15 Things To Do In Palo Alto, California

things to do in palo alto california
Isabelle
Isabelle 
Contributing Writer
Updated
| 5 min read

Located at the northwest tip of the Californian state, is the city of Palo Alto which borders Stanford and Menlo Park. If you love all things nature, you will find yourself at home here. This city of around 67,000 in population hosts some of the most stunning and scenic nature reserves in the state. In Palo Alto, you could roam around for hours, and with up to 121 hectares (300 acres) of open land on your doorstep, you will be far from bored. Whether you are visiting Palo Alto for a short wander or a long hike, let the city wow you and prove that it is a great hiking destination. Read on to find out about the best things to do in Palo Alto, California.

1. Sample German beer at Gordon Biersch

Editor's Note: Photo taken from the establishment's official social account

What GB beer have you been daydreaming about this week? It's finally Friday...time to come in make your dreams come true! #happyhour

Posted by Gordon Biersch - Palo Alto on Friday, November 7, 2014

A vacation will not be complete with an exciting food trip experience. Whether you are on a food trip escapade or a casual hang-out with friends, you should not miss the chance to dine at Gordon Biersch. It is a brewing company with a casual restaurant and hangout nook. The dining spot showcases charming rustic interiors and a friendly atmosphere. It serves delicious food and drinks that are priced reasonably. Gordon Biersch is popular for its german craft beers and mouthwatering pizza and burgers that are made from the freshest ingredients.

Gordon Biersch

Address: 640 Emerson St, Palo Alto, CA 94301, United States

Website: Gordon Biersch

Opening hours: 11am - 10pm (daily)

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2. Explore the beautiful Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden

Editor's Note: Photo taken from the establishment's official social account

Posted by Gamble Garden on Monday, January 4, 2021

Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden is one of the most breathtaking parks in Palo Alto. It makes guests feel like they are in a magical storybook, thanks to its perfectly landscaped green spaces and idyllic blooms. It covers a 2.5-acre (1ha) area with a period home as its centerpiece. Built in 1902, this beautiful garden filled with rose blooms is one of the many historic landmarks in the city. Besides unwinding and admiring nature, guests can chill in the tearoom on-site. Plus, they can purchase some lovely sweet peas at Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden.

Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden

Address: 1431 Waverley St, Palo Alto, CA 94301, United States

Website: Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden

Opening hours: Thu - Mon: 6am - 8:30pm; Tue - Wed: 12pm - 8:30pm

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3. Admire breathtaking succulents at Arizona Garden

Arizona Cactus Garden at Stanford University
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Oleg Alexandrov used under CC BY-SA 3.0

Are you a nature-lover? Do you consider yourself as someone who has a green thumb? If so, Arizona Garden is an attraction that will surely excite you. Housed at Stanford University, this botanical garden boasts a multitude of succulents and cacti. Everyone is welcome to visit Arizona Garden as it is open 24/7 with no entrance fees. Here, you will be mesmerized by gorgeous Agaves, Aloes, Crassulas, and a lot more. Because of its dreamy natural beauty, lovers make this place a popular dating site.

Arizona Garden

Address: Stanford, CA 94305, United States

Website: Arizona Garden

Opening hours: 24 hours (daily)

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4. Travel back in time at The Museum of American Heritage

Museum Of American Heritage Sign
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user DanielPenfield used under CC BY-SA 4.0

Travel back in time from the 18th century to the 20th in The Museum of American Heritage. Built in 1907, this fascinating museum houses exhibits and a wide collection of artifacts that date back centuries. It houses inventions and technological innovations that were created as early as the 1750s. Miniature cities are set in a room where guests can admire, as well as holiday trains. Old appliances and crafts are also featured in the Museum of American Heritage. The bottom line is, this museum focuses on the evolution of American invention.

The Museum of American Heritage

Address: 351 Homer Ave, Palo Alto, CA 94301, United States

Website: The Museum of American Heritage

Opening hours: Fri - Mon: 11am - 4pm (closed from Tue - Thu)

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5. Marvel at the artwork at Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts

Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts, Stanford, California
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user David Monniaux used under CC BY-SA 3.0

Another interesting attraction that you should not miss when you visit Stanford University is Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts. It was once referred to as Stanford University Museum of Art, and at present time, locals casually call it Cantor Arts Center. Before entering this art and culture hub, you will be greeted by its perfectly maintained gardens with bronze Rodin sculptures accentuating them. It showcases classic art pieces that have survived the test of time, as well as more modern ones. More than 38000 artworks can be found in this museum. Some of them are sculptures, paintings, and even old photographs.

Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts

Address: 328 Lomita Dr, Stanford, CA 94305, United States

Website: Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts

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6. Learn about the city's history at Palo Alto History Museum

Palo Alto History Museum
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user DanielPenfield used under CC BY-SA 4.0

Do you consider yourself a history buff? Are you interested in getting to know Palo Alto on a deeper level? What are you waiting for? Plan a day at Palo Alto History Museum. This museum is where history and culture merge. It features exhibits that center on prominent people that the city produced and their contributions to American life. Some of them are Sergey Brin - co-founder of Google, Tim Cook - CEO of Apple Inc., Steve Jobs - co-founder of Apple, and Ron Wyden - US Senator.

Palo Alto History Museum

Address: 300 Homer Ave, Palo Alto, CA 94301, United States

Website: Palo Alto History Museum

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7. Take your kids to Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo

Editor's Note: Photo taken from the establishment's official social account

The Junior Museum & Zoo is busy putting the final touches on our temporary location at Cubberley! We hope to see you at...

Posted by The Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo on Monday, July 30, 2018

Treating your family to a spontaneous holiday in Palo Alto? Curate an exciting itinerary that will delight everyone, especially the kids. Don’t forget to add Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo to your list of places to visit. Founded in 1934, this attraction is a junior museum and a zoo in one. It houses approximately 200 diverse species of animals. Some of them are indigenous creatures. You can find hedgehogs, bobcats, snakes, bats, and other interesting fellows in Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo. Plus, it features interactive and informative exhibits that rotate every several years.

Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo

Address: 1451 Middlefield Rd, Palo Alto, CA 94301, United States

Website: Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo

Opening hours: Tue - Sat: 10am - 5pm; Sun: 1pm - 4pm (closed on Mon)

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8. Explore the Windy Hill Open Space Preserve

WindyHill
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user [Unknown] used under CC BY-SA 3.0

History and nature come together to create the Windy Hill Open Space Preserve! With its unique hilltop, grassland ridges and forest areas, there is nothing quite like this place. It has over 540 hectares (1,335 acres) of open land to explore and it is fairly dog-friendly (except on the Lost and Razorback trails). The preserve was formed in 1980 and with the agreement of further extension, Windy Hill became the preserve it is to date.

In 1987, 173 hectares (429 acres) were added to the original mass area. Windy Hill is not just limited to hiking though. Why not hire a bike for the day or go horse riding along one of the many beautiful trails? It is definitely a place you should add to your travel itinerary whether it be rain or shine.

Windy Hill Open Space Preserve

Address: 94028 Portola Valley, CA

Website: Windy Hill Open Space Preserve

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9. Go hiking in Foothills Park

Foothills Park 40
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Leijurv used under CC BY-SA 4.0

Situated in the Los Altos Hills, Foothills Park is known to be wildlife ridden with deer, coyotes and even bobcats in sight. Spanning over 566.5 hectares (1,400 acres), this park includes 24 kilometers (15 miles) of hiking trails - the longest being the 12-kilometer (7.5-mile) Los Trancos Trail. Other activities available include fishing.

In the nearby Boronda Lake, you can catch fish such as bass which will be sure to satisfy any keen fisher. Boating is also permitted within the lake. You are free to explore the water with your own non-motorized boat. Canoes are also available for hire. In addition, there is also an opportunity to camp within the beautiful scenery in the Towle campsite. However you spend your time at Foothills Park, it will certainly be a trip to remember!

Foothills Park

Address: 3300 Page Mill Rd, 94022 Los Altos Hills, CA

Website: Foothills Park

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10. Delve into nature at Pearson-Arastradero Preserve

Pearson-Arastradero Preserve + Bay
Source: Photo by user Martin Jambon used under CC BY 2.0

This stunning nature preserve hosts over 16.4 kilometers (10.2 miles) of trails for keen hikers, bikers and horse riders. Bare in mind that some of the trails are seasonal, so make sure you visit the preserve at the right time to trek these trails. Consisting of different terrain types such as vast savanna grassland as well as forestry, the Pearson-Arastradero Preserve could be right up your alley. You will be sure to find everything you are looking for here - whether it be a quiet fishing session, a glimpse of wildlife or an attractive view of the bay.

