October 4, 2022

How do you get into Stanford University? Well, if you’re intelligent and stay in the right hotel, you can walk right in.

That’s one tip I learned when I visited the Northern California campus with my wife and our son recently. We’re making the rounds of colleges as our high school senior weighs important decisions about where he wants to study. As he checks out the libraries and dining halls, I’m distracting myself — from tuition worries and empty nest feels — by focusing on where to sleep, eat and get the most from a family campus visit.

Situated about 40 minutes south of San Francisco and a half hour north of San Jose, Stanford University is at the epicenter of Silicon Valley, and was itself the incubator for companies such as Google, Sun Microsystems, Cisco, Hewlett-Packard, and Yahoo. Stanford’s gorgeous, sunny campus, on 8,100 acres, has its own zip code but it’s really part of the fabric of Palo Alto and Menlo Park, the towns adjacent to the school grounds.

Here’s what I discovered as we explored the university that students and faculty call “The Farm.”

WHERE TO STAY

“Welcome home” is the first thing you’ll hear upon walking into Stanford Park Hotel, and if you’re a fan of the Cardinal (or one in the making) you’ll feel that sense of belonging throughout your stay at this independent family-run hotel. Open since 1985, Stanford Park takes special care of guests with genuine warmth and personalized surprise touches, like nightly fresh-baked cookies, and the Stanford jersey embroidered with our son’s name on it that was waiting in the room as an amenity (along with champagne and strawberries—for the parents, of course).

With 162 California-modern rooms and suites built around a courtyard with a year-round heated swimming pool and whirlpool spa, Stanford Park provides an oasis from whatever stressful college decisions you might be making. It’s nice, too, being just five minutes by car or bike or 15 minutes by foot to campus—and about the same to Stanford Shopping Center, Sand Hill Road, and downtown Palo Alto. Menlo Tavern within the hotel is open for breakfast, lunch, dinner or to discuss your latest pending patent over gin martinis (NDAs notwithstanding).

Also wonderful: The halls of the hotel are like a Stanford Hall of Fame, with dozens of artful oversized portraits of the school’s notable alums: Reese Witherspoon, Tiger Woods, Ram Dass, William H. Rehnquist, Sally Ride, even Batman (well, Adam West, TV’s dark knight).

As decisions around elite colleges go, booking at Stanford Park is a genius move.

WHERE TO EAT

Tamarine Restaurant & Gallery on University Avenue in Palo Alto is Vietnamese haute cuisine for the Tesla Model X set. The house signatures include Harissa Bass, Shaking Beef, Hoisin Lamb Chops and Empress Sticky Rice (mixed with garlic, leeks, ginger, and an egg at the table). Street food elevated to the Silicon Valley max in a space that also doubles as an art gallery.

Oren’s Hummus is a sort-of budget-friendly outpost of the popular hummus chain by Oren Dobronsky, a Tel Aviv chef, who fills bowls with eggplant, felafel, roasted cauliflower, and grilled chicken, lamb and beef. No doubt it’s the best hummus in the 94301.

If Palo Alto has a destination worthy fine-dining spot, it’s Bird Dog. French Laundry alum Robbie Wilson taps local farms and markets for a menu popping with creative Cal-Asian deliciousness: The black cod syncs up hijiki, hearts of palm and oxtail dashi. There’s an “Everything Togarashi Challah” with yuzu butter. Beef short ribs nuzzle up to Asian pear.

WHAT TO DO

You’ll need to go to Paris to find sculpture that rivals what’s in the garden and galleries at Stanford’s Cantor Arts Center, home to the largest collection of Rodin bronzes outside France. I like the giant OY/YO sculpture out front by artist Deborah Kass.

Frank Lloyd Wright designed Hanna House in 1936 for Stanford Professor Paul Hanna and his wife, Jean. Unlike some of Wright’s grander visions, Hanna House stands out for its low-key elegance and middle-class modesty. But still, it’s a Frank Lloyd Wright!

As we made ourselves scarce while our son toured campus, my wife and I stumbled upon the Papua New Guinea sculpture walk at the corner of Santa Teresa and Lomita Drive. Although it looks like a repository for imported island totems, the outdoor gallery — with wood and stone carvings of animals and deities — was actually created on-site by visiting artists from Papua New Guinea.

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