Palo Alto is a bustling suburb in Santa Clara County south of the city of San Francisco. It is adjacent to Stanford University and home to hundreds of Silicon Valley technology companies, ranging from VMware and Hewlett-Packard to tiny startups operating in garages.
Palo Alto means tall tree in Spanish, and in this case refers to an aging redwood tree at the north end of the city appropriately named "El Palo Alto". The 1080-year-old Coast Redwood, which stands 110 feet (34 m) high and has a base diameter of 90 inches (229 cm), marks a campsite for the Portola Expedition Party of 1769.
While Palo Alto is considered one of the more affluent areas of Northern California, East Palo Alto has a less posh reputation. East Palo Alto is known locally as one of the more dangerous cities in the Bay Area; it is not a town for random sightseeing.
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- See also: Bay Area public transit
Accessible by train, bus or automobile from nearby San Francisco (about 25 miles/40 km) and San Jose (about 20 miles/32 km) airports. US 101 is the primary highway access, although I-280 also passes through the western edge of Palo Alto. Palo Alto Municipal Airport, which is a few miles from the center of the city, serves private aircraft.
The cheapest way to get to Palo Alto from San Francisco International Airport (SFO) is to take SamTrans bus KX or 292 to Hillsdale Station and transfer to route ECR for $2.25 + $2.25 = $5.50. A potentially quicker alternative is to take BART from SFO to Millbrae, and then take Caltrain from Millbrae to Palo Alto, which will cost $4.40 + $6 = $10.40. This is more of a hassle than it may seem, as Caltrain doesn't run as frequently as you might like. Check the schedules in advance see Bay Area public transit for more information.
UberPOOL pricing is highly variable, but can drop as low as $13-15 if multiple riders are heading in your direction.
From the San Jose International Airport (SJC), take the free shuttle bus #10 to get to the Santa Clara Caltrain station. From there take Caltrain to Palo Alto for $6, or VTA bus 522 or 22 to get to Palo Alto for $2.25.
1 Palo Alto Station on the Bay Area train route known as Caltrain has convenient access to downtown Palo Alto as well as bus connections, including free Marguerite shuttles to the Stanford University campus.
Caltrain also stops at 2 California Avenue Station 2 miles (3 km) away, which is convenient for certain residential areas including some student housing. Service is less frequent than at Palo Alto Station.
Bus service runs through some major areas within the city. Routes are concentrated around El Camino Real and University Avenue. The Palo Alto Shuttle is free, and serves the otherwise unserved Embarcadero Road corridor, as well as the VA Hospital.
Stanford University runs free buses, called the Marguerite Shuttle, that transport passengers around the university and stop at the Palo Alto Caltrain station. It is free and open to the public.
Bike lanes are nearly everywhere and make riding convenient and safe. One of the most prominent lanes runs down Bryant Street and takes you from South Palo Alto to the downtown district, in North Palo Alto.
Palo Alto traffic is not usually very congested, and parking is plentiful everywhere except the downtown area. Municipal parking is free and fairly well dispersed, but usually limited to 2 hours during the business day.
- 1 Baylands Nature Preserve. The 1,940-acre Baylands Preserve brings you to the edge of San Francisco Bay and is a component of the critical wetlands needed to preserve wildlife and marine life in the San Francisco region; it is a great place to hike, bike, watch birds and enjoy an afternoon. The Lucy Evans Baylands Nature Interpretive Center has interesting educational programs for children and adults. Take Embarcadero Road east to the very end to get there.
- 2 Packard's Garage, 367 Addison Ave. This restored garage is a museum, California Registered and National Historic Landmark -- the site where Hewlett-Packard was founded and the "Birthplace of Silicon Valley." You can only see this from the street.
- 3 Palo Alto Art Center, 1313 Newell Rd, ☏ +1-650-329-2366. A nationally recognized visual arts center that offers a variety of exhibitions, classes, workshops and art education programs. Exhibitions include the best of contemporary fine art, craft, design and new art forms, with a particular emphasis on the art of the San Francisco Bay Area.
