While San Francisco is the first city people think of whenever California’s Bay Area is mentioned, several other cities make sizable contributions to the region. One of these is Palo Alto, a mid-sized city of 66,649. Palo Alto was founded in 1894 by Leland Stanford, an American naturalist who founded the esteemed Stanford University. Palo Alto is Spanish for “tall stick” and is so named for the giant redwood trees that grow in this area of the country.
Palo Alto has lots going for it. It’s the birthplace of Silicon Valley, the representative region of the technology and innovation industries. While it is one of the most expensive cities in the United States, the high quality of education and the vast array of amenities it provides its citizens make it a desirable place with many opportunities.
People who live in Palo Alto or the greater Bay Area are always looking for fun and exciting things to do. We’ve compiled this list for anyone living there, looking to relocate, or planning to visit this west coast city. Here are the 22 best & fun things to do in Palo Alto, CA.
Table of Contents:
- 1. Take a Tour of Stanford University
- 2. Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University
- 3. Stanford Dish
- 4. Stanford Shopping Center
- 5. Take a Walking Tour of the City
- 6. Hewlett Packard Garage
- 7. Participate in a Scavenger Hunt
- 8. Palomo Archery
- 9. Junior Museum and Zoo
- 10. Play Polo on a Segway
- 11. Music on the Square
- 12. Palo Alto Art Center
- 13. Stanford Theater
- 14. Farmers Markets
- 15. Redwood Grove Nature Preserve
- 16. Rinconada Park
- 17. Baylands Nature Preserve
- 18. Sundance
- 19. Terun Pizzeria
- 20. Fambrini’s Cafe
- 21. Sun of Wolf
- 22. Freewheel Brewing Company
- Frequently Asked Questions When Traveling to Palo Alto
- What is the best time to visit Palo Alto?
- Where should I stay in Palo Alto?
- What is the food scene like in Palo Alto?
- Is Palo Alto safe for travelers?
- How do I spend a day in Palo Alto?
- What is Palo Alto best known for?
- Is Palo Alto a fun place to live?
- What are the best things to do in palo alto at night?
As a significant part of the city, Stanford’s campus is where many exciting things happen. Many of these activities are available to the general public as well as students. Here are just a few.
1. Take a Tour of Stanford University
Stanford is one of the best academic institutions in the nation, consistently ranking as high or higher than some of the schools from the Ivy League. Whether you’re considering enrolling in a program, the University’s campus is worth checking out. It’s large enough to warrant its own zip code, although it is considered part of Palo Alto’s city limits. The prestigious University is also home to unique educational architecture, state-of-the-art athletic facilities, and an overall classic college atmosphere.
2. Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University
Cantor Center is home to 24 separate art galleries and 15 special exhibits each year. It’s been open since 1891 and has since amassed over 38,000 pieces of art for public enjoyment. Those around Stanford’s campus, the city of Palo Alto, and the Bay Area can take advantage of free daily admission, educational tours, and special lectures year-round. The Cantor Arts Center is considered one of the largest and most coveted collections of University art in the entire country.
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3. Stanford Dish
The Stanford Dish is more of a novelty visit than anything else, but it’s a cool stop, regardless. The radio telescope was built by the Stanford Research Institute in 1961. It is 150 feet across in diameter and is still used today for various educational and research purposes. The dish also has a 3.7-mile trail around it, a popular spot for walkers and joggers. People who aren’t interested in the dish but need to get outside and exercise can still enjoy the area.
4. Stanford Shopping Center
Who doesn’t love a good shopping spree? The Stanford Shopping Center is an open-air outdoor mall located on the campus of Stanford University. The facility is enormous, as it houses over 140 specialty businesses and plenty of restaurants and cafes. It’s even a pleasant place to take a walk, with fountains, sculptures, and gardens adding to the peaceful aesthetic of the mall.
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Outside the University campus, Palo Alto has a terrific downtown area and a plethora of friendly neighborhoods to explore. If you’re looking for unique and exciting activities around town, you will do worse than check out these options.
5. Take a Walking Tour of the City
Palo Alto has numerous companies that offer walking tours of various parts of the city. The biggest challenge is finding the right one for you. Find a guided tour of downtown, Stanford University, or one of the many historic neighborhoods, or use a local website to conduct a self-guided walk. You’ll get some exercise and fresh air while learning about the city and its local traditions.
