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17 Fun & Best Things to Do in Palo Alto, California

17 Fun & Best Things to Do in Palo Alto, California

If you’re looking for a fun day out in Palo Alto, California, you’ll find no shortage of activities to enjoy. From exploring the Stanford University campus to strolling through Gamble Garden, there’s something for everyone in the Palo Alto area.

Gorgeous, sunny Palo Alto is situated in the upper western corner of Santa Clara County in the San Francisco Bay Area and is close to the often underrated California city of San Jose. It is a principal city of tech paradise, Silicon Valley, and home to the world-renowned Stanford University.

Indeed, much of Palo Alto’s history is intricately connected to Stanford University and its founders, Leland and Jane Stanford. Established in 1884, Palo Alto came into being mainly because of the creation of this prestigious institution. After losing their only son to typhoid, Leland and Jane decided to build a university in his memory.

Palo Alto, first known as University Park, sprung up around the school, becoming its own community of students and businesspeople, spilling over from the neighboring town of Mayfield. Today, the city continues to thrive, home to some of the most educated people in the US, as well as a slew of tech companies.

Here are the best things to do in Palo Alto, California.

Dinahs Garden Hotel
1. Dinah's Garden Hotel Top Recommendation

Looking for a place to stay near Palo Alto that's both serene and convenient? Look no further than Dinah's Garden Hotel! The beautiful property is surrounded by lagoons and waterfalls, and just a short drive from downtown. Plus, all of the rooms come equipped with free Wi-Fi and flat-screen TVs— perfect for kicking back after a long day of exploring. When you're ready to venture out, you can take a dip in our outdoor pool or stroll through the nearby gardens.

Hilton Garden Inn Palo Alto
2. Hilton Garden Inn Palo Alto

The Hilton Garden Inn Palo Alto is the perfect place to stay for business or pleasure. The rooms are decorated with modern amenities and elegant décor, and feature free WiFi, a flat-screen cable TV, and a seating area. The en suite bathroom come stocked with fresh linens and towels. The hotel also has an indoor pool, perfect for a refreshing swim.

The Palo Alto Inn
3. The Palo Alto Inn

The Palo Alto Inn is a great choice for travelers who are looking for a convenient and affordable place to stay. Located just a mile off the Central Expressway, the hotel is just a minute’s drive from the San Antonio Shopping Center. The hotel features free Wi-Fi access, a microwave, refrigerator and coffee maker in every room, satellite TV and a DVD player, and is furnished with a work desk. The front desk is staffed 24 hours a day, and there is also a business center that offers fax and copy services.

TLDR

  • Most significant landmark – Stanford University
  • Best park – Mitchell Park
  • Best free activity – Cantor Arts Center
  • Best activity for kids – Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo
  • Best activity for adults – Stanford Theatre
  • Best food – Howie’s Artisan Pizza
  • Best nightlife – The Patio @ Rudy’s
  • Best all-around accommodation – Dinah’s Garden Hotel

Fun & Best Things to Do in Palo Alto, California

9 Best Things to Do in Palo Alto, California - Travel Guide

1. Visit the Hewlett-Packard Garage

Hewlett-Packard Garage Entrance
image by arnybo is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Address: 367 Addison Ave, Palo Alto, CA 94301

The Hewlett-Packard Garage is one of our favorite Palo Alto attractions and a must-see for tourists, especially if you’re interested in tech history. Considered the birthplace of Silicon Valley, this discreet little hideaway is now a California Historical Landmark and a National Historic Landmark.

Once the home of Dave Packard and Bill Hewlett, it was in this one-car garage that they invented their first audio oscillator and established themselves as would-be giants in the IT industry.

As the bronze plaque by the door declares, it’s hard to imagine how different the Valley might have looked if these Stanford grads hadn’t been convinced by their teachers to stay in California. While the Hewlett-Packard Garage isn’t open to the public, it’s rife with photo opportunities from the street or sidewalk.

See Related: Fun Things to Do in Palm Springs, California

2. Check Out the Cantor Arts Center

Cantor Arts Center Building
David Monniaux, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Address: 328 Lomita Dr, Stanford, CA 94305

Art buffs can visit the world-renowned Cantor Arts Center on the Stanford University Campus to view some of their 38,000-piece-strong visual arts collection.

And the best part? It’s free. A short walk from the Stanford Visitor Center, the Cantor Arts Center, also established by the Leland family, began with its private collection. But after the disastrous San Francisco earthquake in 1906, it seemed to be on the brink of closure.

It remained in disrepair until 1917 when Pedro Joseph de Lemos was brought in as curator, building and growing the museum’s collection, albeit kind of poorly. By 1953, the Committee for Art at Stanford was established, tasked with the lengthy process of once more revitalizing the seemingly ill-fated Stanford University museum.

