Free Things to Do in Palo Alto, California
Palo Alto for free. A guide.
Reviews by Loren Stein (July 24, 2003)
THE PENINSULA never had it so good, and Palo Alto pretty much epitomizes all that is right with the Bay Area, boom or bust. Situated halfway between the South Bay and San Francisco, the city manages to balance a flourishing business district with charming neighborhoods, high-tech interests with environmental concerns and a fairly progressive political agenda with the conservative Hoover Institute at Stanford University. It hasn't been without a ruckus (the city council recently tried to outlaw frowning at meetings), and the price of living there is off the charts, but the city whose name means "tall stick" somehow manages to measure up.
1. See 'The Thinker'
Cantor Arts Center and Rodin Sculpture Garden
2. Listen Up
328 Lomita Dr., Stanford University,
Palo Alto; 650.723.4177; www.stanford.edu/dept/ccva/
Now is a great time to take a free self-guided foot tour of the Iris
B. and Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University,
which showcases collections of stunning European, American and Asian
art that are regularly rotated. Another great show is outside the building
in the elaborately staged courtyard that houses one of the world's largest
and most complete collections of bronze sculpture by French master Auguste
Rodin, including his evocative and massive Gates of Hell.
The courtyard is a pleasant setting for an afternoon picnic in addition
to providing an in-your-face exposure to some of the world's most expensive
cultural gems. Rodin's equally famous sculpture The Thinker
is also on display, offering up a silent reminder, perhaps, of what
is supposed to be happening elsewhere on campus.
Brown Bag Concert Series
3. Feed Your Head
Cogswell Plaza, Lytton and Ramona streets,
Palo Alto; Thu noon-1pm, through Aug 12; www.cityofpaloalto.org/artsculture/brownbag.html
Twilight Concert Series
Various Palo Alto Parks; Tue 6:30-8pm, through Aug 14;
Alas, unless private donations come to the rescue, after 22 years the
city of Palo Alto is calling it quits for these free, culturally diverse
musical offerings (they're calling this year's series the "Farewell
Concerts"). Jazz, blues, rock, folk, country, opera, a capella
vocals, reggae and salsa in a relaxed outdoor setting. Enjoy the free
music before these staples of Palo Alto cultural life are relegated
to "back in the day."
Stanford University Free Lectures and Events
4. Linear Reasoning
For info, visit events.stanford.edu
With current annual tuition hovering around $25,000 a year, you won't
get into classes free at this acclaimed university, but there are quite
a number of events and lectures open to the public each month. Upcoming
free events range from scholarly talks about the Middle East peace (or
war) process to an Afro-Peruvian dance and music fest to a concert by
the St. Lawrence String Quartet. Parking can be hard to come by close
to the venues of events, but the university runs a free shuttle bus,
called the Marguerite, that picks up passengers at several locations
including the Palo Alto California Avenue Caltrain station and deposits
them within easy walking distance of most event sites. The online schedule
of lectures and events is updated frequently and usually lists at least
five to seven upcoming free happenings.
Stanford Linear Accelerator Center
5. Get Open
You probably won't get to see any tau neutrinos, muons or other subatomic
particles, but you will get to see Silicon Valley's longest public cylinder
if you time your visit to coincide with one of the irregular free public
tours of the Stanford Linear Accelerator (SLAC), one of the world's
best-known experimental particle accelerators. The facility's high-intensity
X-ray beams attract physicists from around the world who like to smash
tiny bits of matter together and then record the results. The linear
accelerator is managed by Stanford University for the Department of
Energy, with the primary goal of understanding the origins of the universe.
They might not have all that figured out when you tour the facility,
but at the very least you'll get to see the giant ditch into which several
hundred million dollars of your tax money has gone.
6. A Duck Walks into a Park
Parking lot on Arastradero Road, .4 mile north of Page Mill
Road; 8am-sunset; 650.329.2423
In the foothills above Stanford and Palo Alto, hikers can enjoy 10.25
miles of trails through rolling savanna grassland, oak woodland and
broadleaf evergreen forest. Take the trail through meadows (only a 20-minute
walk) to Arastradero Lake, where fishing is allowed. So are horses,
bicycles and leashed dogs on this city-owned preserve. It's not uncommon
to see deer, bobcats, coyotes and many varieties of birds.
Palo Alto Baylands and Duck Pond
7. Do the Dish!
East end of Embarcadero Road, Palo Alto; 650.329.2506
Bounded by Mountain View and East Palo Alto, the 1,940-acre Baylands
Preserve is the largest tract of undisturbed marshland remaining in
the San Francisco Bay. With 15 miles of multiuse trails running through
a mixture of tidal and freshwater habitats, this area is considered
one of the best bird-watching spots on the West Coast, with clapper
rails, black rails and other rare birds winging high above. Also boasts
a duck pond.
