One of the most dynamic and vibrant cities in Northern California, Palo Alto is the true heart of Silicon Valley. A major hub for innovation, it's also a huge draw for those seeking an impressively high standard of living that’s distinct to California.
There's also a lot to do. A city rich in history and culture, Palo Alto is home to Stanford University. The community seemingly revolves around this esteemed educational institution and indeed owes its existence to the university. As much as the city is known for its tech acumen and looking forward, it takes steps to honor and celebrate its past. Several museums and historical attractions throughout the city do just that.
It's also a favorite among foodies and adventure seekers. Hike amongst one of the area's adjacent open spaces, enjoy some time in one of its more than thirty parks, and grab dinner and a cocktail at a great restaurant and bar. Then there are plenty of ways to rest, relax, or pursue a favorite passion in Palo Alto. Whatever your desired pursuit, you'll find it here.
Spring activities in Palo Alto
Tour Stanford University
Let's start with why Palo Alto originally came to be - a tour of Stanford University. Founded in 1885 – nine years before Palo Alto was incorporated – Stanford University is one of the world's most prominent educational centers. Palo Alto is home to educated engineers, entrepreneurs, titans of industry, and hundreds of athletes, including a record number of Olympians; it's a revered place to relive history and seek inspiration.
For those wanting to experience it first hand, the school offers the Stanford University Tour free of charge to visitors. The tour is 70 minutes and visits the campus's most notable spots, including the Main Quad and the Memorial Church.
The Cantor Arts Center
After concluding your walking tour of Stanford, head to the Cantor Arts Center
for a cultural experience unlike many others. The Cantor Arts Center is the university's primary art museum and features 24 galleries containing more than 38,000 works. Most notable is the museum's collection of sculptures by French artist Auguste Rodin which includes nearly 200 pieces in total.
The center also hosts numerous lectures, programs, and art classes and features works from across the globe. In all, the museum's collection spans 5,000 years of world history.
The Stanford Dish
Let's continue our tour of all things Stanford with the Stanford Dish
. Located just over a mile from campus, this extraordinary piece of technology is a radio telescope constructed in the late 1960s by the Stanford Research Institute and funded by the United States Air Force. With a 150-foot diameter, its original purpose was to study the atmosphere. Its unique design led it to become a robust communications dish that could communicate with satellites and NASA spacecraft, including both Voyagers.
The area around the dish, part of the scenic Stanford Foothills, is a great spot to jog, with a three-and-a-half-mile loop around the entire area.
Next on our list is the 285-foot tall Hoover Tower
located on the Stanford campus. Built in 1941, the tower serves as the home for the Hoover Institution Library and Archives. A trove of early 20th-century history, the collection was established by Herbert Hoover before his presidency.
The Stanford Shopping Center
Our final stop in our mini-tour of Stanford University is The Stanford Shopping Center
. This upscale, open-air mall on the campus is a popular spot for locals and visitors. The collection of high-end shops includes Apple, Burberry, Macy's, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, and Tiffany & Co.
The original mall, built in the mid-1950s, featured 45 retailers. Today, the current roster of luxury stores has grown to over 140 shops, restaurants, and services and occupies roughly 1.35 million square feet of space.
Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve
Once a vast eyesore of waste and neglect, the Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve
along San Francisco Bay has been transformed into a beautiful and serene marshland. Featuring 1,940-acres of tidal and freshwater ecosystems, the area is the largest undisturbed marshland along the bay. It's a vital habitat for migratory birds and is popular among birdwatchers. The public space is a genuine success story and centerpiece statement for natural preservation and renewal.
The unique location of the Baylands affords Palo Alto residents plenty of recreational opportunities, including fifteen miles of hiking trails, baseball and softball fields, the Baylands Athletic Center, and the Palo Alto Duck Pond. Also part of the preserve is the 18-hole Baylands Golf Links
and the 150-acre Byxbee Park, a reclaimed former landfill.
Foothills Nature Preserve
Head west across the city, and you'll encounter the region's numerous open preserves leading to the magnificent 2,812-foot high Black Mountain, which overlooks the Santa Clara Valley. The first of these natural, undisturbed spaces is the 1,400-acre Foothills Nature Preserve
. A diverse wildlife habitat, this preserve features miles of trails across diverse terrain, including chaparral, woodlands, open fields, streams, and a lake.
Just beyond the Foothills is the 3,436-acre Monte Bello Open Space Preserve
. The next link in the climb up the Santa Cruz Mountain Range, the Monte Bello Preserve includes over fifteen miles of hiking trails with several leading to the Black Mountain Summit.
Palo Alto city parks
Each serves as an outstanding place to relax, hang out, have kids play on a playground, or participate in the sport of your choosing on their fields and courts for baseball, basketball, soccer, softball, and tennis. The largest parks in the Palo Alto park system include 22-acre Greer Park, 21-acre Mitchell Park, and 19-acre Rinconada Park.
Palo Alto Art Center
Returning to the city's cultural heritage and commitment to the arts, you'll find the Palo Alto Art Center
. In contrast to the Cantor Art Museum's global reach, the Palo Alto Art Center was created in 1971 as a showcase and home for local artists from across the Bay Area to exhibit their work.
As the center has grown, so too has its mission and reach. The Palo Alto Art Center Foundation
is a community-driven non-profit that reaches 150,000 people every year through educational programs, special events, and art classes.
The Stanford Theatre
A mile from the Stanford campus, The Stanford Theatre
is a landmark movie house that first opened its doors in 1925. For nearly forty years, it served as Palo Alto's main movie theater screening popular films. After sustaining many years of wear and tear, the building was restored to its original neoclassical Moorish and Persian design in the late 1980s. Since then, it's been a favorite location to catch classic films from Hollywood's golden age and to attend festivals celebrating some of the industry's biggest icons.
The HP Garage
Speaking of nostalgia, for those curious about the mythical roots of Silicon Valley and where its first start-up materialized, you can visit the famed HP Garage
– the spot where two Stanford students – Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard – formed Hewlett-Packard.
Though the garage is on the National Register of Historic Places, it and the adjacent house are now a private museum owned by Hewlett-Packard and are not open for public tours. You can, however, view the garage from the sidewalk and driveway to see firsthand the humble beginnings of our modern-era technology boom.
The Downtown Palo Alto Farmers Market
Our final stop on our list of things to do in Palo Alto in the spring is a visit to one of the best Farmers' Markets in the Bay Area. The Downtown Palo Alto Farmers Market
brings together area farmers and a community that loves its locally sourced produce. Located on Gilman Street between Hamilton and Forest behind the downtown Palo Alto post office, the market celebrated its 40th-anniversary last year.
Every week on Saturday, the market sees nearly fifty local farmers come to sell their yields, including seasonal fruits, vegetables, and flowers, and a variety of locally produced foods such as dried fruit and nuts, honey, fish, breads, pastries, eggs, cheese, meats, and more. The market takes place rain or shine, and features live music.
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