Exploring the Opulence of Atherton, the Wealthiest Community in the United States
When most people imagine the wealthiest community in the United States, they likely picture sprawling mansions, perfectly landscaped lawns, and fancy cars. While those elements certainly play a part in the exclusive enclave of Atherton, California, there is so much more to discover in this town. With the highest median household income in the country, Atherton boasts an array of attractions that showcase its incredible wealth and luxurious lifestyle.
To fully experience Atherton, it is important to start with a bit of context. The town is named after Faxon Atherton, a wealthy businessman who bought a large parcel of land in the area in the mid-1800s. However, it was not until the early 20th century that Atherton turned into a haven for the wealthiest Americans. With its proximity to San Francisco and Silicon Valley, the town became a preferred destination for business magnates, celebrities, and tech industry titans seeking privacy, space, and exclusivity.
The best way to observe the opulent homes and estates of Atherton is to take a driving tour of the town. While many of the properties are not open to the public, cruising the quiet streets and admiring the impressive exteriors can be a thrill in itself. Noteworthy homes in Atherton include “Shocking Gray,” a sprawling mansion designed by renowned architect Richard Neutra for screenwriter Leonard Freeman, and “Green Gables,” a grand estate built in the early 1900s and once home to the CEO of Pacific Gas and Electric.
However, Atherton’s exclusivity is not just about the houses themselves but also the amenities and features that come with them. Many of the homes in the town have sprawling lawns, perfectly landscaped gardens, and even private lakes or ponds. One notable attraction in Atherton is Holbrook-Palmer Park, a nearly 22-acre public park that includes a historic mansion, formal gardens, and wide expanses of green space. The mansion on the property was built in 1864 and has undergone extensive renovations over the years, now serving as a popular venue for weddings, concerts, and other events.
Another must-see stop in Atherton is the Menlo Circus Club, a private members-only club that has been an institution in the town for over 100 years. The club features riding stables, tennis courts, croquet lawns, a swimming pool, and even a nine-hole golf course. Atherton’s dining options are also exquisite, with top-notch restaurants such as Selby’s, an elegant steakhouse with a Hollywood-worthy decor and a menu featuring prime cuts of beef, seafood, and other upscale fare. Cafe Borrone is another can’t-miss destination, a family-owned cafe and bakery that has been a staple since the 1980s, serving a wide variety of breakfast, lunch, and dinner items, as well as freshly baked pastries and desserts.
Despite its opulence, Atherton is more than just a playground for the ultra-rich. The town is home to several highly regarded schools, including the prestigious Menlo School and the all-girls Castilleja School. Additionally, Atherton has a strong commitment to preserving its natural beauty and open space, with several parks and greenbelts, including the popular El Camino Real Park, which features walking paths, picnic areas, and a playground.
In many ways, Atherton represents the American Dream – a place where success, hard work, and dedication can lead to unimaginable wealth and achievement. While the community may be out of reach for most of us, exploring its unique charms can be a fascinating window into a world that few get to experience.