- 4 St. Thomas Aquinas Church, 751 Waverley St, ☏ +1 650-494-2496. Fans of the classic cult film, Harold and Maude should head to St. Thomas Aquinas Church, the oldest church in Palo Alto (built in 1902). Intimate and beautiful, with ornate wood ceiling crossbeams and gorgeous stained-glass panels, the sanctuary is the perfect place to step out of the modern world and take a moment for peaceful solitude and reflection.
- 5 Shockley's Laboratory, 391 San Antonio Rd. The other birthplace of Silicon Valley. The first transistors were made here. It was later an international grocery store, but is now vacant. William Shockley was a brilliant researcher, but a lousy manager. His team - which included Gordon Moore and Robert Noyce (co-founders of Intel), Eugene Kleiner (founder of Kleiner-Perkins), Jean Hoerni (founder Union Carbide Electronics), Sheldon Roberts, and others - left to start Fairchild Semiconductors, which lead to Intel and many other companies. It was the silicon transistor that created Silicon Valley.
- 6 Stanford University (just outside Palo Alto). Offers cultural, athletic, natural and educational resources to Palo Alto visitors. For example, Outdoor Sculpture at Stanford University includes a very large collection of large scale works by Rodin in a garden immediately adjoining the Museum of Art, which is also home to a large collection of Rodin sculptures including one of his most famous works, Le Penseur (The Thinker). Look for Andy Goldsworthy's River of Stone a few steps from the museum's front entry. A guided outdoor sculpture tour is conducted the first Sunday of each month at 2PM, rain or shine. The tour lasts about 1½ hours, and begins at the entrance of the Main Quad (where The Oval meets Serra Street). The New Guinea Sculpture Garden, created by New Guinean tribes people, is a beautiful collection of wooden sculptures (next to Roble Dormitory, near the intersection of Lomita Drive and Santa Teresa Street).
- 8 Cantor Center For The Arts. A free museum sponsored by Stanford that hosts art from around the world. It's small size makes it perfect for a couple of hour visit. It has a nice cafe where you can get lunch and coffee.
- 9 The Anderson Collection, 314 Lomita Drive, Stanford, CA 94305, ☏ +1 650 721 6055, [email protected]. A modern art museum that features contemporary works with an emphasis on Californian creators. Free.
- 1 Arastradero Preserve, 1530 Arastradero Rd. A 533-acre open space that contains hiking, biking and equestrian trails.
- 2 Coal Creek Open Space Preserve (Skyline Boulevard). This 508-acre preserve has limited parking, but 5.4 miles of trails, including Crazy Pete's trail, a beautiful hike with a great view. Maybe the best part of this hike is the history. "Crazy" Pete was a miner who lived in Coal Creek preserve and built a road -- named Crazy Pete's road -- in the 1800s. Most people don't know how Crazy Pete got his moniker. Free.
- 3 The Stanford Theater, 221 University Ave. An old theater showing classics from the 1930s through the 1950s (not open year round). Sometimes features an organist playing live before screenings.
- Stanford University Free Lectures and Events. Unless you are a student at Stanford, you won't get into classes for free at this acclaimed university, but there are some events and lectures open to the public each month. Parking can be hard to come by close to the venues of events, but the university runs a free shuttle bus, called the Marguerite, that picks up passengers at several locations including the Palo Alto Caltrain station and deposits them within easy walking distance of most event sites. The online schedule of lectures and events is updated frequently and usually lists at least five to seven upcoming free happenings.
- 4 The Dish Walk (trailhead is at the intersection of Junipero Serra and Stanford Avenue). A great way to start the day, a 4 mile walk around Stanford's nature preserve that is complete with gorgeous views of the Bay and the city. Called the Dish Walk because of a 150-foot diameter radio telescope dish crowning the mountain, this network of paved paths and trails around the Stanford foothills west of Junipero Serra Blvd, offers numerous hillside trail runs and hikes. The public hiking trails are only accessible during daylight hours. There's not much shade, so wear sunscreen. Sorry, dogs are prohibited. Free.
- 5 Hot Tubs at Watercourse Way, 165 Channing Avenue, ☏ +1 650-462-2000. Japanese-style hot tubs.
