California Avenue (Mayfield)


Condo or townhouse market, usually entry-level to midrange.  Look here if you want downtown living but don’t want to pay downtown Palo Alto prices.


Boundaries:  California, Park Blvd., Page Mill, El Camino Real.  Map boundaries are approximate due to my limitations as a map maker.  Neighborhood boundaries may be subjective.  Boundaries and other information on this site should be verified before being relied upon.

Overview:  It’s old-fashioned to call this area Mayfield, but I use the name of a town that hasn’t existed since 1925 to explain why Palo Alto has two downtowns while some neighboring cities have none.  This area was once “downtown Mayfield”, established rather casually in the 1850s long before Palo Alto was even a gleam in Leland Stanford’s eyes.  In fact, Palo Alto owes its existence to Mayfield’s refusal to clean up its act—the town was notorious for its saloons—and become a sedate university town.  Note the streets named after Union generals, a tip-off that the Civil War was still a hot topic when the town was officially laid out in 1867.  (Street names can often help to date a neighborhood.)  Palo Alto gradually eclipsed Mayfield and rather reluctantly annexed it in 1925, an early example of north Palo Alto’s ambivalent attitude towards south Palo Alto.

Today California Avenue is Palo Alto’s second downtown, almost entirely commercial and multi-family.  It’s also Palo Alto’s relatively affordable downtown.

Housing stock:    According to local architect Birge Clark, Mayfield at the turn of the last century was predominately a bungalow neighborhood with a commercial strip along Main Street (now El Camino).  Today the commercial is still there and has expanded eastward along California Avenue, formerly Lincoln and one of Mayfield’s finest streets.  442-444 California may be the last structure on this street easily identifiable as a former residence, at least from the rear; the front appears to have been facelifted for commercial use in the 1920s.  The other bungalows have been replaced almost entirely with condos, apartments and the huge North Courthouse.  (As recently as the late ‘50s, my wife’s father ran a contracting business out of an old barn located where the courthouse now stands.)  A handful of the white bungalows Clark remembered linger along Birch but since the area is zoned for high-density uses I don’t expect them to be around much longer.

Condos range from older converted apartments to new luxury units.  Two-bedroom units predominate but there are a number of affordable one-bedrooms.  Palo Alto Central, a large and fairly new mixed-use development (condos, townhouses and retail) accounts for a significant number of two-bedroom sales.  Also noteworthy is Silverwood  at 435 Sheridan, an almost-new development of luxury condos built on the site of the former Linus Pauling Institute.

Lot sizes:  Irrelevant in an area so heavily biased toward condos.  Here you’re buying airspace, not dirt.

Affordability:  Surprisingly affordable for two reasons.  First, there are virtually no single-family homes between California and Page Mill.  It’s condo city, and air space is far less valuable than land.  Single-family does exist just north of California Avenue, but these homes are generally considered part of Evergreen Park.  Second, Mayfield’s condos and townhouses are aimed at the affordable end of the market, with the exception of Silverwood.

How do California Avenue condo and townhouse sales compare with those of other well-known mid-Peninsula downtowns?   California Avenue is about 30% less expensive than the downtowns of Palo Alto and Menlo Park but about 13% more expensive than downtown Mountain View and 25% more expensive than the downtowns of  San Carlos and Burlingame.

Schools:  Palo Alto  Unified School District, 25 Churchill Ave., Palo Alto CA 94306.  Main number (650) 329-3700.

Finding your neighborhood school      PAUSD school evaluations

School attendance boundaries are subject to change and schools are subject to availability.  Verify enrollment with the Palo Alto Unified School District.

Amenities:  Wallis Park,  Grant Avenue at Ash (.3 acres): lawns, benches.  Convenient to Page Mill Rd. YMCA, 755 Page Mill Rd. Bldg. B.  (650) 858-0661.  Group exercise studio, racquetball courts, free weight area, stretch and conditioning studio.

Shopping:  California Avenue and El Camino businesses.

Neighborhoods with similar ambience:   “Main Street” of virtually any mid-Peninsula suburb with a downtown.  Even in the middle of downtown Palo Alto,  Menlo ParkSan Mateo or Burlingame you’ll still see an occasional house, or you could until very recently.  During the post-war “growth is good” phase, the mid-Peninsula’s downtowns almost completely overwhelmed the residential blocks surrounding them.  That’s understandable, since the tiny downtowns of the pre-war era weren’t large enough to handle the post-war population boom, but progress wiped out much of the area’s earliest neighborhoods.

Interested in buying in California Avenue or in a similar area?  Please contact me at

copyright   © John Fyten 2004-2014

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