6. Hewlett Packard Garage
Since Palo Alto is the center of the tech industry’s Silicon Valley, it’s no surprise that it’s also the home of the exact location where the industry took off. The unassuming suburban home built in 1905 would become a historic landmark in the story of California’s computing business.
It was rented in 1938 by David and Lucille Packard, who would use the home’s small garage to work on their computers. The breakthroughs they achieved there became the stuff of legend. Their garage became a National Historic Landmark in 2007. While it is not usually open to the public, you can drive by and get a photograph.
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7. Participate in a Scavenger Hunt
Bay Mystery Scavenger Hunt runs events that don’t necessarily take place in Palo Alto (some of them do). Still, they are a regional Silicon Valley favorite. Groups of up to 15 can book special events that take them through various businesses in the area. Many of these events involve sampling food, drink, and local culture while trying to solve a crime or find the answer to a narrative mystery. There’s no better way to get to know the area around Palo Alto.
8. Palomo Archery
Archers in other cities often need help finding an excellent place to practice. Not in Palo Alto! Palomo Archery is a fully-equipped indoor archery range offering lane and equipment rentals, lessons, and a professionally-trained staff ready to keep all guests safe and happy during their visit. The space is also rented to larger groups, such as corporate teams and families. Be sure to book in advance, as space is limited.
9. Junior Museum and Zoo
The Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo were conceived during the Great Depression in the United States as a place for children to come and spend some leisure time. Today the zoo is home to over 200 individual animals spanning over 50 species. Some of the favorites for children are the pink flamingos and the giant tortoise. Children can stimulate their curiosity inside the museum with a large selection of science exhibits designed to educate young minds about the world around them and how it works.
10. Play Polo on a Segway
The Bay Area would be the birthplace of Segway Polo, a variation on the popular horseback sport where the players ride on segways instead. The sport was developed in the region back in 2003 and since has grown into an international phenomenon, with teams from Europe and Latin America getting in on the friendly tournaments and competitions. The Segway Off-Road company offers lessons for anyone who wants to learn. Other startups exist in the area as well.
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11. Music on the Square
Every summer, nearby Redwood City’s Courthouse Square hosts a free concert series on Friday evenings. These concerts are all family-friendly and feature a wide array of regional acts playing all genres and covering well-known rock and pop acts. 2022 was their 16th season, and they show no signs of slowing down anytime soon. So if you’re in Palo Alto or the surrounding area from June-September, take a trip to hear some great tunes on a Friday.
12. Palo Alto Art Center
According to its website, Palo Alto Art Center engages over 150,000 people annually through its exhibits, events, classes, and community outreach programs. That’s a significant amount of folks. The center was founded in 1971 as a place where any community member could show up to engage with the local art scene and create some of their own. The center is also highly invested in the local education system, visiting schools and providing great classes and programs for children.
13. Stanford Theater
Managed by a group called the Stanford Theater Foundation, this theater is dedicated to treating audiences to the classic films from Hollywood’s golden age before technology allowed the general population to see these films from their homes. The theater opened in 1925 and still regularly hosts showings of films from that era up through the 1950s and 60s. Whether on a date, a night out with friends, or looking to share classic cinema with your children, check out the schedule at the Stanford Theater.
14. Farmers Markets
Eating locally-produced food is a great way to support small businesses and ensure you eat only the healthiest available products. Palo Alto is home to three regular farmers markets so that locals can pick the best. The Downtown Palo Alto Farmers Market is open every Saturday morning, the California Avenue Farmers Market operates on Sundays, and the V.A. Palo Alto Farmers Market is open on select weekdays.
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15. Redwood Grove Nature Preserve
The Redwood Grove is a 6-acre nature preserve featuring a beautiful patch of redwood trees, a meadow, and other natural areas observable to all lovers of the outdoors. Palo Alto’s Parks department runs summer camps for kids and programs for adults out of the area. A nonprofit preservation group is responsible for the site’s restoration and upkeep. It’s perfect for a walk or a picnic.
16. Rinconada Park
Looking for a place to observe or photograph some giant redwoods? How about taking a swim in the local municipal pool? Or getting involved in a pickup sports game? Rinconada Park, one of the oldest in Palo Alto, has all this and more. Locals have been enjoying the facility since the 1920s. It’s a favorite among children, too, with multiple playgrounds installed on the 19-acre property.
