Palo Alto-Stanford, CA
Best things to do around Palo Alto & Stanford University

Palo Alto, the home of Stanford University, is basically just a very pleasant residential suburb for those who can afford the expensive housing. Many Stanford graduates end up sticking around for the great weather and Silicon Valley business opportunities.

The Palo Alto-Stanford University area does makes for a nice day trip if you know where to go. Otherwise you can waste a lot of time just driving around suburbs without seeing much. Review our Stanford-Palo Alto map for exact locations and more details about the places highlighted in bold below.

Stanford University    map top

Rodin Sculpture Garden

Rodin Sculpture Garden

The best way to see Stanford campus is by bicycle though the central area (Memorial Church to the Bookstore) is definitely walkable. The campus is spread out and flat making for pleasant bike riding and the weather is often fantastic. It is so nice that even billionaires participate.  For example, once while in the College Terrace residential neighborhood between Stanford and Stanford Industrial Park, we came across Steve Jobs biking along with one of his kids.

As you walk or ride around, visit the University Bookstore & Tressider Student Union, Stanford Memorial Church in the Quad, the Rodin Sculpture Garden (outside the Cantor Arts Center).

Also go by the athletic facilities on campus east of Campus Drive. Stanford Football Stadium and Sunken Diamond Baseball Stadium are two of the best in the country. There are practices or games for a wide variety of sports going on in this area almost every day of the school year. In fact, the Cardinal usually wins the Director’s Cup for scoring the most Division I points based on placement in 21 different intercollegiate sports. See schedules for official game times of all varsity sports.

One hidden gem on Stanford campus is the Cantor Arts Center with its interesting & diverse art collection including the largest grouping of Rodin bronzes outside of Paris.  For those who enjoy hiking, a favorite with students and professors is the Stanford Dish Hiking Trail, Stanford Ave/Junipero Serra Blvd; this is a 3.7 mile paved loop near the radio telescopes on the beautiful foothills behind Stanford.

Rosottis aka Alpine Beer Garden

Alpine Beer Garden

Though we haven’t been back for decades, some of the best greasy hamburger & cold beer off-campus hangouts for Stanford grad students still remain:

  • The Oasis Beer Garden, 241 El Camino Real, Menlo Park. Lots of peanut shells on the floor.
  • The Dutch Goose, 3567 Alameda De Las Pulgas, Menlo Park. The old Dutch Goose has been completely torn down and replaced by a new building; it lost some ambiance. We tried to get a burger there recently but the patio, where our dog was allowed, was too crowded.
  • Alpine Beer Garden aka Zotts aka Rosottis, 3915 Alpine Rd, Portola Valley, is another traditional favorite. “A Roadhouse with Teslas parked next to Harleys parked next to horses” is one way this place has been described. The food isn’t outstanding but, with plenty friends and beer on a hot summer day at the picnic tables out back, it is a lot better than studying.

Here are some newer hangouts:

  • The outdoor patio at Madera Lounge in Rosewood Hotel on Sand Hill Rd/Hwy 280, across the street from the epicenter of venture capital, is a much, much classier place that rich older grads will enjoy.
  • Antonios Nuthouse, 321 S California Ave, is a newer dive bar that has become a student favorite. It even has a tacqueria restaurant inside where you can get tacos, enchiladas, & chips.
  • Back A Yard Caribbean American Grill, 1189 Willow Rd, Menlo Park, just one block east of Hwy 101, is a “back home” place which the students don’t seem to have found yet; perhaps it is because beer is not served. :) Ambience is questionable but they have very, very tasty grilled Caribbean food at reasonable prices. The jerk pork, oxtails, and fried bread (called corn festivals) are great examples. Spicing is excellent and not too strong.

University Avenue    map top

Coupa Cafe

Coupa Cafe

This 7-block long strip, along University Ave between Alma St and Webster St, is one of the busiest & best shopping & restaurant streets on the Peninsula day or night. It’s an excellent place for a sunny day stroll and for coffee or food at a wide variety of shops. E.g.,

  • Cream Ice Cream, 440 University/Kipling St — Good inexpensive ice cream & cookie sandwiches.
  • Blue Bottle Cafe, 456 University/Kipling St —  This up scale SF coffee shop took over from the old Borders Store which was once the Varsity Theater.
    • Coupa Cafe, 538 Ramona St/University — a student favorite
    • Paris Baguette, 383 University/Waverly — the wide selection of pastries makes this Korean chain another favorite.
    • Cafe Venetia, 419 University/Waverly — more traditional high-end coffee shop
    • Peets & Starbucks the old faithfuls can be found on University Ave as well.
  • Philz Coffee, 101 Forest Ave/Alma — Excellent handmade drip coffee off the beaten path but still near University Ave. There is also another Philz in midtown at 3191 Middlefield Rd.

A beautiful glass Apple Store has opened at 340 University Ave/Waverly; we used to see Steve Jobs watching the action at the first & original University Ave store it replaced. At the Hwy 101 end of University Ave is Ikea, the famous giant Swedish Furniture store, which also worth seeing if you’ve never been there.

