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Why Palo Alto, Calif., is A Top 100 Best Place to Live

With great weather, a thriving economy and proximity to San Francisco, this Silicon Valley city has it all

By Matt Carmichael on December 11, 2014

Palo Alto's Coupa Cafe
Palo Alto / Matt Carmichael

Palo Alto has a pretty good checklist of what we look for in a best place to live. Mild weather, a thriving economy, great cultural amenities and a diverse natural environment. Add in not one, but two downtowns with dense housing for a suburb, and you’re well on your way. All of this supports and is supported by one of the top-ranked universities in the world.

Yes, it comes with a price. It’s not easy to get here financially, but once you do, you’ll find yourself in a true community. Sure, there are high-tech billionaires in town – but they answer the door when you are trick-or-treating. The homes don’t outwardly seem ostentatious, and you’d be forgiven for thinking you were in just another nice, middle-class suburb.

“We’re a humble city until you figure out what we do, and then suddenly we’re not,” Mayor Nancy Shepherd says. “It captures that very-quiet-neighborhood neighborly life that I didn’t have growing up even though I grew up in a suburb.”

Yet, it also has the urban amenities in town and on campus that you’d find in a much larger, more hectic city.

As the heart of Silicon Valley where companies like Hewlett-Packard, Tesla and Facebook got their starts, attracting talent and jobs isn’t a problem in Palo Alto. Finding space to put all those workers, however, can be a challenge.

“We have a 24/7 work style here with people who like to tinker,” Mayor Shepherd says. The city is working on ways to reduce congestion and make parking more plentiful in an area that many, many commute to each morning. The commuter rail is a popular option, and Palo Alto is adding more bike infrastructure, encouraging car-share services and exploring shuttle services. The goal is to make it easier for residents and workers to move to, in and around Palo Alto seamlessly.

But, as Mayor Shepherd says, the secret sauce is really Stanford University, which attracts the students who start the startups and add world-class cultural destinations like the new Bing Concert Hall. The academic atmosphere spills over into the residents as well and leads to a highly engaged citizenry.

“There’s a quest and thirst for wanting to know more in Palo Alto,” Mayor Shepherd says. “It’s a community that really comes out to try to solve their problems. People show up.”

Education is important to residents of all ages. The public schools rival the quality of private schools in most towns and consistently earn top rankings in the state, according to Great Schools. On a fall morning, throngs of high schoolers can be seen biking to class in dedicated bike lanes. At the elementary schools, parents walk their kids through the neighborhoods and past waiting crossing guards.

Last year, Livabilty spent some time getting to know Palo Alto a little better. You can read about Palo Alto, its real estate, schools and transportation on the Livability blog.

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