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Silicon Valley: Day Tripping to a State of Mind and Fabled Garages

People, products, and places in Silicon Valley that changed the world

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Silicon Valley’s High-Tech Heritage itinerary visits some of the most venerated sites associated with key people, places and products that have changed the world. Follow this Silicon Valley history trail to connect the dots.

The trail begins at Stanford University and concludes in San Jose’s former disk drive country. In light traffic total driving time is about one hour not including time to stop, take photos or explore. (Double this during peak commute hours) You could easily spend several hours just at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View where many related artifacts are on display.  Regrettably it is not practical to use public transportation.

Click on the red POI (point of interest) links for more information on each location.


Where is Silicon Valley?

Silicon Valley is the popular name for the region spanning San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties south of San Francisco where modern day alchemists (scientists and engineers) figured out how to turn sand (silicon) into gold (computer chips).

The silicon integrated circuits (IC chips) that they created are the building blocks of the Digital Revolution and the foundation for its extraordinary rise as a world center of high-tech innovation.

In its 250 year transition from bountiful Ohlone tribal territory at the foot of San Francisco Bay to world-renowned technology powerhouse, Silicon Valley has become a place of legend and hyperbole. Promoters laud its combination of technology and egalitarian entrepreneurial culture as a progressive force for global change. Critics decry its destruction of fertile farmland, horrendous traffic, sky-high housing prices, and worship of dollars over happiness.

Borrowing from historian Kevin Starr’s 1998 Oakland Museum talk on California during the gold rush, pundits claim it is “not a geographic location but a state of mind.”


Silicon Valley History: Stanford & Palo Alto

The Red Barn, the oldest tech-related landmark on the Stanford campus, predates the university. Here in 1877 photographer Eadweard Muybridge presaged development of the movies.

Many other important technologies from microwave devices (Varian) to search engines (Yahoo, Google) and internet routers (Cisco) found their feet here, but the first to impact the economy of the valley directly emerged just across the railroad tracks in Palo Alto.

At the Federal Telegraph Company in 1910 Stanford grad Cyril Elwell saw the first practical application of vacuum tubes to radio communications.

A few blocks away, the fabled garage where Hewlett and Packard kick-started their company with an order from Walt Disney in 1938 is just down the street from co-inventor of the transistor William Shockley’s boyhood home.

From its perch above Stanford Research Park, Xerox PARC overlooks an entrepreneurial landscape that enjoyed far greater rewards from its inventions than its unwitting parent.


Los Altos & Mountain View

Steve Jobs, the most famous beneficiary of Xerox’ innovations, saw the GUI that inspired the Macintosh at PARC. Together with Steve Wozniak, he co-founded Apple Computer in the garage of his parents’ home in Los Altos.

Scientists fabricated the first silicon transistors in the valley at the Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory in Mountain View. The Lab is now gone but will be commemorated with historic plaques in a Technology Plaza on the site that is scheduled for completion in 2018.

Eight disgruntled Shockley employees spun out in 1957 and set up shop just down the street where they produced the first practical integrated circuits (IC) at Fairchild Semiconductor.

Numberless high-tech ventures, famous and failed, spun out of Fairchild. Aspiring moguls toiled in featureless commercial buildings that sprawl across the valley. Few are open to the public. Even fewer exhibit evidence of their former occupants. But you can pose for selfies with the Android statues in front of the Google gear store.

Visitors can see prototypes and other examples of major tech breakthroughs at the Computer History Museum. The first commercial disk drive, IC, microprocessor, Apple 1 computer, Atari Pong video game, and Google production server are among the most significant artifacts on display.


Cupertino & Santa Clara

The Apple headquarters and company store in Cupertino had long been a shrine for the Mac faithful. Popular interest now focuses on the giant, donut-shaped “spaceship” building by world-renowned architect Norman Foster. The Apple Park Visitor Center that opened in late 2017 allows the public to view the glistening circular glass structure without actually entering the campus. The dramatic glass-enclosed space inside Center includes a coffee bar, exhibit hall, Apple store, and rooftop terrace.

A  few miles north of the new Apple campus, the Intel Museum tells the story of the chips that made it all possible


San Jose

San Jose is home to the Tech Museum of Innovation and played an important role in the early days of the disk drive, a critical component in the development of computing technology. IBM engineers built the first drive in 1956 at this former laboratory site downtown.

As the business grew the company expanded operations into a city size campus south of town. The only reminder of those heady days is a pavilion celebrating the iconic modernist architecture of IBM Building 25 in the parking lot of a hardware store.


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