Unfortunately, it suffered structural damage again in 1989, during the Loma Prieta earthquake. Still, after investment by various historians, patrons, and collectors, numerous refurbishments, and donations, it reopened in 1999 and has been going strong ever since.

Today, the Cantor Arts Center is home to the world’s second-largest collection of Rodin sculptures, as well as many rotating and permanent exhibits. The Bronze Sculpture Garden is a must, and we highly recommend setting at least half a day aside for traversing through the galleries.

See Related: Best Day Trips from San Francisco, California

3. Watch a Film at the Stanford Theatre

Stanford Theatre
image by BWChicago is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Address: 221 University Ave, Palo Alto, CA 94301

Once you’ve had your fill of art, you simply have to catch a classic film at Stanford Theatre on University Avenue. But be warned. They only screen movies that were released between 1910 and 1970.

That said, you’ll definitely feel like you’ve traveled back in time, especially considering the neoclassical architecture of the building. Another prominent feature of this landmark theater is its Mighty Wurlitzer Organ, designed and installed to accompany silent films or to be played during intermissions.

Today, the Stanford Theatre is responsible for 25% of classic film ticket sales in the US. Even so, it wasn’t always smooth sailing for the Stanford Theatre. It fell on hard times in the 1960s, with attendance dropping to a dismal rate.

Fortunately, it was purchased and restored in 1987 by none other than the Packard family. It is currently owned by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

See Related: Best Things to do in California & Places to Visit

4. Climb to the Top of Hoover Tower

Hoover Tower

Address: 550 Jane Stanford Way, Stanford, CA 94305

The last Stanford University landmark on our list (and one of our best-known Palo Alto attractions) is the Hoover Tower. This breathtaking, 285-foot-high tower is home to the Hoover Institution Library and Archives and was once the hideaway of exiled Russian novelist and philosopher Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

Founded by Herbert Hoover prior to his tenure as president, the architecture was inspired by the Spanish New Cathedral of Salamanca. It has a 46-bell carillon, an observation deck offering sprawling views of the campus, office space, a functional library, a research center, and a think tank.

The Hoover Tower is a short walk from the Stanford Memorial Church, and if you arrange a Stanford University Tour, you are sure to see all of the campus’ best sights.

5. The Museum of American Heritage

Museum of American Heritage Sign
DanielPenfield, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Address: 351 Homer Ave, Palo Alto, CA 94301

Of the many things to see in Palo Alto, the Museum of American Heritage is an excellent option for families with children. With rotating temporary exhibits showcasing both local and national history, you can expect to see installations exploring what daily life looked like from the late 19th century through to the 1950s, including a kitted-out General Store.

The museum also preserves various inventions and technological artifacts, many of which speak to Silicon Valley’s storied history. With events throughout the year, including lectures, workshops, and special programs aimed at kids, you’re sure to find something that appeals to your inner historian.

General admission is free to the public, and the museums operating hours are 11 am to 4 pm from Friday to Sunday. Special events and tours can be booked online for a nominal donation starting at 3 dollars. It’s located just a few blocks from downtown Palo Alto, California, making it an easy walk and stop from the main street.

See Related: Best Museums in the US You Need to Visit

6. Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo

Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo Scenery
image by Allie_Caulfield is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Address: 1451 Middlefield Rd, Palo Alto, CA 94301

Another attraction that is perfect for kids is the Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo. With over 200 animals from over 50 different species, the zoo aims to educate children about wildlife and preservation in a fun and informative manner.

There’s a museum with an interactive science exhibit, a collections corner featuring a multitude of natural history artifacts, and a newly installed, wheelchair-friendly treehouse where children can bird-watch or see the zoo from above.

The Junior Museum and Zoo is open from 10 am until 5 pm from Tuesday to Sunday, and tickets can be purchased for 10 dollars. As a frontrunner in disability-inclusive attractions in Palo Alto, differently-abled persons can apply for reduced admission by submitting a form on the Junior Museum and Zoo’s website.

7. The Computer History Museum

Computer History Museum Exhibit
image by jurvetson is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Address: 1401 N Shoreline Blvd, Mountain View, CA 94043

It wouldn’t be Silicon Valley without some homage to tech, which is why we highly recommend a visit to the Computer History Museum, located near the famous Googleplex campus.

As the name suggests, the Computer History Museum details the history of computer technology and its impact on the world over the last 2,000 years. There are events and workshops throughout the year, as well as interesting interactive exhibits, including autonomous car rides.

General admission to the Computer History Museum varies depending on age from $6 to $17.50, and the museum operates from Wednesday to Sunday between 10 am and 5 pm. It is a sight not to miss on a Silicon Valley Private Tour.

