9 Best Things to Do in Palo Alto, CA

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During our road trip in 2017, we stopped at Palo Alto for a couple of days. I find that many visitors to the Golden State, tend to focus on San Francisco itself, hopping over to Monterey on their way south, and maybe taking the scenic drive along Highway 1. What they often miss on the way is all the fascinating places to see and things to do in the southern areas of the Bay Area, just north of Monterey Bay. For example, Palo Alto, home of Stanford University.

9 Best Things to Do in Palo Alto, CAHad it not been overshadowed by its neighbors, Palo Alto could have easily become a major travel destination in its own right. If you have a day or two to spare, I highly recommend stopping here. This post will show you exactly why!

Best Things to Do In Palo Alto

We visited the Stanford University campus and the Computer History Museum (which is technically in Mountain View, but that's just a super short drive from Palo Alto itself). Both were super interesting to visit and kept us busy for a full day of sightseeing. They are included in this list, in addition to other attractions which I know I'd like to return to someday. Hopefully, you'll have time to do more than we did on your very first visit!

  1. The HP Garage
  2. HP Customer Welcome Center
  3. Stanford University
  4. Stanford Shopping Center
  5. Thomas Aquinas Church
  6. The Computer History Museum
  7. Palo Alto Art Center
  8. Baylands Nature Preserve
  9. Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden

Let's break down this list

1. The HP Garage

Of the many tech companies headquartered in Palo Alto, Hewlett-Packard remains one of the most iconic. Famously, Bill Hewlett and David Packard began their successful company in a tiny garage during a rather inauspicious time: the Great Depression! To honor the birthplace of this multinational corporation, both the State of California and the US Government have formally recognized this humble garage as a historically significant building.

The HP Garage
The HP Garage | Photo by BrokenSphere

You can’t actually go inside the garage, but why not take a few photos by the “Birthplace of Silicon Valley” while you’re in town?

Location: 367 Addison Ave, Palo Alto, CA 94301

For more information, check out their website.

Opening Hours: Garage still privately owned, but great for selfies!

Admission Fee: FREE

2. HP Customer Welcome Center

After viewing the HP Garage up-close, it's time to see what this Fortune 500 company is up to in the 21st century. On your tour of the 9,000 sq. foot HP Customer Welcome Center you’ll learn the full story behind HP and get hands-on access to some of the company’s newest devices.

Whether you’re interested in HP’s famed printers or the company’s latest forays into fields like 3D printing, you’re bound to find something cool to try out on your visit. Just be sure to contact a member of the HP Welcome Center staff before your visit by following this link.

Location: 1501 Page Mill Road, Palo Alto, CA 94304

For more information check out their website.

Opening Hours: Usually open between 7AM – 6PM on weekdays

Admission Fee: FREE, but be sure to contact ahead of time to schedule an appointment

3. Stanford University

Founded in the late 1800s, Stanford University (just outside of Palo Alto) has certainly built a reputation for its engineering and tech programs. Besides its impressive academics, Stanford has one of the most beautiful American campuses that's certainly worth a few hours of your vacation time. Once you arrive at Stanford University, climb to the top of the 285-foot Hoover Tower for a fantastic panoramic view of the campus. Once you’ve ticked that off your bucket list, admire Stanford’s unique Spanish-style architecture on a stroll through the Main Quad.

A few points of interest on any tour of Stanford include the Rodin Sculpture Garden, the Stanford Memorial Church, Stanford Stadium, and the Cantor Arts Museum. There’s also a lovely walking trail by college’s huge satellite known as “The Dish.” Please check out the opening times for all Stanford’s attractions before you arrive in the area.

While you can certainly tour the university on your own, we chose to take a guided tour. Tours are free, so just check out their website for times and make sure you arrive at the visitors center on time. The tour was guided by an extremely vivacious student who was clearly very proud of her university and eager to share the information with us.

Location: 450 Serra Mall, Stanford, CA 94305

For more information, check out their website.

