Town of trails

Portola Valley offers escape to the hills above Palo Alto, California
Lisa Taggart

Every so often on Saturdays and Sundays, there's a burst of activity on the placid streets of Portola Valley. The calm of this village above Palo Alto is broken by dozens of cyclists, decked out in flashy multicolored kits, whizzing by the town's two business centers, on Alpine and Portola Roads.

Once they pass through to Woodside to complete the area's well-known training loop, Portola Valley is quiet again, feeling very close to the sleepy spot it was at its founding 40 years ago. Small wonder this town is a fabulous destination for hikers, mountain bikers, cyclists, and horseback riders, since it was incorporated largely by conservation-minded locals. Portola Valley has as many miles of trail (35) as road.

Lynne Davis, chair of the town's Trails and Paths Committee, calls herself a newcomer for living in town "only" 13 years. But that's the kind of place Portola Valley is ― things don't change fast. Davis favors Toyon Trail, a moderate 2-mile footpath paralleling Alpine Road (access at Willowbrook Dr. and Alpine Rd.).

Several other trails in town connect to the area's gem, the 1,306-acre Windy Hill Open Space Preserve (access off Portola Rd., about 1 mile south of Alpine Rd.), with 13 miles of trails. The 1.9-mile Spring Ridge Trail may be a little strenuous, but it offers tremendous views. Or take a scenic drive 2 miles south of town for an educational 1.5-mile hike along the easy San Andreas Fault Trail in the Los Trancos Open Space Preserve (parking off Page Mill Rd., 1 mile east of Skyline Blvd.).

Portola Valley also has many good spots for refueling active people. Bicyclists, motorcyclists, and locals converge at the Alpine Inn ($; 3915 Alpine Rd.; 650/854-4004) for cheeseburgers and beer. Ladera Country Deli ($; breakfast and lunch daily; 3140 Alpine Rd.; 650/851-4254) makes monster sandwiches that are just rewards for challenging ridge climbs. And for refined dining, the Parkside Grille ($$$; lunch Tue–Fri, dinner daily; 884 Portola Rd.; 650/529-9007) offers seafood, steaks, and fancy salads.

All that tasty fare should provide enough of a boost for another round on the trail.