Prior to 2011, Menlo Park was a quiet Peninsula town that enjoyed residing in the shadows of neighboring Palo Alto and Stanford University. After a certain social network moved in that year, the town's name has become known around the world and real estate prices soared.
For the visiting public though, Facebook's arrival in Menlo Park doesn't mean much other than the "Like" sign it has provided for the obligatory selfie. Instead, Menlo Park retains its small-town charm but with an outsized number of winning restaurants and shops, largely centered on Downtown's Santa Cruz Avenue stretch.
The town resides between San Francisco Bay and 280. Near the water, parks offer outstanding outdoor opportunities around the marshland. The area of Sand Hill Road around 280 is, like Facebook, also known around the world for business reasons, as it's the home of many powerful venture capital firms (and Thursday Cougar Nights!).
But between the tech-heavy, new-money areas, Menlo Park is a gorgeous, low-key town that manages to be a sleepy 'burb with all sorts of exciting attributes, from outstanding pupusas to the magnificent gardens of the Allied Arts Guild. We'll click the heart emoji for Menlo.
Here's where to eat, play, and stay when you're in town.
Where to Eat in Menlo Park
Artistic plating and exciting flavor combinations at Madera.
(Courtesy of Madera)
When it comes to upscale dining in Menlo Park, white tablecloth seekers must go west—as far west as you can go in Menlo Park. Amidst the venture capital offices of Sand Hill Road by 280, the Rosewood Sand Hill's restaurant, Madera, is one of the standouts of the Peninsula's dining scene for more than just the gorgeous, warm wood-heavy atmosphere and sweeping outside views before the sun sets. Executive chef Reylon Agustin has the expert touch for wood-fired grill cooking and meticulous plating, tying together the likes of duck breast, salsify, sunchokes, pomelo, and hay butter. Don't miss the artistic bonbon collection for dessert, or the special menus that go all for farm-specific dinners or holidays. // 2825 Sand Hill Rd. (Menlo Park), maderasandhill.com
The bathroom reminds diners that campers should wash hands before returning from the forest, but that's about it when it comes to hokey Cub Scout themes at one of the Bay Area's most impressive openings of 2018. Chef/partner Greg Kuzia-Carmel (formerly of Cotogna in SF and Per Se in NYC) is cooking comforting yet eclectic fare that fills a critical gap in Menlo Park's dining scene—that happy zone of seasonal California cuisine between upscale and casual that has been vacant since…Joey Altman's Wild Hare, perhaps? The menu is strong across the board, with slightly edgy pastas and cocktails being the consensus standouts. // 898 Santa Cruz Ave. (Menlo Park), campermp.com
For a country with such a giant food culture, it's shocking how you can count on one hand how many Singaporean restaurants there are in the Bay Area. Thankfully, there's Shiok, a homey spot for crispy-doughy roti prata, chicken rice (khao mun gai), chili crab (the national dish), and the fantastic Singapore crispy vermicelli noodle stir-fry, hokkien mee. There are even bowls of profound laksa and ice cold bottles of Tiger Beer, two staples for almost anyone who has ever had the chance to dine and imbibe around the island nation. // 1137 Chestnut St. (Menlo Park), shiokkitchen.com
There is no shortage of chili pepper-induced spice across the menu at this Sichuan standout on El Camino Real. The likes of Chongqing fried chicken and powerful cumin lamb find their way constantly to tables full of regulars and many first-timers hoping to learn about one of China's most exiting regional cuisines. Of course, the ma-la salty-spicy-numbing situation is the hallmark of Sichuan cooking and you'll find many options to experience it in the contemporary space, along with a few hot pot options. // 1368 El Camino Real (Menlo Park), feyrestaurant.com
Flea St. Cafe
The whole Bay Area (and pretty much the whole world) knows about Chez Panisse, Alice Waters, and the whole local/organic/seasonal gospel that it is credited for launching. Not much of the Bay Area thinks about Jesse Cool and how she was championing the whole nothing-artificial-slash-fresh-produce philosophy at the same time in the late '70s. Her original restaurant, Late for the Train, opened in 1976, just five years after Chez Panisse debuted. Then Flea St. Cafe arrived in 1989 and it's still going strong, offering a fresh (though never innovative) Californian cuisine with a few gentle worldly nods. Flea St. Cafe, simply put, is one of the most historic Bay Area restaurants that still doesn't get much press. The menu rotates often, but usual staples like the slow-braised Marin Sun Farms beef short ribs and the homemade ricotta gnocchi show the restaurant's skilled hearty side, while the bouillabaisse-like Pacific Coast catch and delicate fish crudos showcase the Golden State's signature light touch. // 3607 Alameda de las Pulgas (Menlo Park), cooleatz.com/flea-st-cafe
