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Things to do in Palo Alto:
a guide to San Francisco’s start-up centre
Whether you’re planning a business meeting in Silicon Valley’s Palo Alto or are simply keen to explore the start-up paradise that lies 30 miles south of San Francisco, there’s plenty to discover in this innovative area of California. Take a look at our guide to the best things to do in Palo Alto next time you’re in town.
Where tech was born?
There are many cities that make up Silicon Valley, but old Palo Alto is perhaps one of the most interesting, with a good mix of indie shops, restaurants and natural attractions. While the city’s population is approximately 65,000 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.
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 Canary Palms. In case you didn’t know who the famous alumni are, 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.
Touring the start-ups
In order to see the interiors of some of the bigger names on the Internet and app scene, you’re best bet is knowing someone who’ll be able to invite you into 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 cruise by the seven-bedroom house where the late Apple founder Steve Jobs once lived on 2101 Waverly Street.
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 Hot Chocolate, made with Venezuelan chocolate and spices. Founder of Netscape, Marc Andreessen and the late Steve Jobs have both been spotted here. Other casual hangouts that double as meeting rooms include Fraiche and Café Venetia.
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 to visit is Friday, when they serve traditional New England lobster rolls.
The queues are usually formidable 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.
For a more formal sit-down dinner, head to Evvia (sister restaurant to the first-rate Kokkari in San Francisco), or fellow San Francisco import, the lauded Pizzeria Delfina. A buzzy upscale pizzeria, this is the place to try unusual Italian-influenced dishes like the popular clam pie pizza, alongside a selection of cocktails and wines.
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 epicentre of silicon, you’d be amazed at how much nature you can find. The Dish on Stanford’s Campus has an approximately four-mile walking loop that ascends to a nice view 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. There’s a duck pond that’s fun for children, too.