- Hike at the Baylands, East Palo Alto. At the extreme east end of Bay Road, a small parking lot and trails near the bay provide excellent views of the south bay and plenty of birdwatching. It is believed that mountain lions live in the baylands, so do not walk alone.
- Foothills Park, ☏ +1 650 329 2423, [email protected]. 8am-sunset. A park with a small lake and hiking trails. Formerly limited to Palo Alto residents but opened to the public in December 2020. $6 per vehicle per day.
Palo Alto's main shopping district is on University Avenue, between El Camino Real and Middlefield Road. It is a great long street of shopping, coffee spots, eateries and outdoor dining. Influenced by a college and upscale tech demographic, there is a variety of stores available from the local shop, to a unique designer store. A second, smaller shopping area is on California Avenue between El Camino Real and Alma.
- 1 Stanford Shopping Center, 660 Stanford Shopping Center (Sand Hill Road and El Camino Real). A large upscale mall that features Neiman-Marcus, Nordstrom's, Bloomingdale, Macy's and one hundred and forty other stores.
- 2 Patrick James menswear, 855 El Camino Real, Ste 20 (Town and Country Village). Offering traditional menswear, including cufflinks, suits, weekend wear, resort clothing, and custom-made shirts. Providing high quality suits and exceptional service.
- 3 Leaf & Petal, 439 California Ave. Excellent womenswear boutique with great service and the best selection of contemporary apparel in town. They carry emerging designer brands and have a gorgeous selection of jewelry and handbags.
- 4 Lyons Limited Prints, 10 Town and Country Village (El Camino Real and Embarcadero). Check out the impressive array of botanical and architectural prints, maps, and city views for sale. Any of the works sold here can be framed and shipped.
- 5 Cielo, 110 Stanford Shopping Ctr (Stanford Shopping Center), ☏ +1-650-329-8833. High end designer labels can be found here, including Dries, Vanessa Bruno, Zucca, etc. While staff can be a little impersonal, concentrate on the beautiful fabrics and well cut clothing.
|This page uses the following price ranges for a typical meal for one, including soft drink:|
|Mid-range||$10 - $20|
- 1 Izzy's Brooklyn Bagels, 477 S California Ave, ☏ +1 650 329-0700. M-Th 6AM-5PM, F 6AM-4PM, Sa-Su 7AM-3PM. Popular and rightly so.
- 2 Scoop Microcreamery, 203 University Ave, ☏ +1 650 384-6939, [email protected]. Su-Th noon-10PM, F Sa noon-11PM. A mom and pop ice cream shop with a twist - nitrogen-chilled ice cream made and frozen on site. All ingredients are locally sourced, waffle cones are made fresh daily, and all serveware is either reusable or biodegradable.
- Coupa Café. Local chain with about ten locations, most in Palo Alto or Stanford. A casual café with outdoor tables, popular with locals and students. In addition to coffee, pastries, and smoothies, it has various wraps, sandwiches, and salads. About $10 for a sandwich or wrap.
- 3 Bistro Maxine, 548 Ramona St (Exit 101 onto University Ave go 2.2 miles turn left onto Ramona), ☏ +1 650 323-1815. Tu-Sa 8AM-10PM and Su 9AM-4PM closed Monday. Located in downtown Palo Alto, Bistro Maxine is the perfect location for French bistro feel and European atmosphere. Opened in June 2006, it is the only place to offer real authentic French crêpes. $8-15.
- 4 La Bodeguita del Medio, 463 S. California Ave, ☏ +1 650 326-7762. A great bar and restaurant featuring Cuban inspired cuisine. A friendly and welcoming neighborhood place with a walk-in humidor and smoking patio. There is also a great bar with over 50 sipping rums featuring Cuban inspired cuisine.
- 5 Buca di Beppo, 643 Emerson St, ☏ +1 650 329-0665. Family style Italian cuisine, and they do mean family style - one entree will feed multiple people. They do not accept reservations, so get there early.
- 6 Nola, 535 Ramona St, ☏ +1 650 328-2722. New Orleans themed restaurant with good food. Rowdy bar famous for its Hurricane cocktail.
