SUBURBAN EXPLORER Downtown Lafayette

Musings from an afternoon walk alongside rushing traffic: Why would an emphatically suburban neighborhood eschew sidewalks? Does this imply that casual passers-by are welcome to trod upon freshly mown pockets of private property? To visit one another, do resident children cut across back yards or are they shuttled from door to door? How do people who don’t park well know how far their tires are from the curb when no curbs exist?

The dearth of sidewalks is understandable in rural and unincorporated areas or even in newer, sprawling areas that attempt to mimic a rustic countryside. Not having this safety pedestrian island in our car-dominated suburbs even in quaint Lafayette snuggled within hills and criss-crossed with creeks is less so.

The side ventures from downtown Lafayette emerged partly from distracted amblings and a post-holiday disinclination to look at any more shops. I had wanted to walk, not drive, along Mt. Diablo Boulevard for once to see how long I could stand it. The ongoing shop Lafayette campaign and recent investments in storefront renovations try to address complaints that the thoroughfare is not conducive to foot traffic, but I figured as an avid walker I could handle it. The loud traffic, though, made me detour down Moraga Road, weave through lovely, pathless neighborhoods, tromp along busy, sidewalk-free St. Mary’s Road and recuperate on the park trails. Instead of returning to Mt. Diablo, I made my cowardly escape to Golden Gate Way. The experiment was not quite a success, but if pleasant sans-sidewalk ambling is the goal, point your feet this-a-way.

Square party: All manner of shops line Mt. Diablo Boulevard, but I ended up in La Fiesta Square because of the Storyteller. This children’s bookstore with its knowledgeable staff ably caters to babes, teens and in between. A sophisticated multiculturalism, absorbing science material and comfortable nooks make this a prime lounging area for 18 and under. Adults can leave trustworthy kids in this literary day care while they browse through the clothing and gift stores like Deja Vu Fashions, a tiny consignment house with a small but discriminating selection of evening wear and other women’s clothing. Don’t forget to take out a delectable dessert from the Cake Box Factory.

Trailing behind: While there may be no sidewalks in some neighborhoods, the Lafayette-Moraga and Briones trails do intersect near downtown. In fact, the gazebo at Mt. Diablo Boulevard and Golden Gate Way provides a restful stop or starting point for the 1.5-mile Briones-to-Las Trampas Trail. Dogs, bikes and the bipedal take the asphalt road as shortcuts or a journey in itself. Hover at the bridges over Las Trampas Creek for placid contemplation.

Open your Golden Gate: A thousand theories may explain why Mt. Diablo Boulevard doesn’t encourage prolonged browsing on foot, so I’ll just mention the obvious: traffic noises with nary a tree to muffle them. An ironic circumstance, given the lovely tree-spotted hillsides. Its offshoots can be rewarding, such as the small Golden Gate Way. A white-picket fence surrounds Amadeus Books, and a little garden dachshund stands guard at the porch. Inside, a croaking frog signals the next customer. This deceptively small house frame doesn’t tell the full story: It opens up to several rooms and thousands of books in mostly alphabetical order.

Down the block, the Nut Factory feeds more than a pistachio nut obsession. You can put together all kinds of nibbles to create an excellent food basket or add to your pantry. Next to the Park Theater, Assistance League of Diablo Valley-Way Side Inn Thrift Shop and Costume Rental sells knickknacks and rents fantasies year-round.

Webbed feet: Check out downtown Lafayette at www.lafayettechamber.org.

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