Back a Yard
Do a simple search of the best restaurants in Menlo Park and this one is guaranteed to pop up at the top, and for good reason. The mix of American barbecue and Caribbean grilled favorites is captivating, with the real highlights coming from the latter with jerk spiced-proteins, beef oxtails, and on-point fried plantains as the dishes that get first-timers to keep coming back. Bright green walls and a few paintings of Jamaica serve as décor, with a handful of tables inside the counter-serve spot perpetually packed. Take-out is often the way to go here. Also, plan ahead on what day to visit as daily specials are always noteworthy, like Jamaica's national dish of ackee and codfish on Saturdays. // 1189 Willow Rd. (Menlo Park), backayard.net
The choices are daunting at Menlo Park's leading sushi bar/restaurant. Go the traditional route with some amberjack and uni nigiri. Or, opt for a slightly outlandish but deliriously great rolls like the restaurant namesake with lobster salad, fatty tuna, sweet potato, and avocado. Hopefully you've brought your appetite because it's all pretty special on the sushi and sashimi front. For the really indecisive, a sushi omakase is $40, which counts as a bargain in the pricey world of omakase. Duck breast udon bowls, grilled unagi donburi rice bowls, and tempura are some of the choices on the compact non-sushi menu. // 605 Santa Cruz Ave. (Menlo Park), kyoshosushi.com
Whether you choose to go à la carte or go the tasting menu route, the exceedingly high caliber Japanese preparations of this tranquil, minimalist Sharon Heights dining room will definitely provide one of the Peninsula's finest meals. Mitsunobu took over for the beloved Kaygetsu several years ago, the rare Peninsula restaurant named to Michael Bauer's Top 100 list. After seven years, it's pretty clear that the new tenant has reached the same level of excellence. For the seasonal kaiseki tasting, guests must call in advance since various ingredients come from Japan on demand. Otherwise, diners are in good hands with the sushi- and sashimi-heavy omakase menu, or à la carte with the likes of delicate snow crab chawanmushi or scallop partnering with finger lime, soy milk, seaweed, English pea, and salmon caviar. // 325 Sharon Park Dr. (Menlo Park), rmitsunobu.com
This two-year old El Camino Real mini-mall destination is a winner for excellent tacos on homemade corn tortillas and equally superb pupusas. Mami Cheli's resides in a cheery, light-green painted spot where diners order at the counter, then sit at one of the few booths or tables. It's an easy-to-love place, serving Mexican and El Salvadoran classics using noticeably fresher, higher quality ingredients than many of its mid-Peninsula peers. Whether you're a taco, burrito, or torta person, juicy grilled steak is the standout meat of choice. // 989 El Camino Real #2 (Menlo Park), mamichelis.com
"Ugh, when can we go back to Paris?" is a consistently asked question of this très magnifique bistro that really could have been airlifted to Santa Cruz Avenue from the Odéon. The menu is mostly tried-and-true French classics executed well. A few new-age ideas like tuna tartare slip in here and there, but make no mistake, the crowds are here for solid renditions of escargots in parsley-garlic butter, Burgundy's hearty coq au vin, soul-warming cassoulet, and the rare boudin noir. When the sun is out, vintage red wicker chairs and dainty circular tables on the sidewalk are the perfect remedy for Francophiles in need of Champs-Elysée moment. // 641 Santa Cruz Ave. (Menlo Park), bistro-vida.com
There are good chains and there are the stale, formulaic chains. This French brasserie concept courtesy of La Folie's Roland Passot barely qualifies as a chain since there are just three Bay Area suburban locations, and it absolutely nails the grand Parisian brasserie look and taste. Dishes are hardly revolutionary but they're cooked just how they should be, whether it's moules Provençale with frites or livening up a usually non-Instagram favorite like beef Bourguignon. Dessert lovers can't miss the fondant au chocolat. Francophiles will appreciate the grand atmosphere that actually feels more splashy Belle Epoque Parisian than most places in the French capital. It's all kind of a Vegas schtick, yet also down to earth. // 635 Santa Cruz Ave. (Menlo Park), leftbank.com/menlo
Menlo Park's Best Coffee Shops, Bakeries & Snacks
Mille-feuilles are just one of the many tempting baked goods and desserts at Mademoiselle Colette.