See Related: Best Places to Visit in the US

8. Downtown Palo Alto Farmers’ Market

Palo Alto Farmers' Market
image by billy.bebop is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Address: 601-699 Gilman St, Palo Alto, CA 94301

When you’re done visiting Palo Alto’s museums and grand buildings, there are plenty of relaxing activities all over town to keep you busy and immerse yourself in the city’s culture.

One of our favorites is the Downtown Palo Alto Farmers’ Market, where you’ll find all types of vendors selling fresh local produce, crafts, trinkets, and street food, all while listening to local live music.

The market attracts plenty of residents, as well as tourists looking to indulge in seasonal cuisine or purchase handmade goods. And what makes it unique is that it’s all for a good cause. As thriving non-profit, partial proceeds from the market are donated to a local charity that assists the elderly.

Entrance is free to the Palo Alto Farmer’s Market and the market runs every Saturday from 8 am until noon. Just make sure to get there early to avoid the crowds and to get the freshest foods.

9. Baylands Nature Preserve

Baylands Nature Preserve

Address: Palo Alto, CA 94303

The Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve, which covers nearly 2,000 acres, is the most extensive remaining marshland in the San Francisco Bay area and is home to some remarkable bird and mammal species, with the Baylands Golf Links right next door.

The ecology itself at the Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve is fascinating, with a blend of both tidal and freshwater habitats. Fifteen multi-use trails will keep you busy for hours, and if you get stuck, you can swing by the Lucy Evans Baylands Nature Interpretive Center for more information.

For those wanting to spend a day in nature, or hit the tees at Baylands Golf Links, there are gorgeous picnic spots, accessible restrooms, a sports center, and the picturesque Palo Alto Duck Pond.

See Related: Most Beautiful Valleys in the US

10. Dining, Drinking, and Shopping

Eating Breakfast on a Restaurant

While Palo Alto has plenty to offer in terms of day trips and attractions, we cannot overlook the array of fine food and drink that’s available right on the heart of University Avenue. Ramen Nagi and Oren’s Hummus are excellent choices.

Howie’s Artisan Pizza is a short walk away from University Avenue, closer to the Stanford campus, and is the recommendation if you are craving pizza.

For drinks, check out The Rose & Crown or The Patio @ Rudy’s. The Rose is a U.K-style hangout, while The Patio is more of a sports bar. Both are highly rated and recommended.

Those looking for a little retail therapy will love Town and Country Village, which boasts some of the world’s leading retailers and boutique shops, as well as a selection of great eateries and cafes. There’s something for everything, and intelligent town planning makes it easy to navigate this area on foot.

11. Take a Class at the Palo Alto Art Center

Palo Alto Art Center Architecture
Paloaltoartcenter, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Address: 1313 Newell Rd, Palo Alto, CA 94303

The Palo Alto Art Center is the perfect place to explore your creativity, no matter your skill level. With a variety of classes offered, you’re sure to find one that’s right for you. The Palo Alto Art Center is a multipurpose arts center that features several temporary art exhibitions throughout the year.

These exhibitions feature works by artists from the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond. In addition to its exhibitions, the Palo Alto Art Center also offers an interactive tour of temporary exhibitions with trained art docents.

The Palo Alto Art Center has also been recognized for its outreach and educational activities, which include special events and weekly art lessons for adults, teens, and young adults. So whether you’re a seasoned artist or a beginner, be sure to check out the Palo Alto Art Center the next time you’re in town.

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12. Explore the Monte Bello Preserve

Monte Bello Preserve Scenery

Address: 4301 Page Mill Rd, Los Altos, CA 94022

Monte Bello Open Space Preserve is a great place to visit if you love nature. This beautiful preserve is home to a variety of native plants and wildlife and offers breathtaking views of San Francisco Bay. Monte Bello Open Space Preserve is an open spaces park that encompasses 34,336 acres of thick forest, rolling hills, breathtaking views, and rolling hills in the surrounding areas.

The preserve extends from Monte Bello Ridge up into Skylines Ridge and is considered a region rich with wildlife. Many trails are available throughout the preserve, making it a great place to hike or bike. But beware, it’s easy to get lost among the paths, including Stevens Creek Nature Trail.

The preservation has been open since 1989 and offers visitors over 1,000 acres of land that are great fun to explore. So if you’re ever in Palo Alto, be sure to check out Monte Bello Open Space Preserve. You won’t be disappointed.

13. Have a Picnic in Mitchell Park

Kids Playing in Mitchell Park
image by mliu92 is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Address: 600 E Meadow Dr, Palo Alto, CA 94303

Mitchell Park is one of Palo Alto’s many parks, and it’s a great spot for a picnic. There’s plenty of green space to stretch your legs and spread out, while the park has a playground, a basketball court, and a large field where you can play Frisbee or kickball.

