When people hear of Palo Alto, many may think ‘Stanford’. Indeed, it is home to one of the most renowned and prestigious universities in the world. Yet, Palo Alto has much more to offer. Especially for travelers looking for a mix of laid back meets cosmopolitan.

Whether it’s walking the Stanford campus with its Rodin sculptures, or fine dining, Palo Alto is a playground for arts and culture. Located in San Mateo County an hour out of San Francisco, Palo Alto is just a six-hour drive from Los Angeles, and under 90 minutes by plane.

I discovered such an array of boutique hotels, wineries and restaurants during my visit. Whether you are in search of an all-inclusive stay-cation or cruising down some boulevards for excellent wine tasting, read on to discover why you should head to stay and play-by the bay!

The Clement Hotel

The Clement Hotel brings new meaning to the term stay-cation. The Clement is the ideal choice for someone looking to get away from it all and worry about nothing. The Clement Hotel will treat you like family from the moment you arrive to when you check out.

Enjoy a round-the-clock pantry filled with snacks and drinks 24/7. We are talking gorgeous fruit trays, ice cream, chips, cookies and, yes, even beer and wine. Soda pop and juices are at the ready, too. Order breakfast in bed. Receive room service whenever you would like. Relax by the fire in the cozy living room and enjoy a glass of wine (or two). You do not even need to worry about gratuities. It’s all inclusive!

Breakfast is served in-room at the Clement (c) Mary Farah.

Food restrictions? Gluten-free allergy? Not a problem. Their staff will arrange a customized menu prior to your arrival. Most items on their daily menu can be prepared sans gluten, too. “Anything you like,” is their motto.

The rooms are worth the price alone: spacious, with views of the city awaiting. The Clement offers a host of other amenities including a pool, jacuzzi and BBQ on the rooftop, as well as a fitness center, conference and meeting rooms for the business traveler. If you are a music lover, the hotel’s founder, Clement Chen, is an avid guitar collector. Several guitars are available for your enjoyment during your stay. You can even request amplifiers be brought to your room.

Dinah’s Garden Hotel

With several fantastic accommodations, Dinah’s Garden Hotel is another excellent choice for your Palo Alto visit.

In the 1950’s, road trips were popular among many American families. Dinah’s Garden Hotel wanted to not be in that category. Instead, founder Raymond Handley and his partners set out to make a place that wasn’t another cheap in-and-out motel along the highway. Rather, they envisioned creating a truly unique lodging experience.

Works of art at Dinah’s Garden Hotel (c) Mary Farah.

Both Handley and his wife, Milla Louise, were avid art lovers and many of the couple’s pieces are displayed within the guest rooms of Dinah’s. You’ll find everything from a pair of 19th century life-size Indian processional elephants to a 2nd century A.D. Gandharan stone Buddha in the lagoon. Surrounded by the sounds of Dinah’s waterfall and lake, this peaceful lagoon is one example of how Dinah’s was conceived to seclude you from the hustle just steps away.

In the summer,  you can enjoy happy hour receptions by the pool with live music, light bites and wine.

Speaking of wine….

The San Carlos Wine Walk

Just 11 miles outside of Palo Alto, you will find the humble town of San Carlos. If you come in search of wine, San Carlos will definitely have you covered.

Russian Ridge Winery is a fantastic, laid-back and good vibes atmosphere to start your tastings.  Owned by the Townsend family, Russian Ridge produces about 1,000 cases of wine each year. If you are a red wine lover, do not miss their award winning 2012 Concerto. Concerto is a Cabernet dominant red blend of five Bordeaux varietals.

Over at Flying Suitcase Winery, it’s a family affair. Flying Suitcase celebrates life and adventure. With bright colors on their walls, as well as travel quotes to go with their Hans Christian Anderson inspired name, owner Vikki Vinther and her husband came to the area from Denmark. They soon decided to open a winery that would be ideal for folks like themselves: parents.

While parents can sit back and relax with a glass of their Nostalgia (Chardonnay) or Wanderlust (Zinfandel…did I say yet that all of their labels have fun names?) their offspring can check out a play room with loads of books and toys to keep them occupied.

Fun and bright colors at Flying Suitcase Winery (c) Mary Farah.

Eat Where the Rebels Did

If a day of sipping wine has left you famished, no need to despair. Palo Alto’s San Mateo County is a foodie haven.

In nearby Brisbane, the 7 Mile House Sports Bar and Grill has incredible history dating back to 1858. The bar has been home to some of the most infamous, and might I add, illegal moments in San Francisco’s history. It has lived to tell the tales of the Prohibition era and during the late 1890s, even operated an illegal poolroom behind the pub.

While it isn’t so notorious for rowdy activity anymore, 7 Mile House is known for their cuisine. Owned by Vanessa Garcia since 2004, Garcia has an eclectic background (as a former rock star with a degree in public relations) that makes her a perfect fit for running such a rad restaurant. From crowd faves like their award-winning Cow Palace burger to their seafood and pastas, 7 Mile House is a must when in the area.

Try Some Peruvian Flare

For gorgeous views and another unique experience, enjoy some Peruvian cuisine ocean side at the popular La Costanera. About a half hour, without traffic, from Palo Alto, this Montana Beach eatery combines slick, oceanside dining with a unique blend of style in both their atmosphere and their dishes. This is thanks to their chef,  South Peru native, Carlos Altamirano.

You might want to order the Churrasco (grass-fed, creekstone black angus ribeye steak, yucca fries, chimichurri andino) or maybe you’ve got your eye on or my new favorite, Quinotto (quinoa-pumpkin stew, choclo, veggies, parmesano crispy tomatoes and anticucho de hongos) – either way, La Costanera has brilliantly created the ultimate hot spot in San Mateo County. Don’t miss their signature cocktail, the Pisco Sour!

With the Quinotto, I was not quite sure what to expect. The rice-like consistency of the quinoa brought to mind paella, while the burst of pumpkin reminded me of a pumpkin curry I once had.  This dish is ideal for those following a gluten free or vegetarian diet.

Enter the Filoli Gardens (c) Mary Farah.

Art and Gardens

A must for any art lover, the Cantor Arts Center is another compelling reason to visit Palo Alto. Located at Stanford University, it offers the  largest collection of Rodin sculptures in America and features an impressive array of some of the sculptor’s best.

For a glimpse of one of the most beloved country estates in San Mateo County, visit the Filoli Home and Gardens. Acclaimed for its architecture and gardens ranging from stunning roses to an array of herbs like rosemary and sage, Filoli is a gem to the community and visitors. Reminding me of the Huntington Library and Gardens in Los Angeles, Filoli lays upon 16 acres of beauty and flora that is waiting for admirers and photographers alike to enjoy.

If You Go

With summer weather upon us in California, now is the time to plan your Palo Alto visit. Make your hotel reservations at the Clement or Dinah’s Garden Hotel. Plan a wine tasting day in San Carlos and stop by Russian Ridge and Flying Suitcase. Eat and ponder what the walls could say if they talked at 7 Mile House.

Have some drinks and incredible dishes at La Costanera while you watch the sunset. Walk the Stanford campus grounds and admire the Cantor Arts Center where admission is always free, but donations are welcome, and there is free parking on the weekends. Take a drive over to Filoli, which is just about 25 minutes (sans traffic) in Woodside.  A whole new world within California awaits you.