What to do/see in San Jose?
November 26, 2005 3:41 PM   Subscribe

Will be in San Jose/Silicon Valley on this Monday and Tuesday. I'm interested in technology-related attractions. What should I do/see?

I have two full days to plan. Assume that a car and plenty of money will be at my disposal. I can get anywhere in the San Jose-Palo Alto-Cupertino (Silicon Valley) region, but not San Francisco.

Does Google offer tours of their Mountain View headquarters? I can't find any info.

Has anyone been to the Apple HQ in Cupertino recently? Is it worth it?

How is the Tech Museum in San Jose?

Any other must-see attractions/events/speeches in San Jose?
posted by qslack to Travel & Transportation around San Jose, CA (16 answers total)
I lived there for awhile, and always thought SJ was a pretty boring place.

Remember that there's a rail line that goes up to SF... it's not the downtown light-rail line, but another one. I think it's Caltrain, but I'm not sure anymore. One of the light rail stations hooks is at the same place as a Caltrain station, so you can walk a couple hundred yards from one system to the other.

SF is FULL of great stuff to see. You could easily spend a couple of days there. But I won't go into those unless that sounds like it would work for you.

I remember almost nothing in San Jose. :-(
posted by Malor at 3:54 PM on November 26, 2005

"hooks in", oops.
posted by Malor at 3:54 PM on November 26, 2005

Not far up the Peninsula, there's the Stanford Linear Accelerator, which offers tours.
posted by donpedro at 3:59 PM on November 26, 2005

Response by poster: Funny you should mention the Stanford Linear Accelerator. We took a family photo for our Christmas card in front of it a few years back. My last name is Slack, and the sign said SLAC.

The Accelerator is near Sandhill Road, the venture capital capital of the world. Does anyone know if there are any worthwhile things to do around there?
posted by qslack at 4:07 PM on November 26, 2005

There's a reason you're not getting many answers. :^>

The Valley is mostly a bedroom community filled with lawyers and engineers. The companies are very competitive. They're notoriously tight-lipped. They also don't receive many tourists, so they aren't motivated to make people welcome. There just aren't many people holding the door open for strangers.

The Stanford Linear Accelator and the Tech are probably your best bets.

I doubt Google or Apple offer tours. Security is tight both places.

Again, the VC's on Sand Hill are pretty security-minded. I doubt they accept visitors. Typically VC offices are pretty boring, anyhow: lots of logos, offices, and meeting rooms. Sand Hill is right next to Stanford campus, though, which offers Hoover Tower, a pretty nice art museum with a good collection of Rodin sculptures, and the possibility of auditing a class or two. It's also a very active school sports-wise.

Some other ideas:
The Computer History museum in Mountain View.
The Intel Museum in Santa Clara.
Try calling all the major companies with big brands in the Valley; for example, Intel, AMD, HP, NVidia, Yahoo!, Apple, Google. They might have tours or showrooms. The chipmakers in particular would be the type to have fab demos or mockups. Though I'm skeptical.

Frankly, I think your time would be better spent at Winchester Mystery House, the Egyptian Museum, the Stanford Theater, on the Stanford campus, out by the Bay-side (if the weather's good), or in San Francisco.
posted by maschnitz at 4:25 PM on November 26, 2005

Silicon Valley is not an exciting place to visit. I was going to recommend the Computer History museum, which is pretty cool, but they look to not be open when you're there.

I work at Google and alas, there aren't tours for the public. Silicon valley offices are pretty dull anyway unless you like looking at row after row of cubes and a bunch of glassy eyed nerds. maschnitz is right; you'll have more fun doing something different. There are some good wineries near San Jose, southwest up in the hills. And San Francisco is lovely.
posted by Nelson at 6:24 PM on November 26, 2005

If you're going to be near Sand Hill Road definitely check out the Rodin garden on the Stanford campus. It's free but you'll probably have to pay to park on campus. I worked right near there for the last year and a half but I never bothered to see if the SLAC offered tours - I'm bummed out that I missed that.

Also, if you head west on Sand Hill past all the VC offices, you'll start going up into the hills. Nice hiking and scenery up there.

Can't think of much to do in SJ. I thought the Wincester House was unbearably boring, but there is some okay shopping/dining right next to it on Santana Row. Wahoo's on Santana Row has good fish tacos (it's a chain restaurant, but I still liked it).

SF is much more fun.
posted by mullacc at 6:33 PM on November 26, 2005

www.caltrain.org to san francisco. Catch the baby bullet and it's only 40 minutes or so to SF. I live in SF and work in Sunnyvale, and I can tell you there's not a damned thing to see or do in the south bay.
posted by jewzilla at 6:48 PM on November 26, 2005

Apple has a company store that sells tshirts, hats, etc, but you can't tour there.

