California Street, Palo Alto

A stroll up and down California Street is a wonderful experience. It has a very relaxed feel about it and the number of opportunities to stop and take it all in are many, either on one of the benches or sitting outside one of the many cafes.

California Street is about two miles from the main shopping street in Palo Alto and the Stanford Shopping Center. It used to be a separate town altogether called Mayfield, which was here before Palo Alto even existed. The founder of Stanford University, Leland Stanford, wanted to build his university in Mayfield but it was on condition that alcohol be banned from the town. The residents were not happy with that condition as they had over a dozen saloons doing a roaring business. So Leland Stanford went two miles north to build his university. Palo Alto came into existence at the same time and eventually became larger than Mayfield. In 1925 Mayfield was annexed by Palo Alto and the town of Mayfield was no more.

There are lots of places to eat, ranging from the ubiquitous Starbucks and bagal shops to cafes like Cafe Brioche and Joanie’s to slightly pricier venues like Bistro Basia and Illusions (with belly dancer) right up to Spalti Restorante and Bistro Elan. But my favorite (apart from Joanie’s for breakfast) is Printers Cafe. Ideal for a quick snack and a drink, sitting outside and watching the world walk by. Also it has the Gallery House opening from the main room. This is owned and operated by a co-operative of artists and there are regular exhibitions there. It is open on Tuesday from 11-5 and from 11-9 on Wednesdays to Saturdays.

There are two natural food markets – Mollie Stone’s at the station end and Country Sun, which is nearer to El Camino. Other businesses include a cobblers, hair and nail saloons, a florist, several opticians, a yoga center, a massage therapy center, a second hand bookshop with a very original name – Know Knew Books, an art supplies shop, a stationers which sells a variety to goods and Keeble and Shuchat Photography has two shops almost opposite each other. Tom disappeared into one of them for about an hour which gave me the opportunity to really explore the neighborhood.

Watch out for the art as well. There is an interesting statue on the corner of Ash which is called ‘Go Mama’ by Marta Thomas. On the other side of the street is a sculpture entitled ‘Love Spoken Here’ by William Wareham which is four large chairs and a small table made of of metal. I wonder if it is OK to sit on them? Hmm, maybe I’d better not. In the median on either side of Birch there are two more sculptures, one of metal and one of wood. There are also quite a few wall murals. On a wall to the side of Starbucks are three and on the side of Country Sun there is a huge picture of a volcano with a field of California poppies in the foreground. On the corner of California and Ash there is the Hotel California with several murals, one of them very amusing.

All in all, a wonderful neighborhood. Check it out.

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