Palo Alto, CA Area Favorites
The last few months have been quite a whirlwind! We contemplated another big move, with the choice of 2 amazing destinations – London, UK and New York City. We visited London, even toured schools, and loved it. What a fantastic adventure it would have been. But after much debate and taking everything into consideration New York City won. We moved here 2.5 weeks ago and are delighted!!
Before I start writing about our new adventures and discoveries, I would like to share all of my favorite finds in the Palo Alto/San Francisco area. Below you will find a wide range of recommendations from restaurants, favorite local artisanal foods, where we got our fresh produce, pasture chicken and pork to local services like dry cleaning, dog resources and notes for families! Something for everyone. If you happen to be new to the Palo Alto area, or are planning a move this is for you! Lots of good info for starting out. If you currently live in the area, perhaps you’ll find a new treasure or two on my list! Just visiting? Check out the Foodie section for restaurants!
- Evvia – (Downtown Palo Alto) Make a reservation! Open for lunch only week days. Amazing Mediterranean food.
- Reposado – (Downtown Palo Alto) Higher end Mexican food – everything is really good…even the simple grilled shrimp Caesar salad. While there is a bit of an after work scene at the bar, they accommodate kids well in the dining room.
- Maru Ichi – (Castro St in Mountain View) Super Asian noodle shop. But note they only take cash! And skip any of the sushi…stick with noodles. They have a bin of Kim Chi on the table, of which I add copious amount to my noodles.
- Mayfield Café – (Palo Alto, at Town and Country) Lovely restaurant. They can get really busy for brunch so make a reservation. Good for any meal. Nice place but good for kids too…they have paper on the tables which is fun to draw on.
- Calafia – Palo Alto at Town and Country. Good, well soured food. Lots of vegetarian options.
- Asian Box – (Palo Alto at Town and Country) A takeout place, though they do have some seating. You build your “box” by picking what starch you want (rice, noodles..), protein, sauce and toppings. Really tasty and all the food is well sources and a bit healthier. Drinks are yummy too. My favorite combo: Jasmine Rice, Chicken, Steamed Veggies, All the toppers except jalapeño and egg, Peanut Sauce. The beef pairs well with the tamarind sauce.
- Palo Alto Creamery – (Downtown Palo Alto) Nice diner with pretty good food. Gets very busy on the weekend for brunch.
- Fraiche Yogurt – (Downtown Palo Alto) They make their own yogurt and frozen yogurt. The frozen yogurt is really yummy and much healthier than more standard places, which usually use powder to make froyo. They also have great toppings, though I always get plain frozen yogurt with freshly shaved chocolate on top.
- Coupa Café – (Downtown Palo Alto) Now famous for being in The Social Network movie. They have pretty good food, but what you have to go here for is their Spicy Hot Chocolate – so yummy!! Though I warn you, it may become an addiction.
- Ritz Carlton – (Half Moon Bay) The most decadent brunch ever! Expensive, at $99 per person, though kids are half and kids under 5 are free. My daughter’s favorites were the olive tapenade and chocolate truffles. I probably ate enough caviar to cover the cost of everyone at our table! I was in heaven. The hotel is right on the water and you have lovely views out the windows for when you do look up from your plate. I suggest skipping the actual breakfast food though, it seemed a bit standard. They excel with everything else. Much better to fill your belly with the fresh sliced meats, risotto, caviar, shrimp, crab, cheeses, charcuterie, sushi, etc. My strawberry mimosa was also delicious.
- Gott’s Roadside – (SF Ferry Building, Napa, St Helena) Great burgers and other offerings where all food is sourced very well.
- Fish – (Sausalito) A bit of a drive, just a few minutes over the Gold Gate, but well worth it. Their crab sandwich may be the best sandwich I have ever had. Everything on their menu is fantastic. They are also right near the Heath Ceramics factory which is fun to shop in and if you can, they do tours! Here’s my blog post about it with more details.
- Ferry Building on Embarcadero in SF. We love the Ferry Building! Lots of shops with great products (cheese, bread, meat, pottery, gardening…) and great restaurants. It does get every crowded on the weekends, so go early or try for a weekday. If you have never been there, it is much like Chelsea Market in NY. If there happens to be a short line at Blue Bottle, get one of their fresh made mini waffles…so good. I also love to get Honk Kong Milk tea from the Out The Door counter.
