15 Best Things to Do in Palo Alto (CA)

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

The city is known for its upscale neighborhoods and entertainment districts, as well as being home to Stanford University.

Palo Alto is also known for its unique blend of old and new. There are many historic buildings around the city, but there are also plenty of modern and trendy restaurants and shopping areas such as Stamford Mall, Town and Country Village and Charleston Mall.

With an array of museums and cultural attractions, Palo Alto is only a short drive from the amenities of San Francisco and San Jose. There are about 36 parks around Palo Alto, and the pleasant weather means you can enjoy the great outdoors most of the year.

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

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

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

1. Spend a day at Rinconada Park

Picnic in the park

A great way to start a vacation in a new place is to head to a local park and get a feel for the place’s atmosphere and culture. 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 redwoods and oaks. It features a communal swimming pool, nine tennis courts, picnic areas with BBQ facilities, two playgrounds and a range of walking paths.

2. Take a history class at the American Heritage Museum

American Heritage Museum

The American Heritage Museum is where you learn about local and national history. There are many permanent and rotating exhibits, many of which relate to family life from the early 1800s to the 1950s.

Some of the permanent exhibits include an early 20th century kitchen, a 1920s general store, the Marshall Matthews Garage and a 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.

The museum hosts many events throughout the year, including children’s programs, lectures, and workshops.

3. Admire beautiful art at Cantor Arts Center

Cantor Arts Center

Located at Stanford University, the Cantor Art Center is a historic art museum that showcases the work of a variety of artists from around the world.

The 130,000-square-foot facility displays more than 38,000 works of art and features a range of exhibits, including a series of sculptures by Auguste Rodin.

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

4. Dine in a casual Protege setting


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

Serves expertly prepared New American cuisine, including a variety of appetizers and entrees such as Larsen Mountain Trout, Brick Chicken, and Japanese Wagyu Rib Eye.

The restaurant also offers an extensive wine and spirits menu, including fine wines and spirits from around the world.

5. Explore the Palo Alto Bay Nature Preserve

Baylands Nature Reserve

As one of the largest wetlands in the San Francisco Bay Area, the Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve offers a unique nature experience. This 1,940-acre preserve contains freshwater and tidal habitats.

There are 15 miles of multipurpose trails in the area; as you explore these trails, you’ll see a wide variety of plants and animals, including many birds.

There are also interpretive centers, restrooms, picnic areas, sports centers and duck ponds on site.

6. Book a tee time at Baylands Golf Links

At Baylands Golf Course, you’ll enjoy a day of golf with breathtaking views of the Baylands and San Francisco Bay.

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

On-site practice facilities include a driving range and chipping green, and lessons are available. There is also an on-site café serving a variety of snacks and meals.

7. Watch the classics at the Stanford Theatre

Stanford Theater

For a unique evening in town, head to the historic Stanford Theater. The best thing about this movie theater is that it only shows classic movies released between 1910 and 1970. You can enjoy them in a nostalgic setting.

The theatre was built in 1925 and restored in 1987 to maintain its neoclassical architecture and design. One of the most famous objects in the theater is the Mighty Wurlitzer Organ.

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

8. Visit the Farmers Market in Downtown Palo Alto

Palo Alto Farmers Market

Since the early 1980s, the Palo Alto Farmers Market has been showcasing a variety of vendors serving fresh local produce. You can find fruits, vegetables, cheese, eggs, honey, jams, homemade desserts and fresh seafood in the market.

There are also vendors selling essential oils, flowers, perfumes and handmade soaps. As you browse the market, you’ll hear live music from local musicians.

9. Pamper yourself at the Watercourse Way Bath House Spa


The folks at Watercourse Way Bath House Spa have left nothing out in creating an oasis of relaxation and luxury.

This Palo Alto day spa and zen retreat appeals to all senses. Each room is decorated with beautiful Asian and local artwork. Dim lights and the calming sound of flowing fountains create a relaxing environment.

The hotel offers a variety of treatments, including massages and facials. There is also a hot tub, steam room, dry sauna and cold pool on site.

10. Learn about animals at junior museums and zoos

Juvenile Museum and Zoo

The Junior Museum and Zoo is a science and nature center in Pala Alto that aims to educate children about wildlife and nature. There are many hands-on exhibits and learning opportunities, and you’ll see more than 200 animals representing 50 different species.

Bats, lynxes, hedgehogs, turtles, raccoons, ferrets and birds are some of the animals kept here, and the museum hosts a variety of events throughout the year.

11. Enjoy upscale shopping at Town & Country Village


Even if upscale shopping isn’t something you’d normally do, shopping at Town & Country Village is still fun; you can even find the perfect gift for yourself or someone else in your life.

This shopping area has a variety of boutiques and specialty stores such as In Her Shoes and Francesca’s Collections.

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

12. Sample local craft beers at Freewheel Brewing Company

beer tasting

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

Their creations use only the freshest local ingredients – including their signature Big V Amber – and can be sampled at the on-site bar.

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

13. Outdoors at Montebello Open Space Reserve

Monte Bello Open Space Reserve

With 3,436 acres of parks and green spaces, it’s not difficult to escape the city and enter the pristine natural environment of the Monte Bello Open Space Reserve.

As you explore this park, you’ll pass through forested areas and grasslands with breathtaking views of the area, stretching from Montebello Ridge to Skyline Ridge.

This unique ecosystem is one of the most diverse in the region and is home to a variety of wildlife species, including migratory birds.

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

14. Visit the Hoover Tower

Hoover Tower

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

Built in 1941, the building’s distinctive architectural style mirrors that of a similar tower in Salamanca, Spain.

There is a 46-bell carillon, and the 11th floor was the temporary residence of the exiled writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

15. See local art at the Palo Alto Arts Center

Palo Alto Arts Center

The Palo Alto Art Center has been presenting temporary exhibitions of San Francisco Bay Area artists since the early 1970s.

Past exhibitions include Grounded: Trees in Contemporary Art, Patrick Doherty: Whipped and Encountered: Respecting Our Own Animals.

The center hosts a variety of events throughout the year, including art classes and educational programs.

Where to Stay: Best Hotels in Palo Alto, CA, CA
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