- 7 PF Chang's, 900 Stanford Shopping Center (Stanford Shopping Center), ☏ +1 650 330-1782. Offers California-style Asian cuisine in a bistro environment.
- 8 Pizza Chicago, 4115 El Camino Real, ☏ +1 650 424-9400. Su-Th 11AM - 10PM, F Sa 11AM - 11PM. Great deep dish pizza, although a tad more expensive than your average pie.
- 9 Pizza My Heart, 220 University Ave, ☏ +1 650 327-9400. By the slice or by the pie, this place serves up some pretty good pizza. Thin crust only.
- 10 Pluto's, 482 University Ave (at Cowper), ☏ +1 650 853-1556, fax: +1 650 327-9569. Some of the tastiest and healthiest sandwiches and salads to be found in the Bay Area. Anything with roasted turkey is particularly recommended.
- 11 So Gong Dong Tofu House, 4127 El Camino Real, ☏ +1 650 424-8805. Gong Dong has a bright and cheery decor which complements the tasty and healthy cuisine. Dishes include tofu soup, beef dish, and short rib dish which are all rich tasting and delicious. Servers are standing by to explain the menu and the intricacies of the cuisine.
- 12 Sprout Cafe, 168 University Ave, ☏ +1 650 323-7688. The best fresh salads in town, great home made soup including a killer butternut squash, delicious sandwiches and small bites. A great place to have lunch during a shopping or sightseeing trip downtown.
- 13 Sushi House, 855 El Camino Real # 158 (Town & Country Village), ☏ +1 650 321-3453. Moderately priced Japanese cuisine. A good alternative to Fuki Sushi.
- 14 Taqueria El Grullense, 3636 El Camino Real, ☏ +1 650 251-9317. Visit the taqueria and be sure to give their salsa verde a try. Grullense has become famous for its "Super Burritos", which are tasty and very filling.
- 15 Oren's Hummus, 261 University Avenue, ☏ +1-650-752-6492, [email protected]. 11AM–11PM. Hummus bowls, eggplant dishes, and other Mediterranean cuisine. Lots of gluten-free and vegan options. Most dishes about $12–17.
- 16 Zareen's, 365 S. California Avenue, ☏ +1 650 562-8700. M–Th 11:30AM–9PM, F 11:30AM–10PM, Sa 11AM–10PM, Su 11AM–9PM. Pakistani and Indian cuisine.
- 17 Crowne Plaza Cabana, 4290 El Camino Real, ☏ +1 650 857-0787. Features perhaps the most sumptuous brunch buffet that you may experience, on weekends only though. Though a typical Sunday champagne brunch here is $30 (after tax and tip), the amount of food offered and the quality and freshness of food is impressive and well worth it.
- 18 Fuki Sushi, 4119 El Camino Real. Best Japanese food near Palo Alto, albeit expensive even by local standards.
- 19 Sundance the Steakhouse, 1921 El Camino Real, ☏ +1 650 321-6798. A very good steakhouse with superb prime rib and a great whiskey peppercorn sauce to go with it; pricey and worth it. The clam chowder is rich and delicious. The restaurant is quiet and provides excellent ambiance for a leisurely dinner.
- 20 Tamarine, 546 University Ave, ☏ +1 650 325-8500. With a cool but comfortable decor, Tamarine offers consistently well prepared Vietnamese cuisine. Pair your clay pot cod with a tasty cocktail from their extensive cocktail list, and combine it with exceptional service, and you have got the makings for a perfect night out.
- 1 Antonio's Nut House, 321 S. California Ave, ☏ +1 650 321-2550. Popular destination for locals. Primarily a blue collar bar, but dot-com people come through every now and then for a round of pool. Free peanuts for patrons and you can even throw the shells onto the floor.
- 2 Gordon Biersch, 640 Emerson St, ☏ +1 650 323-7723. Although their brick building looks like an unassuming basic beerhouse, they offer food that attempts to be a notch above. This local Palo Alto bar is a must do, especially with the beer being produced on-site. Or sample one of their classic, German inspired microbrews or seasonal specialty beers which, by the way, is an excellent way to spend an afternoon, or a very long evening. This is the original brewery which spawned the nationwide Gordon Biersch chain.
