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Diablo Checks Out Revamped Garden Court Hotel

Beautifully restored hotel perfectly located in downtown Palo Alto.


The courtyard patio at the Garden Court in Palo Alto offers an elegant getaway in the heart of downtown

Photo by Matthew Millman

In the early 1990s, a friend took me to Palo Alto to watch old Humphrey Bogart movies at the immaculately restored Stanford Theatre. For a movie buff like myself, it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship, and my favorite entertainment night out quickly became a double feature at the Stanford with a late dinner or milkshake at the nearby Peninsula Fountain and Grill. Sure, it was a long drive (Walnut Creek to Palo Alto takes about an hour with no traffic) for a movie, but when you see those beautiful old Hollywood classics on the Stanford's giant screen—there's nothing better. I still go a couple times a year as a treat to myself.

Last fall, I got to experience Palo Alto in an elegant way, with a night's stay at the recently refurbished Garden Court Hotel. This boutique hotel in the downtown area just went through a mega million-dollar makeover. During my walk through the property with the Garden Court's manager, I mentioned that an overnight at the hotel would make a great contest for a lucky Diablo reader to enjoy, and they were happy to oblige. [This contest has since expired]

Meanwhile, check out these tips for dining, shopping, and entertainment in Palo Alto and its neighboring Peninsula towns.

Palo Alto has a terrific range of dining options from casual to very fancy. Here are three you should know about.

Fans of Danville's Faz Restaurant will want to check out MacArthur Park. Chef Faz Porsouhi worked here before going on to open several East Bay restaurants and later went back to take over at the longstanding MacArthur Park. A nice place for a long lunch or hearty dinner, with a menu that highlights All-American fare. The ribs here are particularly nice. 27 University Ave., Palo Alto, (650) 321-9990, macarthurparkpaloalto.com

For trend-chasers, one of the hottest restaurants in town is Tamarine, an upscale Thai eatery. Plan ahead: dinner reservations can require up to two days. 546 University Avenue, Palo Alto (650) 325-8500, tamarinerestaurant.com.

And, my very favorite spot for comfort food is the Palo Alto Peninsula Fountain and Grill. Originally opened in 1923, this corner diner has all kinds of retro charm, but has expanded its options over the year to cater to highbrow tastes. So, you can still get a grilled cheese sandwich, but they also serve fresh lobster rolls and fancier fare. But the center of attention here is the gourmet ice cream, which is made at a creamery just blocks away. 566 Emerson St. (650) 323-3131, paloaltocreamery.com.

I recommend starting with a stroll up and down the tree-lined University Avenue, where you'll find everything from a cutting edge Apple store and high-end clothiers to cozy cafés and unique boutiques. Here are a few Palo Alto gems to look for:

For gifts and jewelry, pop into Shady Lane Gallery, a perennial Best of Palo Alto winner for best boutique and gift shop. You're certain to find a unique gift or treat for yourself as the gallery features lots of local artisan wares as well as Native American crafts and jewelry. 441 University Ave., Palo Alto, (650) 321-1099, shadylanegallery.com.

21st-century gardeners should check out the Common Ground Organic Garden Supply and Education Center, a cutting edge spot for those who want to transform their backyard into the ultimate organic garden. 559 College Ave., Palo Alto, (650) 493-6072, commongroundinpaloalto.org.

If you're bringing your kids along, make sure to stop by the Palo Alto Sport Shop and Toy World. This business that began in 1930 as a toy store—they still have plenty of fun toys and novelty items—has kept up with the times to cater to the soccer and swimming generation. 526 Waverly St. Palo Alto, (650) 328-8555, toyandsport.com.

And, for general shopping, the Stanford Shopping Center is, let’s face it, a mall. But it’s a huge one, with all the high-end shops one could want, and a pleasant, open-air design. We like to think of it as Broadway Plaza on the Peninsula. 1 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto, stanfordshop.com

From classic movies to chamber music to megastar concerts, the Peninsula offers plenty of fun in the entertainment department.

Fans of classic movies can meet their mecca at the Stanford Theatre, an immaculately restored movie palace, complete with a balcony and Wurlitzer organist. The theater secures pristine prints of films from Hollywood's Golden Age, and they will highlight Alfred HItchcock in an upcoming series, so if you've never seen Notorious, make sure to pay the Stanford a visit between September 3–8. Admission is just $7 for adults and $5 for seniors and kids. Also, the concession prices are extremely reasonable compared to multiplexes, and the popcorn is the best I have ever tasted in a cinema.  221 University Avenue, Palo Alto, (650) 324-3700, stanfordtheatre.org.

If you're looking for a blissfully intimate concert, the Mountain Winery in nearby Saratoga is simply one of the most spectacular concert venues anywhere. Nestled on a hillside with a view of the Silicon Valley below, the stage sits right in front of a historic Paul Masson winery building. The vibe is similar to the wonderful summer concerts at Livermore's Wente Vineyards, and the Mountain Winery keeps an incredibly busy schedule of shows running from late May to early October. Upcoming highlights include: August 7: The Beach Boys; August 19: Lewis Black; August 23; Garrison Keilor; August 26: Jeff Bridges; September 25: Tony Bennett, October 7: Blondie and The English Beat. 14831 Pierce Road, Saratoga, (408) 741-2822, mountainwinery.com

Mountain View's Shoreline Amphitheatre is the giant shed venue that legendary promoter Bill Graham built specifically to showcase the Grateful Dead. Over the years, it's become the go-to venue for HUGE bands (East Bay faves Green Day sold the place out last year as the final show of the 21st Century Breakdown tour). On a nice evening, it's a very pleasant place to see live music—but be wary of traffic snarls during sold-out shows. Arrive especially early if you have general admission lawn tickets, because you just don't want to deal with trying to watch a concert from the back of that giant green beast. Upcoming concerts include: July 29: Kid Rock with Sheryl Crow, August 7: M.U.S.E. benefit with Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Jackson Browne, and Bonnie Raitt; September 2: Lil Wayne and Rick Ross; September 9; Def Leppard; September 10: Kings of Leon, October 22-23: Neil Young's Bridge School Benefit. For Shoreline ticket info, click here.

In Menlo Park, the Music at Menlo series highlights  chamber music.  Launched in 2003, Music at Menlo offers opportunities for aficionados and newcomers of all ages to connect with chamber music in new and innovative ways. musicatmenlo.org.

The Garden Court Hotel recently underwent a massive renovation and the results are top-shelf; this boutique hotel in downtown Palo Alto features elegant charm and lots of unique, spacious rooms and suites. It's also in a perfect spot for people who just want to park the car once in the garage and spend an afternoon and evening strolling Palo Alto's downtown for shopping and dining purposes. 520 Cowper St., Palo Alto, (650) 322-9000, gardencourt.com.


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