If you are interested in sharing the arts and the outdoors with your family, make sure a hike at Villa Montalvo makes it onto your list of things to do in the South Bay. Villa Montalvo has a unique vibe, perhaps resulting from the seamless combination of art and natural beauty throughout the park. This place checks many boxes: family-friendly hikes, cultural excursions, and local adventures.
IN THIS POST:
OUR (VERY FIRST, SLIGHTLY EMBARRASSING) YOUTUBE VIDEO ON VISITING VILLA MONTALVO
PLANNING YOUR VISIT: HOURS, MAPS, DOG INFO, & MORE!
Remember to check the official Santa Clara County Park Site for the latest updates related to Covid-19 safety guidance.
- Main Entrance: 15400 Montalvo Rd Saratoga, CA 95070
- Parking: Parking lots 2, 3, and 4 each have trailhead access. We park at Lot 4 for the popular Lookout Trail. There are no entrance fees at the time of writing.
- Hours: 8am – Sunset
- Villa Montalvo Trail Map
- Dog Friendly: Dogs on leash are welcome on trails but not in the gardens.
- Stroller Friendly: Not recommended on the trails. We brought a Bob on our first visit. It wasn’t fun!
- Restrooms: Public restrooms are available near the Lookout Point trailhead in Parking Lot 4.
- Park Features: Hiking Trails, Gardens, Contemporary Art Installations, Education Programs, Public Events
THINGS TO SEE AND DO AT VILLA MONTALVO
THE GREAT LAWN
As you drive into Montalvo, you’ll see the 2-acre Great Lawn of the Arboretum. This is a great spot for a picnic when health regulations allow. My boys love running around here and rolling down the hill near the Villa. Before 2020, this was a popular spot for weddings and summer concerts.
Villa Montalvo is a wonderful place for a family-friendly hike. Santa Clara County Parks manages the 3.5 miles of trails throughout the hills of Villa Montalvo. While not stroller-friendly, they are not strenuous. Dogs on leashes are allowed throughout the Villa Montalvo trail system. The most popular trails are described below.
If you’re more in the mood for a stroll than a hike, you’ll enjoy Villa Montalvo’s arboretum. From the gated Italianate gardens at the base of the Great Lawn to the contemporary art woven throughout the manicured gardens, exploring this area of the Villa makes for a beautiful afternoon. We’ve listed some of our highlights below.
EDUCATION PROGRAMS AND EVENTS
As an arts center, the Villa Montalvo Association is known for offering engaging and enriching educational programs. In addition to two theaters and art education spaces, ten live/work studios host artists annually as part of the Lucas Artists Residency Program. The unique combination of artistic excellence and natural beauty combine to offer visitors unparalleled experiences in multidisciplinary arts programming. Check out upcoming classes and events here.
POPULAR VILLA MONTALVO HIKES
Taking a hike is our favorite thing to do at Villa Montalvo. There are many ways to mix and match the trails that wind through the undeveloped woods behind the Villa. We usually begin with the Lookout Trail which leaves from Parking Lot 4, but these are certainly not the only way to explore. Whichever trail you choose to explore, we encourage you to start your walks early or in the later afternoon. These trails are not very wide and get pretty crowded on the weekends.
Check out Santa Clara County’s Trail Map for all of the trail options.
LOOKOUT TRAIL / REDWOOD TRAIL / NATURE TRAIL LOOP (1.2 MILES)
We encourage starting with the Lookout Trail, our favorite Villa Montalvo hike. It winds through a scenic section of hillside and offers the fun payoff of looking out over the South Bay below.
This is the route we take most often. You’ll leave Parking Lot 4 and head up the Lookout Trail to Belvedere Temple. We usually can’t pass here without a bit of playing and posing.
As you continue along the Lookout Trail you’ll come to a turnoff to the Nature Trail on your right. As this is a loop, you can turn off onto the Nature Trail here or head up to Lookout Point and then circle back along the Redwood and Nature Trails on your way back down.
I love that this loop is scenic, including both redwoods and a lookout point without too strenuous of a climb. The elevation is about 450 feet with a few steep sections, but it was doable with a three-year-old, a five-year-old, and a dog. And there was still energy left for running around the great lawn after!
LOOKOUT TRAIL / SOUTH ORCHARD / CREEK TRAIL (2 MILES)
Offering a bit more elevation and mileage, this route starts on the same Lookout Trail but continues along the Lookout trail after you descend from Lookout Point rather than turning off onto the Redwood Trail.
After heading behind the Villa at a higher elevation than the Redwood Trail, you can follow the Lookout Trail back down to the Villa or continue onto the South Orchard Trail. The Orchard Trails explore the north side of the park, and in my experience, seem to be less crowded than the trails to the south. On the flip side, they also seemed narrower and a bit more slippery for the boys.
In my opinion, this trail is more moderate than easy despite the fairly short length. The elevation is just under 500 feet, and there are a few steep sections. The good news is that there are plenty of turnoffs back to the Villa or onto lower elevation trails if it’s more difficult than your group expected.
LOOKOUT TRAIL / NATURE TRAIL / REDWOOD TRAIL (0.5 MILE)
This is my go-to loop with the boys if we aren’t really in the mood for a HIKE, but we feel like wandering into the wilderness beyond the landscaped areas. You avoid the steep sections, but still get the feel of being immersed in big trees.
On these shorter hikes, the boys often seem freer to use their imaginations and pay attention to the details of nature all around them. We take this route when we’re trying to do nature walks, like the spider web scavenger hunt we did before our fall spider craft projects.
If you turn off on the Carriage House Trail, you’ll spot Fieldworks Collaborative’s interactive artwork, “Curiosity Fieldstation.” Continuing past the Carriage House Trail to walk behind the Garden Theater, we always enjoy coming back to the main part of the Villa via wisteria-covered Poet’s Walk.
VILLA MONTALVO GARDENS & ART
One of my favorite things about Villa Montalvo is the way that contemporary art installations are woven seamlessly throughout the park. The way that art sits side by side with nature here just makes me happy.
It’s always fun to see the boys discover and marvel at works like Cameron Hockenson’s “Control Tower,” shown above. As someone who has spent too many years practically living in a museum, I’m constantly surprised at the magic that art can have when it shows up in an unexpected context.
If you want to hunt down all of the installations you can find, you can find more information about Montalvo’s “Art on the Grounds” program here. Many commissioned works were performance-based or temporary, but you can still see several of the sculptural works on the grounds today.
Outside of the arts, the gardens themselves are perfect for exploring. The boys are always looking for tadpoles in Mermaid Pond, across the road from Parking Lot 4, regardless of the time of year. And there’s simply nothing better than relaxing for a beat while the kids run themselves tired around the Great Lawn!