACT: Sunnyvale Chamber of Commerce, (408) 736-4971.