What should I do in Palo Alto tomorrow?
August 15, 2012 9:21 AM   Subscribe

I'm going to Palo Alto/Menlo Park tomorrow. I'm going to have an afternoon to kill by myself -- if I only have one afternoon, what should I do, and where should I eat in the South Bay Area?

I don't have any plans between tomorrow morning (when my flight lands) and Friday, so I'll have a decent chunk of time to myself.

I've been to San Francisco a few times, and (think) I've seen most of the major sights. On the other hand, I've never been to the South Bay, and I'm having trouble figuring out what I should do out there.... If these towns are really just bleak suburbs, I suppose I can catch Caltrain into the city.

My interests are pretty broad -- generally, if Metafilter finds something awesome, so do I. Because that's not terribly descriptive, I like: Art, tech-y things, nice parks, scenic bike rides, good food of just about any kind, good coffee, cool bookstores, etc.... What are the highlights that I should see if I only have one afternoon in the area?

I won't have a rental car with me, but I do have a Zipcar membership.

posted by schmod to Travel & Transportation around Palo Alto, CA (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Rent a bike in downtown Palo Alto and then bike over to the Stanford campus, making sure to visit the museum and the sculpture gardens around it [http://museum.stanford.edu/]. It's a gorgeous campus with several sights worth seeing. (Sorry - I've lived away for too long for me to be able to recommend a food option).
posted by apennington at 9:28 AM on August 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

I found the Computer History Museum in Mountain View pretty interesting when I was there last summer; be sure to get there for a demonstration of the replica Babbage Engine they have. And although I haven't visited it in a long time, 12-year-old me thought the Tech Museum in San Jose was awesome on toast.
posted by Johnny Assay at 9:35 AM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Stanford Theatre on University Ave. (short walk from the CalTrain station) shows old movies. There is nothing like seeing Hitchcock or Kurasawa on the big screen. This week, they appear to be showing Singing in the Rain!
posted by prefpara at 9:49 AM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The Cantor Arts Museum at Stanford is open late on Thursdays (until 8pm). So depending on how much time you actually have and how ambitious you want to be you could go to the Computer History Museum in the early afternoon right off the plane (that's about 30 minutes from the airport). Then go over to downtown Palo Alto, have coffee and a snack at one of the many coffee shops there (Coupa Cafe might be a good one or Cafe Venetia (used to be Cafe del Doge)). Then walk or ride over to the Cantor Arts Center for some fine art and a lovely sculpture garden.

You could go back to Palo Alto for dinner, or to Mountain View - there are lots of restaurants in both. I would also recommend Cafe Borrone in Menlo Park. Lots of excellent people watching and good food. Nice for sitting outside on a warm evening. Unfortunately, Kepler's which is next to Boronne is temporarily closed.

I don't know anything about Zipcar rentals in the area, you'd probably need one for at least the first part of that as I don't think the Computer History Museum is accessible from Caltrain (though it might be accessible from VTA, if you're really committed to public transport). Stanford is accessible from Caltrain easily.

I live downtown Menlo Park and would be happy to answer any questions - MeMail me if you like.
posted by marylynn at 9:51 AM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you've got hiking gear, there is actually terrific hiking around there if weather permits - could always do the dish.

Otherwise, downtown PA is kind of cute - many decent food options, coffee options.
posted by namesarehard at 9:54 AM on August 15, 2012

Actually, as for eating, give us some direction? Cost? Cuisine?
posted by namesarehard at 9:55 AM on August 15, 2012

Response by poster: I'll be by myself, and will have a modest Per Diem. Anything under $20-$25 a meal should be fine, and I don't mind making up the difference for something exceptional -- I'll likely be on my own for dinner on Friday night as well, so I can take multiple recommendations!

I'm very flexible in terms of cuisine. Generally speaking, when I travel, I like to try cuisines that aren't as common back home (DC). In California, that usually translates to some sort of Asian food. Sorry if that's vague...
posted by schmod at 10:06 AM on August 15, 2012

Best answer: Sure, I love Maru Ichi ramen in Mt. View for cheap but delicious ramen deals. Palo Alto has a new hummus shop that I can attest to being the only authentic Israeli hummus I've eaten in the states in 20 years (Oren's Hummus) - I guarantee there are at best a handful of places like it in the whole US, and it's cheap. There are many thai and vietnamese restaurants scattered around PA and Mt. View downtowns - all decent, nothing remarkable.
posted by namesarehard at 10:15 AM on August 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Stanford has a free shuttle, the Marguerite, which makes it very easy to get from both local Caltrain stops to the campus. You could get off Caltrain at California Avenue, do a little wander around the shopping/dining district there and then hop on the Marguerite to the Campus. After seeing the Stanford sites, take another Marguerite to the Palo Alto train station and the main University Ave shopping/dining area.

