Neighborhood Spotlight: West Menlo/University Heights


The University Heights neighborhood of Menlo Park straddles Alameda de las Pulgas (which in Spanish means “Avenue of the Fleas”), connecting Valparaiso Avenue to the north and Sandhill Road to the south. Also commonly referred to as West Menlo, it is an unincorporated area of San Mateo County and benefits from building regulations that are generally less restrictive than the City of Menlo Park. The homes are typically built on smaller lots, and there is a distinctive country feel with no sidewalks. Like much of Silicon Valley, the older ranch style homes are giving way to larger 2-story homes. The home prices today range from approximately $1.20 million for a 2 bedroom, 2 bath townhome, to over $5.0 million for a 5 bedroom, 4 ½ bath 4,000 square foot home on ¼ acre.

As the locals know, West Menlo has it all, and on weekends you can leave your car at home! Want a great burger? The iconic Dutch Goose anchors the corner of Avy and the Alameda, serving hungry Stanford students and families since the mid-1960’s. Itching for something more upscale? Then you’ll want to experience the farm fresh cuisine at the Flea Street Café. The founder, Jessie Cool, not only has a cool name, she was one of the early pioneers of the now well recognized movement of Sustainable Cuisine—preparing and serving fresh, local organic foods.

You can find everything you need in West Menlo within easy walking or biking distance—a post office, multiple banks, a barber shop, a taqueria, a pizzeria, Lutticken’s grocery store/deli, and the charming antique and gift shop named “Menloville.” Did you know that Joe Biden and Al Gore both visited Lutticken’s when they were on the campaign trail?

More than one writer has commented on Menlo Park’s “small town feel,” which belies its strategic location next to Stanford University and the venture capital enclave on Sand Hill Road. “Family Oriented” is another frequently used moniker, and it’s well deserved in West Menlo where you have access to top-ranked public schools like Las Lomitas Elementary, La Entrada Middle School and Menlo Atherton High, plus the private Phillips Brooks School. The families that live here love the vibe and the country feel, combined with quick access to Stanford and downtown Menlo Park, and the many nearby parks, biking and hiking trails.

Some have wondered whether there is a connection between our Menlo Park and the small town in New Jersey by the same name, where in 1876 a young Thomas Edison started the “World’s First R&D Facility” according to Time magazine. Apparently there is not, although Mr. Edison would fit right in now.

Our Menlo Park was apparently named in 1854 when two Irishmen from Menlough on Lough Corib, County Galway, Ireland, purchased land near County Road, now El Camino Real. They built a wooden gate with tall arches across their driveway, with the name “MENLO PARK” printed in large letters. No one knows why the name was abbreviated…perhaps they ran out of paint, or wanted to “Americanize” the name, or they just couldn’t spell.

When the railroad was extended to the Peninsula in 1863, the station had no name; it was just the end of the line. A railroad official decided that the name on the gates sounded fine, so the name was officially adopted. This station is now California State Landmark No. 955, the oldest California station in continuous operation.

Since we are discussing names, what about “Avenue of the Fleas?” Well, in Spanish “Alameda” means a row of trees or a street lined with trees, and the road ran the length of the Rancho de las Pulgas land that was granted to the Argüello family in 1795. It is speculated that the ranch was named after a village of the local Lamchin people, one of the many tribes of the Ohlone. According to Wikipedia, the name of the main Lamchin village contained a word for vermin, which the Spanish missionaries translated as “las Pulgas—the Fleas.”

By any other name, if you are looking for a true family neighborhood, with a country feel, highly rated schools, and proximity to everything, check out West Menlo/University Heights…and don’t miss the double cheese burger at the Goose!