- Check out my Napa notes below for more great places in Napa!
- Monique’s Chocolates – (Downtown Palo Alto) Delicious and beautiful single source chocolates made on site. Fantastic treat for yourself of gift to someone special. They sometimes also have Smore Bites, which are amazing! A small portion of their own marshmallow with a graham cracker base covered in delicious chocolate. Wish I had one right now! They also use their chocolates to make chocolate drinks, hot or cold! A must try if you love chocolate.
- Mayfield Bakery – (Palo Alto at Town & Country) Yummy breads and other treats. A few sandwich offerings, which are always tasty. My addiction there is their ham and gruyere croissant.
- Black Jet Backing Co – (Ferry Building in SF) the best pumpkin pie I have ever had, from filling to crust. I’d pay good money for the recipe. Hoping there is a cookbook in the works and they share their crust and pie filling recipe. They have many many other super yummy items too.
- Point Reyes Blue – A little on the milder side, super creamy. Our favorite blue cheese now. Available at local Whole Foods and other cheese shops.
- Cowgirl Creamery – Yummy, rich local cheeses. They have a store at the Ferry Building and are sold at other places like Whole Foods, and have a stand at the Sunday California Ave Farmer’s market in Palo Alto.
- Straus Family Creamery – They make the best organic milk, which is non-homogenized…i.e. healthier for you.
- Goat Milk Cheese – There is a stand at the Palo Alto Farmer’s market which sells goat milk products, their cheese is wonderful! Stop by and ask for a sample.
- Fiesta Farms – Pastured Chicken CSA. You sign up for the CSA and get one or more fresh whole chickens every 2 weeks during the season. They are pasture raised and given lot of organic vegetables to supplement. Really nice couple running the farm. The chickens are great, so so much nicer to work with than any other chicken I have seen. I like that you get them fresh (not frozen) so I can break them down into parts to use right away of freeze for later since we don’t often use a whole chicken at once. The chickens are easy to break down and if you vacuum seal them they will stay good in the freezer for a long time. You can also get eggs through them, although we didn’t because we had backyard chickens. If you use them, just note the chickens are so fresh, you want to wait 3 – 5 days before using them to let them rest and become more tender. I honestly have a hard time working with other chicken, even organic chicken I get from Whole Foods, it just doesn’t compare to farm fresh pastured chicken.
- Wind Dancer Ranch – Heritage Pasture raised hogs. The best pork you will ever taste!! The hogs are raised well on pasture and never leave the farm during their life. If you are up for it, this is the best way to secure pork for you, the land and the animals. You do have to buy at least half a hog, but you specify how you want it cut and it is cut, packaged and frozen for you. More details on their site. You could find a friend to split the half with you to give it a try. We did that our first time, and then went all in and got half just for our family. We did get a freezer for our garage to have room to store the pork, but we needed room for the pastured chicken as well. The garage freezer ended up being super helpful to store the meat, as well as to freeze fruit when I could buy in bulk at peak season to use later in baking or smoothies and to store leftovers when we make big batches.
- Fatted Calf – Butcher in SF and Napa Valley. Great selection of well raised meats and nice other items gourmet items.
- Cook’s Seafood – (Menlo Park) Fish monger with a great fish selection. In the winter, during crab season, I suggest getting .75 – 1 Dungeness crab per person, melting some ghee/clarified butter, putting paper down on your table and having a crab feast! The crab is to die for. On the side have some bread or fries (you can get bread there and order fries at the attached restaurant), and a veggie…though it will be hard to not eat only crab! So fun and so good.
- Palo Alto Farmer’s Market – (Downtown Palo Alto) There is a seafood stand that always has great seafood…we’ve enjoyed scallops, wild salmon and tiger shrimp from them.
- Sustainably Caught Salmon Buying Club – If you are interested in joining a sustainably caught salmon buying club let me know and I can connect you.
Farms/Veggie and Fruit CSAs
- Full Belly Farm – Fantastic organic produce and nice people! They have a stand at the Palo Alto farmer’s market on Saturdays. They also offer a CSA, where you can pick up your box at the market or other locations. They have the best carrots around! And you can get fresh pomegranate juice from them which is amazing in smoothies or in adult beverages. You can also get farm fresh eggs through them. We signed up for the CSA and loved the produce along with the service.