(Courtesy of Mademoiselle Colette)
The epicenter of Menlo Park's eating and drinking culture is the Borrone family's longtime stalwart cafe across El Camino Real from Downtown, right by the Caltrain station. Like the grand cafés of European capitals, Cafe Borrone is an all-day, all kinds of situations affair, complimented by an expansive outdoor patio. Whether you're enjoying a solo lunch of the must-order chicken chimichurri sandwich on house-baked focaccia while reading a book from next door Kepler's, catching up with friends during the busy breakfast and coffee am rush, or winding down with a burrata plate and glass of wine, Cafe Borrone does everything with consistently high quality. Don't miss the dessert case offerings or the beloved house whipped cream that's best on top of the mocha-like cafe's namesake drink. // 1010 El Camino Real (Menlo Park), cafeborrone.com
Who knew that the Tahoe area was such a great source for third wave coffee? The not very imaginatively named Coffee Bar has a few locations around the lake, and chose Menlo Park as the destination for planting their flag in the Bay Area. This choice wasn't totally random, though, as one of the owners has a Stanford background and they're inspired by the entrepreneurship nature of Menlo Park and Silicon Valley. They've created a sleek, very modern lounge-ish coffeehouse, nothing like Menlo Park had ever seen before (the café even has its own radio station!), but the type that sprouts like wildflowers these days around SF. Coffee Bar roasts its own beans, has some of the Peninsula's most talented baristas, and really does hit the sweet spot of being friendly and hip. On the food side, the daytime menu is the expected toasts, salads and bowls, though they use outstanding ingredients and purveyors. The one drawback is that it can feel like there are more students studying at the tables in the afternoon than actual food and coffee on the tables. // 1149 Chestnut St. (Menlo Park), coffeebar.com/pages/coffeebar-menlo-park
Classically French-trained pastry chef Debora Ferrand is the shining talent of this Santa Cruz Avenue pastry shop/café, now with a sibling location in Palo Alto. Croissants, eclairs, macarons, elegant cakes, billowing fruit tarts and ornate mille-feuilles are just a few of the delightful items to choose from. Good luck making decisions, because we end up taking twice as much home as we were supposed to. A tidy, light lunch menu of quiche, salads, and tartines on homemade sourdough or focaccia is offered, plus diet-zapping croissant Benedicts for weekend brunch. // 816 Santa Cruz Ave. (Menlo Park), mademoisellecolette.com
Namesake Cheesecake/Take It Home
Menlo Park's biggest culinary secret is that it's the home of an outstanding destination-worthy cheesecake bakery. Off the top of our heads, only Zanze's in SF can compare. With a graham cracker crust topped by silky cream cheese and sour cream layers, each cheesecake achieves that perfect texture-flavor combination, then accented by various fruit or candy toppings. Whatever proprietor Cherith Spicer's recipe is, it's cheesecake royalty. Try to order in advance because the slices and whole cakes often sell out in advance of the closing time. Also, Namesake Cheesecake's storefront is home to the Take It Home lunch kiosk, offering a strong mix of salads, sandwiches, and cooked daily specials like fried chicken or tri-tip. // 425 El Camino Real (Menlo Park), namesakecheesecake.com
Where to Drink in Menlo Park
Colorful cocktails and a gorgeous courtyard at Hotel NIA's Porta Blu.
