Palo Alto Hills

BWhouselargertractLarge post-World War II custom homes, top end.  Look here if you want your west-of-280 “exurbia” experience with Palo Alto schools and a Palo Alto address.


Boundaries: Palo Alto west of Alta Mesa Cemetery and the Veterans Administration Hospital to Skyline (Highway 35). Click “view larger map” (below map) to identify the featured areas. 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: The Hills includes a number of different neighborhoods, and they’re often some of Palo Alto’s most expensive. Miranda Green is the exception, not particularly pricey by Palo Alto standards but still a pleasant semi-rural area cut off from civilization by Alta Mesa Cemetery, Foothill Expressway and Adobe Creek. The past is present here in a small home from 1920 that was probably a farmhouse, and across the street is a large agricultural-looking outbuilding of the same vintage.

Cross Foothill and the past is still with us but on a grander scale in a larger, more expensive neighborhood built over many years. This area has several tract names but I’ll call it Juana Briones Partition in deference to one of Palo Alto’s earliest and most remarkable residents. You’ll see several large homes from the early 20th century, their size suggesting that this was once a neighborhood of “summer homes” for the wealthy.

Further up the hill is a large and fairly new tract, Palo Alto Hills, taking its name from the nearby golf course. This neighborhood is unusually manicured, suggesting that it was more carefully planned than most hillside areas.

And from there all the way up Page Mill to Skyline it’s still Palo Alto.

Housing stock: Miranda Green homes are mostly ranchers of around 2000 sq.ft. from the early ‘60s, but there’s also a cul-de-sac of recently-built homes.

Briones homes cover a wider range of sizes and eras but almost all are at least 2000 sq.ft., often in the 3000s and 4000s. A handful of houses date from before World War I and in one case well before; see History Corner below. There are also a few stately survivors from the ‘20s through ‘40s. But most Briones homes were put up well into the post-World War II housing boom, in the 1950s, 1960s and often the 1970s—I remember this neighborhood retaining its country ambience as recently as the late ‘60s. Styles run the gamut from Mission Revival to contemporary (with two very typical early ‘70s Eichlers) but most are ranchers, sometimes with a vaguely early California feel. New construction is common.

Palo Alto Hills is similar—homes are of at least 2000 sq.ft. and often into 3s and 4s—but most date from early ‘60s to late ‘70s. Because of the era and the affluent professionals who moved here, there’s a heavy contemporary influence although these are custom homes, not tract Eichlers. You’ll also find more traditional architecture.

Lot sizes: Miranda Green lots are usually at least a quarter acre, with third-acres common and even a few half-acres. Briones lots are usually around one full acre but half-acres are common and acre-plus lots not uncommon. Lots in the earliest Briones sub-division are in the typical pre-World War II configuration, narrow and deep, another indication that this area was platted many years ago. Palo Alto Hills lots are mostly around one acre but can go as low as .6-acre and a few are larger than one acre.

History corner: The oldest house in Palo Alto, an adobe built in the 1840s by Juana Briones de Miranda, stands at least for now in the lower Palo Alto foothills on Old Adobe Road. Juana, born in 1802 and the daughter of two of the earliest settlers of Yerba Buena (San Francisco), is described as a humanitarian, curandera (someone familiar with Indian remedies) and astute businesswoman. After living in the adobe for roughly forty years, she spent her last five in Mayfield (now California Avenue), dying in 1889. Including Juana the house had had only three owners until 1993 and despite the addition in 1900 of two wings in the Arts & Crafts style the core of the house is remarkably original. The fourth owners renovated the wings but left the original adobe intact. Discovering that the house had been extensively damaged in the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, they moved out the next day and sold the property. Since then the house has been neither occupied nor maintained, with portions of it red-tagged, and the current owners are suing the city for permission to demolish it.

Affordability: This is a very expensive area.

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: Esther Clark Park, Arastradero and Old Adobe Roads. Foothills Park, 3300 Page Mill Rd. (1400 acres). (650) 329-2423. Hiking trails, lake for fishing and boating, camping facilities, Nature Interpretive Center, picnic facilities. Arastradero Preserve, Arastradero Rd., (609 acres). Palo Alto Hills Golf & Country Club (private), 3000 Alexis Dr., Palo Alto CA 94304 (125 acres).

Shopping: One of the disadvantages of living out here is that you have to drive a fair distance to get to shopping. None of the areas I’ve mentioned are isolated, but all are at least a five-to-ten-minute drive to El Camino.

Neighborhoods with similar ambience: Los Altos Hills, Portola Valley and Saratoga. Woodside seems darker, perhaps because it’s more heavily treed.

Interested in buying in Palo Alto Hills or in a similar area? Please contact me at

copyright © John Fyten 2004-14

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