Is Palo Alto really this boring?
February 11, 2008 11:25 PM   Subscribe

What the heck do Stanford students do for fun? Other than homework.

I'm a recent graduate from UCSD (lovingly nicknamed UC Socially Dead; this is a glimpse into how low my standards are) and I now live a couple of blocks from Stanford. I'm busy busy since I work full time and am also a grad student, but every once in a while I have a free night...and have no idea what to do.

I pick up the Daily and all the events are public lectures and other academically edifying things, or some vast multitude of sports. What is there to do for someone who wants to unwind with some live music, or watch avant-garde films, or something else that many college students like? If UCSD generally had at least one vaguely listenable band there a week, I can't believe Stanford doesn't. But where are they listed? Do students actually get in their cars/trains and go to the city to get their private-schooly grooves on??

NB: I have heard about Old Pro, Blue Chalk Cafe, and F&A's (I have never been to any of them when there was a band playing; I have judged the DJing unremarkable, but feel free to correct me). I also go to the Stanford Theatre and the Aquarius all the time. But I mean, this is like the nightlife of the San Fernando Valley. There's got to be something to do that I haven't heard about.

I figure there must be enough Stanford students/grads/area-youth-at-heart that I can get a little better grip on the resources available to a young woman looking for a decent night out. Other things in the area that you love are welcome too - good restaurants, chill parks, etc. I'm a few blocks off University and walk everywhere.
posted by crinklebat to Grab Bag (17 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Stanford undergrad here...we generally go to on-campus parties at frats and houses and hang out in our dorms. It's really fun, just a bit hard to crack into if you're not an undergrad. (And that's probably not the kind of fun you're looking for, either.) Palo Alto is too expensive for most of us to go frequently.
posted by jbb7 at 11:33 PM on February 11, 2008

Downtown San Jose is closer than SF and has a fair bit of what you're looking for. It's a start, anyway. Pick up a Metro while you're there and see what's coming up.
posted by rhizome at 12:13 AM on February 12, 2008

When I was an undergrad there, I did homework.

When I was a slightly older and wiser undergrad, I went to SF. It's not that far away, and has tons to do. Especially if you want a music scene.

If you're into hippie jam bands, you can also check out co-op parties; they always have some grad student residents and an interesting vibe, but I personally wouldn't call the music "listenable".

Otherwise, you're looking at Mountain View (bubble tea on the main street there, several other eateries), Happy Donuts (that's for doing the homework, or wearing tutus at 3 am), or, uh, SF.

If you're a grad student, then you should of course know about Antonio's Nut House, tend to be lots of grad students there on Thursday eve if I recall correctly.

Other than that, if you're a grad student, can you move to SF? It's reasonable to caltrain down- especially if you don't have to be on campus every day, and/or if you live in a place like Potrero that has easy access.

Because honestly, the short answer to your question.. is yes. Palo Alto is in fact that boring. I'm sorry, someone should have warned you.
posted by nat at 12:13 AM on February 12, 2008

I think grad students at Stanford hung out in their EV apartments and would throw parties and potlucks. They tend to be tight with other students in their grad program.

On your own - Coupa Cafe is a cool coffee place, Verde for tea. For eats, Stacks for brunch, stuff on California avenue. But yeah, pretty limited.

Would also recommend the living in SF and commuting suggestion.
posted by alex3005 at 12:22 AM on February 12, 2008

I was an undergrad at Stanford, worked in downtown Palo Alto for a couple years, and now I live/work in San Francisco. jbb7 is right about undergrad social life; it's fun, but pretty insular and mostly confined to campus.

Palo Alto is pretty damn boring. It's basically a bunch of restaurants, unappealing boutiques, and a few token bars. The Rose and Crown has trivia nights on Tuesdays, I believe, and that can be kind of entertaining to attend occasionally if you have a group of friends. The BBC (British Banker's Club) is a decent bar just north of PA in Menlo Park.

Restaurant-spew: I miss getting sandwiches from AG Ferrari for lunch. Sushiya on University was one of my all-time favorite sushi restaurants, but I think they lost their lease and closed. Miyake is entirely mediocre, but it's probably worth going to on a Friday or Saturday night just to check out how utterly bizarre it gets (club music, fog machines?). Patxi's has pretty awesome deep-dish pizza. The Peninsula Creamery is your (more expensive than average) neighborhood diner. Ming's (just east of 101 on Embarcadero) for passable dim-sum. Zibibbo is probably the best "nice" restaurant in PA and the atmosphere is pretty good. I've had some great dinners there. If you're on campus for lunch, I recommend the Thai cafe in the basement of the psych building (if you haven't discovered it already). Of the many Thai restaurants in PA, Bangkok Cuisine on Lytton is probably the best. Pluto's is utterly overrated.

The CineArts theatre at Palo Alto Square is bigger than the Aquarius, but shows slightly more mainstream films. I think there's another small theatre at the edge of Palo Alto and Menlo Park, but I can't remember the name. It's near Keppler's (which is a fantastic book store).

Ditto on living in San Francisco and commuting to campus. It seems to work out for the people that I know who are still students. The Caltrain is pretty fast if you catch a baby bullet or express. Palo Alto is conveniently close to lots of fun places (San Francisco, Half Moon Bay, Santa Cruz, Tahoe, Yosemite, etc) but isn't all that fun itself.
posted by strangecargo at 2:01 AM on February 12, 2008

I was an undergrad at Stanford, and they called it "The Bubble" for a reason (most of the stuff was on-campus). Then again, I am/was a science type so maybe I just didn't get invited to any of the good parties.
posted by Comrade_robot at 5:17 AM on February 12, 2008

Call me a nerd, but I liked the open lectures and classical music. See here and here. There aren't that many other options.
posted by Durin's Bane at 5:43 AM on February 12, 2008

Best answer: Palo Alto is a center for vintage dance, if you're interested in that sort of thing; google is your friend here but you could start with Friday Night Waltz; Richard Powers is famous in the dance world and a Stanford faculty person.

