August 30, 2021

Living in Palo Alto, California: Pros and Cons

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Heather Lin

Whether it’s because of work or wanting to live in a quiet but thriving environment, Palo Alto is becoming a popular choice for people who are looking for a place to call home.

As with any other city, there are advantages and disadvantages in living in Palo Alto. As someone who has lived here for some time, I’ll be glad to share with you both the good and the bad so you can have a better idea what life in Palo Alto is really like, beyond what you see in films and TV shows like “Silicon Valley.”

The Pros

First, let’s talk about the pros of Palo Alto that make it a great place to live in:

Rich culture

You get to meet so many people from different cultural backgrounds in Palo Alto, many of them working in the different companies located in (the actual) Silicon Valley. Especially if you’re an outgoing person, meeting new people and learning their different cultures is thrilling experience. This also resulted in Palo Alto having a diverse range of dining choices available such as Japanese, Turkish, Mexican, Korean, Jamaican, and many others. So if you’re a foodie, your taste buds will enjoy the many choices of food and restaurants to check out.

Lots of parks, trails, and recreational facilities

For families, there are many parks in Palo Alto to enjoy, with lots of open green space good for picnics or other family activities. One of these parks, Mitchell Park, is also where you can find the Magical Bridge Playground which is popular among the children.

In addition, there are numerous libraries and sports facilities like tennis courts and sports fields. For those who enjoy long hikes or running workouts, there are numerous trails that you can take like The Dish-Stanford Trail which is one of the popular trails in the area. For nature-lovers, the Palo Alto Baylands offers not only a good workout trail but also a place where you can go birdwatching.

Bikeable, walkable, and commuter-friendly

With so many bike lanes and facilities for bikers, Palo Alto has been recognized as one of the top bikeable cities in the United States. It is also accessible by Caltrain, with two stations located in the city (Downtown and California Avenue), to take you to around the greater Bay Area. You can actually get by living in Palo Alto even without a car though it is nice to have one.

Job opportunities

There are plenty of job opportunities available in the area, which is the primary reason why many move here. Many of the leading technology companies are headquartered in and around Palo Alto, within the Silicon Valley area, like HP, Apple, Google, and Tesla. Stanford University, one of the most notable universities in the state and in the country is also a notable employer, attracting top tier talent to be part of its academe or staff.

Day trip adventures

One of the perks of living in Palo Alto is that it will only take you a couple of hours at most to drive to different scenic places, especially if you wish to get away for the day or the weekend. It will take you only 45 minutes to get you to San Francisco and enjoy the different sights, sounds, and flavors the city is known for. The beautiful coastlines and beaches of Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz is also 30-45 minutes from Palo Alto where you can swim, surf, or go hiking as well. Santa Cruz also has the beach boardwalk where kids can enjoy amusement rides and arcade games.

The famed wine country of Napa Valley is 2 hours away where you can find a variety of wineries and restaurants you can enjoy. For those enjoying snow activities like skiing and snowboarding, Lake Tahoe is 4 hours away. And as far as natural sceneries go, Yosemite National Park is 3-4 hours away, where you can enjoy breathtaking sights and long hikes as well.

The Cons

Despite the many good things to see and enjoy in Palo Alto, there are also cons that you must take into account:

Expensive to live here

First things first, the average home prices in Palo Alto is around $3 million compared to the average home price in the country which is only at $250,000. On top of that, prices in the city is expensive, from your groceries to the food, even a cup of Starbucks. In fact, the cost of, living in Palo Alto is almost 5 times as high as the US average and more than 3 times the average in the state of California.

But why is the cost of living expensive in Palo Alto? Partly, it’s because of geography. As part of the Bay Area, Palo Alto and surrounding cities like San Francisco are not only sandwiched between two bodies of water (the Pacific Ocean and San Francisco Bay) but the land overall offers little room for development. Coupled with the presence of big tech companies that make up Silicon Valley and the jobs they generate, this created a greater demand for housing that could not be easily fulfilled.

Pressure in the environment

While the presence of global tech giants in Palo Alto and the greater Silicon Valley has been beneficial in providing job opportunities, working in these companies entail a lot of pressure, not only due to the demand within these companies for employees to excel in their work, but also competition from fellow top talent working in those companies. As a result, you may feel the pressure in the environment which can be detrimental to your mental health. Work-life balance is all the more important to keep your overall health in check in spite of that pressure.

Traffic has become horrible

With the businesses headquartered in Silicon Valley and the growing number of people making this neighborhood their home, traffic in Palo Alto has become horrendous in recent years. This is especially true in Highway 101 where most of the tech companies can be found, particularly from 7-9 in the morning and in the late afternoon (sometimes, the traffic builds up as early as 3 PM) up to 7 PM. As such, it is important to determine how far your home is to where you work so you can plan your daily drive to work accordingly. But if your workplace goes by, biking your way to work is much better, given Palo Alto’s bike-friendly environment as pointed out earlier. Another tip is if you like near Highway 280, you can spend less time stuck in heavy traffic by taking this route which is les impeded by heavy traffic, not to mention you get to enjoy a scenic view along the way.

Hopefully, the presentation of both pros and cons will help you make a better-informed decision on living in Palo Alto, as well as help you better plan out your move so you can get settled as quick and comfortable as possible in your new neighborhood. As long as you enjoy the great things Palo Alto has to offer while adapting to the challenges of living here, you can definitely enjoy life here.

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