There are many ways to spend a relaxing afternoon on the Stanford University campus. It’s a big place, so plan on walking or biking to get a feel for it. The campus has lots of outdoor seating if you want to take a break to take in the pleasant tableau of architecture, sculptures and greenery.  

Bikes can be rented at the Campus Bike Shop, which is near the bookstore, deep in the campus. It’s in Tresidder Union, a different and livelier side of campus than what visitors see if they arrive via the main entrance on University Avenue. Bikes rent for $30 per day and are available Monday through Saturday. There are ample maps around campus and online to help navigate.  

Visitors don’t need to explore all of Stanford’s 8,180 acres and would be wise to focus on the smaller area located within circular Campus Drive. There are paved bike paths along many of the roads, and areas on campus that are open only to pedestrians and cyclists. This part of Stanford contains a number of university landmarks, including classrooms and offices in the Main Quadrangle, known as The Quad, the Hoover Tower and Memorial Church.  

The bike store is just a short distance away from one of Stanford’s more interesting sites, the Papua New Guinea Sculpture Garden. In the early 1990s, the university brought in carvers from the tropical land who created 40 wooden sculptures set amid (and blending seamlessly) with oaks and other trees and plants. For the best experience, take a walk inside rather than viewing it from the street.   

The Papua New Guinea Sculpture Garden on Stanford University’s campus was created in the 1990s by artisans from the Sepik River area of Papua New Guinea. (Courtesy Larry Sokoloff) 

The artists from the Sepik River area of Papua New Guinea created their own interpretations of the famous statutes by French sculptor Auguste Rodin that are in front of Stanford’s Cantor Arts Center near the main campus entrance. Visitors can compare the wooden versions of “The Thinker” and “Gates of Hell” to the bronze pieces created from Rodin’s molds.  

Intriguing art works inside the Papua New Guinea Sculpture Garden await visitors. (Courtesy Larry Sokoloff)

Near the Papua New Guinea sculptures is the man-made Lake Lagunita, a seasonal wetland that isn’t refilled after rainfall replenishes it. Constructed in the late 1800s, the lake, which is surrounded by a tree-lined trail, is currently about half-full (or half-empty, depending on your viewpoint).  

East of The Quad area and gardens near the main entrance you’ll find the Romanesque and Mission revival architecture that makes Stanford memorable for its 17,000 students and staff. The master plan for the university was created by landscape architect Frederick Law Olmstead, designer of New York’s Central Park, among many famous projects.  

Hoover Tower can be seen in the distance from the shore of Lake Lagunita. (Courtesy Larry Sokoloff) 

The Memorial Church is open on weekdays to visitors, as is Hoover Tower, which has exhibition galleries and an observation deck at the top that provides great views of the campus and the Bay Area. There’s a $5 ticket fee to take the elevator to the deck; however, it is closed for maintenance through Aug. 25. The tower is part of the adjacent institution started by former U.S. President Herbert Hoover, a Stanford graduate. The Hoover Institution often has interesting exhibits, and there’s no admission charge. “Dynamic Design: Transforming Posters at Hoover,” a collection of 20th century propaganda posters, is on view through Dec. 20.  

There are many dining options in the area. It is easy to bike, walk or drive off campus to places nearby across El Camino Real. Boichik Bagels from Berkeley and Gott’s Roadside from Napa are at Town and Country Village at 855 El Camino Real. Or head to downtown Palo Alto along University Avenue for plentiful food choices. There are cafes and restaurants on campus as well.  

After a meal, there’s still plenty to do on campus. Consider visiting the Cantor Arts Center or the Anderson Collection, near the main entrance. Both are free and are open from Wednesday until Sunday. The Cantor features an ongoing exhibit of more than 200 masks by San Francisco artist Ruth Asawa.