Silicon Valley: City of Bytes

The sort of energy and creativity that built Google, Facebook and Apple into household names spills over into a string of towns in San Francisco’s South Bay.

San Jose is considered the ‘capital’ — an area that enjoys a mild climate and 300 days of sunshine a year.

Where else can you spend the morning on the beach and then drive your Tesla to the mountains for a hike through dew-dappled redwoods — interspersed with shopping and a white-table-cloth Michelin-starred dinner?

Must-see spots

The Tech Museum of Innovation exudes the valley’s innovative vibe from its mango and azure paint-job to the dozens of hands-on exhibits that give visitors a peek into the area’s geek mindset.

Try one of the museum’s monthly after-hours events, which feature glow-in-the-dark ‘Techtinis’ (read: martinis for nerds) and a closing time of midnight.

Stanford University has been cranking out tech wizards since the time of Hewlett and Packard, right through to Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page. Stroll among engineering buildings named for the guys behind HP, Yahoo! and Microsoft.

Visit the Rodin Sculpture Garden for inspiration or seek redemption in the Romanesque Memorial Church. Then get a sweeping view of the Valley from the top of the 73-year-old, 87-metre-high Hoover Tower, christened after the 31st president of the US.

Garages in the Valley are not so much for cars, but for founding companies. