Named after the renowned California Redwood, this hip and vibrant city is recognized worldwide as a leader in technological development. The “birthplace of Silicon Valley” is home to powerhouses such as Google, Facebook, Tesla, Packard (HP), Quora, PayPal, Skype, making it a diverse metropolis and popular tourist destination. While maintaining its California heritage and tradition, there has been more change in demographics, culture, and values in the San Francisco Bay Area in recent years because of the dominant tech industry. Check out this City Spotlight: Palo Alto.
This change is because of California's largest heritage language communities within the United States. In 2007, about 43% of individuals in California spoke a language other than English when at home, a number which has continued to increase year after year. After English, the top three languages spoken in California are Spanish, Chinese, and Korean.
Whether you plan to live in Palo Alto or just visiting for a weekend, this state-of-the-art city is packed with fun things to do and places to see in the Palo Alto area to make your time here enjoyable.
Things to do in Palo Alto
Whether you want to spend your time in the city or focus on the outdoors, Palo Alto offers both. The main visitor attraction is the Stanford University campus. Located right in the center of Palo Alto, you can find the Stanford Shopping Center or the Hoover Tower. The shopping center has approximately 140 shops, cafes, and restaurants, making it one of the best in the United States. Café Venetia is a popular coffee spot located on University Avenue. Tours of the Hoover Tower are offered daily. Here you can climb to the observation deck for a spectacular view of the San Francisco Bay Area and the Santa Cruz Mountains. The cost for a ticket is cheap, ranging from only $3-$4 for adults and children.
Downtown Palo Alto
If you want to shop, then go to Downtown Palo Alto, which has a shopping district surrounding California Avenue. Here you will also find boutiques and restaurants popular among locals. On Ramona Street, Coupa Café has coffee from all over the world. Some other popular places in downtown Palo Alto are Castro Street, Los Altos, and Menlo Park. On El Camino Real, you can find the Town and Country Village. If shopping becomes too tiring, pop into a local bookstore, art gallery, or movie theater.
On a nice Saturday morning, you can take a stroll through the Downtown Palo Alto Farmers’ Market, which is open on Saturdays from 8am to Noon. The California Avenue Farmers’ Market is open on Sundays from 9am to 1pm.
As expected with such a popular destination, parking can be difficult on Fridays and Saturdays. While parking is free on California Avenue, you may need to find parking elsewhere for your night on the town. Luckily, the city of Palo Alto has a user-friendly parking map for residents and visitors, letting you know the logistics of parking in the city.
If you want an outdoorsy excursion for the day, Palo Alto has a wide selection of gardens for a relaxing, leisurely stroll. For fascinating Botanical Gardens, go to the Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve, where birdwatchers from all over the world come to see a variety of bird species stopover during their migration on the West Coast. You can also explore Filoli, the Gamble Garden, and Sunset Magazine Gardens.
Palo Alto and its neighboring areas have beautiful hiking trails. The Dish is a trail popular among Stanford University students and staff. Located at the Stanford Foothills, the 4-mile trail allows for a brisk walk or a challenging run. Many reviews say there is a splendid view of Palo Alto and wildlife. Monte Bello Open Space Preserve is another trail located at the center of the South Skyline Region. If you’re looking for something closer to town, then the Baylands Nature Preserve trail head is a wonderful place to go. To get a pleasant view of the Redwoods, the Redwood Grove Park on University Avenue. If bringing your dog on a hike with you is something that you are interested in, Pulgas Ridge Open Space Preserve, Pearson Arastradero Preserve, and the Baylands Nature Preserve are a few trails that are dog-friendly.
Places to Eat
Palo Alto can be an expensive place to eat, making it the perfect place to splurge at a nice restaurant. Just like the diversity of people, you will find a diversity of restaurants, so you are bound to find something to satisfy your taste buds.
Nestled in downtown Palo Alto, this Mediterranean restaurant combines fine dining with a traditional open kitchen. The cozy and inviting environment of this locale gives off an authentic Greek charm, making you feel like an old friend rather than a guest. There's a reason this restaurant tops the most "popular restaurant" lists in Palo Alto.
La Bodeguita del Medio
If you are craving Latino food, swing by La Bodeguita del Medio. This Latino eatery is modeled after Cuba’s most famous restaurant. While it is a hotspot for many locals, the main attraction for tourists are the personalities who have passed through, such as Ernest Hemingway, Salvador Allende, and Pablo Neruda. The Havana haven offers a variety of wines, meat dishes, as well as cigars. As Hemingway said: “My mojito in La Bodeguita, my daiquiri in El Floridita.” He was right -- the mojitos aren’t bad either.
A family-owned business located in Menlo Park, Café Borrone is owned by Marina Borrone and her husband is the head chef. Everything here is made from scratch and the fresh, organic ingredients are sourced from local farms. Here you can dine outside while enjoying live jazz music. You may find people dancing outside on the patio, as well.
Things to Know About Palo AltoWeather
If you are planning to move to Palo Alto, expect sunny skies 261 out 365 days a year. Because of its location in on the downhill side of the Santa Cruz Mountains, Palo Alto falls in the “rain shadow” where there is little rain. The average temperature in July is around 78 degrees Fahrenheit with a low of 39 degrees in January, almost perfect weather for each season.
Traffic & Transportation
Because so many people work in the tech industry, rush hour traffic can last several hours (3-4 hours) almost every week day. However, Palo Alto has a great public transportation system. It has an internal shuttle service and is biker-friendly, making it easy to bike to work or around the city. Bike lanes are called “Bike Boulevards” and the paths are typically flat, so you won't have to worry about breaking a sweat. The Caltrain is a commuter train that runs to San Francisco and other cities in Silicon Valley.
Family, Kids, and School
The city is family-friendly. Palo Alto has a nice suburban feel and a fantastic public-school system, with high rankings by the U.S. News and World Report thanks to ridiculously high standardized test scores.
Due to an influx of foreign-born residents, recent studies have shown most residents in Palo Alto are Latino or Asian. This diversity is manifested in the school system, where student variety increases every year. Since 2010, the Palo Alto Unified School District has more minority students than white students.
A Trip to Remember
Whether you are passing through or plan to stay a while, Palo Alto is an ideal place to be. With sunny skies and perfect temperatures year-round, visitors and residents are constantly immersed in the nationwide trends the city is setting. You’ll also get a glimpse of authentic California heritage and the increasingly diverse locals striving to succeed in the tech industry. Countless sights await your exploration to give you the experience of a lifetime. If you are local to Palo Alto or have visited before, we would love to hear your recommendations on things to do, places to see, or restaurants to try in the comments below!