Take mild weather, a thriving economy, great cultural and natural amenities; add in not one, but two downtowns surrounded by housing; and finally, drop in one of the highest-ranked universities in the world, and you’ll find yourself in Palo Alto, Livability.com’s 2014 Best Place to Live.
Mayor Greg Scharff describes Palo Alto, a city of 65,000 residents, as an “urban village.” Walkable downtowns are often removed from the housing stock in a city. You can walk around within them, sure, but you have to drive, bike or train to get to them. In Palo Alto, the main streets are ensconced in residential areas.
“It’s the best of an urban environment coupled with the best of the suburban environment,” Mayor Scharff says.
Silicon Valley and the high-tech firms that launch and thrive here mean Palo Alto doesn’t have some of the same challenges that other cities have. Talented workers flock here, not from here. “We create the companies that change everything,” he says.
Housing is expensive, but wages are higher than average. Once you own a home, its value is likely to rise, and when you’re ready to sell, it likely won’t sit on the market for long. The Caltrain commuter rail brings in workers from nearby areas, and the city is investing in affordable housing for seniors.
Palo Alto certainly benefits from the presence of Stanford University, which attracts the students who start the startups and adds world-class cultural destinations like the new Bing Concert Hall. The city has culture for all ages including a children’s theater, which offers performance space and classes.
Mayor Scharff points out that he never needs to leave Palo Alto – with its abundance of restaurants, shopping, grocery stores and a very popular farmers market with every kind of fresh California produce imaginable. When he does venture out, he doesn’t have to go far. San Francisco is just a 40-minute train ride. Big Sur, Carmel, Napa Valley and wine country, and even the Pacific Coast Highway itself are all nearby, adding to the area’s allure.
Protecting those natural amenities is a priority for the city, which bills itself as the first carbon neutral city. It owns its own power plants (lower rates for consumers), and as home to Tesla Motors has one of the largest concentrations of electric vehicles of any city in the world.