Parking can usually be found in one of the many city lots on the two streets which parallel University Ave … Lytton Ave to the north of University Ave and Hamilton Ave to the south of University Ave.  Just drive around or check out this difficult to read pdf map.  The big multi-story garages off Webster & Cowper (south of University) or off Bryant (north of University) often have spaces.

For an idea of how the local yuppies live visit Whole Food Market, at 774 Emerson St/Homer Ave. You can buy baked goods food to go there and eat at tables inside the store. Peet’s Coffee Shop is next door.

Stanford Shopping Center    map top

Stanford Shopping Center

Stanford Shopping Center

Stanford Shopping Mall is a big, nice outdoors mall with all the top stores. It is probably the highest-end shopping center in the SF Bay Area making it a good place to hang out with the casual, rich, well educated crowd. (Note: For more good shopping see Bay Area Malls including the most popular hang out in San Jose, Santana Row).

We’ve had good times at P.F. Changs Chinese Restaurant and for a nice expensive dining & happy hour experience try Flemings Prime Rib Steak House.

California Ave    map top

Farmers Market in Palo Alto

California Ave Farmers Market

La Bodeguita Del Media Restaurant

La Bodeguita’s back patio for cigar smokers

California Avenue is definitely coming to life. Decades ago, when I had a business there under the old Stacey’s Bookstore, it was very pleasant but definitely sleepy. Now, this is a popular neighborhood shopping street many locals prefer to the more urban University Ave.

The excellent Certified Farmers Market every Sunday from 10 am-4 pm is a good place to visit. While there check out:

  • Cafe Zombie Gourmet Coffee, strangely located inside the ZombieRunner running store at 429 S California Ave. When I jokingly asked the barista if his latte is as fine as San Francisco’s famous Blue Bottle Coffee’s … he said “Yes” and added “because we care more.” Good answer and good drip coffee.
  • Izzy’s Brooklyn Bagels, 477 S California Ave near El Camino, is a very popular local’s spot for good bagels.

For food on California Ave we enjoy:

  • The atmosphere at Pasti’s French Bistro, 447 S California Ave. It’s one of the few French bistros in Palo Alto.
  • The marinated skirt steak/coconut crusted shrimp combo, banana dessert, and Ernest Hemingway’s favorite drinks at La Bodeguita Del Medio. Cigar smokers have their own licensed retail cigar shop and lounge out back.
  • Antonios Nuthouse, at Birch St, is a popular dive bar (& tacqueria) with the college grad student crowd.
Waiting for gourmet coffee inside ZombieRunner running store

Waiting for gourmet coffee inside ZombieRunner running store

Stanford Industrial Park    map top

Stanford Research Park, the birthplace of Silicon Valley, was originally conceived by the dean of Stanford’s School of Engineering, Professor Frederick Terman.  General Electric, Eastman Kodak, Lockheed and Hewlett-Packard were important early tenants.  It is the first (1951) technology-focused and first university-owned industrial park in the world.

It is older now and not exciting, after all this is an industrial park, but still the quarters about 140 different companies and 23,000 employees. Facebook was a recent tenant before moving nearby (across Highway 101 to 1601 Willow Road, Menlo Park).

Towns near Palo Alto    map top

Northwest of Palo Alto are the expensive suburban towns of Menlo Park, Atherton, and Woodside.

  • Menlo Park is similar to Palo Alto (but without Stanford University, Shopping Center, and Industrial Park). The main shopping street is Santa Cruz Ave which runs southwest of El Camino for about 6 blocks. At the El Camino end of Santa Cruz Ave is an old time favorite, Kepler’s Books, 1010 El Camino Real. Another local favorite is Peets Coffee shop at Santa Cruz Ave and University Dr. One block further southwest is Menlo Park Presbyterian Church, a large church which is popular with the wealthy Peninsula crowd.
  • Atherton is where the especially wealthy doctors and businessmen live, usually behind walls. So, there is not much to see.  Joe Montana lived here in Atherton for about 10 years before moving to a 600 acre spread in wine country.
  • Woodside is more rural and is home to many of the venture capitalists who office in nearby Menlo Park along Sand Hill Circle (north corner of Sand Hill Road & Hwy 280) and drink at Madera Lounge-Rosewood Hotel across the street. Woodside’s The Village Pub, 2967 Woodside Road, is quite nice, comfortable, bustling, and expensive. It has excellent food and service as you would expect from a one-star Michelin restaurant.

Southeast of Palo Alto are the towns of Los Altos and Mountain View.

  • Los Altos is a pleasant suburb with mainly ranch style homes and fantastic weather. Its primary shopping street is Main Street, just north of Foothill Expressway. Nothing exciting; just pleasant.
  • Mountain View is a less expensive and more ethnic town just south of Palo Alto. It has a fairly active shopping district with several ethnic restaurants and a book store on Castro St, between El Camino & Central Expressway. Google’s world headquarters is also in Mountain View, off Rengstorff Ave a couple of blocks north of Hwy 101.

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