Summary: This is the most comprehensive, step-by-step guide for visitors to tour Silicon Valley. We include the best route to maximise your trip, what you can expect in each attraction and addresses for your GPS.
We visited Silicon Valley in December 2015 and had personally gone through the route. While researching for our trip, we found information online to be lacking and confusing. Hence, the inspiration for this guide. If you like this, please share it and credit us. Thank you. 🙂
So you want to visit Silicon Valley, eh?
Silicon Valley, as most of us know, is something of a holy grail in the fast-paced world of electronics and software development. The most brilliant geniuses enter, and perhaps fewer than 1% of those people leave with seed funding to start their companies.
In a way, visiting Silicon Valley is the equivalent of a tech geek pilgrimage for aspiring scientists and young entrepreneurs. Yet in the valley of extreme, cutthroat competition where winner takes all, it makes people wonder why anyone wants to visit the place anyway.
Make no mistake about it. Those entrepreneurs there are hungry to win. They will gnaw and snap at every scrap of cash anyone throws at them (well, ok, not literally).
That said, this is perhaps the reason most hopefuls and wannabes end up there: to build and test their dreams. To see if they’re able to monetise the ideas that their already overtaxed minds churn out.
Well, you’ve read this far, so I do suppose you still want to have a look at the guide, right?
I like you.
Okay, if one were to do a Google search of the best places to visit in Silicon Valley, no doubt the search page would be filled with plenty of local recommendations and locations for you to visit.
Since this is supposed to be the best guide, I’ve taken the liberty of posting the Google Maps link here. (Full credit to Marcio Saito). Don’t worry; it isn’t spam or some weird link. It’s Google Maps, honest!
If you’ve already clicked the link, you’ll find a fair amount of places to visit.
Bonus: They’re mostly all within close proximity to each another, so you’ll be able to run through them rather quickly!
1) Downtown Palo Alto
340 University Ave, Palo Alto, CA 94301
Downtown Palo Alto is a quaint little area that is, well, a downtown. Filled with outdoor shops, cafés, and, of course, shopping malls, the downtown Palo Alto area is basically the equivalent of Silicon Valley’s city centre. Our tour usually starts here.
Interestingly, perhaps the shop that most interests tech pilgrims here are the Apple store. While it might be argued that it is the nicest looking Apple store on the West Coast, it is definitely one of the larger ones!
If you’ve got the time, make sure you drop by! I’m sure you won’t be disappointed.
2) HP Garage
367 Addison Avenue, Palo Alto, CA 94301
The second stop on our tour is the HP Garage.
Do you know the company, Hewlett Packard? If you’ve ever used a laptop or desktop, there is a pretty good chance that it was an HP machine, or that it has parts that came out of HP Labs.
No, this isn’t your typical garage; actually, it is a museum marking the site of the founding of HP. Often considered the birthplace of modern-day Silicon Valley, the property of 367 Addison Avenue houses a significant amount of history.
A little more history about the place: this is also where the very first HP product was made (the HP200A, an audio oscillator). Their first customer? Walt Disney Studios.
Unfortunately, the property doesn’t offer tours, nor is it accessible to the public. But the garage can be viewed from sidewalk and driveway. I suppose, for an inaccessible place, this is as good as it gets, right?
Hewlett Packard was founded in this garage in 1939.
Highlights: Located in a pleasant Palo Alto neighbourhood.
Lowlights: This is a private residence. You can only view the exterior.
3) Stanford University
450 Serra Mall, Stanford, CA 94305, Stanford University Website
The university located in the heart of Palo Alto, Stanford has a longstanding history that has shaped the way the school teaches and gives back to society today. Not surprisingly, Stanford University is one of the world’s leading institutions for research and learning and is one of the most sought-after places to study for students of all levels.
Oh, by the way, did you know that Stanford is the alma mater of many executives of companies that run the world today (Google, Yahoo!, HP, etc.)?
(Well, it IS an Ivy League college after all; who wouldn’t want to go there if given the chance?)
As a private university, there are, of course, campus tours offered by the school itself. In any case, with a campus size of 8180 acres, a tour is most definitely recommended. (Unless you turn your visit into an expedition. No, I doubt campus security would take kindly to your camping in a tent on their campus either, especially if you’re not a student there.)
Thanks to the massive size of the campus, it’s recommended that you reserve several hours (or perhaps even a whole day or two) in your schedule to have a proper, thorough tour of the entire place. Yes, it is a very worthwhile activity.
If you’re planning to visit Stanford on a weekday, it’s better NOT to drive there, as the campus parking lots are usually full (even during term breaks) due to the immense number of staff and faculty members present, as well as resident students. If you’re visiting during the weekend, you’re more likely to find free parking spaces.
Stanford University is where many of the biggest tech companies (e.g., Google, Yahoo!, Cisco) got their start.
Highlights: Beautiful campus.
Lowlights: Parking can be hard to find if you visit on a weekday.
Tips: There is more free parking available over the weekend.
