When Ramesh Subramonian decided to move out of Palo Alto after 15 years, he sought to live in one of two Portola Valley neighborhoods. One was Woodside Highlands.
The comparative affordability initially attracted him, but it was a walk amid the forested quietude and a chance conversation with a longtime resident that sealed the deal for him.
"I fell in love with it," he said of the neighborhood west of Interstate 280.
Woodside Highlands, set in the foothills off of Portola Road, was exactly the kind of place Mr. Subramonian was looking for -- a neighborhood where people put down roots and get to know one another. Since buying his home in 2010, Subramonian has planted an orchard, swapped extra fruits and vegetables at the town center's "garden share" exchange on occasional Saturdays, walked the trails with his daughter and his golden retriever, and hung out with fellow residents from time to time enjoying such events as the full moon.
"I can't see anything missing," Mr. Subramonian says about his life in the Highlands.
Originally composed of summer cottages built in the 1920s and '30s, the neighborhood has grown into an internationally diverse community of longtime residents and young families.
As a visitor walks along the redwood- and oak-shaded roads, the intensity of Silicon Valley life fades away. There are no through roads, which adds to the neighborhood's tucked away feel.
"When you get west of 280, you really feel as if you are in a different world," says Jean Isaacson, president of the Woodside Highlands Home Improvement Association.
Ms. Isaacson, a real estate agent, became a resident in 1968 and raised two children in the neighborhood. She was drawn to it by the woods and open space. Her house is a renovated, expanded cottage with cedar shingles, plentiful light and room outdoors to entertain under the trees. In her experience, Woodside Highlands has maintained a similar feel over the decades: peaceful and close-knit.
"I find that it's the kind of neighborhood where if you are getting your mail, somebody will stop to chat," Ms. Isaacson explains.
Historically, residents have been involved in their neighborhood in a unique way. The Home Improvement Association harks back to an association formed in the 1930s and has consistently played a role in the area's development. When the Town of Portola Valley incorporated in 1964, some of the older roads, including those in Woodside Highlands, did not meet town standards for width and were not accepted by the town with regard to maintenance, according to Ms. Isaacson. As a result, the residents established a road maintenance district to manage repairs and improvements themselves, funded in part by a special assessment.
"We have road clean up weekends twice a year," Ms. Isaacson says. "We decide for ourselves what projects need to be done. The result of our roads being privately maintained is that the whole community is involved and people get to know each other. Adults and kids alike pitch in and get things done."
Mr. Subramonian recalls one year seeing an older woman, who was physically unable to work on the roads, doing her part: She drove her Prius around offering people lemonade and cookies.
Ms. Isaacson also notes there is a fall potluck and a holiday party, among other events, to balance out the community work with play. The Larry Lane Trail is also an important spot for neighborhood socializing.
"The town's Larry Lane Trail is right in our back yard. Neighbors frequently bump into neighbors when out for a run, hike or dog walk," Ms. Isaacson says.
Mr. Subramonian acknowledges there are differences living in the Highlands when compared to suburban north Palo Alto, but he says he's seen each compromise become an advantage. The more remote location requires him to add 10 minutes to any commute, but at the same time, the tech worker has taken to biking to his office in Palo Alto, which has kept him fit.
His home uses a septic tank instead of a sewer system, but it's taught him to be more cognizant of his effect on the environment. There are deer that nibble on his fruit trees, so he divided his orchard down the middle, giving the wildlife access to half of his bounty while keeping half for himself. It's this kind of living that makes him feel more connected to the earth than he ever felt in Palo Alto, he said.
The homes are not mansions; in fact, his is 1,300 square feet. But it's comfortable for him and his wife, their daughter and their dog.
Looking back on his decision to move into Woodside Highlands, Mr. Subramonian says contentedly, "I've had no regrets."
CHILD CARE & PRESCHOOLS: Windmill Preschool, 4141 Alpine Road, Portola Valley; Ladera Community Church Preschool, 3300 Alpine Road, Portola Valley; Carillon Preschool at Christ Church, 815 Portola Road, Portola Valley; New Horizons (after-school care), 200 Shawnee Pass, Portola Valley
FIRE STATION: Woodside Fire Protection District, Portola Valley Station, 135 Portola Road, Portola Valley
LOCATION: Santa Maria Avenue, Russell Avenue, Tynan Way, Trinity Lane and Leroy Way
NEIGHBORHOOD ASSOCIATION: Woodside Highlands Improvement Association, president, Jean Isaacson, 650-387-8427
PUBLIC SCHOOLS: Portola Valley School District -- Ormondale School (K-3), 200 Shawnee Pass, Portola Valley; Corte Madera School (4-8), 4575 Alpine Road, Portola Valley. Sequoia Union High School District -- Woodside High School, 199 Churchill Ave., Woodside
SHOPPING: Nathhorst Triangle, Portola Road at Alpine Road; Village Square, 884 Portola Road; Ladera Shopping Center, 3130 Alpine Road, Portola Valley