Pearson-Arastradero Preserve

Address: 1530 Arastradero Rd, 94304 Palo Alto, CA

Website: Pearson-Arastradero Preserve

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11. Admire the scenic Monte Bello Open Space Preserve

Monte Bello Open Space Preserve
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user David Baron used under CC BY-SA 2.0

Situated in the picturesque Santa Cruz Mountains, the Monte Bello Open Space Preserve is a 1,390-hectare (3,436-acre) open space of pure beauty. There are four trails to choose from; Stevens Creek, Canyon, Bella Vista/Indian Creek and the Grizzly Flat. They all offer varied view points from the Black Mountain to the Stevens Creek Canyon where the earthquake of 1989 took place. With its lush grassland as well as rocky terrain, there really is a lot to explore here.

Monte Bello Open Space Preserve

Address: 95033 Los Gatos, CA

Website: Monte Bello Open Space Preserve

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12. Take part in outdoor activities in Baylands Nature Preserve

Baylands
Source: Photo by user Dave Nakayama used under CC BY 2.0

The Baylands Nature Preserve is one of the largest in the San Francisco area, spanning over 785 hectares (1,940 acres). With 24 kilometers (15 miles) of trails available, you are able to take part in many activities such as canoeing, biking and bird watching (the reserve is considered to be one of the best spots on the West Coast). The length of the trails run through varied animal habitats, so expect to see a lot of different species of wildlife during your visit, such as foxes, raccoons, swallows and rare harvest mice. The nearby Baylands Athletic Center provides even more activities including baseball and softball if you are the sporty type. Also worth a mention is the Lucy Evans Baylands Nature Interpretive Center, which leads on to a breathtaking 360-degree view of the San Francisco Bay.

Baylands Nature Preserve

Address: 94303 Palo Alto, CA

Website: Baylands Nature Preserve

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13. Have a picnic in El Palo Alto Park

Editor's Note: There's no photo available at the time of writing

Located in the East Palo region of Palo Alto city, El Palo Alto Park spans a smaller 0.2 hectares (0.5 acres) in area. The Tall Tree is situated here, which is where the city’s name originated from. The landmark tree is currently 2 meters (90 inches) in diameter and has a 12-meter (472-inch) crown spread. In addition to this, there are other peaks of interest available to view such as descriptive plaques which provide historical and environmental information on the San Francisquito Creek Watershed. Beautiful forestal landscapes are also in sight to provide you with a remarkable view whilst having a short stroll.

El Palo Alto Park

Address: 117 Palo Alto Ave, 94301 Palo Alto, CA

Website: El Palo Alto Park

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14. Savor the tranquility in Esther Clark Nature Preserve

Esther Clark Park
Source: Photo by user Goldfishka used under CC BY-ND 2.0

Esther Clark Nature Preserve is an attractive park that spans around 8.4 hectares (21 acres). Situated in the Los Altos region, this nature preserve is a place of natural, unspoiled beauty due to no real developments surrounding the area. This pretty location seems to be the perfect place to have some chill time alone reading a book or watching the sunset over the Los Altos Hills. Even though there are no extra amenities within this park, it is genuinely not required with this place of beauty.

Esther Clark Nature Preserve

Address: Old Trace Lane, 94301 Palo Alto, CA

Website: Esther Clark Nature Preserve

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15. Explore Byxbee Park

Byxbee Park Palo Alto California
Source: Photo by Wikimedia Commons user Igor Krivokon used under CC BY 3.0

Located on the east side of Palo Alto, Byxbee Park is a stunning open space which is around 12 hectares (29 acres) in area. The most inviting part of this space is the many trails available for you for hiking. A recommended route is from Byxbee Park to Mountain View’s Shoreline Park which is 3 kilometers (2 miles) in length which boasts incredible mountainous viewpoints. Keen walkers can walk further on the path to the Shoreline Lane.

Byxbee Park is also an amazing place to spot various forms of wildlife such as Canada geese and pelicans. As well as amazing scenic views, the park boasts an array of art installations located in different spots of the space including ‘Field of Poles.’ This consists of a range of poles buried at varying depths in the ground which creates intriguing patterns. Byxbee Park is a park not just for nature lovers but also for creatives.

Byxbee Park

Address: 2375 Embarcadero Rd, 94303 Palo Alto, CA

Website: Byxbee Park

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Quality hikes with breathtaking views to match

Large open spaces, varied views, and a range of activities to entertain the whole family make Palo Alto the city to be in the summer months. With a vast array of scenery to explore, this will be a beautiful destination that you will be sure to remember for a long time. Palo Alto is a real gold mine for keen hikers around the world!

Any must-sees we missed? Tell us about them in the comments section or write a post here to help out fellow travelers!
Disclosure: Trip101 selects the listings in our articles independently. Some of the listings in this article contain affiliate links.

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