SF has far more attractions, restaurants, culture, fun than the Valley for a tourist. It's a pain in the ass to navigate by car, so Caltrain it into the city and use the buses to get around
posted by randy_stewart at 7:36 PM on November 26, 2005

The Apple campus is kind of boring, but you can't buy the merchandise they sell there anywhere else. I was there at lunchtime when there were lots of people wandering about, and hearing the names of Apple technologies out loud in serious conversations is kind of weird. This was last year.

Silicon Valley itself is kind of interesting. There's mile after mile after mile of single-story technology company buildings, most belonging to companies you've never heard of (plus loads you have). The light rail/tram/streetcar/whatever (not the Caltrain) from San Jose to Mountain View is worth a ride. It goes past loads of cool stuff - there's a couple of airbases around with weird shaped buildings.
posted by cillit bang at 7:59 PM on November 26, 2005

Are you a nerd? If so then the Computer History Museum in Mountain View is extremely cool. Well worth a visit if you can: early disk drives with 1/4inch thick steel platters a yard in diameter and other exotic, antique amazements.

The Tech is so-so -- there's often something interesting but I generally leave disappointed. The Tech has an IMAX attached, and you can get a combo ticket if you want to fill time.

Personally I'd head over to Santa Cruz 30 minutes to the west, and the wonderful beaches to the north of the town (cold at this time of year, but beautiful.) Or the redwood forests at Big Basin or Henry Cowell.

The excellent Monterey Bay aquarium is one of the area's more special places at a drivable distance -- perhaps 90 minutes from San Jose if you miss the rush hour. It's high-tech, but not technology of course.
posted by anadem at 9:11 PM on November 26, 2005

I think people living out there become jaded about the whole "silicon valley" thing... if you are into it and have never experienced it, there are plenty of interesting things to see.

The Computer History Museum and SLAC are definitely worth checking out if you can. Make sure to ake a reservation for a tour at SLAC ahead of time, just in case. There are also some interesting places to visit if you are interested in the (technology-related) history of the valley, although none are all that exciting without the understanding of the history.

Some people already have some suggestions: A Geek's Tour of Silicon Valley (which includes Weird Stuff Warehouse) or Nerd Tour.

In Palo Alto, 367 Addison Avenue is the birthplace of HP. This site lists some of the other historical markers in Santa Clara and nearby counties, along with pictures of some of the sites so you can see what you would be getting yourself into. The computer museum is really your best bet if you actually want to see the old technology, though, instead of just a dmpy building.

If you are interested in Apple history you can check out the current campus and some of the earlier Apple buildings nearby, or the De Anza community college campus, including the auditorium where the mac was introduced. Similar things exist for other companies as well, so dig up some addresses if you have other companies you are interested in.

You can also always try hanging out in the geek-friendly lunch places, like University avenue in Palo Alto or Castro street in Mountain View.

I would also try to look to see if there are any interesting speakers at Stanford while you will be here - they often have some interesting tech-related talks that are open to the public.
posted by babar at 9:57 PM on November 26, 2005 [1 favorite]

Stanford campus is actually really cool. Check out the visitors guide to see a guide to all the stuff to see including:
-Memorial Church (definitely go inside, it is apparently the largest mosaic installation outside of Europe or something)
-Hoover Tower (it's like $5 to go up to the top where you can see most of Silicon Valley on a clear day)
-Cantor Center for the Arts (and the Rodin sculpture garden out side)

Also not on the visitor's guide but definitely worth checking out are the Arizona Cactus garden, and the Stanford Mausoleum and Angel of Grief statue around the corner.
posted by sarahnade at 10:18 PM on November 26, 2005

I enjoy going to the Tech Museum, and since so many people are suggesting things up in San Francisco, there's also the Exploratorium, a science museum. Not quite tech, but if people are suggesting Cactus gardens (hey, I should probably go to that when I'm in Silicon Valley in December!) then I figure it's worth a shot. :)
posted by cactus at 11:37 PM on November 26, 2005

Off the whole computer geek thing, there's a very neat Egyptian museum in San Jose with a bunch of artifacts and yes, mummies.

If you want to do some tourist-trap types of things, there's the Winchester Mystery House and the Mystery Spot.

If you take a previous post's recommendation to head towards Santa Cruz/Monterey, make sure you check out Bonny Doon, the region's best winery, and stop at one of the road-side farm stores and try the deep-fried artichoke hearts.
posted by robhuddles at 10:16 AM on November 27, 2005

This won't be relevant to you, since it doesn't open until Dec. 6. But just in case, or for archive/posterity sake, from today's paper:

High tech's lowly birthplace
Shabby Palo Alto garage gets retrofit to be ready for tours
posted by donpedro at 8:38 PM on November 27, 2005

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