17. Baylands Nature Preserve
With 15 miles of trails and almost 2,000 acres of undisturbed marshland, Baylands Nature Preserve is one of the largest preserved habitats in San Francisco Bay. It is considered the best place for bird watching in the state, as the natural habitat for many species. There’s also a duck pond and a Nature Interpretive Center for visitors.
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Any great city will have its share of popular local restaurants. If you’re visiting Palo Alto, there’s no better way to find an enjoyable dining experience than talking to some of the residents, but for now, here’s our list of a few great choices.
Known as Palo Alto’s best steakhouse, Sundance provides an intimate setting that’s luxurious and classy for all guests. The dining room has the air of an upscale restaurant, but they also offer take-out and a semi-private space for large parties to book. Sundance is known most for its rich cuts of beef but also serves incredible fish and chicken dishes so everyone can get their fix.
19. Terun Pizzeria
With a focus on the freshest ingredients and a perfectionist philosophy, Terun has some of the most popular pizzas in the bay area. The three founders were all born in southern Italy, so they know what it takes to make an authentic wood-fired Neapolitan-style pizza. Other menu items are also available.
20. Fambrini’s Cafe
This family-owned restaurant has a menu based on specialty recipes and old secrets. Their sandwiches are all crafted to be unique, and they use the freshest ingredients in all of their creative offerings. The European philosophy is to create food pleasing to the senses, and they deliver on that promise.
21. Sun of Wolf
When choosing to go out for Mexican food, it’s essential to know where the best local spots are. Sun of Wolf is that spot for Palo Alto. The restaurant is run by a group of siblings who chose the name to represent their family ties. Their philosophy is to combine old-world Mexican flavors with modern Bay Area sensibilities. The result is a unique, enjoyable, classy experience.
22. Freewheel Brewing Company
Located just up the road in Redwood City, Freewheel Brewing is the most popular beer brewer in the region. Their tap room is perfect for patrons to sip on some unique California brews, and they also offer a full lunch and dinner menu. They’re closed on Mondays and Thursdays but open for the rest of the week for lunch and dinner.
Frequently Asked Questions When Traveling to Palo Alto
When traveling to Palo Alto, a city in the heart of Silicon Valley in California, you may have various questions related to your trip. Here are some frequently asked questions (FAQs) and their answers to help you plan your visit:
What is the best time to visit Palo Alto?
Palo Alto has a mild climate year-round. However, the best time to visit is typically in the spring (March to May) or fall (September to November) when the weather is pleasant and there are fewer crowds.
Where should I stay in Palo Alto?
Palo Alto offers a range of accommodation options, from luxury hotels to budget-friendly motels. Popular areas to stay include downtown Palo Alto, Stanford University campus, and the nearby city of Menlo Park.
What is the food scene like in Palo Alto?
Palo Alto has a diverse culinary scene with many restaurants offering a variety of cuisines. Be sure to try some local California dishes, and explore the dining options in downtown Palo Alto.
Is Palo Alto safe for travelers?
Palo Alto is generally considered a safe city for travelers. However, as with any destination, it’s advisable to take common-sense precautions such as safeguarding your belongings and being aware of your surroundings.
How do I spend a day in Palo Alto?
Spending a day in Palo Alto can be a delightful experience, given its mix of culture, technology, and natural beauty. Here’s a suggested itinerary for making the most of your day in Palo Alto:
Breakfast at a Local Cafe: Start your day with a hearty breakfast at one of Palo Alto’s charming cafes. Places like “Coupa Cafe” or “Palo Alto Cafe” offer great breakfast options and a local vibe.
Explore Stanford University Campus: Head over to the iconic Stanford University campus. Take a leisurely stroll through the Quad, admire the stunning architecture, and visit landmarks like the Memorial Church and Hoover Tower. If you’re interested, you can also visit the Cantor Arts Center.
3. Visit the Stanford Shopping Center: This upscale shopping center is not just for shopping, but also for enjoying the beautiful outdoor spaces and art installations. It’s a great place for some retail therapy or simply window shopping.
4. Lunch in Downtown Palo Alto: Head to downtown Palo Alto for lunch. There are various dining options, from local bistros to international cuisine. University Avenue is a popular spot with a range of restaurants to choose from.
