California Avenue (Ambiance and Architecture)

California Avenue is one of the most important streets in Palo Alto, a prominent city in Silicon Valley. It is the central hub for the retail industry and also features some of the city’s finest bars and restaurants. One of the most appealing aspects of California Av. is that it’s home to many local businesses, creating a strong sense of community.

California Avenue isn’t necessarily known for attracting many tourists. However, if you’re visiting Stanford or scouting cities in Silicon Valley, it’s well worth a visit. The quaint, peaceful ambiance coupled with the subtle yet sophisticated architecture make it a fun place to spend a day or two. 

California Avenue Palo Alto - California Places, Travel, and News.

California Avenue, Palo Alto 

Palo Alto is located in the northwest of Santa Clara County, California in the Bay area. The city was built around Stanford University in 1885. The university’s excellence in education means that the city has developed into one of the most affluent in the state and its residents are among the most educated in the country. 

The downside of Palo Alto’s abundance is that it is now one of the most expensive cities to live in in the entire U.S. However, many of its residents are wealthy professionals who work in the tech industry. Several of the country’s top technology companies have their headquarters in Palo Alto, including: 

  • Hewlett-Packard
  • Skype
  • Houzz
  • Ford Research and Innovation Center
  • Space Systems/Loral VMware
  • IDEO
  • Lockheed Martin

California Avenue is situated in southern Palo Alto and is one of the most popular areas for shopping and socializing. Due to its Mediterranean climate, the city benefits from having great year-round weather. With 261 days of sunshine each year, locals love nothing better than hitting California Avenue’s many cafes, restaurants, and bars. 

Palo Alto lies under a rain shadow so it only gets around 15 inches of rain each year. Regardless of the time of year, you can enjoy a pleasant day out in the city. While it’s not the main downtown area of the city, California Avenue is undoubtedly a favorite among locals and visitors. 

Stanford University

One of the main draws of residents and tourists to Palo Alto, in general, is Stanford University. It consistently ranks in the top universities in the U.S. and is also recognized as a leading education center in the world. Its beautiful campus is open to the public and is a popular area for walking and jogging.

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The university was founded in 1885 by husband and wife, Leland and Jane Stanford. Today, it is the focal point of the region with an 8,180-acre campus and over 17,000 students. Its high level of education is the main driving force behind Silicon Valley’s standing in the technology industry. 

There are several themed walks and hikes on and around the Stanford campus, ensuring it’s a visitor-friendly site. After spending a day walking around the university campus, many visitors head for California Avenue for dinner or nighttime entertainment. 

Stanford University Campus and Hoover Tower Palo Alto California - California Places, Travel, and News.

Importance of California Avenue, Palo Alto 

California Avenue was created in 1925 upon the annexation of the town of Mayfield. As a result, two communities were established in its wake. This is why Palo Alto has two downtown areas: California Avenue and University Avenue. Both of these sectors are filled predominantly with businesses. 

California Avenue is an extremely important area in Palo Alto. It holds historical significance as it was once part of Mayfield, which was a gateway town when Stanford was first established. Today, it’s a pedestrian-only zone, home to art galleries, spas, wine stores, supermarkets, and a well-loved Sunday farmer’s market. 

As we touched on, California Avenue has a very local feel. The motto among residents regarding this area is “small-town shopping in the heart of the city”. People who live in Palo Alto are passionate about their city and make an effort to support small businesses in the community, from cafes to art exhibitions. 

Let’s take a look at some of the most important parts of California Avenue in Palo Alto: 

California Avenue Station

The California Avenue station is one of the most notable landmarks in Palo Alto and bares much historical significance. It was one of the main stops between San Francisco and San Jose in the heart of Mayfield’s historical town center. While the town was annexed in 1925, the station didn’t rename until 1941.

California Avenue is actually a Caltrain station on the commuter line that serves the Santa Clara Peninsula and Silicon Valley routes. It’s still active and used daily by plenty of commuters. Although it has undergone significant renovations over the years, it still looks similar to the original design, helping maintain its significance to the region. 

