Head out to the birthplace of Silicon Valley, where you can walk the historic streets that helped shape the technology industry of today. Visit the landmarks, sample fresh and local menus, satisfy that sweet tooth. There’s something for everyone in this beautiful city. Start your journey, naturally, on the tree-lined streets of downtown, just to the east of the Stanford campus.
Begin your day with a smooth latte from Blue Bottle Coffee, one of the largest and finest specialty coffee roasters in Northern California. Housed inside Palo Alto’s historic New Varsity Theater, now the HanaHaus shared tech workspace, Blue Bottle serves a range of sustainably grown coffees from around the world, including single-origin beans—all served within 48 hours of roasting. Although the interior of the building was recently remodeled, the early 20th-century Spanish Colonial Revival exterior remains intact: white stucco curves and arches, distinctive terracotta roof tiles, lines reminiscent of California’s famous missions.
Just down the street is Chantal Guillon, a purveyor of French-style macaroons baked in-house, served with teas from Mariage Frères, a Parisian tea company founded in 1854. The combination is beyond compare. In the macaroons, look for flavors such as lavender and black currant, Persian rose, salted caramel, and jasmine green tea. In the teas, all the classic varieties, as well as speciality blends.
If you’re in the mood for a lighter beverage, and perhaps a meal, then stroll over to Lemonade. The setup is colorful and cafeteria-style, the lemonade freshly squeezed and ice-cold, the quick-order menu seasonal and surprisingly healthy. Try the orecchiette pasta with cherry and sun-dried tomatoes. Or the ahi tuna and avocado poke with tangerines and icicle radish. Or a selection from their marketplace veggie dishes and slow-simmered braised meats. Pair your meal with a not-so-strictly-lemon lemonade. Expect variations such as guava limeade and carrot ginger.
If you prefer something a little less casual, you might give family-owned, farm-to-table Local Union 271 a try. Their mission is etched in their name: the food is fresh and local and sourced from a circle of member farms, ranches, dairies, bakeries, and other area producers. The experience is delectable. Even the interior decor is local, handcrafted by Bay Area artisans. Truly a must-stop restaurant for lunch or dinner. Note they also serve Verve Coffee from Santa Cruz.
Next, walk down University to the Stanford Theatre. Completed in 1925, this historic theater offers a portal to the past, with its neoclassical Persian and Moorish architecture, its vast ceilings and lush art nouveau interior, the scalloped red velvet curtains over the screen, and matching red velvet seats. Purchased in 1987 by the Packard Foundation, it was restored to its original splendor, reopening two years later. And it’s been entertaining audiences ever since with film classics from the silent era up through 1970. It’s one of the finest theaters on the Peninsula for experiencing Hollywood’s Golden Age.
After all this walking around, particularly if the day is warm, it might be time for something sweet and light. With locally sourced ingredients and ice cream that’s handcrafted, Scoop Microcreamery is the obvious choice. The shop is a tiny—well, micro—mom and pop affair, and they make their ice cream to order, using liquid nitrogen to flashfreeze the mixture to velvety, creamy goodness. Ice cream made this way packs more flavor. The creamery serves an incredible banana split in a range of artisanal flavors—green tea with mochi, bourbon vanilla with salted caramel swirl, and speculicious, to name a few. Prepare to be delighted.
Palo Alto is also home to one of the largest research universities in the country. If you follow University Avenue out past the shops, towards the hills, and continue along the long expanse of park, you’ll arrive at the Stanford University campus. Getting there from downtown is a bit of a hike. If you’d prefer, you can take the Marguerite shuttle from the Caltrain station at the top of University into the campus. The shuttle leaves frequently throughout the day, running from 6am to 7pm. Call 650.724.9339 for times. Once on campus, you can take a walking tour or just wander around on your own. Either way, there’s plenty to see.
Whether you take a guided tour of the campus or see the sights on your own, be sure to check out the view from the top of Hoover Tower. The observation platform is on the 14th floor, and there’s a tour guide stationed by the elevator who can point out university landmarks, as well as landmarks throughout the Bay Area. The view is stunning. The tower stands 285 feet high and its lobby houses exhibits of historical memorabilia from alums Herbert Hoover and Lou Henry Hoover. Pick up your tickets for the tour (less than the price of a cup of coffee) in the tower lobby. No reservations required.
Another must-see on the university grounds is the Cantor Arts Center. Originally built to house the personal collections of the Stanford family, the museum has long since expanded upon that early conception. With collections of modern and contemporary art, a significant collection of the graphic arts on paper— prints, drawings, photographs—from the late 15th century to the present, and art from the old world and the new, the museum covers a broad range of art history. Its entire Rodin collection is also on view. Closed Tuesdays.
In the hills behind the university sits a massive radio telescope known as the Dish. Built in 1961, originally for the purpose of studying the chemical composition of the atmosphere, the Dish spans 150 feet in diameter, antenna pointed to the sky. It has been used to communicate with satellites and spacecraft, including remotely recalibrating them. Today, it continues to be important for both academic and research purposes. Today, too, locals know the Dish largely for the nearly four-mile paved path (called the loop) that circumscribes the moderately hilly terrain and leads eventually to the telescope. Weekday or weekend, rain or shine, you’ll find them running, biking, or walking the loop. The trail is open roughly from sunrise to sunset.
Only a five-minute drive from downtown Palo Alto is the immersive experience of the Pace Art + Technology Gallery. Here, you do not view art so much as become completely enveloped by it. Opening just this year, the gallery is devoted solely to contemporary digital art in installations that are sometimes interactive, always expansive. Recent exhibitions have explored the influence of Zen thought on visual and conceptual linguistic systems in contemporary art, as well as highlighted the work of individual artists such as Nigel Cooke, Michal Rovner, Louise Nevelson, and Richard Pousette-Dart.
If you’ve got kids with you (even maybe if not), you might want to check out the Palo Alto Junior Museum & Zoo, whose mission it is to engage and encourage a child’s natural sense of wonder about science and nature. The JMZ is like two stops in one—an imaginative museum full of hands-on interactive exhibits, and an expansive child-friendly zoo with natural habitats designed for exploration. Home to over 50 species of animals, the zoo alone could fill an afternoon. Fun for the young at heart of all ages.
Article by Taylor Melody
Photography by Taylor Melody and Elle Mitchell
This article originally appeared in Issue 8.4 Profiles