5. Explore the Computer History Museum: Delve into the history of computing and technology at the Computer History Museum. It’s a fascinating place with exhibits that trace the evolution of computers and their impact on society.
Palo Alto Art Center: If you’re interested in art, take a quick visit to the Palo Alto Art Center. It’s a community-focused art space with rotating exhibitions and interactive programs.
7. Relax in a Park: Enjoy the outdoors at one of Palo Alto’s many parks. Gamble Garden and Mitchell Park are great options for a leisurely stroll and some relaxation.
8. Dinner at a Local Eatery: For dinner, explore more of Palo Alto’s dining scene. You might try a restaurant that offers farm-to-table California cuisine or an international eatery for a different flavor.
9. Cultural Event or Entertainment: Check if there are any cultural events, performances, or live music happening in the area during your visit. Venues like the Oshman Family JCC or local theaters might have interesting offerings.
10. Stroll Downtown at Night: Take a stroll along University Avenue in downtown Palo Alto after dinner. The area has a vibrant atmosphere in the evening, with shops, cafes, and street performers.
Remember that this is just a suggested itinerary, and you can adjust it based on your preferences and the time you have available. Palo Alto offers a mix of technology, culture, and relaxation, so tailor your day to what interests you the most!
What is Palo Alto best known for?
Palo Alto is best known for several key aspects, which contribute to its reputation and identity:
Stanford University: One of the most prominent and prestigious universities in the world, Stanford University is located in Palo Alto. The university’s influence on education, research, and innovation has made Palo Alto synonymous with academic excellence and cutting-edge ideas.
Silicon Valley and Tech Innovation: Palo Alto is a central part of Silicon Valley, a global hub for technology and innovation. The city has played a significant role in the development of the tech industry, hosting the headquarters of numerous tech giants, startups, and venture capital firms. The birthplace of Hewlett-Packard (HP) and its famous garage startup culture is also in Palo Alto.
Tech Company Headquarters: The city is home to the headquarters of various tech companies, including Tesla, VMware, and Palantir. The presence of these companies has contributed to the city’s reputation as a center of technological advancement and entrepreneurship.
Beautiful Neighborhoods and Architecture: Palo Alto boasts charming and affluent neighborhoods with tree-lined streets, beautiful homes, and a mix of architectural styles. Many historic and contemporary residences can be found throughout the city.
Cultural and Art Scene: Despite its strong tech focus, Palo Alto has a vibrant cultural and artistic community. The city’s art galleries, theaters, and cultural centers contribute to its cultural diversity and creative atmosphere.
Stanford Research Park: This research and development park adjacent to Stanford University has played a significant role in fostering innovation and collaboration among tech companies, startups, and academia.
Stanford Shopping Center: A high-end shopping center located near Stanford University, it offers luxury brands, dining options, and a relaxing outdoor environment.
Quality of Life: Palo Alto’s high quality of life, excellent schools, and access to outdoor recreation have made it an attractive place to live for families, professionals, and academics.
Natural Beauty: The city’s proximity to parks, nature reserves, and outdoor recreational areas, such as the Pearson-Arastradero Preserve, contributes to its natural beauty and opportunities for outdoor activities.
Green Initiatives: Palo Alto is known for its commitment to sustainability and green initiatives, including renewable energy programs, electric vehicle infrastructure, and environmental conservation efforts.
In summary, Palo Alto is renowned for its association with Stanford University, its pivotal role in the tech industry’s development, its diverse neighborhoods, and its mix of culture and innovation. These factors collectively contribute to the city’s unique identity and global recognition.
Is Palo Alto a fun place to live?
The answer is Yes, Palo Alto is often considered a fun and attractive place to live for many reasons. However, what one finds “fun” can vary greatly depending on individual preferences and priorities. Here are some aspects that contribute to Palo Alto’s reputation as a desirable place to live:
Cultural and Intellectual Opportunities: With its close proximity to Stanford University, Palo Alto offers a wealth of cultural and intellectual opportunities. Residents can attend lectures, art exhibitions, performances, and other events organized by the university.
Tech and Innovation Hub: For individuals interested in technology and innovation, living in Palo Alto provides unparalleled access to the heart of Silicon Valley. The city’s tech culture, startup scene, and proximity to major tech companies can be exciting for those in the industry.
Outdoor Recreation: Palo Alto’s pleasant climate and access to parks and nature preserves provide ample opportunities for outdoor activities such as hiking, biking, jogging, and picnicking.
