Palo Alto (Spanish: palo: literally “stick”, colloquial: “tree” and alto: “tall”; meaning: “tall tree”) is a charter city located in the northwest corner of Santa Clara County, California, in the San Francisco Bay Area of the United States. The city shares its borders with East Palo Alto, Mountain View, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, Stanford, Portola Valley, and Menlo Park. It is named after a redwood tree called El Palo Alto.
Palo Alto was established by Leland Stanford when he founded Stanford University, following the death of his son, Leland Stanford Jr. The city includes portions of Stanford and is headquarters to a number of high-technology companies, including Hewlett-Packard (HP), VMware, Tesla Motors, PARC, Ning, IDEO, Skype, and Palantir Technologies. It has also served as an incubator to several other high-technology companies such as Apple Inc., Google, Facebook, Logitech, Intuit, Sun Microsystems, Pinterest, and PayPal.
As of the 2010 census, the city’s total resident population is 64,403. Palo Alto is one of the most expensive cities in the United States and its residents are among the most educated in the country.
Palo Alto’s earliest recorded history dates from 1769, when Gaspar de Portolà noted an Ohlone settlement. This remains an area of known Indian mounds. A plaque is erected at Middlefield Road and Embarcadero Road to commemorate this area.
The city got its name from the tall landmark Redwood tree, El Palo Alto, which still grows on the east bank of San Francisquito Creek across from Menlo Park. One trunk of the twin-trunked tree can still be found by the railroad trestle near Alma Street in El Palo Alto Park (the other trunk was destroyed during a storm in the late 20th century).
The township of Mayfield was formed in 1855, in what is now southern Palo Alto. In 1875, French financier Jean Baptiste Paulin Caperon, better known as Peter Coutts, purchased land in Mayfield and four other parcels around three sides of today’s College Terrace – more than a thousand acres extending from today’s Page Mill Road to Serra Street and from El Camino Real to the foothills. Coutts named his property Ayrshire Farm. His fanciful brick 50-foot-tall brick tower near Matadero Creek likely marked the south corner of his property. Leland Stanford started buying land in the area in 1876 for a horse farm, called the Palo Alto Stock Farm. Stanford bought Ayrshire Farm in 1882. Jane and Leland Stanford, Sr. founded Stanford University in 1891, dedicated to his son who died of typhoid fever at age 15 in 1884. In 1886, Stanford came to Mayfield, interested in founding his university there. He had a train stop created near his school on Mayfield’s downtown street, Lincoln Street (now named California Avenue). However, he had one condition: alcohol had to be banned from the town. Known for its 13 rowdy saloons, Mayfield rejected his requests for reform. This led him to drive the formation of Palo Alto as a Temperance Town in 1894 with the help of his friend Timothy Hopkins of the Southern Pacific Railroad who bought 740 acres of private land in 1887 for the new townsite. The Hopkins Tract, bounded by El Camino Real, San Francisquito Creek, Boyce, Channing, Melville, and Hopkins Avenues, and Embarcadero Road, was proclaimed a local Heritage District during Palo’s Alto Centennial in 1994. Stanford set up his university, Stanford University, and a train stop (on University Avenue) by his new town. With Stanford’s support, saloon days faded and Palo Alto grew to the size of Mayfield. On July 2, 1925, Palo Alto voters approved the annexation of Mayfield and the two communities were officially consolidated on July 6, 1925. This saga explains why Palo Alto has two downtown areas: one along University Avenue and one along California Avenue.
Palo Alto serves as a central economic focal point of the Silicon Valley, and is home to more than 7,000 businesses employing more than 98,000 people. Many prominent technology firms reside in the Stanford Research Park on Page Mill Road, while nearby Sand Hill Road in the adjacent city of Menlo Park is a notable hub of venture capitalists. The city’s economy generally follows the economic trends of the rest of the Silicon Valley.
In addition, Palo Alto’s lively retail and restaurant trade includes the popular Stanford Shopping Center, an upscale open air shopping center established in 1955, and downtown Palo Alto (centered on University Avenue). Palo Alto is also home to the first street-level Apple Store, the first Apple mini store, the first Whole Foods Market store on the West Coast, and the first Victoria’s Secret.