4) Tesla Motors
4180 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, CA 94306, Tesla Motors Website
Ahh, Tesla. Named after the great engineer Nikola Tesla, and now spearheaded by the eccentric yet brilliant Elon Musk, it is only natural that Tesla Motors would find a home in the fold of revered Silicon Valley, where the craziest ideas can flourish if people dare to pursue them.
Perhaps the quintessential icon of Tesla Motors today is the Model S, the first electric car to score top points in the NHTSA Automobile Safety Rating, boasting extremely good range/miles per gallon fuel economy, as well as a slew of other cool functions and features.
Needless to say, the success of the Model S placed Tesla Motors in the international spotlight as the premier go-to company producing some of the most efficient electric cars on the planet (at least for now!).
To those of you reading this who are unable to afford a Model S, don’t worry! Tesla Motors has a showroom right here in Palo Alto, and Tesla allows anyone at least 25 years old who has a valid licence to test-drive their Model S at no cost! Hey, even if you can’t afford it, that doesn’t mean you can’t live the dream, right? (Even if only for 5-10 minutes.)
The only caveat in test-driving their cars is that you need to make an appointment in advance of visiting the showroom. But you don’t need to test-drive anything in order to visit the showroom. It’s open to the public for viewing the cars and learning about the various other little history lessons and technological breakthroughs associated with the Model S.
Tesla has a showroom open to the public. They let you browse even if you can’t afford the cars!
You can test-drive cars for free if you are at least 25 years old and have a valid driver’s licence. This requires making an appointment ahead of time on the Tesla website.
Tesla also has showrooms and stores in San Jose, Fremont and Sunnyvale.
Highlights: Friendly staff. Salespeople aren’t pushy.
Cost: Free to browse
1 Hacker Way, Menlo Park, CA 94025, Facebook Website
On a more serious note, Facebook is the leading social media platform today and has one of the widest reaches in the world. If 1.55 billion monthly active users aren’t impressive enough for you, just wait for the December 2016 statistics (the 1.55 billion was from December 2015).
Also, Facebook currently owns several other social media and communications platforms like WhatsApp and Instagram. This makes Facebook the biggest social media company in history!
It’s just these facts that also make Facebook one of the most sought-after places for the smartest (and not-so-smartest) minds to work. Excellent pay packages, brilliance all around, stunningly beautiful architecture and a fairly lax dress code are just some of the reasons why it’s such a great place to start your career in.
Other than that, unfortunately for Facebook, the highlight of visiting the campus would be taking a photo next to the Thumbs-Up sign (Like button). Mark Zuckerberg has posted a video tour of the Menlo Park campus, though. At least, it’s something, right?
Facebook is the largest social network. Its 40,000-square-metre main campus was designed by Frank Gehry.
Geek Appeal: 5/5
Highlights: Take your picture next to the big thumb and make it your Facebook profile picture.
Bonus Tip: the back of the sign still has the old Sun Microsystems logo.
Lowlights: There isn’t anything else to see. That’s actually really sad.
6) Computer History Museum
1401 North Shoreline Boulevard, Mountain View, CA 94043, Computer History Museum
Next up is the Computer History Museum. As the name implies, this place houses historic, iconic pieces of now-antiquated technology that shaped the current world of modern microelectronics and byte-driven devices.
How much do you know about how the first computer came to be? Who were the first people to create code to run a computer? Heck, how did anyone ever think of such ideas?
Sure, you could do a Wikipedia search on it, and it would yield pages, and hours, of dry, technical reading.
OR you could visit the Computer History Museum and learn about it in a hands-on guided tour of the entire place for just $15 (they need to pay rent and electricity bills too, right?).
Actually, what I mentioned before was a little bit of an understatement. The Computer History Museum contains artefacts that span from the ancient era of mankind (i.e. the first machines like the abacus, or the Antikythera Mechanism, used to calculate astronomical positions around the 1st century BC) all the way up to today.
The Computer History Museum is adjacent to Google’s headquarters. The museum has the world’s largest collection of historical computing artefacts, ranging from ancient counting machines to today’s latest technologies.
Geek Appeal: 5/5
Highlights: World’s largest collection of historical computing artefacts.
Price: $15 admission
7) Google Headquarters
Visitor Center (Beta): 1911 Landings Drive, Mountain View, CA 94043, Google Website
Google. Every student’s best friend, and all-around best search engine in the world. Google is currently in use with approximately 75% of the world’s OS systems, and that share seems set to grow with every new acquisition and improvement Google makes to its search engine.
Needless to say, Google would be one of the very top spots for any tech geek worth his or her salt to visit, regardless. In a way, Google and Facebook are the meccas of Silicon Valley, the shining buildings where money seems to move as quickly as their updates and services do. Many want to work at Google, but few are so honoured.
That said, Google tours are limited to merely seeing and taking pictures of the headquarters in front of the Android lawn statues, UNLESS you have a host accompanying you (such as a friend who works there, or a Google employee who’s willing to show you around inside).
If you do have such a friend, CONGRATULATIONS! You’ll be one of the very few outsiders allowed to tour the INSIDE of Google headquarters. Who knows, if you impress Larry Page he might hire you too…. (we can dream, right?).