British Bankers Club
The Menlo/Palo Alto area's only rooftop bar is a double-win for local imbibers because the gorgeous atmosphere is actually accompanied by a pretty impressive wine, beer and cocktails program. Try the "Collusion," an honest cocktail of gin, Lillet, Combier, lemon and absinthe. The contemporary tavern food on the rooftop and in the grand indoor dining room/bar is very on-trend, as well, with perfectly enjoyable dishes like Maine lobster toast and a roast half chicken with savory mushroom bread pudding. The recent revamp by new ownership, after years of sitting closed and ignored, has really done wonders for Menlo Park's only spot that manages to be hip without trying too hard. // 555 Santa Cruz Ave. (Menlo Park), britishbankersclub.com
We could order a spiked Capri Sun and still be content with the spectacular mosaic tile table design and garden setting of the Hotel NIA's bar/restaurant that is equal parts indoors and outdoors. Cocktails are of the expected slightly creative style with fresh juices and funky tinctures, while the wine list is several levels above normal tech happy hour status. The Mediterranean theme of the design is reflected on the food side with the likes of avocado hummus; Pescadero lettuces (from near Half Moon Bay) with halloumi cheese, Honeycrisp apples and sherry vinaigrette; and a giant lamb shank with bulgar wheat, huckleberry, sesame, mint, and honeycomb. // 200 Independence Dr. (Menlo Park), portablurestaurant.com
Beer and pastrami are the dynamic duo of this gastropub in the heart of downtown Menlo Park and the sibling of the acclaimed San Carlos original location. Yes, it's true, Menlo Park's finest beer-centric bar/restaurant closes at 9 PM five nights a week. Welcome to the 'burbs. Luckily, it's open throughout the day, pouring an all-star team of Belgian and small-scale American breweries from the two-dozen taps. The Refuge manages to be the rare family-friendly bar and it would be a mistake to not try the hand-carved pastrami in salad or sandwich form. // 1143 Crane St. (Menlo Park), refugesc.com
The Dutch Goose
Here's some fun mid-Peninsula trivia: Leland Stanford wanted his campus to be surrounded by an alcohol-free zone, so students wouldn't be corrupted by booze while studying. Palo Alto was actually a dry town until 1971, when Leland's imposed rule of no bars and liquor stores within 1.5 miles of campus was finally struck down. On the flip side, bars and booze stores sprouted up all around that perimeter, like the just-closed The Oasis, Alpine Inn in Portola Valley, Ernie's Liquors on El Camino Real, and…The Dutch Goose in Menlo Park. "The Goose" opened late in this rule's existence, back in 1966. Today, it's an institution, where Little League team celebrations are held, frat bros go all out on cheap pitchers, and groups of middle-aged friends regularly come to watch the Warriors while eating the classic Americana-style burger. Pro tip: sit in the beer garden for the best tables and try the steamed clams, an oft-forgotten house specialty. // 3567 Alameda de las Pulgas (Menlo Park), dutchgoose.net
Rosewood Sand Hill's Library & Bar
Chances are high that if you've heard about the Rosewood Hotel, it's not because of the hotel. It's probably because of its bar and lounge, specifically the Thursday nights also known as cougar nights. That's only partly true here in reality, as it's really just a few regular cougars on the prowl, plus many tech bros (jaguars?) and older, single but non-marriage material, multi-millionaire VC types (lions?). With all of this social scene talk, it's easy to forget that the cocktails are generally quite good, albeit at the expected Sand Hill prices. Go for the classic Madera Manhattan, a beautiful stirred version with vanilla, lime and orange peel-infused bourbon. The bar/lounge shares a wine list with Madera next door, which means the bottle list is one of the most comprehensive in all of the Bay Area. // 2825 Sand Hill Rd. (Menlo Park), rosewoodhotels.com/en/sand-hill-menlo-park/dining/The-Library-and-Bar
Menlo Park's Best Sights and Parks
The Facebook Sign
