Let's disrupt what it means to read about corners of this Earth online. Raise your hand if you want to see perfectly edited pictures of bloggers living their best life in every dang city you never even thought you wanted to visit. Oh, you don't? Me neither.
I asked on this Instagram post for ideas on how to share about travel without cluttering the Internet with another blog post no one wants to read. Here's what some of you said:
What I learned? I'M NOT ALONE. I don't want to read about that restaurant a brand sponsored someone to visit, a park that's not actually as beautiful as it's portray to be, or day-trip that's not worth my time (and $$) to explore. And as a content creator, I don’t want to put out content that I don’t want to read. Insert: a dilemma I’m determined to solve.
Sharing about cities matters to me because it’s a huge part of my life, and I really, authentically come alive wandering new places and taking pictures of everything in sight. Anyone who’s travelled with me knows that for sure. (As annoying as it is to those who don’t like snapping pics, I appreciate the friends who let me do my thang. Lolz.)
To keep my blog real, I can’t help but crave sharing about those experiences, so this is what I’m going to do.
These field guides will hopefully serve you as a space to read very honest and raw perspectives on one person’s journey through one particular city. I would never encourage you to visit somewhere I don’t believe is beautiful its own unique way, and I would never share detailed tips that aren’t worth your time. To keep things efficient, effective, and entertaining, I plan to curate the following deets (in case anyone cares):
Beyond my #1 recommendations, I’ll also include honorary mentions I've experienced and would recommend as well.
The best memories of my life through all my travels have always been the afternoons of autonomous and spontaneous decisions, made in the moment, by me and the people I was with. So take my advice or leave it – because traveling is most appreciated when it’s experienced by YOU.
This is going to be a work in progress type of goal for me, but I'm excited to see what I can produce if I at least try to share my experience in certain cities without forcing upon you an envy for a reality that isn't really real.
First up? Palo Alto, California - my literal home away from home.
Palo Alto, to me, is familiar, kind-hearted, surrounded by greenery, and filled with motivating people. Having visited the Bay Area every summer since I was born, rounding the corner to my grandmother's neighborhood, riding my bike to the local park, and shopping around Stanford University makes me feel at peace and outside the chaos of metropolitan life.
The city is completely flat, pedestrian- and bike-friendly, and healthy. If someone doesn't work for Google or Apple, they probably are still in high school or pretty close to retirement. Funky stores stand next to chain boutiques, open-air downtown windows keep people alive and laughing, and every other corner has some sort of outdoor pop-up concert by someone in a family folk band. It's a type of tranquility I don't experience in Atlanta, and the weather blows my mind every. dang. time.
Visiting Palo Alto is definitely for more of the homebody visit-your-working-friend type, but it's prime location gives you one-hour-away access to the city of San Francisco or the cliffs of Half Moon Bay. I encourage you to eat, shop, walk, bike, and hang at a coffeeshop to pretend you're founding a start-up, too. Pack for 70 degree weather every day of the year, and leave room for Stanford memorabilia. When you get back home to humidity, you'll thank our Creator for crafting perfection.
Where to explore?
#1. University Avenue, Downtown Palo Alto
Stretching from Lytton Plaza to the intersection at Cowper
Ideally, block of your Saturday morning, on an empty stomach, to visit the most perfect, local, weekly farmer's market and just begin exploring. Meander the stalls, try every white peach sample, purchase some lavender essential oils, and end with a cinnamon apple crêpe (well, #glutenfree me goes for the loaded matcha açaí bowl nowadays). This market has as much fresh honey your heart could ever desire, and there's usually a local musician wowing the crowds with ukelele delights.
2. Shoreline Lake
3160 N Shoreline Blvd, Mountain View, CA 94043
Tips: Sunset. Bring a kite and a picnic (In-n-Out?). Walk along the main trail until the hilltop clearing. HEART EYES.
3. The drive toward Half Moon Bay
Through Portola Valley, along the Pacific Coast Highway
Tips: Afternoon drive, late afternoon adventure, clam chowder in downtown Half Moon Bay, drive home during sunset. Bring a jacket because it's colddd. Northern Pacific beaches are fun to explore but definitely not for basking in the sun.
4. Stanford University
20 Palm Dr, Stanford, CA 94305
Tips: Drive down Palm Drive. Admire the main quad. Relax by the many many fountains. Grab a smoothie from Jamba Juice. Buy a keychain. Pretend you're a real student. Lol.
5. Santana Row
Walk from one end to the other
Tips: Hot chocolate from Cocola Café. Outdoor chess set. Amazon Books because where else have you seen a full store ? Sugarfina. Two-story H&M. and... PRESSED JUICERY *swoon*.
6. Town & Country Village
855 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, CA 94301
Tips: The perfect Sunday afternoon spot to stay for a while and stroll. Have your dad hang out at Books Inc., send your brother toward the toy store, and link arms with your mom to walk straight for Sur La Table (after coffee from Peet's of course).
