For this week, Found by Bike returns to the San Francisco Peninsula, but this time, we’re going to visit a long time favorite: Hidden Villa. For those of us who lived nearby, Hidden Villa was an oasis with a forest and trails that went from the farm up into the hills. It was a place where children could learn about where their food comes from. Hidden Villa was also the site of the first hostel on the West Coast.
Hidden Villa for most of its history has been a working farm, an incubator of social reform, an open space preserve on the San Francisco Peninsula. Located in Los Altos Hills approximately 40 miles south of San Francisco, Hidden Villa has preserved its mission of inspiring a just and sustainable future through its programs, land, and legacy.
Hidden Villa History
Hidden Villa was founded by the Duvenecks, Frank and Josephine, who envisioned the property as a platform for discussion and reflection, as well as the impetus for social reform. From the time they purchased the land in 1924, the Duvenecks established the first hostel on the West Coast in 1937, the first multiracial summer camp in 1945 and then the first environmental education program in 1970.
The nonprofit Trust for Hidden Villa still offers camps for local children to experience learning about the world outside their homes. The 79-year-old hostel still hosts travelers from all over the world. And, locals can still arrive via bike or car and walk the grounds around the farm or hike the trails into the surrounding preserves of the Midpeninsula.
Hidden Villa is an eight-and-a-half mile road bike ride from either the Mountain View or San Antonio Caltrain stations. It is a gradual uphill, particularly as you cross over Foothill Expressway and make your way up El Monte Rd. past Foothill College. El Monte Rd. behind the college ends where Moody Rd. begins and you're now only two short miles to Hidden Villa. There is a rack for parking your bike (bikes are not allowed on any of the trails on the property). Bring a lock to lock 'er up!
Exploring Hidden Villa
The farming operation includes organic produce, chickens, pigs, goats, cattle and sheep. During the hours the property is open to the public, people can wander and watch the cows watch them back or contemplate the slow pace of life of the pigs.
As you explore the property, there are a couple of things to note, however. There are no public garbage cans, so what you bring with you, you take out with you. There are also a few ground rules:
- Don't pick the flowers, fruits or vegetables growing on the property.
- You can bring your well-behaved dog, but it must be leashed at all times. Dogs are not, however, allowed on the trails, in the wilderness, or in areas with the free-range chickens.
- Don't feed the farm animals or climb into the pens with them.
- Be aware of the private residences on the property and stay out of them.
- No smoking!
Exploring the trails
A stroll around the property can be as easy or as tough as you like it to be. Exploring the farm portion of Hidden Villa is educational and fun for the family, while families with older children can challenge themselves on the trails that wind through the property.
The difficulty of the trails ranges from less strenuous through shaded woodlands such as the Pipeline Trail or the one-mile Creek Trail or the Short Bunny Loop to very strenuous, such as the Black Mountain Trek, which is a 10.5 mile out-and-back round trip up the highest peak in the northern Santa Cruz Mountains. But, oh, the view!
From the farm, the trails radiate into the hills. They are relatively short, but some are steep. Experienced hikers can start a hike at Hidden Villa and connect up to the trails of preserves such as Black Mountain, Foothills or Monte Bello, or Rancho San Antonio County Park.
Also, some of the trails on the property are dual purpose: You might be sharing them with horses and their riders. Proper etiquette dictates that you, as a hiker, stand on the uphill side of the trail to let horses and their riders pass, since they will probably be going faster than you.
Generally, uphill traffic has the right-of-way, regardless of whether it's a horse or hiker, states Horse Talk, a Bay Area blog about, you guessed it, horses and their people.
Hikers going uphill have the right-of-way over hikers going downhill. It’s a momentum thing: If someone is walking up a trail, it takes more energy to get going again after stopping. A person going in a downhill direction can easily get started after stopping, explains the Hiking Dude.
Also, remember that standard trail etiquette applies even on private property such as Hidden Villa:
- Stay on the trails: This helps to prevent erosion
- Respect the wilderness: Don't pick up rocks, downed wood, or pick wildflowers or plants and take them with you -- leave them for others to experience or enjoy.
The long trails start under the shady tree canopy, then climb onto sun-splashed ridges surrounding Hidden Villa. Also, a refillable water bottle is a must, particularly if you are planning on walking several of the trails. One of the long trails takes you up to Black Mountain, a summit of Monte Bello Ridge in Rancho San Antonio. This particular hike, should you choose to do it, is best done in the springtime or late fall when the weather is cooler and before the rains hit.
Hidden Villa is open to the public between Tuesday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to dusk. The cost is $8 to park if you have to drive and wander the property or season passes are available for $60.