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High Trek: Milpitas, home to Ed Levin Park and the Mission Soaring Center, provides the proper setting for the Best Vindication of Icarus with three hilltop hang-glider launching points to choose from.

Best Natural History Lesson
San Andreas Fault Trail
Los Trancos Open Space Preserve
7 miles west of I-280 on Page Mill Road

Located at the top of the Los Altos Hills along Page Mill Road, Los Trancos Preserve features several wilderness trails that are a little wilder than most. The brush is alive with the sounds of scampering creatures. Lizards speed around the trail like Hot Wheels cars; and the watchful eye, it is hoped, will note and treat with respect the occasional rattlesnake. The San Andreas trail itself actually follows the fault, zigzagging over the two plates that split apart in the 1906 earthquake.
Rafer Guzman

Caution, Child Driver: San Jose Go-Karts puts wannabe Steve Kinsers behind the wheel, for less than a buck per hair-flying minute.

Best Five-Minute Spin Cycle
San Jose Go Karts
2030 Monterey Road, San Jose

Like drive-ins, go-kart tracks are a dying breed. Kids are so fixated on computers and video games that the only real danger they ever encounter is maneuvering through the Fry's parking lot. Untrue, according to San Jose Go Karts manager Tim DeRoboam, who says, "The older kids are staying away, but not the younger kids. They love it here." Since 1977, San Jose Go Karts has allowed kids of all ages to handle gas-powered go-karts that careen around corners at speeds of up to 16 mph. Wannabe Steve Kinsers and Brent Kaedings caress the concrete, darting underneath to take the inside lane, one hand on the wheel, the other flinging off a one-fingered salute. The price is $4 ($5 for the two-seater) for five minutes of hair-flying fun. For younger kids, it beats the same old trips to the mall, arcade, and miniature-golf course. For older kids, it's nostalgia on wheels.
Todd S. Inoue

Best Place to Play William Tell
Stevens Creek County Park
Stevens Canyon and Mt. Eden roads, Cupertino

Up in the hills around the Stevens Creek Canyon area, a nest of archers mercilessly porcupines bales of hay and animal cutouts. As young as 8, as old as imaginable, they are a wild bunch, every one of them toting sharp, dangerous weapons. Rain or shine, windy or calm, baking or freezing, at least one archer can be seen honing his skill for the day when he just might have to split an apple resting on someone's head at 40 paces.

The archery range sits on a gorgeous stretch of land that's just as suitable for a picnic or a romantic stroll. But doing either is unwise, since there are dozens of targets everywhere and even more archers. Would-be William Tells congregate here because there are only two other public archery ranges in the area, one up in Woodside, the other down in Almaden Valley. The range is open to the public. A local bow-hunting club oversees and maintains the grounds, encourages new members and hosts various "social shooting" events. From Stevens Creek Boulevard, take Stevens Canyon Road and then turn left on Mt. Eden Road. Proceed slowly on this winding road until the park entrance shows up on the left of the road. And be prepared to duck.
Andrew X. Pham

Best Bike Route from
Palo Alto to Los Altos
Page Mill Road

Only those with stamina and legs of iron should attempt this winding, hilly street that begins near the Stanford campus, climbs through the Los Altos Hills, connects with Moody Road on the way down and ends at the base of the hills as El Monte Road. For cyclists who can keep the sweat out of their eyes and the cramps out of their thighs, the views of the Santa Clara Valley are worth the effort. The human scenery is just as diverting, as the Los Altos hillsides are dotted with a particularly bizarre selection of the megahomes of people with more money than taste in architecture.
Rafer Guzman

Best Canine Retreat
Mitchell Park Playground for Dogs
East Meadow Drive and Middlefield Road, Palo Alto

Dogs call it heaven; dog owners call it sweet salvation. Palo Alto's Mitchell Park dog run--a.k.a. the Playground for Dogs--allows Fido and Fifi to romp and play, while their humans relax and chat with neighbors at a small green bench near the entrance. The run is large enough to throw a Frisbee but small enough to keep an eye on Muscles, and a friendly, dog-loving community gathers every evening to talk dog. Funny thing--visitors get to know all the dog's names but not their owners'. Certainly the dogs get acquainted, and spend a lot of high-quality, running-barking-slobbering-sniffing time with old pals and new friends.