- 3 The Old Pro, 541 Ramona St, ☏ +1 650 326-1446. Loud, energetic sports bar in a high traffic part of downtown Palo Alto. A frequent for Stanford students to hang out at.
- 4 Quattro Restaurant & Bar, 2050 University Ave (Four Seasons Hotel), ☏ +1 650 566-1200. Distinctive all-day restaurant, large outdoor terrace and bar. 1/2 price wine on Fridays.
- 1 Cardinal Hotel, 235 Hamilton Ave, ☏ +1 650 323-5101.
- 2 Comfort Inn Palo Alto, 3945 El Camino Real, ☏ +1 650 493-3141.
- 3 Creekside Inn, 3400 El Camino Real, ☏ +1 650 493-2411.
- 4 Crowne Plaza Hotel, 4290 El Camino Real, ☏ +1 650 857-0787.
- 5 Days Inn Palo Alto, 4238 El Camino Real, ☏ +1 650 493-4222.
- 6 Garden Court Hotel, 520 Cowper St (Downtown).
- 7 Hotel Keen, 425 High St, ☏ +1 650 327-2775. Check-in: 3PM, check-out: noon. Hotel with free wi-fi, great service, clean and new rooms. However, on the other hand, restrooms have no doors (might be problematic if you are two), and the place is a bit noisy. 120-150$.
- 8 Hotel Parmani, 3200 El Camino Real, ☏ +1-650-493-9085.
- 9 Quality Inn Palo Alto, 3901 El Camino Real, toll-free: +1-800-424-6423.
- 10 Stanford Motor Inn, 3305 El Camino Real.
- 11 [dead link] The Stanford Terrace Inn, 531 Stanford Ave, ☏ +1 650 857-0333.
- 12 Four Seasons, 2050 University Avenue (University Circle), ☏ +1 650 566-1200. Located in the small section of East Palo Alto that is on the Palo Alto side of the freeway in a safe location.
Palo Alto enjoys a very low crime rate, although visitors should take basic precautions against petty crime as with any college town or tourist hotspot. Palo Alto's downtown is home to a small number of homeless people and beggars, but they are much less visible than their counterparts in Berkeley.
The city of East Palo Alto and the unincorporated area of North Fair Oaks suffer from high crime rates and should be avoided or traversed quickly. In East Palo Alto, there are many perfectly decent shops and restaurants, but it is best to know where you are going and not to wander aimlessly.
Downtown Palo Alto, along University Avenue, has free Wi-Fi.
- Apple Store, 451 University Avenue. All the computers are on Wi-Fi and free to use.
- Palo Alto Cafe, 2675 Middlefield Road. Has a free Wi-Fi hotspot.
- Palo Alto's Downtown Wi-Fi Internet Hotzone
- The Stanford Marguerite Shuttle is free to use and has free Wi-Fi on board.
Palo Alto is a good base of operations for visiting both the Silicon Valley and San Francisco, as it is halfway between that city and San Jose.
Trips to San Francisco on Caltrain leave frequently and stop just south of downtown. The ride lasts about an hour, and Caltrain's rush-hour Baby Bullets travel the distance even faster. Check out Caltrain schedules, and make sure to buy a ticket before boarding.
To the west, the beautiful Coastal Range provides excellent biking, hiking, and other outdoor sports. Taking Page Mill Road due west will get you, eventually, to Highway 1 on the beautiful peninsula coast (although Highways 84 and 92 are preferable, especially the latter). And Santa Cruz is accessible from Highway 17, Skyline Boulevard (Highway 35 to Highway 9), or beautiful Highway 1.
If you're touring universities, the University of California, Berkeley is just across the bay. Take US-101 north through San Francisco and across the Bay Bridge to I-580 north, exiting University Avenue. Or by public transport, take the Stanford Marguerite shuttle to Caltrain and ride to Millbrae. At Millbrae, switch to BART and ride to Downtown Berkeley. (See 511.org for more).
|Routes through Palo Alto|
|San Francisco ← Menlo Park ←||N S||→ Mountain View → San Jose|