When I was at Stanford I subscribed to the LivelyArts season. I also went to the Stanford Theater a lot, did local geocaching, walked the Dish, went up to SF for all of the "cooler" cultural things like contemporary art/performance, rock/punk/indie concerts (in contrast to LivelyArts' classical/gospel/folk offerings)... and a friend and I had a fun but odd tradition of picking a random town on the peninsula and finding its hallmark institutions (the "main street," always perpendicular to El Camino, which had to have an Irish pub, a bookstore of dubious quality, a boutique and/or second-hand store, a coffee shop, and at least one establishment whose premise is entirely implausible).

Palo Alto really does have a crappy night life, sorry. And San Jose is kind of a loss as well, apologies to the person above who suggested it -- maybe with only a decade in the Bay area I just missed the good stuff?
posted by obliquicity at 6:09 AM on February 12, 2008

As an undergrad 6+ years ago (damn...) I had a few graduate friends who very said it wasn't overly social besides the core people you knew in the programs.

And to confirm, PA does shut down at like 10 pm.
posted by shinynewnick at 6:32 AM on February 12, 2008

Nthing strangecargo on the BBC in Menlo Park - I loved it back in the mid 80's, and am glad it's still there. I visit whenever I'm in town. Other than that, it's The City or San Jose, I'm afraid.
posted by Nick Verstayne at 8:05 AM on February 12, 2008

As a grad student, Palo Alto made me so miserable I escaped as soon as I could- namely, after I'd completed my teaching obligations and passed my oral exams- and got as far away as I could, culturally and geographically (well, within the limits of the lower 48), setting up shop in the East Village to research and write my dissertation.

While I was still in my first three years of my grad program, doing coursework and preparing for orals, I felt like I had to be close to campus for the sake of convenience- particularly in terms of access to the libraries. In retrospect I think this was a bad decision. It was more convenient, but I would have found a way to make it work commuting from SF and it would not have taken the toll on my sanity that living in Palo Alto did.

If you feel strongly that you want to stay on the peninsula, I'd suggest investing in a nice road or mountain bike. The thing I miss the mostest about CA now that I'm settled permanently here in New York is the spectacular cycling, and a good ride up Old La Honda Road was my once-a-week treat when I was studying for orals.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 10:35 AM on February 12, 2008

Oh, I forgot the AskMe Guidelines: always answer the question. Yes, Palo Alto is really that boring.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 10:36 AM on February 12, 2008

Stanford is legendary for its students not having a social life. My wife was an undergrad there from 1990-1995 and has worked on campus since 1999, and she says not much has changed.

This may be apocryphal, but rumor has it that Stanford was placed where it is to deliberately keep it at a distance from Palo Alto so that students would stay focused. In terms of nightlife, Palo Alto doesn't have much, and what socializing there is at Stanford is highly constrained to the campus (which, in and of itself, is effing enormous).

Palo Alto and Stanford are really that boring, unfortunately: if you want fun, you have to make it yourself. As a general rule, Stanford students prioritize study, and historically have.
posted by scrump at 10:55 AM on February 12, 2008

Yep, it's that boring. ( It didn't used to be- when I was a teenager back in the 80's The New Varsity hosted punk shows almost every other week, and there were lots of bands at the Keystone Palo Alto.) However you really aren't that far from the City if you drive- Zip Car has a Stanford discount.
posted by oneirodynia at 11:33 AM on February 12, 2008

What is there to do for someone who wants to unwind with some live music

You should be listening to the KFJC concert outlook as they do their local music announcements.
posted by Rash at 3:22 PM on February 12, 2008

Stanford grad student here. What do I do for fun? Homework!! Wait, you said other than homework...hmmm...

The Stanford Concert network sometimes brings cool bands to school. The current events part of their website is down but the past events is up so you can get a flavour of who has been to campus.

Lively Arts (mentioned above) is a great place to see classical or dance performances. A lot of the Stanford events are listed on the events website

The graduate student programming board does off campus events and you can find out about those by signing up for grad events (go to the graduate student council website to find out how to do that). In the past they've done things like trapeze lessons and some times have cheap tickets to the opera.

There aren't a lot of bands that come to Palo Alto. Luckily SF is nearby and lots of bands head there. If you want something to do in the near future check out noise pop. (i.e. yes, I get in my car/train and go to the city to get my private- schooly groove on).

Cafes/restaurants: brown rice sushi, fraiche yogurt, coupa cafe, Cafe Bourone, JJ&F (for the sandwiches)
Parks: Rodin Sculpture Garden outside Cantor Art Museum, Cactus Garden (by the Stanford Mausoleum).

Good Luck finding fun in Palo Alto!
posted by kechi at 7:35 PM on February 12, 2008

yes, it is. As a teenager, when visiting my grandfather at Stanford for a week I would get so bored I'd Caltrain it up to the City at least once. . .

There's a great park up in the hills behind campus, though it might've gotten too popular. (Last time I was in town, I think it had actually gotten so popular, they'd had to ban parking on the street outside it...) It's across Junipero Serra from campus; probably the easiest way to get there is to go straight out Stanford Ave from PA; there is (or at least used to be) a light at the end and a gate into the park directly across from Stanford Ave.

(Does anyone know if they still have cows up there? The cows were awesome.)
posted by FlyingMonkey at 6:51 AM on February 26, 2008

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