15 Best Things to Do in Palo Alto (CA)

Palo Alto is a city of about 67,000 people situated in the Silicon Valley in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The city is mostly known for its upscale neighbourhoods and entertainment districts, and for being the home of Stanford University.

Palo Alto is also known for its unique mix of old and new. Many historical buildings are located around the city, but there’s also an abundance of modern and chic restaurants and shopping areas, such as the Stanford Shopping Center, Town & Country Village, and Charleston Shopping Center.

Palo Alto has a range of museums and cultural attractions, and the amenities of San Francisco and San Jose are only a short drive away. There are around 36 parks around Palo Alto, and the pleasant weather means you can participate in outdoor activities throughout most of the year.

Pala Alto is a lovely city with tree-lined streets and views of the Santa Cruz Mountains. The natural environment surrounding the city offers plenty of opportunities to view wildlife.

Many festivals and events take place in Palo Alto, including the annual May Fete Parade, Palo Alto Festival of the Arts, Palo Alto Buddhist Temple Obon Festival, Palo Alto Clay and Glass Festival, and the Festival of Trees.

Below are 15 of the best things to do in and around Palo Alto, California.

1. Spend a Day in Rinconada Park

Picnic in the ParkSource: M.Volkova / shutterstock
Picnic In The Park

A great way to start a vacation in a new place is to head to a local park to get a feel for the atmosphere and culture of the place. Rinconada Park in Palo Alto is one of the oldest parks in the city and a popular place to spend sunny days.

This 19-acre park is a beautiful area filled with redwood and oak trees. It features a public swimming pool, nine tennis courts, picnic areas with barbecue facilities, two playgrounds, and a series of walking trails.

2. Get a History Lesson at the Museum of American Heritage

Museum of American HeritageSource: Ed Bierman / Flickr | CC BY
Museum of American Heritage

The Museum of American Heritage is where you’ll learn about local and national history. There are a number of permanent and rotating exhibits, with many artefacts related to household life from the early 1800s to the 1950s.

Some of the permanent exhibits include Early 20th Century Kitchen, 1920s General Store, The Marshall Matthews Garage, and The Print Shop.

The museum is also affiliated with the Williams House, a historic home built in 1907 that once belonged to Dr Thomas Marion Williams.

Many events take place at the museum throughout the year, including children’s programs, lectures and workshops.

3. Admire Beautiful Art at the Cantor Arts Center

Cantor Arts CenterSource: yhelfman / shutterstock
Cantor Arts Center

Situated at Stanford University, the Cantor Arts Center is a long-standing art museum featuring the works of various artists from around the world.

This 130,000-square-foot facility showcases more than 38,000 artworks and has a range of exhibits, including a collection of sculptures by Auguste Rodin.

Other exhibits include Richard Diebenkorn at the Cantor, The Medium is the Message: Art since 1950, and In Dialogue: African Arts.

4. Enjoy Fine Dining in a Casual Setting at Protege

ProtegeSource: Protégé / Facebook
Protege

At Protege, you get the best of both worlds – an upscale dining experience in a casual setting.

Expertly-prepared New American dishes are served, including a variety of appetizers and entrees such as Mount Lassen trout, brick chicken, and Japanese Wagyu ribeye.

The restaurant also has an extensive wine and spirits menu featuring fine wine and spirits from around the world.

5. Explore the Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve

Baylands Nature PreserveSource: yhelfman / shutterstock
Baylands Nature Preserve

As one of the biggest marshland areas left in the San Francisco Bay Area, the Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve offers a unique nature experience. This 1,940-acre preserve features freshwater and tidal habitats.

There are 15 miles of multi-use trails in the area; as you explore these trails, you’ll see a variety of plant and animal life, including many species of birds.

Also on-site are an interpretive centre, restrooms, picnic areas, an athletic centre, and a duck pond.

6. Book a Tee-time at Baylands Golf Links

At Baylands Golf Links, you’ll enjoy a day of golf surrounded by the fabulous scenery of the Baylands and San Francisco Bay.

This 18-hole, par-72 golf course is suitable for all levels, but there are some challenging aspects to the course – including water hazards – to make your game more interesting.

A driving range and chipping greens are among the practice facilities on-site, and lessons are available. A cafe serving a wide variety of snacks and meals is also on-site.

7. Catch a Classic at the Stanford Theater

Stanford TheaterSource: kross13 / shutterstock
Stanford Theater

For a unique evening on the town, head to The historic Stanford Theater. The best thing about this movie theatre is that it only shows classic films released between 1910 and 1970. You can enjoy them in a setting reminiscent of years gone by.

The theatre was constructed in 1925 and restored in 1987 to maintain its neoclassical architecture and design. One of the most notable items in the theatre is the Mighty Wurlitzer Organ.

Several film festivals and events are held here throughout the year.

8. Browse the Downtown Palo Alto Farmers’ Market

Palo Alto Farmers' MarketSource: Lebid Volodymyr / shutterstock
Palo Alto Farmers’ Market

Since the early 1980s, the Palo Alto Farmers’ Market has been showcasing a wide variety of vendors offering fresh, local produce. Fruit, vegetables, cheese, eggs, honey, jams, homemade sweet treats, and fresh seafood are among the items you’ll find at the market.