- Frog Hollow Farm – if you are a fruit loving family they offer up a CSA of their fantastic fruit (peaches, cherries, pears…). We did it for one year, but it was too much fruit for us to get through each week so we did not continue. But their fruit and other products like jams are really great. When we were members we had the chance to go to the farm for a tour, lunch and cherry picking. It was so much fun! Farmer Al took us on a tour, we got to pick cherries and then enjoy a fabulous meal.
- Full Circle – Veggie and Fruit CSA where you can add on products each week like honey, eggs, sometimes pastured meat, etc. Great service and you get to pick which veggies and fruit you want each week online.
- Real Food Bay Area – Another great source for local and/or well sourced food. Not really a CSA, but you join for free and then when you want you place an order for pick up at one of their drop points.
- If you have an edible garden or bee hive or chickens and sometime have extra to share, there is a monthly gathering where folks bring their extras and take home something from the shared bounty. It is really something special. I wrote about our first time at the garden share where you can learn a little more. If you would like to get connected, let me know.
- Inna Jam – my favorites are their Flavor King Pluot and Spicy Fresno.
- Happy Girl Kitchen – at the California Ave Farmer’s Market in Palo Alto. If you are into food preservation, they also let you buy in bulk from sources they find of top notch, ready to use products to make jams, pickles, etc. I got apples once and made great apple sauce and cherries which I pitted and froze for smoothies.
- Masa Organics – they make the best almond butter! They also sell organic brown rice and almonds. Another bonus is that their products are peanut free! So our daughter who is allergic to peanuts can still enjoy almonds. You can buy it at Fatted Calf (mentioned above), they also have a stand at the Ferry Building Farmer’s Market on Saturdays.
- Heath Ceramics – They make gorgeous ceramic home goods. You can visit their factory and store, or just shop at their locations in SF.
- Abode – (Half Moon Bay) I love this little shop. Every item in the store seems special. On our last trip to the shop we left with a side table made from steel that used to be part of the Golden Gate Bridge! We had to get in, especially since we were leaving the area.
- Peace Industry Felt Rugs – handmade felt rugs made from 100% lamb’s wool and natural dyes. They are hand-made in small batches (in Turkey) insuring that each piece is unique and exceptional in quality. They are earth-friendly, chemical-free, and fair trade. Custom colors and sizes are available. One bonus to their rugs is that they are great for kid’s play areas, they are tough and even stand up to play dough, just let the play dough dry and you can pick it out. What more can you want from a family rug?
Check out my blog post with some info on hotels, activities and places to eat.
Some updates to my earlier post on Napa Valley:
- Farmstead – St Helena. One of my favorite restaurants of all time. Their cheddar biscuits are like crack…and I do not normally order biscuits.
- St Helena Olive Oil Co – St Helena. Great shop to visit. Lot of oils and vinegars, along with spices, sauces, local jams, honeys…etc. And you can taste everything! My daughter loves their olive tapenade. And we always get some garlic salt.
- Model Bakery – St Helena. English muffins are super famous and super good.
- Woodhouse Chocolate – yummy and pretty chocolates, almost next door to Model Bakery.
- A new winery we found, Frank Family makes great wine a little under the radar.
We’ve been to Maui and I can honestly say, it is Paradise! If you are looking for a great, easy vacation where you can either relax the entire time or mix in fun activities it has hard to beat. An easy 5 hour flight from SFO and there are often airfare deals. I hope to get my Maui article posted soon. In the meantime, if you are planning a trip to Maui drop me a line for suggestions.
- Palo Alto offers lots of classes and camps and they are open to non-residents as well. We did music class and ballet through them.
- Menlo Park has classes too. Their gymnastics program is amazing and inexpensive. I love that they have a viewing area for parents to sit and watch their kids (or catch up on email). Lots of kids also take their swimming classes.
- Tiny Treks – they offer a class where you meet up at a different location each time, go for a walk, exploring along the way, do an activity and have a snack and story. It is a fun easy class that is a nice way to gain exposure to places you might want to visit again.
- Palo Alto Junior Museum – a free museum which is small but has some fun activities for kids and an little outdoor zoo.
- Lots of libraries
- Many parks! You’ll find lists and maps on each town website. We lived down the street from Johnson Park which is a really nice park, with lots of green open space for picnics or kicking a ball around.
