Things to Do and See in Silicon Valley
Silicon Valley was originally a railroad town. If it weren’t for Leland Stanford’s contribution as Vice President of the Central Pacific Railroad back when it was the only way to ship things from California back east, Silicon Valley might never have happened. In earlier years, the valleys were covered in fruit trees and flowers, which gradually made way for the technology revolution. But despite the skyscrapers and billion dollar companies that made the Silicon Valley famous, many of the original forests and valleys remain, providing a beautiful backdrop to the cities.
The Santa Clara Valley runs south-southeast from the southern end of San Francisco Bay in Northern California in the United States. The northern, urbanized end of the valley is part of a region locally known as the “South Bay” and also part of the electronics, research, and manufacturing area known as Silicon Valley. The valley, named after the Spanish Mission Santa Clara, was for a time known as the Valley of Heart’s Delight for its high concentration of orchards, flowering trees, and plants. Until the 1960s it was the largest fruit production and packing region in the world with 39 canneries.
Choosing things to do in Silicon Valley, is a tough decision. Unless you have weeks to spare, you might have to throw the dice to select the best ones to suit your interest and budget.
However, there are several ever fresh places that will never go out of fashion and hold a special place in history – not just for the US, but for the world.
One such a place is the humble beginnings of HP Computers. The HP Garage, known as “The Birthplace of Silicon Valley”, is a good starting point. In 1938, Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard developed HP’s first product, the Model 200A audio oscillator, out of this Addison Avenue rental in Palto, Alto California, specifically chosen because it had a garage. The garage is now California Historic Landmark No. 976. While the HP Garage is not open for public tours, individual visitors and small groups may view and photograph the property from the sidewalk.
Staying with the industry for which Silicon Valley is known, The Computer Museum could fill the gaps in your knowledge.
Find out why computer history is 2000 years old. Learn about computer history´s game-changers in our multimedia exhibitions. Play a game of Pong or Spacewar!, listen to computer pioneers tell their story from their own perspective. Discover the roots of today´s Internet and mobile devices. See over 1,100 historic artifacts, including some of the very first computers from the 1940s and 1950s. And while you are at it, you have to stop at the impressive Google campus.
Google is an open campus – so you can wonder around a bit and the main headquarter building is open to visitors. Their first server, a Google car, and a replica of Spaceship 2 are in there. The building is just a short walk from the Computer Museum.
Apple’s Company Store and Headquarters, in Cupertino will round off any tech lover’s dream. While the store does not sell computers, it is the only place in the world that sells Apple logo shirts, caps, and accessories. If you get lucky enough to sneak by the front guard, you’ll see a wall of the top 3,000 iPhone apps, which shows which ones are being downloaded at that moment.
Staying with High Tech, but of a different kind, you can visit the Nasa Ames Research Center in California. Ames Research Center, located in the heart of Silicon Valley, is one of 10 NASA field installations. It was founded in 1939 as an aircraft research laboratory and became part of NASA In 1958. The research park comprises over $3 billion in capital equipment, 2,300 research personnel, and has a $600 million annual budget. The Research Center does not provide public tours but you can visit the Exploration Center and Moffett Museum. An exclusive tour of the NASA wind tunnels – which are the largest in the world – is possible.
While you already have your head in the sky, why not include the Hiller Aviation Museum. Hiller Aviation Museum, a Smithsonian Affiliate, was opened to the public in 1998 by helicopter designer and inventor Stanley Hiller Jr. and features a collection on display of over 50 aircraft from more than a century of aviation history. Events and activities are featured regularly, allowing you to immerse yourself in aviation dreams, from flying a realistic flight simulator to exploring the science of aviation with hands-on exhibits and unique laboratory experiences.
However, if you fancy a bit of outdoor scenery after all the sophisticated technology, then Silicon Valley offers a selection of alternative things to see.
Mt. Umunhum. The Mt. Umunhum area covers 11,646-acres in Santa Clara County. It is the fourth-highest peak in the Santa Cruz Mountains in California (3,486 ft.). The summit of Mt. Umunhum is the site of the former Almaden Air Force Station, which was part of the early-warning radar network built during the Cold War. This is a long drive from the Valley floor, but you won’t find a better view.
The New Almaden quicksilver mine covers 4,147 acres of foothills, forests, meadows, and valleys. It is a U.S. National Historic Landmark and is listed on U.S. National Register of Historic Places. This used to be a mercury mine, back during the gold rush period of California history. Silicon Valley’s newspaper San Jose MERCURY News was named after this mine.
Of course, no visit to Silicon Valley will be complete without a visit to the Stanford University campus. Stanford University is enormous. There are plenty of free shuttle buses from Palo Alto CalTrain (on University Ave) which can take you directly to and around Stanford University. The University is situated on a large piece of land surrounded by trees, grass lands and mountains. You can freely walk through the grounds and enjoy the Spanish-colonial style building architecture. Drop by the gift shop if you want to get yourself some merchandise. The road leading out of Stanford heads directly into Palo Alto downtown, which is full of great restaurants and shops.
For a different view of the campus, the top of the Hoover Tower Observation Platform is the place be. Completed in 1941 to celebrate the University’s 50th anniversary, the 285-foot tower is a landmark for students, alumni and the local community. The observation platform is located on the 14th floor of Hoover Tower. When you step off the elevator be welcomed by a tour guide who is available to point out Stanford University landmarks and, on a clear day, sights around the San Francisco Bay Area.
Then, last but not least, make sure to visit a few art museums, tech museums, theatres and lives shows in Silicon Valley. It’s all part of the unique experience that is Silicon Valley. Like the great centers of innovation, Silicon Valley is about the people and their interactions and not just the buildings.