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Explore Palo Alto

October 16, 2005|David Boul

Perhaps the most overlooked city for Bay Area visitors is Palo Alto. That's a shame. Even if you're not a Stanford University alum, the town is a smart weekend distraction.


1.The ambience. Downtown Palo Alto is a quintessential college town, complete with noodle bars, coffee bars, bagel bars and juice bars. The Ramona Street Architectural District, with its Spanish Colonial Revival-style buildings, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The nearby Stanford Theater, which shows a double feature of classic films nightly, has been restored to its former glory. On Sunday afternoons in Lytton Plaza, you can usually find an impromptu performance by some local tango dancers.

2.The view. Unless you don't like heights, the Observation Platform on the top floor of Stanford's 285-foot-tall Hoover Tower is a great place to get the lay of the land. You can see the campus (designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, famous for New York's Central Park), the city and -- on a clear day -- the San Francisco skyline. If you ask, one of the student guides will point out Xanadu, the student residence where Chelsea Clinton lived during her tenure at Stanford.

3.The politics. If you love presidential tchotchkes -- and who doesn't? -- the exhibition rooms on the ground floor of Hoover (as in Herbert, class of 1895) Tower are a delight. See the 31st president's fishing reel; bonbon dishes used by his wife, Lou (also an alum); and a medicine ball signed by members of his Cabinet.

4.The art. Stanford has the largest collection of outdoor Rodin sculpture outside Paris -- about 20 bronzes, including "The Gates of Hell." Many are next to the school's delightful museum, the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts. Also check out the outdoor work by Henry Moore, Alexander Calder and others.

5.The church. Amid the palm trees and sandstone arcades of the university's main quad sits Memorial Church, architectural gem of the campus. Built in 1903 and rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake, this nondenominational church features what was once the largest exterior mosaic in America.

-- David Boul

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