Best of Palo Alto 2020

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Nobu Hotel just finished a multimillion-dollar renovation that features contactless amenities and independent HVAC units in each room. Courtesy of Nobu Hotel Palo Alto.

At a time when most business and leisure travel have been put on hold, forcing many in the hard-hit hotel industry to shut down or scale back operations, Nobu Hotel Palo Alto has moved forward with a multimillion-dollar renovation that includes independent HVAC units in each room, a host of contactless amenities and other built-in safety measures intended to attract guests back.

"Everyone is looking at what everyone else is doing," Chris Suarez, director of sales and marketing of Nobu Hotel Palo Alto, said. "But at our hotel, we went above and beyond in a lot of ways. There's no more shared air between rooms. ... That's something unique to this hotel."

Nobu also invested in new technology to encourage contactless amenities. Alexa, Amazon's virtual assistant, is installed in each room, pre-programmed with voice commands that gives guests the ability to control the lighting and window shades without having to physically touch a switch or a cord.

There's also the new Ryokan guest rooms on the seventh and eighth floors — Nobu's minimalist and modern approach to the traditional Japanese inn featuring in-room televisions that can be controlled through guests' own phones.

Cleaning methods also have been revamped. After every guest, electrostatic and ultraviolet-light treatments are used to fully sanitize the room, Suarez said. And air filters in each guest room are changed everyday. After guests check out, their room is kept empty for 48 hours, and housekeeping must wait 24 hours before entering and cleaning the room.

With fewer business travelers, the luxury hotel has shifted its focus on the "drive market," or business guests and travelers within driving distance of the hotel at 180 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto, who don't necessarily need a place to spend the night but might enjoy some of the hotel's amenities.

Nobu recently launched several promotional packages like "Work With Us. Stay With Us" that provides guests a "luxury day pass" where they can stay at the hotel, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and enjoy a lunch from Nobu restaurant as well as several office amenities.

There's also the "Cycling Nobu Style" package, created in partnership with Palo Alto Bicycles, to target local cycling enthusiasts. The offer includes breakfast inside their room or at Nobu restaurant, cycling equipment, such as a GPS bike computer, a cycling jersey and bike routes for cyclists of all levels and preferences.

"It's (about) creating attractive options for those leisure travelers to come during the week," Suarez said. "We're really seeing a sort of flattening of our pattern during the week and our weekends got busier compared to the mid-week."


In the early weeks of the shelter-in-place orders, Bar Method shifted its rigorous studio workouts, shown above, from in-person to online classes that could be streamed from home. Photo courtesy Laura Santora.

After the coronavirus forced a statewide shutdown in March, Laura Santora couldn't imagine pivoting barre classes to the virtual world — at least not the ones at her Palo Alto studio at Town & Country Village in Palo Alto, which are physically demanding and often require hands-on help from instructors.

Barre is a strenuous type of exercise that weaves in ballet choreography. The movements can be physically demanding, so instructors often move around the studio to help adjust their clients' forms, verbally or hands-on. And like ballet, the training employs the use of a handrail, she explained.

"My first reaction was, 'No way. How are we going to do that?'" Santora said.

But like many businesses, The Bar Method had to act fast. Within a week of closing the studio's physical locations in Palo Alto and San Mateo, Santora and co-owner Noreen Dante began experimenting with how to move their classes online with the studio's 18 instructors trying out various types of live video platforms: Zoom, Facebook Live and even Instagram Live.

Santora said they didn't have much success at first: Instructors tried performing the movements with the students following along, but it's extremely exhausting for barre instructors to perform movements and provide directions at the same time. The option of providing hands-on feedback was also gone. And with all the movements, some requiring the body to go very low, the instructors often found themselves out of the camera's frame.

"We thought, 'This is very clunky,'" Santora said. "And it takes away from the experience."

That's when they created the studio's Spotlight Model, which uses a model to perform the exercises while teachers give instruction.

"It's not a perfect solution," Santora said. The models still have to adjust their laptop camera as they perform exercises like pushups or planks; there's the inevitable connection issues over Zoom.

And while there's still no fixed handrail used in the virtual classes, the studio has adjusted its routines so members can use flat surfaces such as a table or the back of a couch for some routines, Santora said.

Other props, like dumbbells, are also part of the class. But if you don't have weights, she said, you can use wine bottles, cans of tomatoes or water bottles as a substitute.

"Beyond exercise, beyond toned muscles, we really are just a strong-knit community of people," Santora said. "And people miss that. They miss being with each other."

Live Zoom classes provide members the opportunity to log in 15 minutes before the class to reconnect with friends they haven't seen in-person.

Despite the early obstacles, Santora said she doesn't see this new virtual option going away anytime soon. Instead, she expects that The Bar Method will invest more into their production and create their own platform to host classes in the near future.

