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Palo Alto, California Travel Guide

Palo Alto Summary


  • Laid-back, clean community
  • Good weather
  • Gorgeous Stanford University campus
  • Downtown Palo Alto is walkable and lively
  • Easy drive to Half Moon Bay beaches
  • Equidistant from San Francisco and San Jose airports
  • Accessible by train from San Francisco and other major cities
  • Great dining scene
  • Wonderful shopping, particularly at the Stanford Mall
  • Business-friendly downtown area has a high number of businesses per capita
  • First three hours of parking in several downtown parking garages are free; first two hours of street parking and in parking lots are free
  • Numerous high-end hotels to choose from
  • Very safe


  • Few budget properties in the area
  • A car is mandatory for those hoping to explore the Bay Area
  • Little nightlife; more of a "dinner and drinks" scene (a pro for some!)
  • Crowds on weekends

What It's Like

Palo Alto, located at the southern end of the San Francisco Bay, is in the heart of Silicon Valley, with easy access to Highway 101 and 280. It is home to world-famous Stanford University, and to a well-heeled, but nonetheless laid-back, crowd.

The city is well-known as being a tech industry center -- Facebook, Google, and Yahoo were all started in Palo Alto, and businesses such as Hewlett-Packard, Xerox, and Pinterest are headquartered in the city. Palo Alto sees plenty of business travelers come through, but leisure travelers visit the area as well to explore its shops and several notable sights.

Unlike many other areas of Silicon Valley (save San Jose), Palo Alto offers a lively, downtown area that's worth a visit. Downtown Palo Alto, centered around University Avenue, has plenty of restaurants, businesses, and a few shops, and is considered the center of town. Visitors and locals stroll the streets, and many visit the historic Hewlett-Packard garage -- where the iconic computer company was started -- just a couple of blocks away. California Avenue is another hub (though it's quieter), and hosts a top-notch farmer's market on Sundays.

Many visitors also stop by the Stanford University campus, which has beautifully tended lawns, a couple of museums, and an impressive church on-site. Its gift shop is always busy, and it's common to see tourists posing in front of the fountains and buildings of the complex. Stanford Mall is also a great spot for shopping.

Where To Stay

University Avenue is one of the main thoroughfares in Palo Alto, and visitors who want to be close to restaurants, shops and entertainment venues will probably find it convenient to stay on or around it, between Middlefield and Alma streets.

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