Venture to California's Silicon Valley to commune with the computers and capitalists that define our modern age.
Where, exactly, is Silicon Valley? It’s a region connected less by geography than by a virtual web of ideas. Given that the world now turns on a tweet, you may find it hard to imagine that 60 years ago the stretch of Northern California from San Mateo to San Jose was a chain of sleepy towns strung together with pear, plum, and apple orchards. Back then it was the Valley of Heart’s Delight. Today we’re all delighted—and overwhelmed—by the electronic wonders Silicon Valley churns out. Whether you’re tech obsessed or byte curious, a pilgrimage to the area’s shrines reveals the icons that transformed apples into Apple.
computer history museum Mountain View
Stroll through 2,000 years of computing, starting with the abacus and wending through IBM’s first systems, PCs, mobile tools, and Web 2.0. Among more than 1,000 artifacts, you can see the one-ton “minicomputer” invented by Digital Equipment Corp. in 1959, the original 1972 Pong game, and a self-driving car that you can sit in. 1401 N. Shoreline Blvd., (650) 810-1010, computerhistory.org.
the tech museum of innovation San Jose
Uncover the sweep of Silicon Valley’s technological evolution—and your inner visionary. You can design and “ride” your own virtual roller coaster or guide a robotic rover across the Mars landscape. In 2013, the museum took creation theory to a new level with the Tech Studio, allowing you to test your own prototypes and experiment with parts. AAA members get $3 off a combo ticket, which includes admission and the Imax experience. 201 S. Market St., (408) 294-8324, thetech.org.
It may not look like much, but the unassuming brown-and-green shed at 367 Addison Avenue is Silicon Valley’s Garden of Eden. Inside this Palo Alto garage in 1939, Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard founded a little company called HP. There are no tours, but you can take pictures and read the historical marker. Nearby, at the corner of Emerson Street and Channing Avenue, a sidewalk plaque commemorates the inventions of Federal Telegraph Co., the birthplace of inventions that led to radio, television, and the modern electronics age. Less than five miles away in Mountain View, at 391 San Antonio Road, a sign marks the site once occupied by Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory, which developed the first silicon semiconductor devices.
intel museum Santa Clara
Is it hard to fathom thousands of transistors on a chip the size of a baby’s fingernail? Then check out the first 4004 microprocessor (from 1971), which held 2,300 transistors. Along the way, discover how sand is converted to silicon ingots and then sliced into wafers, use your fingers to zoom in on a single chip, and write your name in binary code. 2200 Mission College Blvd., (408) 765-5050, intel.com/museum.
the apple store infinite loop Cupertino
At the, er, core of Apple’s success lies the genius of Steve Jobs’s design vision—which may partly explain the constant crowds at the Apple Store Infinite Loop, though there are no public tours of the rest of the headquarters. The shop is, however, the only place where you can go Apple picking for logo merchandise: T-shirts, caps, mugs, and all the accessories your nonvirtual desktop can handle. 1 Infinite Loop, (408) 606-5775, apple.com/retail/infiniteloop.
Photography courtesy of Don Feria
This article was first published in March 2013 and updated in December 2015. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.