On the first Wednesday of every month, dedicated pilgrims, from nearby and as far away as San Jose and San Francisco, awaken in the early hours to journey by foot, bike, motorcycle and car to the redwood-dotted, fog-shrouded hills of Sky Londa.
Their destination is Alice's Restaurant, a local institution that dominates the intersection of Highway 84 and Skyline Boulevard.
These travelers are headed for restaurant's monthly buffet breakfast, which, for a cost of $10 between the hours of 8 and 9:30 a.m., permits visitors to eat all the scrambled and fried eggs, fried potatoes, sausage, bacon, pancakes, french toast, coffee cake, fresh fruit, oatmeal and coffee they can.
The buffet, explained Andy Kerr, the restaurant's co-owner, started back in 2008 during the Great Recession. The restaurant had seen a decline in visits from locals, some of whom had lost their jobs and had little money to spend eating out, he says.
To show appreciation for local customers, the restaurant launched the monthly breakfast buffet at $5 per person, but since then, the restaurant has had to raise prices to $10 to cover the costs, Kerr said.
According to local lore, the building in which the restaurant now lives was once a general store and has been a restaurant since about the 1950s. It was bought in the 1960s by a woman named Alice Taylor, who named the restaurant after herself and the famous Arlo Guthrie song. It's been family-owned and operated since the 1970s.
Word of the monthly affordable breakfast has spread.
Amid a bustling restaurant, August's breakfast, held the morning of Aug. 7, was actually fairly quiet, according to Kerr. The line for the buffet often runs through the parking lot, he said, especially when Stanford is in session and locals aren't out on vacation.
Kings Mountain resident Carrie German said she's been coming to the breakfast every month for years. The restaurant, she said, is "an island of serenity in your hectic life. ... Even when it's packed, it's still nice."
Vicki Atkins and Cliff Hudson of Woodside are also dedicated regulars. Hudson said he's been coming to the restaurant since the 1960s, ever since he got back from Vietnam and was looking for a friendly place to meet people. Atkins said she has been a member of a women's group that meets each Tuesday night at Alice's since 2011. They have a table reserved in the back, and each week, between five and 12 women meet there to spend time together and enjoy each other's company, she explained.
Residents of the Santa Cruz Mountain foothills in Woodside, Kings Mountain and Sky Londa rely on Alice's for food in particular, especially if they forget to plan ahead for dinner. With the nearest grocery store 20 to 25 minutes away, said Sky Londa resident Tim Johnson, Alice's often serves as the nearest food source.
But the dedicated locals tend to stay away on weekends when it gets, as Clair Johnson put it, "enormously busy."
The Johnsons' friend Joe Rockmore of Kings Mountain said, echoing a Yogi Berra quote: "Nobody goes there anymore; it's too crowded."
Despite how busy it gets, some still see it as an escape from hectic Peninsula happenings. Redwood City resident Lisa Marrow, a former Nebraskan, said she comes to Alice's about twice a month to get a dose of nature and the outdoors.
"It feels like a staycation here," she said.
She's been visiting Alice's for the last 20 years, and has been a consistent visitor the last 10, she said. "I got the bug."
With so many changes happening in Redwood City, she said, she especially appreciates the consistency and comfort of Alice's. She's comfortable going by herself, and knows what to expect.
She always orders a kale salad for breakfast, and sometimes a side of eggs.
Even though the university isn't in session yet, a number of helmeted young adults wearing Stanford cycling shirts were observed tucking into the breakfast offerings. Cyclist Noah Young said he planned to continue his bike journey another 80 miles, riding past Alice's to Bonny Doon in Santa Cruz County and back through Big Basin.
Generally, though, the ride to Alice's is considered more of a social activity than a training session for Stanford cyclists, cyclist Cody Stocker explained. Riders Catherine Kircos and Joshua Wise, who said they consider themselves friends of the team, planned to ride back down the hill toward the campus after breakfast.
Motorcyclists also frequent the restaurant, as it's located at the nexus of a number of desirable roads for riding – those that are curvy, twisty, well-paved and have minimal traffic, said San Francisco resident and biker Michelle Tilley. Tilley was meeting with several friends at Alice's for breakfast before heading out for more riding.
Even those who prefer traveling on two feet rather than two wheels, though, have made Alice's breakfast buffet a monthly tradition. A group of hiking buddies who live in San Jose, Cupertino and North Fair Oaks has been making the hike from Wunderlich Park to the restaurant monthly for about a decade. They gather at Wunderlich Park around 6:30 on the morning of the buffet to begin the four-mile hike to the restaurant.
"The smell of bacon pulls us up," joked hiker Mark Folden, a San Jose resident who, at 78, says he's the senior member of the hiking group.
Bob McKibbin, a retiree from Cupertino, said he is a dedicated hiker who collected the group of hikers based on existing associations – his brother Mike, and brother-in-law, Bob Yasukawa, are participants – as well as looser connections that have become deeper friendships.
He started hiking with Mark Folden, his wife's friend's husband, after their wives pointed out their shared interest in hiking, and found fellow hiker Howard Lee after he responded to an ad on Craigslist looking for a hiking buddy. They trek all over the region, but reserve the first Wednesday of each month for their hike to Alice's.
North Fair Oaks resident and former community councilman Rafael Avendano is also a regular with the hiking group; he brought his 10-month-old daughter, Alana, on the trails for the first time to the August breakfast. He said he's been hiking with the group for about six years, and considers the older men he hikes with to be wise mentors. On their hikes, they talk about politics, he said, and share financial advice with him.
"Now my daughter is learning from them," he said. "It's great being a part of this."
With a happy fistful of scrambled eggs and a comfortable seat in a baby backpack, she too, appeared to be enjoying her breakfast excursion.
If you go
Alice's Restaurant is located at 17299 Skyline Blvd. in Woodside. Call the restaurant at (650) 851-0303 or visit its website, alicesrestaurant.com. Outdoor seating is dog-friendly. The restaurant also offers live music on Thursday evenings from 7 to 9 p.m.
To hike to the restaurant, access a trail map for the eight-mile round-trip hike from Wunderlich Park to Alice's and back again via AllTrails here.. To get there by bike, access a recommended 19-mile cycling loop via bayarearides.com here.