No, you won't just see Mark or Sheryl wandering around. No, you can't just visit the Frank Gehry–designed buildings or the Disneyland Main Street USA-ish main headquarters across the street at the entrance of the Dumbarton Bridge. However, you can park in a visitor's spot and take a photo with the signature "Like" sign at the appropriately named 1 Hacker Way. Whatever people's opinion is of the social network giant, this sign has basically become as photographed by tourists as the Hollywood sign is in L.A. // 1 Hacker Way (Menlo Park)
Allied Arts Guild
With magnificent Spanish Colonial-style architecture and gardens, this collection of artist studios and shops has been a Peninsula staple since it was created in the late 1920s to bring an European-like artists guild to California. The Guild's mission isn't just to support artists, but also to support families having to pay for sick children at the nearby Lucile Packard Children's Hospital. Call ahead for the very informative docent-led tours. After a walk-through, you'll understand why this has been a popular spot for weddings ever since Ansel Adams was responsible for taking photos of the guild. While you're at the guild, don't pass up leisurely lunch at its Café Wisteria, which is definitely a few steps up from the typical museum/tourist sight café food and atmosphere level. // 75 Arbor Rd. (Menlo Park), alliedartsguild.org
Bedwell Bayfront Park and Ravenswood Open Space Preserve
There is no actual "Menlo Park" in Menlo Park (it's named for the part of Ireland that its 19th century founders are from), but there are lots of beautiful parks in the town. The most spacious and striking of them are a pair along the bayfront with plenty of marshland trails and observation decks for checking out the birds and views by the Bay. Ravenswood Open Space Preserve is a two-part area, non-contiguous area between East Palo Alto's Bay Road and the Dumbarton Bridge. Bedwell Bayfront Park is just to the north and includes a flat 2.3-mile perimeter trail. The 160-acre park resides on a former landfill, but hardly resembles that history nowadays with interior trails curving around grassy hills. One of the trails, The Great Spirit Path, is a four stanza stone poem made by local poet Susan Dunlap. // 1600 Marsh Rd. (Menlo Park), menlopark.org/bedwellbayfront and Ravenswood parking at either western observation point for Dumbarton Bridge or 2091 Bay Rd. (East Palo Alto), openspace.org/preserves/ravenswood
What does "photovoltaic" or " plasma wakefield" mean? We have no idea. However, we do know that the work being done at the Stanford Linear Accelerator (SLAC) is endlessly fascinating and important. It's the world's longest accelerator, it has produced three Nobel prizes, and it powers the world's brightest X-ray source. Your SLAC tour guide will gladly answer those questions and help make some of the most complex physics and chemistry in the world seem at least semi-approachable. Public tours of the 2-mile-long linear accelerator, a joint project of the US Department of Energy and Stanford, are roughly 90 minutes long and offered twice a month by registration only. Registration begins on the last Friday of every month at 9 am. // 2575 Sand Hill Rd. (Menlo Park), www6.slac.stanford.edu/public-tours
The Best Shopping in Menlo Park
Outside of Facebook, this six decade-old bookstore is probably the most iconic part of Menlo Park. Kepler's is a community gem. Like many of its independent bookstore peers, Kepler's nearly closed in 2005, but was saved by many passionate locals via donations and investments. Kepler's history is right up there with the likes of City Lights for its peace activism 60s counter-culture history. After all, the Grateful Dead performed here and this is where lots of Stanford intellectuals have found "save the world" ideas. Kepler's still stands strong today as one of the Bay Area's definitive places for browsing books, buying books, and attending speaking events by writers and authors. // 1010 El Camino Real (Menlo Park), keplers.com
Occupying a cute octagon building in the relaxed Sharon Heights Shopping Center in the heart of Sand Hill's VC Row, Shady Lane is the address to know for excellent jewelry, woodworking, deluxe artistic gifts, and more from local and international acclaimed artisans. It can be pretty mesmerizing in the store (relocated from Palo Alto a few years ago) and the prices can be too when you check out the gold jewelry section. The art glass collection from the likes of Arte Vargas and Lundberg Studios is particularly striking. // 325 Sharon Park Dr. (Menlo Park), shadylanegallery.com
