The Los Altos History Museum traces the city’s journey from a sleepy orchard town into the high-tech Silicon Valley of today. Occupying a three-story complex in one of the Bay Area’s few remaining apricot orchards, the ground level is given over to rotating exhibits, while upstairs you’ll find the museum’s permanent collection.
The permanent collection details the lives of early Californians and the region’s economic, social and political development. Wander the gallery to see how Mexican landholders, early orchard owners, Ohlone Indians and other settlers interacted in an area once known as the “Valley of Heart’s Delight.” Kids will love the replica of downtown Los Altos in the 1930s complete with railroad and hands-on activities.
Before you plan your visit check the website for details about the current rotating exhibit. Changing up to four times a year, past exhibits have covered topics as diverse as grizzly bears in California to water use in the Santa Clara Valley. If you’re lucky you might even be in town for one of the museum’s special events. In the past these have featured fashion shows, Hawaiian luaus and entire days dedicated to trains.
Head downstairs and across the museum courtyard to the J. Gilbert Smith House. Here, all the sights, textures and smells of early American farm life are recreated amid the immaculately restored rooms of a 1905 shingled farmhouse. Outside you’ll find a working apricot orchard, towering oak trees and vintage farm equipment. Stroll the gardens and relax under the trees. Visitors are free to use the grounds even when the house and museum are closed.
The Los Altos History Museum is located in central Los Altos, about 15 miles (24 kilometers) northwest from San Jose. It’s open Sunday to Thursday, and closed on public holidays. Parking and entry to the museum is free, but note that the J. Gilbert Smith House can only be entered with a guide.
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