Opening Hours: Varies by attraction

Admission Fee: FREE

4. Stanford Shopping Center

While at Stanford, why not stop by the Stanford Shopping Center for a little retail therapy? With over 150 stores and eateries to choose from, you’ll find something that catches your eye on a walk through this luxurious open-air mall.

Stanford Shopping Center
Stanford Shopping Center | Photo by Sylvain Leprovost

In addition to big-name department stores like Macy’s and Nordstrom, a few other names you’ll find in Stanford Shopping Center include Apple, Victoria’s Secret, and Coach. As for dining, the Stanford Shopping Center has a nice mix of unique sit-down restaurants like Yuca de Lac, fan-favorite chains like Fleming’s, and fast-food options like Chipotle.

Location: 660 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto, CA 94304.

For more information, check out their website.

Opening Hours: 10:00AM – 9:00PM on weekdays, 10:00AM – 7:00PM on Saturdays, and 11:00AM – 6:00PM on Sundays.

Admission Fee: FREE

5. St. Thomas Aquinas Church

Any Harold & Maude fan reading this piece will instantly recognize Palo Alto’s St. Thomas Aquinas Church. You don’t have to have seen this 70s cult classic, however, to enjoy a visit Palo Alto’s oldest church.

Completed in 1902, St. Thomas Aquinas is beloved for its beautiful stained glass and Gothic interior. Be sure to look up at the intricate wooden crossbeams before leaving this beloved Catholic church.

St. Thomas Aquinas Church, 751, Waverley Ave., Palo Alto, CA
St. Thomas Aquinas Church, 751, Waverley Ave., Palo Alto, CA | Photo by Sanfranman59

Location: 751 Waverley St, Palo Alto, CA 94301

For more information, check out their website.

Opening Hours: Varies by day

Admission Fee: FREE

6. The Computer History Museum

Located just outside of Palo Alto, the Computer History Museum (CHM) is one of Silicon Valley’s most impressive tech-themed attractions. Not only does the CHM house the world’s largest collection of artifacts related to the computer, but it also hosts dozens of exciting hands-on exhibits throughout the year.

Part of the guided tour of the museum, where we saw the very first IBM computers up close


Just a few special exhibits held at the CHM in recent years include autonomous driving demonstrations, Photoshop classes, and an intro to coding. No matter what aspect of tech culture you’re interested in, you’re sure to find something exciting going on at the CHM.

We LOVED, LOVED, LOVED this museum. Hardly surprising, considering we're a family of bona fide geeks! My boys were 13 and 15 at the time of our visit and enjoyed every bit of the tour, as well as spending time exploring the museum on their own. Plus, they have the coolest gift shop that's geek-perfect!

By the way, the CHM is extremely close to Google’s major headquarters (aka Googleplex). Unfortunately, you cannot tour the Googleplex unless you already know an employee. You could, however, walk around Googleplex unescorted and get some pretty neat selfies with Android statues!

Location: 1401 N Shoreline Blvd, Mountain View, CA 94043

For more information, check out their website.

Opening Hours: Tuesday through Thursday from 10:00AM – 5:00PM, Friday from 10:00AM – 9:00PM, and Saturday through Sunday from 10:00AM – 5:00PM

Admission Fee: General admission for adults is $17.50 per person, but there are discounts for children, senior citizens, and members of the military.

7. Palo Alto Art Center

For those interested in taking in the local art scene, there’s no better place to visit than the Palo Alo Art Center. This non-profit-supported center works hard to increase art appreciation and education in the local community, so visitors are always welcome. There are frequently special educational events going on at this multi-purpose center clearly listed online.

Palo Alto Art Center
Palo Alto Art Center | Photo by Tombrinck

When you’ve finished exploring all the art center has to offer, feel free to take a stroll through the nearby Rinconada Park. This 19-acre park is especially respected for its many glorious oaks and redwoods.