6. Stanford Shopping Center
660 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto, CA 94304
Tips: Kara's Cupcakes. Urban. SoulCycle. Market across from Max's Opera Café. Take an Insta in front of the veryyy realistic mural art, then walk across the street to Nordstrom and have yourself a frigin day.
Where to eat?
4224 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, CA 94306
A local California chain that we'd visit daily if we could is Hobee's. The atmosphere is comfortable - not too fancy, not too casual - and filled with decorations and featured photographs that bring about a sense of camaraderie for the employees, regulars, and newcomers alike. It's homey, and taking a seat at a table surrounded by my family, ready for hashbrowns and fruit, is a type of contentedness I don't find often.
Opportunities range from classic eggs and bacon, to hashbrown skillets with avocado and salsa, to piled high pancakes, and really fresh fruit. Try a smoothie if you're ready to devour it on top of a hearty breakfast. And their coffee cake? Like... world famous I'm pretty sure.
Oh and get this: bring in a picture of you wearing a Hobee's tshirt in front of a famous monument and they'll post it on the wall - and give you a free meal. Are we #sold yet?!
photo by Hobee's
2. Cafe Borrone
1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, CA 94025
Tips: On a nice day, sit outside. Pop into Kepler's next door if there's a wait to sit. Get ready to read a handwritten menu posted above the register, listen to the courtyard fountain, and thrive.
photo by Zagat
3. LYFE Kitchen
167 Hamilton Ave, Palo Alto, CA 94301
Tips: Full disclosure I've only been here once. All I remember is how frigin trendy-millennial-intolerance friendly-vegan it was, and considering my obsession with all things trendy-millennial-interolerance friendly-vegan ? This was added to my suggestion list.
Photo by Margee Drew Designs
4. Max's Opera Café
Tips: Fun fact, this is the cafe that baked my parents' wedding cake. Therefore we return, often. They have a gluten free menu, and also, their desserts are literally famous. That's all you need to know.
5. Asian Box
855 El Camino Real #21, Palo Alto, CA 94301
Tips: Asian-inspired fast casual bowls where everything. on. the menu. is. gluten free. HELLO ?! Consider me sold.
Where the locals hang?
#1. Bell's Books
536 Emerson St, Palo Alto, CA 94301
It's hard to explain how absolutely precious this used bookstore is. My dad has stopped in this hideaway haven every time we've come downtown, and for good reason. With two stories of Beauty and the Beast level bookshelves, old-fashioned methods of organization (post it notes and chaos), and the sweetest and most dedicated employees, Bell's continues to stand my family's test of time as a treasured spot to seek out every summer we can. I don't usually end up buying anything, but roaming the store and grabbing a postcard at least makes me feel like I'm intellectual enough to be there. Because really, who doesn't love quaint little book shops on tiny side streets...
photo by Bell's Books
2. Rick's Ice Cream
Tips: It might look ordinary on the outside, but the thiccness of Rick's Rather Rich Ice Cream is well worth the long waits and below-average aesthetic appeal. I don't even want to recommend a flavor because you'll just have to try them all out for yourself.
3. Mitchell Park
600 E Meadow Dr, Palo Alto, CA 94303
Tips: Think, quintessential playground + long running trails + neighborhood library + picnic space + outdoor concerts + tai chi clubs + water fountains + more playground equipment. Hashtag, ideal suburban family-friendly paradise..
Where to sip some coffee?
#1. Blue Bottle Coffee at HanaHaus
456 University Ave, Palo Alto, CA 94301
Okay hold me back before I move to Palo Alto for the sheer existence of this coffeehouse-meets-coworking-space-meets-heaven. I can't begin to explain how aesthetically pleasing this spot is but hopefully one picture can do it justice. Tucked away from the main downtown street, HanaHaus is technically a coworking space at which entrepreneurs, etc. can pay to work and network. Outside HanaHaus's specific space, however, is a Blue Bottle Coffee café, with outdoor and indoor seating featuring string lights and local art. Safe to say I absolutely thrive every time I visit, and will literally never stop recommending it to anyone who asks. Grab a drip, stay for a bit, and then head out on your way to continue exploring downtown Palo Alto.
Photo by Hanahaus
2. Starbucks on Middlefield Road
2775 Middlefield Rd, Palo Alto, CA 94306
Tips: Okay yes Starbucks shouldn't be considered trendy enough to be recommended as an ideal coffeehouse on vacation, but this spot has an ivy-lined, adobe brick wall and outdoor patio space that I cry happy tears about every dang summer. Do not underestimate the power of a chain café.
And that concludes my very first Field Guide!
Hi! I'm Chloe, a twenty-something writer and communications strategist figuring it out as I go along. I love airplanes, oat lattes, and deep chats over cheap wine.
I hope you leave here inspired to explore the world and love its people, or, keep reading all the things. It's good for you!
Follow along: @chloe.belangia