- Happy Hollow (San Jose) – An amusement park for young kids. My daughter loved it! Little kid rides, a petting zoo where you can feed goats, see sheep… and a small zoo.
- California Academy of Sciences – our favorite CA museum.
- SF Aquarium on the Bay (SF Fisheman’s Wharf) – a nice, small one, good for little kids. You can also walk down one of the piers there to see the sea lions…always fun.
- Hidden Villa – (Los Altos Hills) A farm with animals that you can visit.
- CuriOdessey – a small museum/zoo. Picnic area out front.
- SF Zoo – word of warning, it can get very cold in the summer! We went once in July or August and had to change plans as it was too cold for us in just shorts.
- Oakland Zoo
- Webb Ranch – for berry picking, fall pumpkin patch, horse riding
- Stanford Red Barn – I heard you can have a picnic on the lawn and watch the horses
- Fitzgerald Marine Reserve – check the tide charts and plan a visit at low tide to explore the tide pools. Once we were lucky enough to also see a large group of seals nearby with pups! Time things right and you can head to lunch right before or after. Sam’s Chowder House is always fun (though best to make a reservation if you’re there on the weekend).
- I love bringing kids to farmer’s markets! There is usually music to entertain and an easy healthy snack, or not so healthy snack to be found. I always let Sofie pick something out. Sometimes it is raspberries or blueberries, sometimes a cookie. The markets are great for grown-ups too. It’d be great to be within walking distance of one as parking can be tough. The downtown Palo Alto market is my favorite, a great vibe and mix off vendors. There is an all year long market on California Ave on Sundays which is larger.
- Bing Nursery School, run by Stanford. This is an amazing school. It is where Sofie went, and we were sad to leave. The classrooms are fantastic, made up of a large indoor classroom with different areas for play and exploration plus an enormous outdoor space with various play areas. While it is a play based program, the teachers are very mindful to set up different and exciting areas/projects for the children to explore and learn while having fun. They know each student very well and kids feel safe and happy. My daughter was sad on the days she didn’t have school! It is hard to get into though with the high demand and the fact that they give alum priority. But it is worth applying, you may get lucky –we did!
- Edgewood House School. A really nice, small school in Palo Alto. I toured and had Sofie spend a few hours there to get a feel for it. I like that it has a homey feel yet dedicated teachers focused on helping kids learn through play and experiences.
- Other schools I have heard good things about: Friends Nursery School, Casa Bambini, Ventura, Discovery Montessori.
- Palo Alto Medical Foundation (PAMF). They have a number of locations which each have a bunch of departments like family medicine, pediatrics, Sports med, allergy…etc. And onsite services like blood tests. We like that you can go and if you need tests done, they can be done at the same location. There is also an online site where you can view test results, email your doctor, request refills, etc. You can even sign up to have the same for your child that you can access. It is all so easy! I believe their biggest location is in Palo Alto – which we could walk to.
- I have also heard good things about Welch Pediatrics.
For Dog Owners
- Dog Groomer – We like Bow Wow Meow for grooming in Menlo Park,. We used Ashley and she always did a good job. Seb, our Kerry Blue Terrier, was always happy to go and happy when we picked him up.
- Vet – We like the Animal Doctors. Always nice, pretty easy to get appointments.
Misc for Residents
- Dry Cleaning – Purple Tie worked really well for us. You set up an account and then can go online to request pick up and drop off. They come and pick your bag up which you can just leave outside, and then drop it off 2 days later (one day later for an extra charge). Easy!
- House Cleaning – we used a service called Simplify Home Solutions which after you pay a membership fee ($75) they can help you arrange services to make your life easier, such as house cleaning. A few nice things is that they ensure anyone you hire through them is legit and paid fairly, they manage all of the billing for all services, they also come to your house to help get quotes when appropriate, etc.
- Town and Country is great to check out. Lots of places to eat and nice shops.
- University Ave in downtown Palo Alto is also great to walk down, has many restaurants and shops. We were happy to live just 3 blocks of off University so we could just walk to go out to eat, walk to the farmer’s market, get haircuts…etc.
- Stanford Mall is also nice to walk around even if you don’t have shopping…open and airy…always lots of dogs and fountains which kids love. Sprinkles Cupcakes is there too, and I have to say, their cupcakes are pretty darn good…just do not eat the decorative “dot” on top, those are terrible.