Eye-popping, fresh colors and designs are the general theme of this women's boutique for dresses, casualware and accessories. Gitane's motto is "freedom of style," so the style choices from belts to necklaces to scarves range greatly from trendy to elegant, but are rarely ever conservative like what many of the shops offer a few blocks away at a certain upscale shopping center. // 855 Santa Cruz Ave. (Menlo Park), gitanestyle.wordpress.com
Downtown Menlo Park's most stylish women's boutique is this charming spot full of gifts, and in-demand designer shoes and clothing (Nanette Lepore, Gianni Jeans, Magaschoni are a few). It's startling how much high quality is packed into the cozy environs. Many of the selections aren't necessarily edgy, but they find that perfect balance of fitting both work and play situations. // 1060 Evelyn St. (Menlo Park), kicksmenlopark.com
Where to Stay in Menlo Park
Time for some relaxation time at the Rosewood Sand Hill
Courtesy Rosewood Sand Hill
Amidst all kinds of shiny new modern high-rise buildings tucked between 101 and the various Facebook campuses, this Autograph Collection luxury hot spot boasts a spectacular, chic glass design that nicely ties together a heavy tech-focus with a designer look. Rooms boast custom furniture, oversized baths and rainforest showers, floor to ceiling windows (suites have particularly stunning views of the Bay and foothills), and giant desks that mean it's a particular smart business travel option. The 11-story, 250-room hotel also invites everyone to get outside with beautifully manicured gardens and a lively pool scene in the inner courtyard. A 101 exit off ramp seems like a weird place to choose for a weekend staycation, but the hotel's design and amenities really are pretty transporting. Bonus: it's very pet-friendly. // 200 Independence Dr. (Menlo Park), hotelnia.com
Rosewood Sand Hill
Being one of the great luxury hotels of the whole Bay Area, the Rosewood has all the spa, high-end wine and panoramic Coastal Range views that one would expect. After all, it's in the heart of Sand Hill Road's venture capital offices area and so you can take a wild guess at some of the wealth staying here. Rooms are spacious and beautifully designed, with the smallest beginning at a shockingly large 527-square feet. Marble bathrooms, 100% cotton oversized bath linens and a Phillips SoundBar surround system with a docking station are just some of the tech-meets-deluxe amenities. Luxury suites clock in at over 1,000-square feet for a bedroom and separate parlor. The hotel includes a gorgeous outdoor swimming pool and whirlpool, complete with $100-a-day cabanas for rent and services such as sunglass cleaning. Meanwhile, the Sense spa is exactly what Silicon Valley warriors need after a week of meetings and deadlines. Focus on the "Lost Remedies" that restore a body's natural biorhythms with the likes of summer bloom aromatherapy or medicinal muds. // 2825 Sand Hill Rd. (Menlo Park), rosewoodhotels.com/en/sand-hill/menlo-park
Park James Hotel
While the aforementioned two luxury hotels reside at the edges of Menlo Park and cater to a certain high tech money set, the newly opened Park James resides in the heart of town, within walking distance of Santa Cruz Ave. With in-room tablets, double-paneled blackout drapes, strategically placed reading lamps, raised beds on platforms, and "as you like it" housekeeping, there's no doubt that the Park James was smartly designed as a user-friendly destination. The hotel's courtyard and ample use of natural woods, including for the floors of bedrooms, show a distinct NorCal motif woven into the tech-heavy design. The hotel's restaurant, Oak + Violet, is really the core of the hotel and one of the most exciting dining newcomers for the Peninsula. Yes, it falls hard on all the trends of wood-fired vegetables and quinoa salads, but there's an impressive refinement to everything, plus a playful side with the likes of mini lobster tacos and lollipop Buffalo wings. Cocktails are a strength, to the point that home bartender cocktail-making classes are offered with themes changing monthly. // 1400 El Camino Real (Menlo Park), parkjames.com