Every December of the 80's, my family strolled Christmas Tree Lane in Palo Alto. I don't know the proper street name, but if you're a Bay Area native, you likely went there and know exactly what I'm talking about. It earned its nickname from the block of neighbors fiercely committed to presenting an annual spectacle of Christmas lights and decorations. Our December visits to the Lane are a sweet childhood memory.
When I was ten, I moved to the east coast. Twelve years later, in 2002, I moved back to the Bay Area. It was December, I was dating the man who would later become my husband, and I had the best idea for a date: yep, you guessed it, Christmas Tree Lane. I gathered my vague memories and figured out where it was located. Expectantly, I led my boyfriend to the Lane. To my dismay, what we encountered was a very sad scene: Christmas Tree Lane had died, but not entirely. It would've been better if it was gone—clean slate, new generation of homeowners. But, some nostalgic neighbors were halfheartedly holding onto the tradition, and it was pathetic: a few outdated, wooden reindeer cut-outs, a strand of lights here and there. It felt like I was walking through a graveyard.
Well, you can imagine my delight when I discovered another Christmas Tree Lane! It's located halfway between San Jose and San Francisco, on Eucalyptus Avenue in San Carlos, and it's phenomenal (even has its own Yelp page). These Eucalyptus residents are diehard decorators, you must experience what they create. Go on a date. Go with your children. It's breathtaking, it's festive, and it's free. Christmas Tree Lane lives on, and I'm happily carrying on the tradition of strolling it once a year.
Eucalyptus Avenue Tips: To avoid crowds, go earlier in the month and go on a weeknight. You can walk or drive the street. The best experience is on foot, slowly taking in the magic. Start your stroll at the intersection of Orange Avenue and Eucalyptus. If you decide to drive the street, be prepared to move slower than a snail because of pedestrian traffic (and know you're missing out on the full experience). The neighborhood has been known to bring in a snow machine and create a sledding hill at some point in the month (I'm not sure of the date, I believe it's close to Christmas).
San Carlos Tips: Go to Refuge for the Ohio Burger and a Belgian beer. My favorite dessert in San Carlos is the warm bread pudding at Town—a whole new level of bread pudding drenched in crème anglaise and lightly spiked with brandy.
Date Itinerary: Eat dinner at Refuge, walk to Eucalyptus Avenue, stroll the Lane, walk to Town for dessert.