Education: Palo Alto is known for its excellent schools, which can be a major draw for families looking to provide a quality education for their children.
Dining and Shopping: The city boasts a diverse dining scene, ranging from casual cafes to upscale restaurants. Shopping centers like Stanford Shopping Center offer a mix of luxury brands and everyday retail options.
Cultural Scene: Despite its tech focus, Palo Alto has a vibrant cultural scene with art galleries, theaters, and cultural events that cater to a wide range of interests.
Community Engagement: The city often hosts community events, farmers’ markets, and local festivals that promote a sense of community and offer opportunities to connect with neighbors.
Proximity to Bay Area: Palo Alto’s central location within the Bay Area means residents have easy access to San Francisco, scenic coastal areas, and other regional attractions.
Health and Wellness: The city’s emphasis on a healthy lifestyle is evident through its various wellness centers, yoga studios, and health-conscious dining options.
Safety and Quality of Life: Palo Alto consistently ranks as one of the safest cities in the United States. Its high standard of living, excellent healthcare facilities, and overall quality of life make it appealing to many.
However, it’s important to note that living in Palo Alto comes with a relatively high cost of living, particularly in terms of housing. The competitive housing market and elevated expenses are factors that potential residents should consider when evaluating whether Palo Alto is the right place for them.
Ultimately, whether Palo Alto is a fun place to live depends on your personal interests, career goals, family situation, and lifestyle preferences. It’s a city that offers a blend of academic, technological, cultural, and recreational opportunities, making it an attractive option for many individuals and families.
What are the best things to do in palo alto at night?
Does Palo Alto have nightlife? The answer is Yes! Palo Alto offers a variety of enjoyable activities to do at night. Whether you’re looking for cultural experiences, relaxation, or entertainment, there’s something for everyone. Here are some of the best things to do in Palo Alto at night:
Dine at Local Restaurants: Palo Alto has a diverse culinary scene. Enjoy a leisurely dinner at one of the city’s many restaurants, ranging from upscale dining to casual eateries. University Avenue and downtown Palo Alto are popular areas with a range of dining options.
Catch a Live Performance: Check out performances at local theaters or music venues. The Stanford Live series at Bing Concert Hall often hosts concerts, plays, and other cultural events.
Stroll Downtown Palo Alto: Take a leisurely walk along University Avenue in downtown Palo Alto. The street comes alive at night with vibrant lights, bustling shops, and street performers.
Enjoy a Nightcap: After dinner, relax with a nightcap at one of the city’s cozy bars, lounges, or wine bars. Many establishments offer a wide selection of drinks and a relaxed ambiance.
Attend Cultural Events: Look for cultural events, lectures, and talks happening at Stanford University. These events often take place in the evening and cover a wide range of topics.
Watch a Movie: Catch a movie at the Stanford Theatre, a historic cinema that screens classic films in a vintage setting.
Stargazing at the Stanford Observatory: If you’re interested in astronomy, the Stanford Observatory hosts public events that allow you to observe celestial objects through telescopes. Check their schedule for night-time events.
Explore Local Art Galleries: Some art galleries in Palo Alto may have evening openings or special events. Explore local art and discover emerging artists.
Late-Night Dessert: Satisfy your sweet tooth with a late-night dessert run. Whether it’s ice cream, pastries, or gourmet chocolates, you’ll find plenty of options.
Relax and Unwind: Enjoy a relaxing evening in the comfort of your accommodations. Many hotels in Palo Alto offer cozy lounges, rooftop terraces, or outdoor seating where you can unwind.
Nighttime Parks: Some parks and nature reserves in Palo Alto might be open during the evening hours. Consider taking a peaceful evening stroll in a park if available.
Cultural Workshops and Classes: Some local organizations might offer evening workshops, art classes, or fitness sessions that allow you to learn something new while enjoying your evening.
Keep in mind that the availability of activities may vary based on the day of the week and the time of year. Checking local event listings, websites, and social media pages can help you stay updated on nighttime happenings in Palo Alto during your visit.
From the technology industry to a prestigious university, to wondrous natural landscapes, to fantastic local businesses, Palo Alto is an exciting place with no shortage of fun things to do. People of all ages can get lost in the excitement here for weeks. As part of the more extensive Bay Area and Northern California region, Palo Alto is a big winner.
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