Things To Do in Palo Alto | A Guide to San Francisco’s Start-Up Centre

By: Christine Ciarmello

April 15, 2014

Whether you’re planning a business meeting in Silicon Valley’s Palo Alto or are simply curious about the start-up paradise that lies 30 miles south of San Francisco, here’s your guide to how to plug in. As one hotel entrepreneur said, “Palo Alto is the new Hollywood.”

Where Tech Was Born?

There are many cities that make up Silicon Valley but old Palo Alto is perhaps one of the most interesting and features a good mix of indie shops, restaurants and nature. While the city’s population is 66,000 when the sun sets, during the day that number doubles as techies and web innovators from nearby cities fill the offices in the area. Some say the industry was born in 1938 at 367 Addison Avenue. This is the garage where Stanford undergrads Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard developed HP’s audio oscillator. Neither the house nor the garage is open to the public, but there’s no harm walking by and photographing it from the sidewalk.

Palo Alto - Stanford Uni Palm Drive

Palm Drive to Stanford University © Jawed Karim


Head To Uni

The brain trust of Palo Alto is located at Stanford University. Your entrance to the uni is on Palm Avenue, a grand street lined with hundreds of Canary Palms. In case you weren’t aware of this uni’s famous alumni, you’ll see their names on the building: William Gates, Hewlett & Packard, Paul G. Allen, and Hasso Plattner. Six 70-minute tours are given daily by undergrads and the highlights include going to the top of the 285-foot Hoover Tower for views that, on a clear day, stretch out to San Francisco Bay. Also on campus is the Cantor Arts Center, which has one of the largest collections of works by Auguste Rodin outside Paris, the Rodin Sculpture Garden and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hanna House. Eighty-five public art sculptures are dotted around campus grounds.

Palo Alto - Stanford

View of Stanford from Hoover Tower © King of Hearts


Touring The Start-Ups

In order to see the interiors of some of the bigger names in the Internet and app worlds, you’re best bet is knowing someone who’ll be able to invite you onto their grounds. Nevertheless you can at least pass by the former HQ of the original Facebook headquarters, situated next to the new Epiphany Hotel, on the corner of University and Emerson Street. Google and Paypal were also once at 165 University Avenue. And you can also cruise by the seven-bedroom house where the late Apple founder Steve Jobs once lived, on 2101 Waverly Street.

Palo Alto - Steve Jobs former home

Steve Jobs House © Roman Boed


Where Deals Get Made

Coupa Café is legendary for the deals and brainstorming that takes place there, it’s Palo Alto’s version of the Polo Lounge in Beverly Hills. People-watch and eavesdrop while drinking a spicy Maya, made with Venezuelan hot chocolate and spices. Founder of Netscape and current VC, Marc Andreessen, and the late Steve Jobs have all been spotted here. Other casual hangouts that have transitioned into VC meeting rooms are Fraiche and Café Venetia.

Palo Alto Restaurants

Inside Oren’s Hummus Shop © Kennejima/Flickr


The Restaurants

The iconic Palo Alto Creamery has been the place to get a slice of pie since 1923. It’s old school with vinyl booths, a soda fountain, and hearty dishes like chili and patty melts. But the best day is Friday for lobster rolls. The queues are insane at Oren’s Hummus, which has won over VCs and undergrads with the six-hummus entrees. The most decadent one, hummus beef, is topped with Moroccan-spiced ground meat and pine nuts. The white-linen set should head to Evvia, sister restaurant to the first-rate Kokkari Estiatorio in San Francisco. Lamb, octopus and flatbreads are grilled on the stone hearth and taste delicious. The latest import from San Francisco is the highly lauded Pizzeria Delfina (scheduled to open in mid-April). It’ll still have the popular clam pie pizza that emerges blistering from the Marsal and Sons gas-fired pizza oven; only this restaurant will also have a full cocktail bar. Another new kid on the block is Epiphany Hotel’s Lure & Till restaurant. Chef Patrick Kelly is serving just the type of food needed for late-night creative sessions. There’s even a cocktail called the Bright Idea, made with mezcal and absinthe. Stay the night at the hotel to work in custom-designed “hoodie chairs,” that are self-contained workstations.

Palo Alto | Stanford Theatre

Stanford Theatre © Becky Mullane/Flickr


Worthwhile Diversions

The 1925 Stanford Theatre shows classics. Restored by movie-lover David Packard in the 1980s, the theatre houses the Mighty Wurlitzer organ, which is still played. And for nature lovers? One of the oldest redwood trees in the region, the 1,073-year-old El Palo Alto, is a historic landmark. Believed to be a campsite for an exploration party in 1769, the redwood is on the corner of Alma and Palo Alto Way. Remarkably, it is 90-inches in diameter.

Four Wheels

You’ll need a car to get to the Stanford Shopping Center, the epitome of the American suburban shopping mall, built during the rise of the automobile in 1956. PA being PA, though, this mall transitioned into an open-air, European-style marketplace with gardens and sculptures, anchored by Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdales. The 60 shops at Town & Country veer from the typical chain stores (although there are a few), and are primarily concentrated on regional businesses, including Cisco Home and A Street Bike Named Desire. Good lunch spots are Mayfield, Asian Box, Belcampo Meat Co, and Calafia, run by a former Google chef.   

Palo Alto - Badlands

Baylands in Palo Alto © Don DeBold


A Breath Of Fresh Air

Once upon a time in the pre-Internet era there were fruit trees that covered the hills of Palo Alto. Considering this is the epicenter of silicon, you’d be amazed at how much nature you can find. The Dish on Stanford’s Campus offers a four-mile walking loop that ascends to great views of the city.

Palo Alto also preserves 1,940 acres of salt marsh for the Baylands Nature Preserve with 15 miles of trails as well as superior birding. And there’s a duck pond that’s fun for children too.

Virgin Atlantic operates direct flights to San Francisco from London Heathrow. Book your flight today.

Are you a budding tech entrepreneur who has visited Palo Alto before? Tell us where you favourite places to visit are in the comments section below.

Written by Christine Ciarmello


Christine Ciarmello

A San Francisco-based freelancer and now fog aficionado, Christine Ciarmello was editor-in-chief of Islands, then deputy editor of one of the largest circ lifestyle magazines, Sunset, where she created the culture blog Westphoria. She left her hometown of New Orleans after a nearly lifetime stint, three hurricane evacuations, and too much seafood gumbo. She covers the hedonistic sports of traveling, eating, drinking, and design-hunting. Places that require a ferry to get there, plus modern-vintage hotels and the tropics are her weaknesses.

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