"I really think that fitness has changed," she said. "It's changed the landscape and we can't go on thinking that we can only be in the studio. I think people will always want to have this choice.


Scroll down to find out how last year's winners have responded to the pandemic.

Adobe Animal Hospital

Adobe Animal Hospital provides pets of all varieties a wide range of quality services. The facility, which has a 24-hour intensive care unit, is equipped with an in-house diagnostic laboratory and endoscope and ultrasound machines, among other essential tools to help your furry friends stay healthy and happy. During the pandemic, the hospital is offering curbside concierge service and has launched a televet program enabling clients to visit with a veterinarian for minor health issues via video conferencing from the comfort of their own home. The hospital also offers virtual demos with technicians for preventative care that can be done at home such as nail trimming and ear cleaning.
4470 El Camino Real, Los Altos, 650-948-9661;
2018 Hall of Fame: Best Veterinarian

AJ's Green Cleaners

Established in 1962 by the AJ Bena family, AJ's Green Cleaners provides eco-friendly cleaning for everything from shirts and shoes to draperies, bedding and carpets. Since the pandemic, the company has also added mask making to its services: Bring in fabric and a seamstress will custom make a mask in any style and size.
395 California Ave., Palo Alto, 650-323-9068;
2019: Best Dry Cleaner

Animal Hospital of Palo Alto

From routine checkups, preventative care and surgical procedures to dentistry, grooming and boarding, Animal Hospital of Palo Alto provides a full range of services to keep pets healthy and happy year round. The hospital has remained open throughout the shelter-in-place orders while taking extra safety precautions such as offering curbside concierge service.
4111 El Camino Real, Palo Alto; 650-493-2738;
2019: Best Veterinarian

Dave's Auto Repair (now Advanced Motor Works)

Founded in 2008, Dave's Auto Repair provides everything from basic maintenance and smog checks to complicated repairs. The shop offers EcoPower engine oil and recycles all used fluid, parts and new-parts packaging.
830 E. Charleston Road, Palo Alto, 650-328-6537;
2019: Best Auto Care

Dr. Christine Hansen

This dental practice offers private consultation rooms, blankets, your favorite music, as well as expert advice on how to solve your dental problems and what preventative or corrective procedures they can perform to ensure a healthy smile. Even dental-phobes say they enjoy going here and actually look forward to their next visit. The office is open for regular services with safety measures in place.
416 Waverley St. Suite A, Palo Alto, 650-326-3290;
2019 Hall of Fame: Best Dentist

Four Seasons Hotel

Four Seasons Hotel Silicon Valley at East Palo Alto provides a five-star escape for those who want to feel pampered. The hotel reopened on Oct.5 with new health protocols and enhanced business and fitness programs to keep guests safe during the pandemic. New amenities include an enhanced outdoor fitness cabana; a private fitness suite with hardwood floors, state-of-the-art equipment and on-demand personal training classes accessible by reservation only; and work-from-home suite upgrades with access to the business concierge and a complimentary office shuttle and house car.
2050 University Ave., East Palo Alto, 650-566-1200;
2019: Best Hotel

Great American Framing Company

From canvas to paper, needlepoint to three-dimensional art, the master craftsmen at Great American Framing Company construct the best-quality frames to display customers' artwork, posters and other prized documents. The shop re-opened on June 1 after COVID-19 health mandates forced it to shutter for more than two months. "The community support has been a blessing," co-owner James Brady said.
3866 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, 650-327-4521;
2019: Best Framing

Guy Plumbing & Heating

Guy Plumbing & Heating is a fourth-generation family-owned business that provides a wide range of services and operates a full-service showroom specializing in the sales and installation of Toto washlet bidet seats, as well as parts for Hansgrohe, Kohler and Grohe. Since the COVID-19 outbreak, the company has been taking measures to confirm the health status of customers and its staff before scheduling each appointment. Plumbers are wearing protective masks, gloves and shoe covers as well as maintaining social distance while on the job.
1265 El Camino Real, Menlo Park, 650-323-8415;
2019: Best Plumbers

Hair International

The crew at Hair International is a diverse team of stylists experienced in working with all hair types. The salon matches each client with the most appropriate stylist who will provide the best style for a particular hair type. The salon reopened on Aug. 31 with a host of safety measures in place, including the addition of five HEPA air filtration units that operate 24 hours to help remove toxins from the air. infrared bulb dryers for color processing and re-designed duct work to insure piped-in fresh air.232 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto, 650-324-2007;
2019: Best Men's Haircut
2019: Best Hair Salon

Illuminate Plastic Surgery

Illuminate Plastic Surgery uses the latest treatments to help clients improve their appearances, whether they are looking to obtain a more youthful look, soften features or correct the devastating consequences of cancer or injury. The clinic is fully reopen and is offering virtual surgical consultations as well as COVID-19 screenings.
101 Addison Ave., Palo Alto, 650-433-8621;
2019: Best Plastic Surgeons

