I had been to Palo Alto, or rather, Stanford, a couple of times before our March day trip. The first time was in third grade. My teacher, Mr. Chaidez took us to a football game there. He was an alumni and former player. I remember it being a really fun day because there was a fair going on, game day food, and I met Jerry Rice (although I had no clue who he was at the time)!
I think I went a second time back in high school, and then a third time a few years ago as a chaperone on my niece’s school field trip. Anyway, every time I visit the campus, I am amazed at how grand it is. And every time I’m there, I’m momentarily inspired to go back to school, or at least to think bigger in terms of my goals. Yes, a campus this grandiose can have that affect.
But let’s back track.
Our day started with a traffic jam mess that made our usual hour and a half drive to the bay, and almost 2 and a half hour drive. But once we were cruising down the Palo Alto streets with sidewalks covered in fallen blossoms, we were once again excited to begin a day full of activities! First stop: Blue Bottle Coffee!
Blue Bottle Coffee is located right on University Avenue, a street you can find lots of yummy options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner! The actual café is located inside Varsity Theater, which was an actual movie theater for 50 years, and at one point a bookstore. But since the collaboration between Blue Bottle Coffee and HannaHaus in 2015, the space is now a café, workspace community hybrid. Fun fact, it was actually created by the co-founder of the software company, SAP.
Upon walking into the property, it’s gorgeous, especially on a sunshine filled day, like the one we were fortunate enough to have during our day trip in mid-March. We arrived at around 10am, and there were many people already hard at work on their laptops with coffee and breakfast on the side. If a concentrated, quiet, almost library like atmosphere is not your thing, I’d grab a cup of Joe elsewhere. But I liked the feeling of knowing that everyone around me was deep in the quiet hustle. The inside of the café is equally as nice and regal. There is also a large area available for groups to work together while still in a café atmosphere.
Joey and I were so happy to see that there was no rain in the forecast and so we sat outside. He ordered the Breakfast Sandwich while I opted for the Toast & Poached Eggs. They were both pretty good, nothing out of the ordinary. We also ordered a couple of cappuccinos that were delightfully strong and soothing. All in all, it was a great way to start the morning.
The pricing at Blue Bottle Coffee is moderate. For the two of us, we spent about $35.
As we drove through Palo Alto, we couldn’t help but admire and acknowledge the fact that almost every block had an “Instagrammable” backdrop. We wanted to stop at every one, but we decided to keep going with our itinerary.
One place we drove right by, but could be a cool place to stop if visiting with kids would be Whiplash! Whiplash, which was constructed by Patrick Dougherty, is basically a large sculptural piece made of willow wood. It’s really cool looking and I’m sure kids would love running through it like a mini maze!
After much wandering to figure out where to park, we arrived on Palm Drive where Stanford’s Memorial Church is front and center. It’s really a very beautiful view. We followed the signs to the most convenient parking structure, and happened upon the Rodin Sculpture Garden.
The sculptures in the garden are by French sculptor, Auguste Rodin. All of the sculptures we saw had a dark, melancholy vibe. The Gates of Hell sculpture that can be found to the side of the Cantor Arts Center, was probably the most eerie. But even though they weren’t the happiest of pieces, it was great to see some amazing art up close. Can you believe the Rodin collection at Stanford is the largest in an American museum!
After some time admiring the Rodin sculptures, we continued our walk to the Main Quad. As I mentioned, it was a pretty warm day, so the walk got us to break a bit of a sweat!
It wasn’t surprising to see that we weren’t the only tourists and spectators out that day. There were large groups, probably on field trips, as well as families, who I imagine are there to check out the school that one of their kids will be attending next Fall. Regardless, it’s a beautiful place to visit.
The Memorial Church, said to be inspired by the churches of Venice, was built in the early 1900’s to commemorate Jane Stanford’s husband, the late Leland Stanford. Like many grand churches, this one has mosaics and stained glass windows. Joey even said he would love to marry me here (aww, but not exactly my style).
As we continued on our walk around the campus, we noticed it was pretty quiet all around. It was a Monday, so classes were in session. And you could see many students lounging around the structures and on the lawns studying and reading away. It made me miss school!
One place on campus that I was really excited to visit was Hoover Tower. Built in 1941, Hoover Tower is a landmark and a must-see spot when visiting Palo Alto and Stanford. The Observation Platform at the top of the 285-foot tower allows you to see all the way out to the San Francisco Bay on a clear day. Sadly, Hoover Tower was closed the day we were there. I am terrified of heights, but had talked myself into finally going up there. Oh, well, there will be a next time.
Admission to go up is only $4 per adult, and $3 each if you’re going as a group of 10 or more.
