At the very top of a particularly challenging climb at the Dish, you’re greeted with a wide view of the whole city, filled with minuscule buildings and clusters of trees. The wind sends the golden grasses dancing — a rare moment of peace amongst the hustle and bustle of everyday life.

While Silicon Valley is known for being a technology hub and for its modern infrastructure, nearby open space preserves showcase the natural beauty of the Bay Area, with each location offering unique trails and amenities. After months of lockdown, more Palo Alto residents are returning to their favorite parks — while adhering to COVID-19 rules and regulations — for a perfect escape from the computer screens that dominate our shelter-in-place lives.

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ROLLING HILLS — The sunny California skies are on prominent display at Foothills park. The preserve remains a peaceful spot even in the midst of a pandemic with its sweeping treeline and gentle hills.

Laura Malagrino

Foothills Park

Perhaps Palo Alto’s most well known open space preserve, Foothills Park reopened on Aug. 31 to the public, attracting those looking to hike, bike and generally enjoy the second-largest park in the city.

The plethora of wildlife and trails make this park an ideal destination to get some fresh air.

After showing proof of residency at the park’s entrance, visitors can expect to spot wild turkeys, hawks and herons roaming across the park grounds; at less frequented hours, one can even see deer and coyotes. Two of the most popular of Foothills’ many trails are Los Trancos and Toyon, suitable for hikers with a wide range of experience. At 7.3 miles long, the former is for the adventurous who want to get their blood flowing, and the latter for those who wish to experience Foothills’ beauty at a shorter distance of 1.4 miles.


“It [Foothills Park] is full of trails; you can hike for hours up to the top and see the skyline. You can look out at the whole Bay Area up there.”

— Enid Pearson, former City Council member


Enid Pearson is the former Palo Alto City Council member responsible for the expansion and preservation of many municipal parks and the namesake of the Pearson-Arastradero preserve.

“It [Foothills Park] is full of trails; you can hike for hours up to the top and see the skyline,” Pearson said. “You can look out at the whole Bay Area up there.”

Since the park’s municipal establishment in the early 1960s, entrance to Foothills has been restricted to residents and their guests — a recent topic of debate that has prompted a lawsuit from the ACLU.

Still, while the views of the Bay Area are certainly impressive, perhaps Foothills’ most distinguishable trait is its limited number of visitors––a disadvantage to those excluded––a benefit to the many residents who enjoy its tranquility.

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AUTUMNAL NATURE — A creek catches the evening light at Don Edwards Nature Wildlife Preserve. Visitors to this park can hike across winding trails, wooden boardwalks, and view a vast array of birds and other wildlife. Photo: Audrey Joachim

Audrey Joachim

Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge

It takes only 20 minutes to drive to Don Edwards National Wildlife Refuge, and the trip is worth it. Surrounded by the San Francisco Bay and lined with rolling hills, Don Edwards is a popular spot among birdwatchers and photographers alike.

Its most notable feature is an expansive boardwalk that extends out into the Bay. The whole preserve is a photographer’s dream: full of shapes, shadows and nature that create an excellent composition. A little red house with peeling paint and rustic wood makes the perfect spot for a sunset photo shoot.

The small, lilting hills serve as a great place to walk your dog or to get out of the house for a change of scenery, though you won’t find strenuous hikes like you would at Foothills or Arastradero. At Don Edwards, the cool breeze, rippling water and shadows of the boardwalk make for a very peaceful experience.

The Stanford Dish

Only a few miles away from Palo Alto High School is the Stanford Dish, a popular hiking spot for locals. With a smooth, paved trail that winds around a 3.8 mile loop, it’s a great place to spend a weekend morning or an afternoon study break.

The Dish is frequented by Paly’s resident hiking club, the Hiking Vikings, and with the preserve’s recent reopening, many of its members are beginning to return to the trail.

“I’ve gone hiking less since quarantine started because I haven’t really had the motivation to do it, but I want to start doing that again,” club member and senior Jenna Tetzlaff said. “I really like being outside, getting to see things you don’t see every day.”

Dotted with wildflowers and animals, the Dish’s twisting path makes for an excellent trail for both beginners and experienced hikers. And, nothing feels better than the sense of accomplishment as you reach the top of one of the preserve’s many hills.

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WINDING ROAD — A twisting pathway curves across hills at Pearson-Arastredero Preserve. The park is named after City Council member Enid Pearson.

Sebastian Bonnard

Pearson-Arastradero Preserve

Tucked behind I-280, the Pearson-Arastradero Preserve is a favorite among visitors hoping to enjoy nature without actually leaving Palo Alto. Like Foothills, it officially reopened on Aug. 31, allowing many to experience its diverse landscapes and various wildlife.

Surrounded by rolling hills on the outskirts of Palo Alto, park goers fall in love with the preserve’s towering trees, golden grass and cattle. Unlike Foothills, it has more relaxed hikes, with most ranging between 0.6 and 1.5 miles. However, the preserve isn’t very hiker friendly as poison oak, snakes, ticks and other critters are fairly common.

Despite its small size, the Pearson-Arastradero Preserve offers a motley of different landscapes and trails for visitors to enjoy. Its close location makes it an ideal park in the eyes of many Bay Area residents who want an accessible and convenient break from the suburban lifestyle.

City parks

Although the Bay Area has many nature preserves and open spaces with popular hiking spots, Palo Alto is also home to multiple city parks that are perfect for a picnic or an evening outside with friends. These parks are closer to home, and for students who can’t drive, they make a great spot to spend some time in nature.

One of the most notable parks Palo Alto has to offer is Mitchell Park. Boasting a vast array of wide-open fields, the park has something for everyone. Magical Bridge Playground, one of the newest play structures in the city, is unique in its accessibility for people with disabilities. Connecting a library, a community center, and a school, there’s plenty of space to throw a football around or to relax under the trees.

Along the same lines, Greer Park is a popular spot for sports practices of all kinds. Home to spacious fields, basketball courts and a baseball diamond, it’s a perfect place to start up a game of soccer with friends.

Another popular natural space is Hoover Park, which has a variety of facilities for all ages. Fake rocks are nestled among tall redwoods, providing a shady spot to sit and chat with friends. “I like going to Hoover park to sit with friends and drink boba from the Teaspoon nearby,” Paly junior Grace Muma said. Located just a few streets away from Midtown, Hoover Park is the perfect place to enjoy some takeout from local restaurants while sitting amongst the trees.

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