La Jolie Nail Spa

La Jolie Nail Spa offers a wide range of mani/pedi options, from the quick "express mani" (clean, shape, buff and polish) to the ultra-luxurious "peppermint pedi" (including a mint oil bath, shea butter massage and paraffin dip). The salon is open seven days a week and offers outdoor service. 364 California Ave., Palo Alto, 650-322-8882;
2019: Best Manicure/Pedicure

Larry Morrill, DDS and Associates

From retainers to full orthodontia, Larry Morrill, DDS and Associates is dedicated to providing children and adults with personalized, quality orthodontic care in a fun and relaxed environment. The practice has treated generations of patients for the past 49 years.
1000 Welch Road, #201, Palo Alto, 650-322-2817;
2019: Best Orthodontists

Massage Therapy Center

As one of the largest and oldest massage bodywork facilities in California, Massage Therapy Center provides clients a variety of massage therapies, including Swedish, clinical deep tissue and sports trigger point therapy. The center reopened with new safety protocols, including the use of high-quality, medical-grade HEPA air purifiers in all rooms.
368 California Ave., Palo Alto, 650-328-9400;
2019: Best Massage

Midtown Shoe Repair

Midtown Shoe Repair has been a Palo Alto fixture for 40 years. Since 1979, Robert Babekian has meticulously restored shoes, suitcases, purses, zippers — and practically anything made out of leather — in his quaint Midtown workshop.
2796 Middlefield Road, Palo Alto, 650-329-8171;
2019: Best Shoe Repair

Palo Alto Chiropractic Offices

Since 1978, Palo Alto Chiropractic Offices has worked with more than 35,000 individuals to help them achieve their health goals, including everything from wellness-oriented health care to relief from pain.
1691 El Camino Real #100, Palo Alto, 650-328-2100;
2019: Best Chiropractors

Palo Alto Dental Group

Located in the same building where its practice began in 1934, Palo Alto Dental Group has developed life-long relationships with multiple generations of patients and their families. The practice has been open for regular business since June 1.
511 Byron St., Palo Alto, 650-323-1381;
2019: Best Dentists

Palo Alto Family YMCA, Ross Road

The Y, which has been operating in the area for 126 years, offers swimming, youth sports, group exercise, recreational sports and personal training to help clients attain a variety of fitness goals at its Ross Road site. During the pandemic, the center is offering on-demand and livestream exercise classes, as well as other social programs.
3412 Ross Road, Palo Alto, 650-856-9622;
2019: Best Gym
2019: Best Personal Trainers
2019: Best Fitness Classes

Palo Alto Plumbing Heating and Air/ Dahl Plumbing

Palo Alto Plumbing will be there when you need them, come rain, shine, sleet, hail — or a pandemic. From emergencies to routine repairs, the company specializes in serving all types of customers' needs in plumbing, heating and air-conditioning and is available 24 hours a day.
716 San Antonio Road, Unit F, Palo Alto, 650-856-3400;
2019 Hall of Fame: Best Plumber


SkinSpirit is the ultimate destination for all things skin and body. Co-founded in 2003 by a board-certified plastic surgeon, the clinic provides all the luxuries of a spa experience, including facials, injectables and lasers. The clinic has resumed its medical aesthetic treatments for skin health, facial rejuvenation and body contouring with safety protocols in place.
701 Emerson St., Palo Alto, 650-324-9600;
2019: Best Skin Care

Turbo 26 Studio

Turbo 26 Studio reopened for in-person classes held outdoors on the rooftop of the garage adjacent to the studio on Nov. 1. The studio also offers livestream and on-demand classes. New videos are added every week, so clients can practice when they want, any format, any time.
240 Stanford Shopping Center, Palo Alto, 650-325-2626;
2019: Best Yoga

Watercourse Way

Inspired by the natural hot springs of Tassajara, Watercourse Way now offers concierge massages that can be booked in clients' backyards. The spa is open for outdoor gazebo massages, facials and spa treatments as well as indoor massages and limited hot tub service. All rooms are equipped with Dyson air purifiers and UV lights. Hand sanitizer stations have been installed throughout the building. Masks are required for clients and therapists, and all staff undergo temperature checks before each shift.
165 Channing Ave., Palo Alto, 650-462-2000;
2019: Best Day Spa

Yoga Source

Yoga Source Palo Alto offers more than 40 virtual classes a week, including Vinyasa, Power, Hot 26, Yin, Restorative, Yoga Sculpt, HIIT Pilates, Core+Strength and Barre. In addition to its ongoing livestream class schedule, the studio also is hosting special outdoor classes.
158 Hamilton Ave., Palo Alto, 650-328-YOGA;
2017 Hall of Fame: Best Yoga Studio