Tourist in Silicon Valley. Where to go?
April 1, 2007 10:35 PM   Subscribe

I'm going to San Fran first week of May. I am very interested in going around Silicon Valley, poking inside the campuses of various tech companies, maybe visiting their company stores & buying their merchandise. Is this even possible? Any suggestions on where to go, eat, etc? (By the way, I did see some Silicon Valley tours. They're a little too pricey for me. I would want to drive around myself.)
posted by chette to Travel & Transportation around San Francisco, CA (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Huh, what an unusual request.

You will definitely love the Computer History Museum in Mountain View. It's very close to the Google campus and the Microsoft research center.

Sun's main campus is a few miles up the highway in Menlo Park - I used to work there and I remember a company store just off the main cafeteria, and they certainly bring visitors through there. The trick is, though, you probably need to be visiting someone. I don't think they would let strangers in off the street. This is likely to be true of any tech company due to the potential for corporate espionage. Do you have any friends in any of these tech companies? Or I wonder if any Mefites are there at the moment? Otherwise I suppose you could call the company HQ and try to arrange a tour.
posted by PercussivePaul at 10:58 PM on April 1, 2007

Well, it's a private residence now so you can only view it from the street, but Packard's garage is still in Palo Alto. Downtown Palo Alto has a lot of cute little restaurants, as do downtown San Mateo & Burlingame.
I figure other people will give you better advice on everything else... I live on the Peninsula but I find it kinda dull, myself. Not my thing. I'd MUCH rather recommend hanging out at cool places in the City!
posted by miss lynnster at 11:05 PM on April 1, 2007

Where I used to work (Cisco), the company store was in the cafeteria and you had to have a badge to get in. Your best bet may be to tap your connections for an employee (or contractor); you could probably have some interesting lunches this way, as well.
posted by sfkiddo at 11:18 PM on April 1, 2007

You need to know someone at Google to get in. You'll definitely be spotted and asked to leave if you try to make it in on your own (I do not recommend tangling with Google security), and there is no company store other than the one at

If you do know someone at Google, don't miss lunch there.
posted by crinklebat at 11:24 PM on April 1, 2007

It used to be better, but if you like buying parts of the history of the valley, check out
posted by bottlebrushtree at 11:44 PM on April 1, 2007

might be a little too juvenile for you, but there's also The Tech Museum in San Jose
posted by beammeup4 at 12:34 AM on April 2, 2007

Do any of the following apply for you chette?

1. You are a prospective employer or supplier or customer or collaborator of one of these companies.
2. You happen to work for a company who is.
3. You are going to be writing about one of these companies.
4. You know anybody who works for one of them.

If any of these apply then I would consider making direct contact with somebody who works for the companies and asking them to show you around.

I remember visiting several Silicon Valley campuses when I worked in R&D in the UK. It was more business than tourism for me but still fascinating to see places like Cupertino that had gone from being orange groves to global business centres within a few years.
posted by rongorongo at 3:13 AM on April 2, 2007

There's some tech history at Stanford University, they have a handful of items in the Computer Science department buildings. Not to mention that it's a beautiful campus, check it out in Palo Alto.
posted by shinynewnick at 6:09 AM on April 2, 2007

If you try to hit up Apple, make sure you drive slow when you get nearby. I missed my chance to visit them because I was driving at traffic speeds, their sign is not terribly prominent, and the rightmost lane (their turn-off was on the right hand side) turns into the interstate onramp almost immediately after you pass their driveway. Since I didn't want to slam on the brakes, I kept going, hoping to turn around - only to find myself back on the interstate right away.

I can also verify that The Tech Museum is pretty child-oriented - I thought it was going to be at least a little more grown-up, but was sadly disappointed.
posted by cyrusdogstar at 8:04 AM on April 2, 2007

Right around the corner from Weird Stuff is Yahoo's main campus. I don't know if you can get in there, but you could drive around the parking lots looking for people who can't park.

Drive up 101 and you'll pass the empty buildings for Excite@Home, which have been empty for several years. Stanford just bought it up, though, to make an extension to the hospital.
posted by sarahnade at 9:27 AM on April 2, 2007

As said above, I enjoyed the Apple store on their campus. And Google's campus is neat just to walk around outside.
posted by radioamy at 9:56 AM on April 2, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks guys. I'm going to all the places you mentioned (Apple, Intel Museum, Computer History Museum, The Tech Museum), and maybe just look at the rest from afar. @rongorongo, unfortunately, none of those things apply to me. (Just my luck, huh?)

Yes, I've heard so much a bout Palo Alto. That's definitely on the list, too.

Thank you, thank you, thank you.
posted by chette at 11:28 AM on April 2, 2007

"Huh, what an unusual request."

No, it's not unusual at all. in fact, it's a very common request.

chette: I think that a better idea would be for you to let us know of specific things that you're interested in. IE if you're a Mac-hater, perhaps a trip to Apple wouldn't be on your agenda.

Let us know. Perhaps some of us would be willing to get you into places.
posted by drstein at 1:03 PM on April 2, 2007

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