It’s so easy to get lost when you’re new to an area and don’t know what’s where!  Luckily, the San Francisco Bay Area is rich in large landmarks such as the Bay, the coastal range and the east foothills.  At first, the mountains might seem like they all look the same.  But if you know what to look for, you’ll soon get your bearings – assuming that it’s daytime and the weather is cooperative!

Here are my Silicon Valley landmarks and mental tricks or visioning – the ones I use to know where I am or where I am going.  First, imagine that the Santa Clara Valley is a bit like a funnel with mountains that narrow at the bottom on two sides and the San Francisco Bay on top.  OK, it’s not quite straight, but it’s not a bad analogy otherwise.  Next, consider how to tell the two sets of hills apart.  The ones closest to the ocean, the Santa Cruz Mountains (aka the coastal range) are full of redwood trees and another conifers and they stay green year round.  These hills are nearly always a deep, dark green or blue-green.  The eastern foothills, on the other hand, are mostly grassy but dotted with oak tree clusters in the nooks and crannies of the hills where the rain catches.  Those hills are a bright, lighter green in winter (when it rains!) but for much of summer and fall they are blanketed with a yellow-gold grass.

Silicon Valley geographical landmarks

 

Now that you have the basic East – West (or actually South to Soutwest, depending) direction sorted out, it’s time to learn what to look for in each of the mountains to get your location sorted out a little better.  Fortunately, each of them has a large structure perched on a high peak, so as long as the weather is clear and it’s daytime, they tend to stand out from almost anywhere in Santa Clara County.

Mt. Hamilton & the Lick Observatory

On the east side, if you scan the crest, you will see a white blip or two.  That is the Lick Observatory at Mount Hamilton.

Mount Hamilton - the Lick Observatory

 

Here’s a closer view (aerial):

Mount Hamilton closeup

Mt. Umunhum

On the southwest side, in the Almaden Valley area of San Jose, we have Mount Umunhum (which I’ve blogged about previously on my SanJoseRealEstateLosGatosHomes.com site – see http://sanjoserealestatelosgatoshomes.com/tag/mt-umunhum/ ).  It looks like a big, white box sitting on a flat part of the mountaintop.

Mt Umunhum from the Country Club area of Almaden

 

Sometimes all you see is a little snippet of it poking out over some other hill – this is especially true if you are far north of it.

Almaden - Mt Umunhum

 

And here’s an aerial view of it from the Santa Cruz side of “the hill”:

Mount Umunhum - aerial view from Santa Cruz side

 

If you are too far north, you will not see it at all – but if you can see it, you are likely to be fairly close by, on the southern end of Silicon Valley (unless you’re in Los Gatos, Monte Sereno or nearby and another hill is obscuring the view).

My next, and last, tip is to look for “the pass” for highway 17 from Los Gatos and running through the Santa Cruz Mountains.  This is easier to spot than you might think – just remember that any mountain pass is going to come in a natural gap of some kind and in a low point on the hills.  That happens here, too.  The image below was taken from a medical center’s parking garage on Samaritan Drive in San Jose, just on the Los Gatos border.  That low point where you see two hills going way down – that’s it, that’s the pass.  And that’s where you’ll find downtown Los Gatos (or very close to it).

Los Gatos panorama toward the Santa Cruz Mountains

 

Almaden would be to the left of this, by the way – but visible from this spot.

If you can find at least 2 of these landmarks – Mount Hamilton, Mount Umunhum, or the Santa Cruz Mountains pass at Los Gatos, you can likely figure out your approximate location.  Hope this helps!