We at Cycle California! Magazine and Found By Bike try to encourage readers to think about their hometown as a place to explore, to look at it through fresh eyes. So, it was in the spirit of adventure that we set off to see Penitencia Creek (not exactly a river) as it meanders through Alum Rock Park, California’s oldest municipal park.
We wanted to do a waterfall ride, but the weather looked ominous so we decided to stay close to home rather than making a long trip to the Santa Lucia mountains. I knew Alum Rock Park has water running through it and because of the recent rain, might have a tiny waterfall or something. Alas, that didn’t happen for us. Penitencia Creek doesn’t fall much, even though it runs through Alum Rock Canyon on its way to San Francisco Bay. It’s not a river by any stretch, but for those of us in a water-starved state any running water is a river.
The main road to the park is Alum Rock Ave., a wide boulevard through the valley that narrows as it climbs up through San José’s East Foothills in the Diablo Mountains where the park is located. There are two entrances, one at Alum Rock Ave., closed to car traffic, and one at Penitencia Creek Rd., where there is a an entrance for autos. The Alum Rock entrance is the preferred entrance for bikers and hikers, according to the park website, and it has also the steepest access. Expect the last half mile to ascend steeply (which can be a challenge for novice riders).
Although we were there on a winter Saturday, there were plenty of runners and bikers getting their technical work in. The park boasts a little bit of mountain bike trail (3 miles). In good weather, bikers share the trail with equestrians. The trails climb the steep sides of the canyon into the hills above.
The park has about 13 miles of trails, some of which switch back on themselves up the hills to the North Rim and South Rim Trails. These ridge trails offer views of Santa Clara Valley. Some of the trails are a part of the Bay Area Ridge Trail; the Todd Quick trail connects with the Santa Clara County Open Space Authority's 1,600-acre Sierra Vista Open Space Preserve.
Because of the recent rainstorms, we tramped over muddy, puddle-filled trails along a short loop that took us over a former railroad bridge over the creek. Fearing another deluge and not wearing real hiking shoes, we finished the loop and trekked the half mile road to our car the outside the park.
We’ll be back on our bikes when the weather gets better.
On our way home, we decided to make a pit stop at Vito’s Famous Pizza & Italian Restaurant, just down the street and around the corner about 2.5 miles from the park’s Alum Rock Ave. entrance. Vito’s has a reputation for making really terrific pizza. As hungry as we were, we were ready to test that out.
Vito’s is a local hangout with a low-key sports bar vibe. Seven monitors adorn the walls so pie-eating patrons don’t miss a second of the action. Since we went there for the pizza, not the sports, we marched up to the counter and ordered a Build-Your-Own pizza, a thin-crust medium (which was larger than we thought: the smalls are 12 inches, medium, 14 inches, and the large, 16 inches). They also offer deep-dish pies with thick crust.
Although the tables are missing the checkered tablecloths and the candle wax-encrusted chianti bottles, they do have shakers of parmesan, red pepper flakes and oregano. Each pizza is made as it is ordered, with lots of creamy mozzarella. The vegetables in our order were fresh, and everything was nice and hot out of the oven, no soggy crust here. I especially like the crust: it wasn’t overly chewy or cracker-crisp with nice flavor and texture.
Not in the mood for pizza? There are pastas: ravs, spaghetti, lasagna. Or, choose from sandwiches on 10-inch French rolls, meatballs in marinara, appetizers like calamari rings, buffalo wings, and jalapeño poppers, among many other offerings. That afternoon, the pizza and a beer were enough for us.
Vito’s Famous Pizza & Italian Restaurant is located at 1040 S. White Rd., in a strip mall with a large parking lot. Open every day for lunch and dinner. (408) 259-1600. Pizzas start at $11.25 for a basic cheese (add $1.25 per topping), or about $17 for a house combo.
The strip mall that houses Vito’s has a large parking lot and a coffeeshop and doughnut place, just what you need for for pre-ride energizing — options for all the basic food groups to fuel a ride along the foothills.