The main changes to the station were made to improve the structural integrity of the building. There were also several additions to make the station more wheelchair accessible and comfortable for passengers that need extra assistance. The station is a short walk from California Avenue’s main street and is a popular stop for visitors. 

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Caltrain Commuter Train - California Places, Travel, and News.

California Avenue Retail Industry

The retail industry is the biggest employer among private-sector workers in the U.S. It has an enormous impact on the Californian economy. There are 3.7 million people directly employed by retailers in the state, resulting in $142 billion in direct labor. California Avenue is the most important retail hub in Palo Alto.

California Avenue has a balanced mix of locally owned businesses and chain establishments. From “Mom and Pop” boutique stores to high-street fashion establishments, California Avenue has it all. Interestingly, this isn’t by accident. The City Council passed a law that regulates the presence of chain stores along the strip.

This law was introduced to preserve the independent businesses and neighborly vibe of the area. According to this rule, businesses with 10 or more U.S. establishments that have standardized characteristics must obtain special, conditional-use permits before setting up shop. Residents are allowed to appeal permit approvals. 

Therefore, California Avenue can maintain a balance between popular chains and local retailers. While this has been an excellent addition to the region, many businesses on the strip faced enormous difficulties during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly during lockdowns and periods of heavy restrictions.

As one of the more expensive cities in California, rent prices are high in Palo Alto. Many small businesses were forced to shut their doors permanently and several large chain establishments pulled their units from the strip. However, the local council decided to pedestrianize the entire street to accommodate outdoor dining.

This move was welcomed by locals and had an immediate impact on businesses, especially those involved in hospitality. In fact, the council, along with residents, voted to keep the street fully pedestrianized for the foreseeable future. Many Palo Alto dwellers preferred the less congested and more peaceful setup. 

California Avenue has excellent wine bars - California Places, Travel, and News.

California Avenue, Palo Alto Restaurants

No matter where you go in California, there seems to be a bustling culinary scene. Palo Alto is no different and California Avenue is at the center of it all. The wealth of the city ensures it’s an attractive location for restaurant chains and local eateries. It has a healthy mix of options from around the world. 

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The Palo Alto locals are generally very receptive to new establishments, which has created a world-class food scene in the city. Moreover, as an important city in Silicon Valley, you can find ample options for breakfast, lunch, dinner, coffee, or snacks. If you’re a coffee drinker, brace yourself for a wide selection of niche baristas and cafes.

If you find yourself strolling California Avenue in the morning, you can find your usual Dunkin’ and Starbucks, or a more recent favorite, Blue Bottle Coffee. However, we recommend going for a more local coffee shop, like Backyard Brew, Ada’s Cafe, or Tono Cofee Project. 

When it comes to lunch, you’re spoiled for choice, with amazing options for a range of palettes. We recommend researching restaurants ahead of your trip but here are some top picks for inspiration:

  • Kali Greek Kitchen
  • Oren’s Hummus
  • Baume
  • Joanie’s Cafe
  • Terún

For evening dining, you can choose culinary delights from a host of countries, from Cuban sandwiches to world-class pizza, and from true french bistro dining to authentic Mexican street food. Just remember that Palo Alto can be a little pricey so be sure to scan the menu ahead of time if you’re budget conscious. 

California Avenue, Palo Alto Entertainment

When it comes to nightlife, California Avenue and the surrounding areas are a lot of fun. Since it’s located so close to Stanford University, there’s naturally a lively student party scene. However, there are also plenty of other nighttime entertainment options for those who may have outgrown student life. 

Young professionals in the tech industry populate most of the bars and nightclubs during weekends. Local bars are fun and diverse, with plenty of different styles catering to niche crowds. What’s more, many of the most popular bars are within walking differences so you can easily hop from one to the other. 

If you’re a fan of Californian wine, California Avenue won’t let you down. You can find numerous steakhouses and restaurants that carry the finest wines from the region. There are also multiple wine bars to spend a relaxed evening. For those looking for an experience, consider booking a wine-tasting night.

In terms of evening entertainment, many restaurants have live music or DJs. If that’s not your idea of a good time, catch a TheatreWorks show. This is a nationally acclaimed theatre group that performs in several venues within the region. 


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