There are also vendors selling essential oils, flowers, perfumes, and handcrafted soap. As you browse the market, you’ll hear the sounds of live music performed by local musicians.

9. Get Pampered at the Watercourse Way Bath House Spa

MassageSource: Shutterstock
Massage

The folks at the Watercourse Way Bath House Spa didn’t leave anything out when it came to creating a relaxing and luxurious oasis.

This day spa and Zen retreat in Palo Alto appeals to all the senses. Beautiful Asian and local art decorates each room. Dim lighting and the calming sound of running water from the fountains create a relaxing environment.

An assortment of treatments is offered, including massages and facials. Hot tubs, steam rooms, a dry sauna, and cold plunges are also on-site.

10. Learn About Animals at the Junior Museum and Zoo

Junior Museum and ZooSource: Allie_Caulfield / Flickr | CC BY
Junior Museum and Zoo

The Junior Museum and Zoo is a science and nature centre in Pala Alto geared toward educating children about wildlife and nature. There are many hands-on exhibits and learning opportunities, and you’ll see over 200 animals representing 50 different species.

Bats, bobcats, hedgehogs, turtles, racoons, ferrets, and birds are among some of the animals housed here, and various events are held at the museum throughout the year.

11. Treat Yourself to an Upscale Shopping Experience at Town & Country Village

ShoppingSource: VGstockstudio / shutterstock
Shopping

Even if upscale shopping is not something you usually do, it’s still fun to browse around at Town & Country Village; you may even find the perfect gift for yourself or someone else in your life.

This shopping area features a wide range of boutique shops and speciality stores, such as In Her Shoes and Francesca’s Collections.

There are also spas, salons and eateries, including Asian Box and Howie’s Artisan Pizza. Pretty gardens add to the luxurious atmosphere, and pedestrian paths connect the several buildings that make up the complex.

12. Sample Local Craft Beer at the Freewheel Brewing Company

Beer TastingSource: Brent Hofacker / shutterstock
Beer Tasting

Since 2012, the Freewheel Brewing Company has been producing a wide range of craft brews using both British and American traditional methods.

Only the freshest local ingredients are used in their creations – which include their signature Big V Amber – and they can be sampled in the on-site taproom.

The kitchen serves a variety of pub fare made from scratch with the best ingredients available. Salads, pretzels, fries, burgers, nachos, and wings are just some of the delicious items on the menu.

13. Get Outdoors at the Monte Bello Open Space Preserve

Monte Bello Open Space PreserveSource: yhelfman / shutterstock
Monte Bello Open Space Preserve

With 3,436 acres of parklands and green spaces, it’s not hard to escape the city and slip into a pristine, natural environment at the Monte Bello Open Space Preserve.

As you explore this park, you’ll pass through forest areas and grasslands and see spectacular views of the area, which extends from Monte Bello Ridge to Skyline Ridge.

This distinct ecosystem is one of the area’s most diverse, and home to a variety of wildlife species, including migrating birds.

Several hiking and biking trails are on-site, such as the Stevens Creek Nature Trail and the Canyon Trail.

14. Visit the Hoover Tower

Hoover TowerSource: jejim / shutterstock
Hoover Tower

Situated at Stanford University, Hoover Tower is a 285-foot-tall tower that showcases the Hoover Institution Library and Archives.

Constructed in 1941, the unique architecture of the building reflects that of a similar tower in Salamanca, Spain.

There’s a 46-bell carillon, and the 11th floor was once temporarily inhabited by exiled writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

15. View Local Art at the Palo Alto Art Center

Palo Alto Art CenterSource: Paloaltoartcenter / Wikimedia | CC BY-SA 4.0
Palo Alto Art Center

Since the early 1970s, the Palo Alto Art Center has been showcasing temporary exhibits featuring art by San Francisco Bay Area artists.

Past exhibits have included Rooted: Trees in Contemporary Art, Patrick Dougherty: Whiplash, and Encounters: Honoring the Animal in Ourselves.

Various events take place at the centre throughout the year, including art classes and educational programs.

 

Where to stay: Best Hotels in Palo Alto, California (CA)
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15 Best Things to Do in Palo Alto (CA):

  • Spend a Day in Rinconada Park
  • Get a History Lesson at the Museum of American Heritage
  • Admire Beautiful Art at the Cantor Arts Center
  • Enjoy Fine Dining in a Casual Setting at Protege
  • Explore the Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve
  • Book a Tee-time at Baylands Golf Links
  • Catch a Classic at the Stanford Theater
  • Browse the Downtown Palo Alto Farmers' Market
  • Get Pampered at the Watercourse Way Bath House Spa
  • Learn About Animals at the Junior Museum and Zoo
  • Treat Yourself to an Upscale Shopping Experience at Town & Country Village
  • Sample Local Craft Beer at the Freewheel Brewing Company
  • Get Outdoors at the Monte Bello Open Space Preserve
  • Visit the Hoover Tower
  • View Local Art at the Palo Alto Art Center