Palo Alto, California

Palo Alto, California Profile

Stanford University in Palo Alto, CA
••• Stanford University in Palo Alto, CA. Getty Images: Mark Miller Photography

Known in popular shows and movies as a tech destination, Palo Alto is the perfect mix of traditional and up-and-coming. With spawning high tech businesses such as Apple Computer, countless start-ups, and the old red brick buildings that make up Stanford University, the area sets the tone for the diverse local attractions and places to see in Palo Alto.

You can build your itinerary to see the many places to visit in Palo Alto using the resources below.

Why You Should Go

Palo Alto is popular with shoppers, technophiles, and anyone who likes the arts. It's a great way to get the urban hipster vibe of San Francisco (about 30 miles away) with a much more suburban feel. 

Seven Great Things to Do

Stanford University Campus: Explore the famouse campus on daily, free, guided walking tours or take in Hoover Tower's panoramic Bay Area views. Across campus, you can see the largest August Rodin sculpture collection outside Paris' Musee Rodin at the Cantor Art Center.

Stanford Linear Accelerator (SLAC): Even people whose eyes cross when someone mentions particle physics enjoy seeing the center's two-mile-long building (the world's longest) and the giant detectors SLAC uses to observe subatomic particles. Your tour guide, a Stanford graduate student, could be the center's next Nobel Prize-winner, so pay attention even if their math and physics-oriented jokes aren't funny.

Hanna House: A glass-fronted collection of hexagonal spaces centered on a brick chimney, this house is among architect Frank Lloyd Wright's 17 most important buildings according to the Institute of American Architects. Docents lead regular tours of the house built in 1938 for Stanford professor Paul Hanna.

Stanford Theatre: A University Avenue landmark since 1925, the restored Assyrian/Greek-style movie palace plays classic films produced from the 1920s to the 1960s. A pre-show organ concert starts the Stanford Theatre experience, and owner David Packard sometimes shows up to relate how he collected copies from around the world to create the print they're screening.

Filoli Gardens: In nearby Woodside, this 645-acre, early-twentieth-century estate boasts a 16-acre formal garden surrounding a California eclectic-style house.

High Tech, Humble Beginnings: Technophiles can't resist the urge to see Palo Alto's famous garages: Hewlett-Packard's is at 367 Addison Avenue and the Macintosh computer's birthplaceis at 2066 Crist Drive.

Annual Events You Should Know About

Stanford University graduation is held in mid-June, so you may have a hard time finding parking if you're going there for fun. Also, the annual football game between University of California at Berkeley and Stanford happens in late November or early December. It's so important to some people that it's just called the "Big Game." If you don't want to get stuck amid tailgaters and college football enthusiasts, check the schedule for this year's date.

Best Time to Go

I like Palo Alto best fall through spring when students enliven the downtown scene. Crowds attending Stanford football games or graduation ceremonies can make finding a parking place more difficult than passing a Ph.D. oral exam.

Tips for Visiting

  • Stanford University functions can stretch capacity everywhere, including the streets and restaurants.
  • Parking can be hard to find in downtown Palo Alto; the city employs a somewhat confusing system of colored "zones," each with its own time limits and regulations. Use this pdf file to find all the options.
  • A small but sometimes persistent group of panhandlers sometimes hang around the street corners downtown. Your best option to keep them from hassling you is not to engage with them.

Where to Stay

You can see Palo Alto in a day from San Francisco or San Jose, but if you plan to spend the night, you'll find places to stay ranging from bed and breakfast inns to four-star hotels.

Where Is Palo Alto?

Palo Alto is located midway down the peninsula between San Francisco and San Jose. Drivers can reach Palo Alto from US Hwy 101 (exiting at University Avenue west) or from I-280 (exiting at Page Mill or San Hill Roads). 

To get there via public transportation, catch Caltrain and get off at University Avenue downtown. From there, the Marguerite Shuttle runs to the university campus.