Highway 35: Alice in Skylonda Land

Skylonda is not an official town, but warrants a sign anyway. There are several variations in the spelling. Photo courtesy Janet Scwind.
Skylonda is not an official town, but warrants a sign anyway. There are several variations in the spelling. Photo courtesy Janet Scwind.

The community of Skylonda is a hidden treasure amongst the winding curves and dense redwood forests of La Honda Road and Highway 35. The locally renowned Alice’s Restaurant is located there as are the Skywood Center and a real estate office you can find out how Silicon Valley tech investors have driven up land prices.

Giant Redwood Trees of California. Oil on Canvas by Albert Bierstadt, 1874
Giant Redwood Trees of California. Oil on Canvas by Albert Bierstadt, 1874.

They Came for the Redwoods

The redwoods were key to development of this area of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Early timber cutters, beginning in the Spanish mission era, found redwoods in what is now nearby Woodside and Portola Valley. Later, Yankee woodsmen followed a diminishing supply of redwood timber up the steep slope to the summit and down over into La Honda. The lumber had to be transported to local mills and then to the port of Redwood City on San Francisco Bay. Several turnpikes were built to serve the timber mills, the ranching community, and to transport tourists to the coast. Old La Honda Road to the south is a remnant of the turnpike era. In 1914 a new La Honda Road, which became state route 84, replaced them. In 1929, the junction of the two state highways became an important crossroads when Skyline Boulevard (state route 35) passed through on its way along the summit from San Francisco.

The intersection of Skyline Boulevard and Highway 84 to La Honda.
The intersection of Skyline Boulevard and Highway 84 to La Honda.

A Community Forms

The Chapman family who owned the surrounding timberland, took advantage of the new highways and filed a series of subdivisions under the names of “Sky L’Onda,” “Sky-Londa,” and “Sky Londa,” combining the names of Skyline and La Honda. The lots, about one quarter acre in size, were marketed to middle class families in San Francisco. The down payment was low, and with the right financing, a log cabin could be built for only $750. More affluent city dwellers had already established large estates nearby. By 1932 there were about 60 summer cabins that could, if you were hardy, be used in the winter. The community grew as more lots were sold, and a mutual water company was formed. Today, most of the cabins have been remodeled and updated into permanent residences for commuters to the Santa Clara Valley.

A portion of a realtor’s promotional flyer for lots and cabins at Sky-Londa, 1932. Courtesy of Joyce and Ed Rosenstiel.
A portion of a realtor’s promotional flyer for lots and cabins at Sky-Londa, 1932. Courtesy of Joyce and Ed Rosenstiel.

Not the Alice’s Restaurant

The first commercial building at Skylonda was a small store that predated the state highways. It catered to the local logging community. In the 1960s, Alice Taylor opened a coffee shop in the little building now called Alice’s Restaurant. There is no relationship to Alice Brock and her Massachusetts restaurant made famous by Arlo Guthrie’s famous 1967 song of the same name.

Alice’s Restaurant at Skylonda is a gathering place for tourists and locals alike, 2015.
Alice’s Restaurant at Skylonda is a gathering place for tourists and locals alike, 2015.

Nevertheless, the several owners over the years kept the name because it was good for business. Motorists who grew up in the ‘60s can’t help but remember the song and tend to stop and eat. The Kerr brothers, the present owners, went so far as to install a “Group W Bench.” For those not familiar with the Vietnam War protest song, this bench was the place at the army recruiting center where you were sidelined if you had ever committed a crime. Songwriter Guthrie and his buddy landed there because they had been fined $50 for illegally dumping garbage, and thus evaded the draft during the Vietnam War – according to the song (and movie) anyway.

The Group W bench at Alice's Restaurant in Skylonda.
The Group W bench at Alice’s Restaurant in Skylonda.

The Skywood Center

Across Skyline Boulevard one finds the newer Skywood Center, which is within the Town of Woodside. The center was completed in 1950 by Joseph Stadler and his nephew, Ralph Oswald. The low ranch style complex has housed a series of restaurants, a coffee shop, real estate offices, and the Skywood Market.

The Skywood Center at Skylonda in 1960. Photo courtesy Janet Schwind.
The Skywood Center at Skylonda in 1960. Photo courtesy Janet Schwind.

The market, formerly a general store, now specializes in food and offers a deli counter for picnickers. It also sells gas, as does Alice’s across the way. To the northeast of the Skywood Center lies the subdivision of Skywood Acres where the country lots, ranging from one to ten acres, purposefully snake around the largest redwood trees.

The Skywood Center at Skylonda in 2015.
The Skywood Center at Skylonda in 2015.

Take the Self-Guided Mobile Tour

This piece is part of the South Skyline Boulevard (Highway 35) Tour by the Skyline Historical Society. Download the free app with many tours of the Santa Cruz area and beyond.

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Go to Mobile Ranger Guides in the Apple App Store
Go to Mobile Ranger Guides in the Google Play Store

Much of the information in this tour comes from a book called The South Skyline Story by Janet Schwind and the Skyline Historical Society, 2014. It is a well written, fun and informative read from the Native Americans, through the early loggers and ranchers, commune dwellers, wine makers, conservationists and homebuilders. You can get a copy at Alice’s Restaurant in Skylonda (the junction of Highways 35 and 84) or by contacting Skyline History President Chuck Schoppe, email: chuck_sch@hotmail.com or phone: 408-867-9229.

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13 Comments

  1. Stephen Homan

    It was not labelled so, but there was a similar bench at the Oakland Army Induction Center in the early 1970s. During our draft physicals, several of us from Leigh High School were mouthing off. We got sent to sit on the bench and think about it. When they brought us back, in about an hour, we got our vitals checked even more thoroughly the second time. We learned to shut up the rest of the day…I was lucky in that I was too overweight to be drafted. I was told to lose weight and come back in 6 months. Right.

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  2. Chris Prendergast

    I stopped at the ‘Skywood Center’ on a trip to CA a few years back to get a cup of coffee on my way to SF. I was intrigued by Alice’s Restaurant, and remember researching to see if it was THE one from the song. Interesting to see it posted here, and to know I wasn’t the only one to confuse it with the song! Lol!

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  3. Stephen Homan

    Will, it is NOT the one from the song….

    Alice, and the restaurant, from WIKIPEDIA

    The Alice in the song was restaurant-owner Alice Brock (born c. 1941), who in 1964 used $2,000 supplied by her mother to purchase a deconsecrated church in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, where Alice and her husband Ray would live. It was here rather than at the restaurant—which came later—where the song’s Thanksgiving dinners were actually held. The restaurant is currently Theresa’s Stockbridge Cafe on 40 Main Street in Stockbridge, located in back of a row of stores, as stated in the song lyrics; at the time, it was located directly underneath the studios of Norman Rockwell.

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  4. Janet Fergusson

    I also grew up in Sky Londa !!! Alice’s was then called Tad’s Station !!! My father was chief forest ranger @ the county fire station there !!! We called it the junction !!! It’s where we get the school bus to go down the hill to Portola Valley & later to Woodside Hi !!!! In hi school I worked at the skyline cafe next to the market !!! I know almost everything there is to know @ every inch of this area between 1954 thru 1968 !!! What a grand & adventurous place to grow up !!! Sincerely & fondly !!!!

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