On preview here are a few restaurants around might appeal: I've eaten at Tamarine a few times. (It's a very nice 10-block walk from the Caltrain station in Palo Alto.) In Mountain View, there's Xanh on Castro, though I haven't eaten there myself. And on California Ave, there's the new, casual Vietnamese/Korean lunch spot Spice Kit.
posted by not.so.hip at 10:22 AM on August 15, 2012

Used to be more bookstores in Palo Alto and Menlo Park... now, your best bet would be the latter. For new, the venerable Kepler's -- which seems to be closed until the Fall! Or for used, there's Feldman's, also venerable, located a few blocks north of Kepler's at 1170 El Camino Real.
posted by Rash at 10:22 AM on August 15, 2012

Best answer: If you want/need a cup of coffee, I recommend Coupa Cafe, which also has locations on campus if you are over there. Or, there is also Philz, where they brew each cup of drip coffee fresh to your specs. And they use manufacturer's cream if you take cream (extra fat! extra delicious!).
posted by freezer cake at 10:32 AM on August 15, 2012

Keep thinking of things.

If you do end up going to Castro Street in Mountain View, the Bookbuyers used book store there is definitely worth a look.

Also, if you do go to Stanford, Ike's Place makes unusual and delicious sandwiches.
posted by not.so.hip at 10:36 AM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Applewood Pizza!!! Good food and rad German beer selection
posted by couchdive at 10:36 AM on August 15, 2012

Stanford's art museum and cactus garden are definitely worth checking out. You can walk there from downtown PA, or take a Marguerite for free (anyone can ride, not just students).
posted by jeffamaphone at 11:19 AM on August 15, 2012

If you have access to a car, I'd recommend heading over the hill. Lots of beaches and redwood forests. Go to Duartes in Pescadero for a late lunch and then out to the coast for some hiking.
posted by doctor_negative at 12:08 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Pescadero! Olallieberry Pie. Cioppino! Aaahhrrg.

Or drive to San Jose and check out the Rosicrusican Egyptian Museum. Or the Winchester Mystery House. Both are fun and interesting.

Or just drive west up Page Mill Road and check out the view. (I always did this in the dark, but it could be nice in the day.)
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:24 PM on August 15, 2012

If you can get a car, I think that this Halal chinese restuarant near Cupertino is pretty unique. If you're restricted to Caltrain/Marguerite lines, Bell's Books in downtown Palo Alto is adorable--like stepping into a scene from Beauty and the Beast.
posted by tinymegalo at 1:27 PM on August 15, 2012

Best answer: If you're around on Friday night, you could do the drive over the hill then and end yourself up at the Ritz-Carlton in Half Moon Bay. They do a Friday/Saturday night hot chocolate and s'mores on the bluff overlooking the ocean. I haven't been in a while but they also used to have a dusk-time bagpipe player. It isn't cheap but having someone tuck you into blankets while you eat s'mores and watch the sun go down over the Pacific is a pretty decent way to end a week.
posted by marylynn at 2:51 PM on August 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Sancho's Taqueria in downtown Palo Alto has my all-time favorite fish tacos. It's a pretty inexpensive place (relatively speaking) and cash-only. Also, Fraiche frozen yoghurt is a local fave. There's a location on Stanford campus and in downtown PA.

Seconding just exploring the Stanford campus. Check out the view from the top of Hoover Tower (the first floor has a modest Herbert Hoover museum, if you're into that), or peek inside Memorial Church.
posted by Slater Sheldahl at 4:02 PM on August 15, 2012

You should drive down to the Falafel Drive In and get the combo with the banana shake.
posted by rr at 5:42 PM on August 15, 2012

Response by poster: Metafilter: A modest Herbert Hoover museum — if you're into that...

But, seriously, that sounds awesome.
posted by schmod at 9:20 PM on August 15, 2012

Response by poster: My flight got in late, so I decided not to rent a bike (which I now regret in hindsight).

However, I got to eat at Oren's Hummus (yum), stopped in Bell's (awesome), and took a stroll around PA and Stanford's staggeringly-large campus. The Hoover tower was closed by the time I got there, but the Cactus Garden did not disappoint.

On the other hand, Lake Lagunitas didn't quite live up to its name...

Haven't figured out my dinner plans just yet. I'm still full from the hummus and falafel I had 6 hours ago!

Thanks for everyone's recommendations so far!
posted by schmod at 8:01 PM on August 16, 2012

Response by poster: Just wanted to provide one more update for the benefit of anybody who stumbles across this in the future:

I ended up eating dinner pretty late, and Crepevine was the only thing that was open* and looked decent. Their Florentine crepe was out-of-this-world amazing. It might be my new de-facto example of savory vegetarian food done right.

*For a college town, things sure do close up early in Palo Alto!

Coupa was great for breakfast.

I gave Spice Kit a try, and though it was pretty good, and though I could definitely see myself being a regular if I lived in the area, it was nothing terribly special.

Thanks for all your tips! It was a great trip, and I wish I had more time to explore them all!
posted by schmod at 2:50 PM on August 20, 2012

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