After a few hours skipping and posing around the Stanford campus, Joey and I decided to drive out to the Arizona Cactus Garden. Word of advice, wear comfortable shoes because you’ll be walking quite a bit while you’re here. If it’s a beautiful day and you’re up for it, I’d recommend walking to the Arizona Cactus Garden from the Main Quad. In the end, we decided to drive and park closer to the cactus garden but, we still had to walk down a trail to find it.
The whole time, we actually weren’t sure if we were in the right place because it was pretty desolate and the trail was pretty random.
On our walk, we passed by the Angel of Grief and the Stanford Mausoleum which houses the remains of Jane and Leland Stanford, as well as their son, Leland Stanford Jr. It’s surrounded by Sphinxes; the front two are Egyptian males and the two at the back are Greek Females.
It was a little creepy, so we kept going down the trail.
At one point, we found a small black Pomeranian like dog wandering around. We were so concerned because we couldn’t see anyone else on the trail anywhere. I was slightly excited I’d be getting a puppy out of this trip! But eventually, a couple peeked out from behind a tall tree and called Max (that was his name, not Char, as I had named him. It was short for Charcoal).
Anyway, the Arizona Cactus Garden was established in the 1880’s by the Stanfords. They planned to build a house for themselves right next to it, but that never happened. In the 1920’s the garden was all but abandoned. Thankfully, volunteers brought it back to life in the late 1990’s. Today, it’s one of the most Instagrammable locations for Bay Area bloggers!
If you’re ever in the area, definitely stop by for a picture or two. It’s open to the public and free of charge. It’s pretty but, just be careful around all of the prickly plants!
A hop and a skip away, you’ll find yourself at the Stanford Shopping Center. I had been to this mall only once before back when I lived in the city. I was a volunteer at a fashion show run by Tim Gunn. I was responsible for one of the models and making sure she was looking just like Tim wanted her to. And yes, we made him say “Make it work!” at least once.
This outdoor mall has lots of high end retailers like Burberry, Hermes, and Louis Vuitton, but you can also find everyday favorites like Madewell, Nordstrom, and Macy’s, among others. There are also many dining options here at a variety of price points. We went for a Apple n’ Greens smoothie from Jamba Juice.
The center was actually pretty busy for a Monday afternoon. If you’re planning a visit, check their hours, which can vary depending on the day.
After some light shopping and heavy sun-soaking, we drove back to University Avenue for dinner. It seemed that everyone in Palo Alto had the same idea because it was very busy! All of the restaurants in the area were hurriedly prepping for the 5 o’clock rush.
Since it would be our last stop of the trip, we wanted to make sure our dinner experience would be memorable. We decided to try out Ramen Nagi, a restaurant founded in 2004 by Chef Satoshi Ikuta. The Palo Alto location is actually 1 of 35 locations all over Asia, this one being the first in the US. With that being said, don’t be surprised when you arrive and see a line already formed to the side of the restaurant.
Although the restaurant didn’t open for dinner until 5:30pm, we arrived at 5, just to be sure we got a table at a decent time. There were a few groups ahead of us, but we were sure we’d get a table on the first round. After about 10 minutes of waiting in line, it was at least quadruple the amount of people. Also while we waited, the host went down the line asking how many were in our party and if it was our first time at Ramen Nagi.
For those eating here for the first time, the host came back with a menu, a form, and a marker. He explained the different types of ramen we could choose from and the options within those items. We had to fill in the form and once we were seated, our waiter picked up these forms and after a bit, came back with our orders. I chose the Green King Ramen, infused with basil, olive oil, and topped with parmesan cheese, and Joey chose the Black King Ramen, enriched with Nagi spices and Calamari ink. The other options include an Original King, Red King, and Veggie King Ramen which look equally as delicious. For our appetizer, we chose edamame and Japanese Iced Tea to quench our thirst after walking so much.
The restaurant is small, but expertly designed to make the experience feel more intimate. Joey was beyond ecstatic because he really admires the Japanese culture, and we LOVE ramen!
Ramen Nagi is low to moderately priced. For the two of us, we paid less than $45! And the food was spectacular! It was a large serving so by the end, we were stuffed! We promised each other we would be back soon to try the other items on the menu. By the time we left, there were still tons of people in line!
When it came time for our full bellies to head home, we were so happy with how the entire day had transpired. It was a sunny, easy day. We learned a lot, saw a lot, and ate a lot!
Both Joey and I are planning to stop by this laid back, sophisticated college town again sometime soon!
Have you ever been to Palo Alto or Stanford?
What was your favorite part of this post? The review, the pictures? Have you checked out my IGTV video of this day trip? Watch it here: https://www.instagram.com/p/BviOoG0gIxf/
Thanks for reading!
-The B of V