PALO ALTO -- The mere mention of Palo Alto, with its leafy location just 35 miles south of San Francisco and barely 20 minutes from exotic wonders of San Jose and Silicon Valley evokes visions of the grand Stanford University campus.
Indeed, the university is alluring, with its beautiful grounds and brainiac aura, but Palo Alto has a number of off-campus attractions that offer delights all their own -- such as the Palo Alto Junior Museum & Zoo and the Museum of American Heritage.
The Palo Alto Junior Museum & Zoo, on Middlefield Road, has more than 50 exotic and native animals. Among the zoo residents are bobcats, raccoons and hedgehogs. The zoo also has a new shark exhibit, which houses two swell sharks and two leopard sharks in a 500-gallon saltwater tank.
Want to go batty? The zoo has a newly renovated bat habitat where three African fruit bats and two Egyptian fruit bats are hanging around. The junior museum has a hands-on exhibit featuring everything about motion. Experimenting with tops, watching golf balls go on a roller coaster ride and trying a game of pool all help to demonstrate the movement we experience daily.
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The Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo, which opened in 1969, was the first children's museum west of the Mississippi and it offers a fun educational experience.
After talking with the animals, head north on Middlefield and take a left onto Homer Avenue. The Museum of American Heritage, a trip through the years of technology and modernization, is inside the old Williams family home at 351 Homer. Frank Livermore picked up an old vacuum cleaner at a junk shop in the early 1960s and thus began a collection of machinery that some referred to as eclectic junk. This collection of vintage machinery includes radios, phonographs, adding machines, cash registers and, of course, vacuum cleaners. It's a trip of evolution from hand-operated items with less technology to today's modern machines.
Through Nov. 4, the museum is hosting an exhibit titled "It's Electrifying! Look How Things have Changed." It's a journey through the changes that came about as electricity lit up our lives. Nov. 16, the museum will open the exhibit "Toys From the Attic." Old toys get dusted off and bring back childhood memories. Look, Ma, no batteries!
Of course, taking in the sights of Palo Alto, from the university to the zoo, heritage museum and even a stop to window shop on University Avenue, can make any visitor hungry for an afternoon pick-me-up, so head south on Middlefield Road and stop in for a cone or sundae at Rick's Ice Cream. This creamery serves its gourmet ice cream in a number of flavors. The standards, like chocolate and rainbow sherbet, are on hand, but for those who like to "taste outside the box," try one of the out-of-the-ordinary flavors like "industrial chocolate" or green tea. And if you like to mix your happy hour with ice cream, try "sideways" -- vanilla ice cream with cabernet sauvignon, chocolate chips and a ribbon of raspberry sauce. Truly, an afternoon delight.
WHERE: Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo, 1451 Middlefield Road; Museum of American Heritage, 351 Homer Ave.; Rick's Ice Cream, 3946 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto
WHEN: Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo, Tuesday-Saturday 10 a.m.-5 p.m., Sunday 1-4 p.m.; Museum of American Heritage, Friday-Sunday 11 a.m.- 4 p.m.; Rick's Ice Cream, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. daily
COST: Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo and the Museum of American Heritage are free, but donations are accepted; the cost of ice cream at Rick's varies depending on the size of your hunger.
GETTING THERE: From the Central Valley, take Interstate 580 (Altamont Pass) to the East Bay. In Castro Valley, take the Interstate 238 connector to Interstate 880. Go south on I-880 toward San Jose. Take Highway 92 to the San Mateo Bridge. Cross the bridge and take Highway 101 south. In Palo Alto, take Embarcadero Road west to Middlefield Road.
DRIVE TIME: 1 hour, 36 minutes (MapQuest)
MORE INFO: Palo Alto Junior Museum and Zoo, 650-329-2111 or www.city.palo-alto.ca.us/depts/csd/activities_and_recreation/attractions/junior_museum.asp; Museum of American Heritage, 650-321-1004 or www.moah.org; Rick's Ice Cream, 650-493-6553 or www.ricksicecream.com.
Bee assistant librarian Karen Aiello can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2392.