The Mitchell Park dog run provides handy scoops to pick up poop (but bring your own bag because the dispenser's often empty), fresh water, a doggie-info bulletin board and a row of shady trees. This is Silicon Valley's answer to wilderness and leash laws, and it's a good one. Some rules apply: quiet before 9am; no unattended dogs; no aggressive dogs without muzzles; clean up after Fido; no kids under 8.
Ami Chen Mills

Best Course for Beginning
Inline Skaters
Los Alamitos Creek Trail
Camden Avenue between Redmond Avenue and Leland High School,
San Jose

For inline skaters who've figured out how to go but not how to stop, Los Alamitos Creek Trail offers an ideal and forgiving training course. The four-mile trail, which begins on Camden Avenue and leads to Almaden Lake Park, consists of pleasantly flat or gently sloping pavement with a minimum of curves. Los Alamitos Creek babbles encouragingly as novice bladers careen through the shade provided by willow, cottonwood, oak and bay trees. The well-groomed foliage that lines the trail serves as ample cushioning for accidental veering. Other trail patrons (bikers, joggers and occasional equestrians) are fairly understanding about dodging uncoordinated amateurs. Slow traffic, however, should remain on the right.
Bernice Yeung

Best Space Simulacrum
Space Camp
Moffett Federal Airfield, Mountain View

"Mission Control, we've lost our main engine," squeaks an alarmed astronaut. "Should we abort our launch?"

"Oh, no!" wails the disappointed flight director.

"Check the manual," pipes in the public-affairs officer.

"Yeah," seconds one of the six astronauts. "Maybe we can finish the mission with only two engines."

Rest assured. Disaster is averted for the earth-bound 12-member crew. These successful astronauts-for-a-day are just a handful of the more than 1,000 kids--ages 9 to 12--who have executed their mission at Space Camp California since it opened its doors on July 14. The Mountain View site is one of three space camps in the U.S., one of seven internationally. The hands-on educational program is designed to introduce children to science, engineering and technology while having fun. Participants learn about the history of the space program, tour NASA's wind tunnel, discover the difficulties of walking and working in zero-gravity and team up to complete a simulated shuttle mission.
Laura Stuchinsky

Best Place to Have Your Lunch and Lose It, Too
Star Force 1
Great Mall of the Bay Area, Milpitas

Several years ago, Pier 39 in San Francisco boasted a "virtual roller-coaster ride" in which visitors entered a dark capsule with a little movie screen at the front. The screen displayed a film of a roller-coaster ride from the perspective of a rider in the front car, while the car bounced around on hydraulic pistons to simulate the movement of a roller coaster. It fooled no one and nauseated many.

Now, Star Force 1 has attempted the same idea, only this time, the screen shows computer-generated movies of rides through space canyons, glaciers and a "Smash Factory"--whatever that is--as the pistons jerk thrill-seekers around. An exciting slide across a glacier? More like a trip down Niagara Falls in a barrel. The only advantage of Star Force over the barrel is that the capsule has a red Emergency Stop button on the ceiling, which we pushed halfway through the ride. Whatever you do, don't go right after a trip to the Burger King across the hall.
Richard Sine

Best Bike Rejuvenator
Bicycle Express
131 E. William St., San Jose

Chuck Clifford has tinkered with bikes for more than 20 years. He is a big, easygoing guy with a pair of deft hands that can coax life into an old clunker or boost a top-of-the-line GT into hyper-ride. But the best thing about him is that he's in the business because he likes helping people.

Chuck is one of that rare breed, a repairman with realistic bike-sense. He won't try to fix a $50 clunker with an $80 part, and he's honest about the realistic performance margin that spending 50 percent more on top-end parts will garner. He gives one-day turnaround for most repairs. Chuck and his mother, Sylvia, opened their modest shop in 1982. The bulk of the clientele consists of locals who have come to appreciate Chuck's expertise and very reasonable prices. Again and again, Chuck's customers aver: "This is a great place to fix an old bike."
Andrew X. Pham

Best Stream to Save
Saratoga Creek
Running a 20-mile course along one of the most pristine routes in Santa Clara County, Saratoga Creek bubbles with life and energy. Trout, Pacific giant salamanders, red-shouldered hawks and water ouzels make their homes there. In addition, the creek, which flows past several schools, has become an outdoor classroom for many students in the Saratoga Union School District.