In addition, for the kids, the park also contains the Magical Bridge Playground. This is a great spot to take your kids. If you get hungry, there are several restaurants nearby, and the highly recommended hotel, Dinah’s Garden Hotel, is just 2 miles down the road. If you’re looking for a place to play or a place to relax, Mitchell Park is definitely worth checking out.

See Related: Best National Parks to Visit in November

14. Get Pampered at the Watercourse Way Bath House Spa

Baths in Watercourse Wa y Bath House Spa
image by Tina O/TripAdvisor

Address: 165 Channing Ave, Palo Alto, CA 94301

It was not too hard to create the Watercourse Way bath house spa in the process of providing an elegant and relaxing environment. A day spa retreat in Palo Alto combines relaxation with a sense of peace. Stylish Chinese art decorates every room.

Dim lighting with flowing water creates a calm and soothing atmosphere. There are several treatments available, such as massage and facial treatments. A variety of saunas, steam rooms, and hot tubs can be accessed from this location.

15. Spend a Day in Rinconada Park

Rinconada Park
image by Management/TripAdvisor

Address: 777 Embarcadero Rd, Palo Alto, CA 94303

Rinconada Park is the perfect place to start your holiday if you’re looking to learn about the environment and culture of the area. The park is home to a variety of plant and animal life, as well as several walking trails that wind through the redwood and pine forests.

Rinconada Park also features a public pool, nine tennis courts, picnic tables with barbecue facilities, and two playgrounds. Visitors can also take part in a variety of educational programs offered by the park staff. So whether you’re looking to relax in the sun or learn about the local ecology, Rinconada Park is the perfect place to start your vacation in Palo Alto, California.

See Related: Fun & Best Things to Do in Truckee, California

16. Experience Epic Shopping at the Stanford Shopping Center

Address: 660 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto, CA 94304

The Stanford Shopping Center is a popular mall located in Palo Alto, California that features over 150 stores for you to shop at. Across from the El Camino Park, the Stanford Shopping Center has everything from clothing stores like Forever 21 and Nordstrom Rack, to more unique shops such as Apple and Tesla. There are also plenty of restaurants to choose from when you’re hungry.

If you’re looking for something fun to do on your next trip here, consider stopping by the Apple Store where they offer free lectures about technology, and/or attend one of their many events.

17. Check out Stanford Dish

Stanford Dish and Skyline

Address: Stanford Dish, 400 Reservoir Rd, Stanford, CA 94305

Stanford Dish is definitely worth checking out if you’re in the area. It’s a large parabolic antenna that is used for radio astronomy and telecommunications research and it’s located on the Stanford University campus. On clear days, you can see the dish from miles away.

The Stanford Dish is also an alternative exit on Alpine Road. There’s another alternative exit on Alpine Road. The name of the device used here in this region is a telescope used to teach or research.

However, most people are usually there to enjoy a 3.6-mile hike, which stretches around the telescope. The trail runs through an open environment achieving a moderately higher altitude in the region of 500 ft.

Its route has a high exposure to summer weather and visitors should wear water and appropriate clothing. If you’re visiting Stanford Dish, make sure to give yourself plenty of time to explore everything this amazing place has to offer.

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FAQ

What is Palo Alto, California known for?

Palo Alto is known for being the home of Silicon Valley, as well as for its academic institutions, such as Stanford University. The city is also known for its beautiful weather and its many parks and green spaces. Finally, Palo Alto is known for its fine dining and shopping options.

Is Palo Alto, California worth visiting?

The answer is a resounding YES! Visitors to Palo Alto have an array of activities to choose from. The city is a blend of old and new, offering historic architecture and culture and a myriad of modern, chic hangouts and retail outlets. All this is set against a breathtaking view of the Santa Cruz Mountains and surrounded by national parks.

How do I spend a day in Palo Alto, California?

There is no one way to answer this question, as each person’s ideal day in Palo Alto would likely be quite different. However, some of our favorite activities include visiting Stanford University’s campus, going for a hike in the nearby hills, checking out the local shopping and dining scene, or taking a scenic drive down California’s Highway 1.

What fun things are there to do at or near Stanford University?

There is no shortage of things to do in Palo Alto right nearby the historic Stanford University. A few suggestions include exploring the Stanford University campus, visiting the Cantor Arts Center, the Stanford Memorial Church, and hiking or biking in one of the many surrounding parks.

What is there to do in Palo Alto, California with kids?

There are many fun things to do with kids in Palo Alto, including visiting the Baylands Nature Preserve, playing at the Mitchell Park Domes and the Magical Bridge Playground, or taking the kids to the Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo.

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