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Things to Do for Families in Palo Alto

Palo Alto, California, is known as an intellectual center and a cultural oasis. As home to Stanford University, Palo Alto attracts people from all corners of the globe. Palo Alto was first settled by Europeans in 1769 but was not incorporated for another century. Now the city has a population of 64,000 and serves as a hub of cultural, academic and economic importance to the surrounding communities. The city itself was established alongside Stanford, which were both founded by Leland Stanford in memory of his son. Today, the city is highly regarded and has one of the highest levels of education for its inhabitants of any city in the country.

Palo AltoHowever, while this city may be steeped in academia, that is not all it has to offer. Palo Alto is a welcoming city for visitors and residents alike with plenty of options for recreation, adventure and intellectual stimulation. While Palo Alto is famous for all that it offers students and businesses, people of all ages can grow and discover in this vibrant California city. In fact, families should be aware of all that there is for children in Palo Alto.

Learning by Doing

Most people prefer to be active in their own learning experience. This is why so many visitors each year discover the wonder of the Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo. Too many children's museums are either too educational or not engaging enough, which is why some parents may be weary at the thought of paying top dollar to traipse through another. However, the Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo is different. The exhibits are designed for the whole family, offering an innovative and interactive learning environment. Not only will guests learn more about conservation and environmental causes, but they can also see a range of animals, from sharks to raccoons and more. With hands-on opportunities, people of all ages will remember that meaningful lessons are not just about learning but about having fun as well.

Artistic Expression

Being so close to the Bay Area, it is probably no surprise that there are plentiful opportunities to explore artistic expression in Palo Alto. While there are numerous galleries and museums to consider, one of the most distinctive options is the Cantor Arts Center. Located at Stanford University, the Cantor Arts Center features a number of memorable exhibits, including Urchin, the Japanese dragon made from bits of scrap metal. The Cantor Arts Center even features art classes for children and other family friendly events regularly throughout the year. Plus, visiting the Stanford campus is always a treat. Many families will take a day to appreciate the sights and sounds while scouring the campus for the infamous caterpillars that make the area home in the springtime.

Families may also want to make a trip to the Allied Arts Guild, which is located in nearby Menlo Park. The Allied Arts Guild has a little bit of everything, including shops, a cafe, gardens and various artist studios. The artistic range varies greatly, with samplings of artists who do everything from pottery to furniture repair. The ambiance is inviting and relaxing, making it a great place for the family to spend the day. Plus, the Artisan Shop at the Guild is operated wholly for the benefit of the Lucile Packard Children's Hospital.

Things to do in Palo alto with KidsCultural Relevance

Another popular stop for families is the Museum of American Heritage. This museum was founded in 1990 by Frank Livermore, who spent his life accumulating unique, American collections. These collections are still part of the museum, which now features exhibits representing history, technology, design and more. In general, the Museum of American Heritage is committed to preserving history for future generations, which is why it continues to cater to families and children. These unique offerings are both entertaining and educational, providing a rare glimpse at how life used to be and how culture has evolved to the modern day.

Although the Los Altos History Museum is not quite located in Palo Alto, it is close enough to count. Located in the J. Gilbert Smith History House, the Los Altos Museum seeks to preserve the history of the area. Not only is the house itself a fascinating look at how life used to be, the unique exhibits offer special cultural experiences with the possibilities for one-on-one interaction. Guests can even arrange for special tours, and the museum sponsors family friendly events to help communicate the area's cultural heritage to the next generation. Plus, admission is free, which makes the Los Altos History Museum a great family destination.

The Technological Edge

Palo Alto is located near both the Bay Area and Silicon Valley. This location makes Palo Alto ripe for technological achievement. This is why the Barron Park Garden Railway is such a great stop for aspiring inventors in the city. This collection of model trains is open from April to November, providing endless hours of entertainment and discovery for people of all ages. For technological stimulation, the Museum of American Heritage is another good choice. In addition to its cultural relevancy, the Museum of American Heritage features one of the best collections of technology from the last century, giving children a chance to spark an interest in how things work.

Another noteworthy stop is the Computer History Museum. With such proximity to Silicon Valley, this museum is a bit of a must-see for those with an eye on computer innovation. Visitors will learn about the history of computers and the people involved in that process while also getting a first-hand glimpse at the inner workings of the technology that we take for granted today.

Palo Alto  outdoor ice rink 2013Life in Motion

California is known for its sunny days, but one of the best ways to appreciate Palo Alto is its outdoor ice rink. Open from September to April, the ice rink is part of the Winter Lodge. Not only are there ample opportunities for free skating, but families can also enroll in lessons to master the basics of the ice. The rink can even be rented out for parties or other special events. To complement the ice, the Winter Lodge has a cozy interior as well, complete with an inviting fireplace to warm up after some time outside.

Although the Winter Lodge is a family favorite, that is certainly not the only option for staying active in Palo Alto. Another popular choice is My Gym Children's Fitness Center. This invigorating facility offers children the chance to explore their boundaries physically, and children can enroll in any number of classes including gymnastics and even art.

If that is not enough, Palo Alto also has parks galore. Some of the more popular options include Peers Park, Mitchell Park and Cornelis Bols Park. Whether the need is for playground equipment or just lots of open space, there are parks for every kid and every family to consider. The Dish is another well known destination. Located in the Stanford Foothills, the Dish has pleasant and well established walking trails that can give families a great chance to get out and get active.

Retail Therapy

Learning and discovery are great, but sometimes a little shopping is just what the family needs. If this is the case, Palo Alto has plenty of options. Many people choose the Stanford Shopping Center, which features over 140 stores and multiple eateries. The open-air facility is pleasant all year and hosts sculptures by artists from around the country. The Stanford Shopping Center is considered one of the premier shopping locations in the entire country.

While many people have no need to venture elsewhere, there are still other wonderful shopping destinations in Palo Alto. There is a growing downtown district, which offers a vibrant shopping experience in and of itself. For a bit more quiet and a little more space for shoppers who are overwhelmed by crowds, California Avenue is a great place to try. In all, shopping in Palo Alto can be catered to any whim or shopping preference, which is sure to please everyone in the family.


Overall, there is a reason Palo Alto continues to be one of the most desirable places to live in the world. This thriving city has enough academic potential and technological prowess to attract the best students, thinkers, and inventors from around the world. However, this inclination toward excellence extends far beyond these realms. Palo Alto also has some of the best offerings for families, attracting people of all ages and from all walks of life.

From an exhilarating day of hands-on learning at the Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo to a skating adventure at the Winter Lodge, families can flourish in new and exciting ways. Plus, with the ever-changing exhibits at the Museum of American Heritage and the countless parks, families can engage their minds and bodies in a variety of ways. While the city attracts students for its educational opportunities and business pioneers for its economic achievement, families will always find something new to experience in the inviting streets of Palo Alto, California. [Top]

Check out the latest Palo Alto events and activities including reviews, recommendations, directions... Palo Alto buzzes with electricity, and it's not just from the technology that makes it famous: This is a family-friendly place, too. Things to do in Palo Alto, California, no matter your interests, area always on hand ... Nearby, find fabulous family attractions including California's Great America! for more information contact

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