Now for the bad news. A sample of creek water taken in September 1995 contained 1,600 fecal coliform organisms per milliliter of water--and the Environmental Protection Agency says humans shouldn't drink or swim in water with more than 200 coliforms per milliliter. Many local groups are trying to lower the creek's coliform count. Dave Johnston of Coyote Creek Riparian Station says citizens can help return the creek to its unadultered state by not dumping pollutants down gutters and catch basins that flow into the creek. Johnston also believes that a reduction in use of pesticides and herbicides, which are washed off and filtered into the water system, can lower the coliform count. Call the Coyote Creek Riparian Station at 408/262-9204 for details on how to help.
Bernice Yeung

Best Place to Fall
Drop Zone
Great America, Great America Parkway and Mission College Boulevard,
Santa Clara

It's not for the faint-of-heart, but acrophiliacs looking for the highest and fastest can end their search at Great America, home of the Drop Zone Stunt Tower--the "world's tallest free-fall ride." Since my wimpy housemate wouldn't take the plunge after seeing a young girl puking on the side of the ride, I was forced to endure the 224-foot plummet by myself. It's not so bad, but the way up is the worst. As my knees started knocking, I just sat their thinking, "Why the hell am I doing this? I'm really too old for this kind of thing." And on the way down, as my intestines were being shoved into my mouth, I screamed, "Wow, what a rush! I can't wait to do it again--this time with my eyes open."
Judi Blackwell

Best Vindication of Icarus
Hang Gliding at Ed Levin Park
3100 Calaveras Road, Milpitas

Visitors to Milpitas rarely compare the experience to soaring through the air, free as the heron. Little do they know, however, that at Milpitas' Ed Levin Park, they can do exactly that. Compared to other--frankly more spectacular--Bay Area hang-gliding areas that dare latter-day Wright brothers to leap off cliffs and mountain tops, Ed Levin serves up a kinder and gentler approach, with three hilltop launching points to choose from, depending on your vertigo quotient. Once you've taken your beginning lessons in Hollister, Milpitas is the place to go. The best time to watch the gliders is Saturday or Sunday mornings. For lessons and equipment in the vicinity, try the Mission Soaring Center, 1116 Wrigley Way, Milpitas (408/262-1055).
Richard Sine

Best Way to Save the
Earth for a Buck
Galaxian Cubed
Great Mall of the Bay Area,

When we were kids, video games were power. For a single quarter, we got 10 minutes of guaranteed fun and props from our friends for high scores. Then, sometime in early adolescence, video arcades transmogrified into dark, loud dens of garish and masturbatory pleasures--sort of like nightclubs. The very newest arcades, however, are worth a visit. Of course, the game makers (many of whom are based in our own back yard) deploy better graphics these days to make the games louder and more obnoxiously violent than ever. And the nightmarish scenarios have gotten much more elaborate--witness "Tokyo Wars," which envisions vicious tank warfare on the city's abandoned streets.

Still, the best games can impress even the jaded. The most breathtaking example is Namco's Galaxian3, which is staged in its own darkened room before a movie-sized screen. Players look out of a spaceship's front portal as they zoom over planets and into enemy battle stations. The shoot-'em-up is fun, but the game's true selling point is the spectacle of traveling through a virtual galaxy. Wonderpark also features fun rides for the rug rats who aren't ready to smash the digital enemy just yet.
Richard Sine

Best Vault Outside the Olympics
John Doyle
San Jose Clash vs. New England Revolution,
Aug. 11, 1996

A defender scoring an unassisted goal is crazy enough, but a defender scoring an unassisted goal from the top of the box, in the upper left corner, untouched by goalie or fullback, is cause for celebration. San Jose Clash centerback John Doyle recognized this obvious fact on Aug. 11 in a game against the New England Revolution. After launching an unbelievable shot inside the left post, the 6-foot-3, 185-pound soccer rocker executed a complex back flip with a quarter turn and nailed the landing. Besides giving Kerri Strug a fitting tribute, Doyle slammed home the message that not all defenders' attempts at scoring end up in neighboring counties.
Todd S. Inoue

Best Place to Shoot Birds
McClellan Ranch Park
22221 McClellan Road, Cupertino

Yes, you can shoot birds. Lots of them, more then 100 different species, at McClellan Ranch Park. Only you must do it with a camera. This slice of heaven masquerading as a ranch-cum-park sits well inside bustling Silicon Valley. A sedate and scenic trail encircles barns, gardens, open fields and groves of woods. Sharp eyes will spot plenty of bird nests everywhere. Rabbits, squirrels, raccoons and deer also inhabit this precious preserve.