Location: 1313 Newell Rd, Palo Alto, CA 94303

For more information, check out their website.

Opening Hours: Tuesday through Saturday from 10:00AM-5:00PM, Thursday from 10:00AM –9:00PM, and Sunday from 1:00PM – 5:00PM

Admission Fee: FREE

8. Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve

There’s no better place to re-connect with nature in Palo Alto than in the Baylands Nature Preserve. Measuring almost 2,000-acres, Baylands is considered by many nature enthusiasts to be the best-preserved marshlands in the Bay Area.

Palo Alto Baylands
Palo Alto Baylands | Author: King of Hearts / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY-SA-3.0

Baylands is well known as a habitat for many migrating birds, including black-necked stilts, American white pelicans, and long-billed curlews. Spend some time by the Duck Pond to enjoy the best opportunity of seeing rare bird species. If bird-watching isn’t your thing, then consider taking a jog or a bike ride along the preserve’s 15 miles of trails. Kayak rentals are also available for those who are interested.

Anyone who wants to take part in ranger-led walks or activities should check out the Baylands Nature Preserve’s official website before arriving. Please note: visitors are only allowed to bring leashed dogs into the nature preserve.

Location: 2500 Embarcadero Road Palo Alto, CA 94303.

For more information, check out their website.

Opening Hours: Every day from 8:00 AM till sunset

Admission Fee: FREE

9. Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden

Although Baylands is the most famous nature-related attraction in Palo Alto, please don’t neglect a stop at the Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden on your trip. Originally built as a private residence in the early 20th century, this 2.5-acre complex has been lovingly tended to by the Palo Alto community since it became a public attraction in the 1980s.

Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden
Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden | Photo by Ed Bierman

A few tourist favorites in the Gamble Garden include the iris bed, the rose garden, and the wisteria garden. Perhaps the best part about visiting this attraction, however, is that it’s 100 percent free!

Although the garden is open every day, the historic Gamble Home is only open at select hours during weekdays.

Location: 1431 Waverley Street, Palo Alto, CA 94301

For more information, check out their website.

Opening Hours: The garden is open every day during daylight, but the historic Gamble Home is open on weekdays from 9:00AM – 2:00PM

Admission Fee: FREE

Where To Stay In Palo Alto

Since most people who visit Palo Alto are interested in visiting nearby Stanford University, you’ll find most of the city’s highest-reviewed hotels near the home of the Cardinals. Here are a few exceptional hotels all within a short drive of Stanford.

Four Seasons Hotel Silicon Valley at East Palo Alto

Travelers who want a high-end hotel experience while in Palo Alto should check out the highly-rated Four Seasons Hotel. Located a 15-minute drive from Stanford University, this 5-star hotel boasts a rooftop pool and steam room, stunning views of the Santa Cruz mountains, and a 24-hour fitness center. As for the rooms, guests enjoy sleek marble bathrooms, a vast DVD library, and 42-inch flat-screen TVs.

Visit them on Booking.com

Westin Palo Alto

Probably the top reason people choose to book a room at Westin Palo Alto is that it’s only a 15-minute walk from Stanford University. Besides its phenomenal location, this 4-star hotel offers guests access to a fitness center as well as a luxurious courtyard with a heated pool. The Westin Palo Alto is a fabulous mid-range option for people looking for a balance between luxury and budget.

Visit them on Booking.com

Coronet Motel

Although the Coronet Motel might not look all that elegant, it’s one of the highest reviewed budget hotels in the Palo Alto area. Family-owned for roughly 40 years, this quaint motel offers visitors free WiFi, an in-room kitchen, and even an outdoor pool. While it might not be plush, the Coronet Motel is ideal for budget travelers who want a room near Stanford.

Visit them on Booking.com

Have you visited Palo Alto, CA, yourself? I'd love to hear your thoughts on my little list here. Anything that you would add or change? Leave me a comment to let me know!

9 Best Things to Do in Palo Alto, CA

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