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Going back to California: Palo Alto

Back in 2008 I was lucky enough to find myself with three days to drive around California, starting near San Diego. California’s a big place, though, so in the end I was only able to cover the south of the state: San Diego, LA, the desert around Palm Springs and the Laguna Mountains. San Francisco and Silicon Valley, both places I’ve wanted to visit for some time, were hours out of reach. This week, however, I found myself flying into the north of California for a press event in Silicon Valley, with time to take a brief look around.

The event itself was in Mountain View, CA, but at 3pm the day before I found myself down the road in Palo Alto. Any web nerd knows that Google’s based in Mountain View, and Mac fans know that the temple of Steve can be found in Cupertino (on Infinite Loop, no less), but Palo Alto is home to the grandaddy of all Silicon Valley locations: the (previously Xerox) PARC, home of Ethernet, GUI systems and more. Sadly PARC is some way south of where I was, so with no car – more on that later – and with only a few hours I walked into the town instead.

The centre of Palo Alto is a nice place to kill a few sunny hours, but I’m not sure you’d want to be kicking around there for much longer without something to do. Besides the restaurants, chain shops and boutiques there’s an old cinema:

Stanford Theatre, Palo Alto

and in the square down the road a young woman was singing while people browsed a market full of posh foodstuffs. Priuses abound, and a Tesla (license plate: NUCULER) was pulling up. In short, Palo Alto is pretty much every west-coast stereotype you could call to mind. The only thing that stood out to me was the amazing Methodist church:

Methodist Church, Palo Alto

Sadly I couldn’t get a photo inside – a service was taking place – but it’s quite lovely, with those tiny windows filled with stained glass picking out coloured spots to illuminate the cavernous interior. Heading out into suburbia you pass lawn signs showing support for green energy, and posh residences complete with landscaped gardens and flags up for sale:

Suburbia, Palo Alto

and beyond that to the North, the freeway and then the bay. And that was it – a flying visit to Palo Alto in just a few hours before the jet-lag killed me and I had to sleep. Oh, but what’s on TV in Palo Alto? Mainly this, looping every few minutes:

I’d vote for the guy. The next day was all work, reporting from a Symantec press event in Mountain View, but on the Friday I moved up to San Francisco – more on that here.

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