Lodgings near Palo Alto  on the cheap can be had in the serene farm setting of Hidden Villa Hostel (26870 Moody Rd., Lost Altos Hills, 650/949-8648, www.hiddenvilla.org/hostel.php , Sept.–May only, members $21, non-members $24). A sustainably constructed main hostel building and a private cabin that’s perfect for families and romantic honeymooners, the Hidden Villa hostel also has access to beautiful wilderness hiking trails, the surrounding organic farm, and the small wealthy town of Los Altos Hills.
Hidden Villa is the oldest operating youth hostel in the United States, and it’s incredibly popular. The newer buildings are more unique and attractive than those of most hostels, and were created to showcase features such as the radiant floor heating and bale wall construction. Reservations are required on weekends, and are a good idea even on weekdays.
Down on El Camino, south of Stanford  but near enough to visit, Dinah’s Garden Hotel (4261 El Camino Real, 800/227-8220, www.dinahshotel.com , $140–825) doesn’t quite feel like a chain, despite its location and basic shape. The cute koi ponds and gardens mix with the bright floral interior decor to create a working, if kitschy, tropical paradise theme. The basic rooms tend toward the size and shape of an average motel, but the high-priced suites are something to behold. Attached to the hotel you’ll find both a casual poolside grill and an upscale restaurant, a branch of the legendary Trader Vic’s. If you’re staying at Dinah’s, you can enjoy as many mai tais and scorpion bowls as you please—you’ve only got to stumble a few yards to your room.
The Creekside Inn (3400 El Camino Real, 650/493-2411, www.creekside-inn.com , $145–260) provides garden accommodations set back a bit from the noisy road. The guest rooms have a touch more class than many motels in the same price range, with stylish fabrics and up-to-date amenities. This larger boutique hotel has more than 100 rooms, an outdoor heated pool, and an exercise room. All rooms have free Wi-Fi, fully stocked private bathrooms, refrigerators, coffee makers, in-room safes, and comfy bathrobes. You can get a package deal that includes breakfast with your room.
Much closer to the Stanford campus , the Stanford Terrace Inn (531 Stanford Ave., 650/857-0333, www.stanfordterraceinn.com , $220–360) provides appropriate luxury to parents who are spending a sweet mint to send their kids to a top private university. With all the correct pretensions of a Bay Area business, the Terrace rents “green” rooms with all hypoallergenic and sustainable furnishings, linens, and toiletries, plus filtered water and air. All the rooms, even the standards, are huge and come with attractive furnishings and luxury amenities. If you know what a T-1 line is, you’ll be thrilled to know you’ve got access to one inside your room. The lovely indoor-outdoor restaurant is popular with the locals on holiday weekends.