A 20-minute stroll, not including one trail that leads into another open-space area, will take visitors around the park. The ranch is not much compared to larger open-space preserves, but there is harmony here. The Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society, the most active chapter in the nation, runs an office right on the ranch. In addition to providing nature conservation information and selling books, the chapter office also organizes group tours and bird-watching expeditions.
Andrew X. Pham

Best Place to Shred
Free of Persecution
Milpitas Skateboard Park
Peter McGill Memorial Park,
on Paseo Refugio, Milpitas

It's a sign of the times that on a recent summer morning, the ballpark, tennis courts and playground at Peter McGill Memorial Park in Milpitas were virtually deserted, while the new skateboard park was crowded with kids--not just skate rats but inline skaters and even dirt bikers.

Instead of indiscriminately banning skateboarding, like most valley cities have done, Milpitas realized that the younger generation no longer favors stickball and mumblety-peg. In June, the town opened a little patch of glossy pavement just for kids who like to do stunts on boards, blades or bikes. The kids love the park because "we don't get busted by the popos," as one put it. Milpitas cops had once revoked 24 boards in one day for illegal skateboarding, according to the Milpitas Post. Now, for only $93,000, the kids have a place to go. There's a fun box, two spines and a kind of half-pyramid--nothing too hazardous, but good enough for a good time. Other cities should follow Milpitas' lead.
Richard Sine

Best Reason to Keep Rooting
for the Home Team
San Francisco Wants to Steal the Clash

Used to be that San Francisco feuded with Los Angeles. Vanquished in that battle, Bagdad-by-the-Bay has now developed an inferiority complex about San Jose. Is it any wonder that San Francisco is lusting after the South Bay's soccer franchise? After all, the Clash has drawn nicely in its first season and is headed for the playoffs. Combine that with the fact that the Forty-Whiners are pumping for public subsidies for a new stadium--translated: co-tenants--and suddenly Mayor Willie Brown wants to break bread with Clash General Manager Peter Bridgwater. Remember Cleveland, Baltimore--sob--Brooklyn. Without a vigilant fan base, it could happen here.
Michael S. Gant

Best Grassy Knoll
Bramhall Park
Willow Street, San Jose

Past the tennis courts and the baseball diamonds, beyond the kindly redwoods of this old and well-loved park, sits a grassy knoll that demands participation, even if it's just having a dog chase a ball down it and then huff back up. Those who are squeamish about putting their own bodies on the grass (or afraid of the hair-shirt sensation that follows), try another time-honored activity: sliding down on a block of ice after a day-long barbecue and picnic. In either case, tackling the hill will rattle a few toxins out of the lymphatic system and impart a healthy respect for the children and dogs who take it all the way down to the wall and then run back up for more.
Corinne Asturias

Best Place to See Great Legs
Los Gatos Trails
Trailhead immediately east of the freeway overpass on East Main Street, Los Gatos

Whether you go to glimpse rare birds or the elusive Gluteus firmus, this complex of trails starting from downtown and Novitiate Park and branching into the hills south of Los Gatos is prime viewing ground for some of nature's best handi-work. Every morning and evening, the Los Gatos Creek Trail teems with bikers and joggers diligently raising their (and their spectators') heart rates.

For those inclined to more leisurely pursuits, the Scout Trail for hikers starts at the same spot, just east of the freeway overpass on East Main Street, and takes a few charming twists into shady creek-side groves before lurching up a sun-baked mountain on the way to Lexington Reservoir. Wild fennel and raspberry and the occasional alarming scuttle in the bushes lend a bucolic flavor to the experience. Remember, the longer the trail, the harder the body, so head past Novitiate Park for the reservoir. This is the habitat of Homo mountainus bikus, with its unforgettable neon spandex plumage and pleasing athletic lines. Bring field glasses for a richly rewarding view of nature's magnificence.
Traci Hukill

Best Haunt to Howl
Almaden Quicksilver County Park
McAbee Road off of Camden Avenue
San Jose

There's no better way to experience the potential thrills of lycanthropy than Quicksilver Park's full-moon hikes. These ranger-led outings give people an opportunity to walk on the trails during park off-hours, hear the sounds of the night and gaze at the moon. Around 50 people join the easy (three or four miles) walks that start at the McAbee entrance of the park, proceed along Mine Hill Trail to just above the Guadalupe Reservoir and loop back to McAbee. The start time varies--usually near midnight--because rangers calculate the walk so that the group is at the hilltop when the moon is on the horizon. Participants should dress comfortably and bring water and flashlights, though the lunar glow usually provides ample lighting. Is that Jack Nicholson in the bushes?
Bernice Yeung

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From the 1996 Best of the Valley issue of Metro, September 19-25

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