Mary McCusker chalks it up to chance that her neighborhood in Central Los Altos has "the best mailman in the world. His name is Ray Rios. Everybody knows him, and he knows the name of everybody here. He's like what the neighborhood cops used to be, a hundred years ago," she said.
The neighborhood is made up of two triangles bordering at Springer Road and lodged between North and South Los Altos. All three of these areas run along Foothill Expressway and spread north of it.
Mary and her husband moved from Connecticut to her ranch-style home in 1974. Adjusting wasn't easy, but the friendly spirit now embodied by Rios -- and by many of the interactions among neighbors -- helped their new home feel like one.
"The neighborhoods are what you make of them. If you have two or three outgoing people on the street, everybody's going to know everybody, because they are the pollinators," McCusker said. "It depends on the street you're on, but there's a lot of interaction."
A woman across the street walks her elderly neighbor's dogs daily, and every Fourth of July one of the nearby families hosts a summer picnic with hired musicians.
The McCuskers picked their neighborhood largely for the reputed school district to which it belonged. Beyond their backyard fence stand playing fields adjoined to Covington Elementary School.
That land lay fallow just five years ago, as the city of Los Altos entertained a few possible uses for it. They eventually decided on the construction of three Olympic pools, complete with bleachers and lighting.
Over well-researched concerns about traffic and genuine local value, "the neighborhood got together, hired a lawyer, and did their homework," McCusker said. "They went to city hall many times and eventually the city backed down on the pool."
The playing fields, accomplished by the residents' initiative, are greatly appreciated. "It's full all the time. Sometimes it's noisy but it's activity, it's wonderful. That's what you need in a neighborhood," she said.
Many of the residents see the Los Altos School District as something to invest in rather than just benefit from.
"The schools are suffering the same way all California schools are suffering. But there was a local foundation founded by the parents when the schools began to lose funding in a serious way. They help prop up some of the programs," she added.
Their own children now adults, the McCuskers enjoy watching the neighborhood kids' evening walk home from school. Mary knows some of them especially well, as she offers to babysit for recent, young move-ins.
Larger lot sizes was partly what attracted Noelle Eder when she and her family moved back to the Bay Area in 2010. "There's more green space and room per property. My husband is a gardener, so a quarter acre allows him to wield his green thumb," she said.
Other reasons for the Eders -- who had previously lived in Southern California and San Carlos -- include the "absolutely fantastic" school system and friendly neighbors.
The annual cookie exchange allows neighbors to exhibit and share their recipes for holiday sweets. The tradition was started by a neighbor of the Eders and now reaches beyond the neighborhood around Covington Elementary School.
"Sixty to 70 people bring a few dozen of their home recipes for holiday cookies. It's a great way to get together with and meet people."
CHILDCARE AND PRESCHOOLS (nearby): CCLC School Age at Covington Elementary, 201 Covington Road; Children's House of Los Altos, 770 Berry Ave.; Los Altos Parents Preschool, 201 Covington Road; St. Simon's Catholic Church Extended Day Care Center, 1840 Grant, Road; St. Timothy's Nursery School, 2094 Grant Road; Little Acorn School, 1667 Miramonte Ave.
FIRE STATION: No. 15, 10 Almond Ave.; Loyola station, No. 16, 765 Fremont Ave.
LOCATION: between Foothill Expressway, El Monte and Springer, and Covington and Grant
PARKS: Heritage Oaks Park, Portland at Miramonte Avenue; Marymeade Park, Fremont Avenue at Grant Road; McKenzie Park, 707 Fremont Ave.; Rosita Park, 401 Rosita Ave.
POST OFFICE: Rancho, 1150 Riverside Drive; Main, 100 First St.
LIBRARY: Los Altos, 13 S. San Antonio Road; Woodland, 1975 Grant Road
PRIVATE SCHOOLS (nearby): Canterbury Christian School, 101 N. El Monte Ave.; Pinewood School, 327 and 477 Fremont Ave.; St. Simon Catholic School, 1840 Grant Road; St. Francis High School, 1855 Miramonte Ave.
PUBLIC SCHOOLS: Los Altos School District -- Covington, Loyola, Oak or Springer elementary schools; Mtn. View-Los Altos Union High School District -- Los Altos or Mountain View high schools
SHOPPING: Blossom Valley Shopping Center, Miramonte Avenue and Cuesta Drive; Downtown Los Altos; Rancho Shopping Center, Foothill Expressway and Springer Road