Google’s headquarters, also known as the Googleplex, presides over 40 buildings in Mountain View. There is a dedicated Visitor Center, which has Android lawn statues and the Google Street View car on display outside. There are various other landmarks throughout the campus, such as physical Google Maps markers, the volleyball court, and Stan the T-Rex.
Geek Appeal: 4/5
Highlights: Take your picture in Google’s playground with Gingerbread Man and many cute thingamajigs. Buy some Google souvenirs from the gift shop.
Lowlights: There isn’t anything else to see.
8) Yahoo! Headquarters
701 1st Avenue, Sunnyvale, California, Yahoo Website
Yahoo! has seen a recent resurgence in the market thanks to Marissa Mayer’s decision to revive its fledgeling search engine. Why does it remain on the list of places to visit for the tech pilgrim, you might ask?
In years past, long before Google dominated the world of search engines, there was Yahoo!. Prior to Google’s founding in 1998, Yahoo was the sole significant force in the early history of the internet, commanding almost 100% of market share at the time with its easy-to-grasp user interface and its well-designed sub-layers of code.
Back to the original question: it remains on the list simply because of Yahoo! was, and still is, a place where many technological breakthroughs are made. Currently Yahoo! is the 2nd largest search engine provider (although Google still wins by a significant margin) and is home to several large-scale profit-generating services. Under the capable leadership of Marissa, Yahoo! seems set to be the (lagging) head-on competitor with Google.
If you’re 2nd place behind Google, you’re definitely doing something right in the field of search engine services.
Lowlights: Unfortunately, Yahoo! does not offer office/campus tours either, but you’re still able to take photos of the building!
9) Intel Museum
2200 Mission College Boulevard, Santa Clara, CA 95054, Intel Museum Website
See that sticker on your laptop or desktop?
Intel is perhaps the world’s largest microprocessor manufacturer and has far-reaching influence in every sector of the microelectronics industry: From processors to full-scale industrial machines and even in the military and aerospace industries, there is little that Intel has not done or does not do.
If you’re an electronics engineer, perhaps this would represent a special sort of pilgrimage for you because this museum is dedicated solely to the technologies that Intel has developed over the decades. Most of this technology revolves around the advancement (or the shrinking, at least) of modern semiconductors and processors to the Nanoscale. That is a feat that very few companies have managed to do over the course of the years.
This concentration is somewhat the downside of the Intel museum: it focuses exclusively on the tech that Intel has developed, and little else. Despite that, it still is worth a visit if you have the time!
Highlights: Free. This museum is unique because of its focus on semiconductors.
Lowlights: Relatively small. The museum focuses exclusively on Intel technology.
10) Apple Campus
1 Infinite Loop, Cupertino, CA 95014, Apple Website
The Big Apple. Located somewhat farther away from the tour area on the map, the Apple campus at 1 Infinite Loop, Cupertino is a definite must-see if you’re a hardcore Apple user or fan. Of course, there are several items and products available on this campus that are unique and strictly sold only there (i.e. Apple T-shirts, mugs, etc.).
However, more than that, the Apple campus is not merely another giant Apple store, but a symbol of the technology industry itself. The fact that anyone can make a sojourn to the campus and gaze upon its majesty is more than enough reason for tech geeks to flock to this destination.
Just imagine: being in the same place where the latest technological breakthroughs are made, and standing in the same area as the brilliant scientists and engineers who make it all possible.
Remember: Think Different.
Geek Appeal: 8/5 if you are an Apple fan. 1/5 if you are a Samsung fan. 3/5 if you are ambivalent.
Highlights: Some items are EXCLUSIVE to this Apple store. Buy Tshirts with “1 Infinite Loop” emojis emblazoned on them and wear them proudly. They are affordable and make excellent gifts.
Lowlights: Relatively small.
11) The Tech Museum of Innovation
201 South Market Street, San Jose, CA 95113, The Tech Museum of Innovation Website
Last but not least, the Tech Museum of Innovation. Also one of the places to go to if you’d like to get your children interested at an early age in the wonders and marvels of technology. (Tip: now’s a good time to indoctrinate them with the idea of becoming the next Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg or any rich tech nerd you like, haha).
The museum itself is home to an IMAX theatre as well as scores of workshops and seminar offerings. Yes, you can host your child’s birthday parties here too!
But, that said, the museum really caters more to young children, so being there might also make you feel a little … well, too old for the toys they provide. Other than that, it is a wonderful place to de-stress and start reliving your childhood dreams of building things. (Or making your spouse step on Lego pieces. I don’t judge.)
Geek Appeal: 3/5
Price: $15 admission for adults, $10 for kids
Lowlights: This museum is mostly for kids, so if you’re an adult, you may feel out of place.
These are the best places to visit in Silicon Valley! However, it isn’t necessary to go in this order. Preferably, you should try to plan your trip to the Apple campus as one of the last stops, due to its greater distance from the Palo Alto area in general.
** Realistically, the optimum number attractions to visit is 4 to 5 per day. Otherwise, it’ll be too rushed.
Tada! I do hope this guide is one big hot tip for you. What are you waiting for? Time to explore!
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