The Dish Walk
8. A Sure Bet
Stanford foothills, Junipero Serra Boulevard and Stanford Avenue
(be careful where you park, there's lots of restricted parking nearby)
Often called the Dish Walk (because of a satellite receiving dish crowning
the mountain), this network of paths and trails around the Stanford
foothills west of Junipero Serra Blvd. offers numerous hillside trail
runs and hikes. With sweeping views of Skyline Ridge as well as Palo
Alto all the way down to the bay, this park is a favorite among locals.
Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden
9. Harold and Maude's Haunts
1431 Waverly St., Palo Alto; dawn-dusk; 650.329.1356, www.gamblegarden.org
Built in 1902 for Edwin and Lila Gamble (Edwin was the grandson of the
co-founder of Proctor and Gamble), this historic property was willed
by their daughter Elizabeth to the city in 1981. Now this 2.5-acre estate
features formal (rose garden, wisteria garden, a weeping cherry allée
and grotto) woodland (hydrangeas, camellias and Japanese maples) and
demonstration gardens, including cutting beds (exhibit herbs, salvias,
iris and perennials) and is a nonprofit community horticultural resource
to boot. For consultations about gardening woes, the free plant clinic
is open the second Saturday of each month from 9am to 11am.
St. Thomas Aquinas Church
10. Gardens of Eatin'
751 Waverly St., Palo Alto
The oldest church in Palo Alto (built in 1902), this Gothic Revival
building was used as a set location for the classic cult film Harold
and Maude. Intimate and beautiful, with ornate wood ceiling crossbeams
and gorgeous stained-glass panels, the sanctuary is the perfect place
to step out of the modern world and take a moment for peaceful solitude
Palo Alto Community Gardens
11. Great America
Main Garden, 1313 Newell Rd. (located behind the Main Library)
Edith Johnson Garden, 200 Waverly St., in Johnson Park
Eleanor Pardee Garden, 1201 Channing Ave., in Pardee Park
Palo Alto Garden, 1154 Palo Alto Ave.
Feel like strolling through lovingly tended organic gardens and admiring
the gardening skills of ordinary folk? Scattered throughout Palo Alto
are plots of land owned by the city that are dedicated to providing
city dwellers with a place to dig their hands into the soil and plant
vegetables, flowers and herbs. Enjoy the calendula blossoms, corn stalks,
pumpkin vines, sunflowers and more, as well as a wide variety of birds
and butterflies. The Main Garden encompasses 60,000 square feet, bordered
by fruit trees and flower beds.
Museum of American Heritage
12. The People's Art
351 Homer Ave., Palo Alto; Fri-Sun 11am-4pm; 650.321.1004, www.moah.org
Located in the 1907 Williams House, the museum operates programs to
collect, preserve and present objects that illustrate the evolution
of 19th- and 20th-century innovation and technology. The summer exhibit
explores the evolution of the bicycle, showcasing classic bikes of years
past, with a look at bicycle racing. The holiday exhibit features vintage
board games and puzzles. Permanent exhibits include a 1920s print shop
with a 3,000-pound linotype press, vintage tools, shop smith and lathe
drill, and the only working, original 1950s Xerox machine. The historic
garden beckons out back. And there is no admission charge.
Palo Alto Art Center
13. A Zoo, Too
1313 Newell Rd., Palo Alto; 650.329.2366, www.cityofpaloalto.org/artcenter
The Palo Alto Art Center is a nationally recognized visual arts center
that offers a variety of exhibitions, classes, workshops and art education
programs. Exhibitions include the best of contemporary fine art, craft,
design and new art forms, with a particular emphasis on the art of the
San Francisco Bay Area.
Junior Museum and Zoo
14. Ivy League Dreams
1451 Middlefield Rd., Palo Alto; Tue-Sat
10am-5pm, Sun 1-4pm, closed Mon and holidays; 650.329.2111
Designed for children up to third grade, the small museum offers free,
educational hands-on exhibits and is a great place for kids to think,
create and play (the current exhibit explores patterns found in nature).
The zoo (not a petting zoo) features a new bat exhibit with African
straw-colored fruit bats and Egyptian fruit bats. Also living at the
zoo: two bobcats, an African hedgehog, ferrets, ducks, geese, bunnies,
a raccoon, a boa constrictor, a ball python, a blue tongued skink, a
great horned owl, a Western screech owl, guinea fowl, red-eared slider
turtles, and an African gray parrot.
Stanford Campus Tour
Ever wonder how the elite get their dose of higher education? Free campus walking tours take place twice a day, seven days a week, at 11am and 3:15pm. The tours last an hour and are led by student docents. Tours start at the Visitor Information Services building, in Memorial Auditorium, 650.723.2560 or stanfordevents.stanford.edu/who_we_are/visitor_info/tours.html
Free things to do in Silicon Valley
Luxury Hotel near Stanford University
Centrally Located in Silicon Valley
Outdoor Kitchens and Patio Design
Luxury Hotel in Palo Alto
SanJose.com's Bay Area Wedding Guide