Are you headed to Stanford University for a visit? Don’t worry Mom, there are plenty of fun things to do in Palo Alto. 

Whether visiting a Stanford student or simply touring the storied university, you’ll find many fun things to do in Palo Alto. Referred to as the birthplace of Silicon Valley, Palo Alto wasn’t always all about tech.

Palo Alto was once known for its orchards and agriculture. In fact, Stanford University was founded on what was once the Stanford family farm. Here are some suggestions for things to do in Palo Alto on a Stanford University college visit.

Where to Stay While Visiting Palo Alto 

the rooftop pool at the Clement Hotel
The rooftop pool at the Clement Hotel | Photo by Kristine Dworkin

It’s easy to headquarter yourself close to Stanford University. There’s a trio of Palo Alto hotels between two university gates. All are only a 15-minute walk to campus. They’re also a 20-minute stroll from the heart of downtown Palo Alto’s main drag, University Avenue. Parking is challenging in both these areas so walkability can save a lot of time. 

The Westin Palo Alto offers a mid-range option for those who like luxury without straining their budget. Sheraton Palo Alto has a garden-style layout with an enclosed courtyard should you need to “take a minute.”  (Trust me, college tours have that effect on moms!) The splurge-worthy Clement Hotel is an all-inclusive retreat which makes for a more pampered experience. 

What to do and Where to Eat While Visiting Stanford University 

The Stanford Quad as viewed from the Oval
The Stanford Quad as viewed from the Oval| Photo by Kristine Dworkin

Whether you’re trekking in or driving, I recommend entering Stanford from Palm Drive. This scenic stretch leads into the Stanford Oval revealing a postcard worthy view of the historic quad and Hoover Tower.

The first of several possible campus encounters with French sculptor Auguste Rodin is just outside the quad. The six figures known as the Burghers of Calais cast quite a presence. In fact, they often appear in visitor Instagram feeds and selfies. 

If you’d like more Rodin in your day, I have good news for you. The Rodin Sculpture Garden is just a 10-minute walk from this spot. The left wing of the adjacent Cantor Arts Center houses 170 more pieces. Stanford has the largest Rodin collection outside of France.

The Rodin Sculpture Garden
The Rodin Sculpture Garden | Photo by Kristine Dworkin

If you enjoyed your outdoor art experience with Rodin, it might interest you to know that there are 80 more outdoor art works around campus including the spectacular Papua New Guinea Sculpture Garden.  

Stanford has a lot of eateries to choose from but, I have three favorites. You simply can’t beat the location of Cantor Café!  Overlooking the Rodin Sculpture Garden, there is nothing like a leisurely lunch on the café terrace.

The Coffee House, often referred to as the CoHo, is a favorite student hangout. Located in the Student Union, the place is packed whenever there’s live music or a game on the TVs.

The Treehouse is a great place to give prospective students a peek at campus life. This go-to spot is an ideal place to study while filling up on thick crust pizza and Mexican food. 

Things to do in Downtown Palo Alto 

The Hewlett-Packard Garage
The Hewlett-Packard Garage | Photo by Kristine Dworkin

Remember when I mentioned that Palo Alto is the birthplace of Silicon Valley? The exact location of that birth is on Addison Avenue in downtown Palo Alto. The iconic Hewlett-Packard Garage is where Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard launched HP and inspired every garage-based tech startup afterwards.

Tucked behind a quaint home, it can only be seen from the sidewalk. There’s a sizeable historical marker detailing its history out front.  It may not seem like much but, it represents hallowed history in these parts. 

While bustling University Avenue is filled with upscale shops, it also has a classic movie palace. The Stanford Theatre offers a movie-going experience befitting of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Younger establishments around it have come and gone yet this 1920’s theater still features classic films.

Stanford Theater
Stanford Theater | Photo by Kristine Dworkin

Time your visit for a show accompanied by the Wurlitzer organ.  Another unexpected stop is the Palo Alto Farmers Market. It’s set up every Saturday behind the post office. The all-volunteer run effort gives its annual revenues to a non-profit organization helping seniors. To date, they’ve donated over half a million dollars! 

Downtown has numerous fine dining spots perfect for spoiling a student existing on campus fare. Despite this, you may be been in for an education on Sushiritto or Ramen Nagi.

Your student has likely already mastered ordering a burrito-sized sushi roll or a ramen bowl worthy of a wait in line! It’s your turn now! My personal favorite downtown brunch spot is Local Union 271. The atmosphere is relaxed, and the dishes contain all farm-sourced ingredients.  

Drive Worthy Things to do in or Near Palo Alto  

Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve
Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve | Photo by Kristine Dworkin

If you can take some time away from your student or college visit to explore the area, plan on hiking the Palo Alto Baylands Nature Reserve. The largest tract of undisturbed marshland remaining in the San Francisco Bay, this gem near Highway 101 is easily missed. Enjoy 15 miles of trails that wind their way past unique tidal and freshwater habitats.  

Continuing south on Highway 101, the Googleplex is about a 10-minute drive away in neighboring Mountain View.  The Google Store is a fun stop. Located on the Google campus, you’ll know you’ve arrived when you spot the Android themed sculpture garden! 

The nearby Computer History Museum provides a fascinating timeline of computing technology through the ages. Don’t worry, you don’t need to be a Stanford Engineering graduate to understand it! 

San Jose is another 20 minutes south on 101. The largest city in Northern California, San Jose is a sprawling metropolis. It’s home to three professional sports teams, the Tech Interactive and the quirky Winchester Mystery House. It also has a colorful downtown nightlife with lots of unique restaurants and live music venues to enjoy.  

Before Heading Home: Take Your College Student Shopping 

Stanford Shopping Center
Stanford Shopping Center | Photo by Kristine Dworkin

Located alongside Stanford University, the toney Stanford Shopping Center is the ultimate in retail therapy.  An open-air mall with vibrant flower gardens, there are more than 140 stores and an array of restaurants to explore.  Don’t forget to treat yourself while you’re picking up basics for your college student! Why do we moms always seem to forget that?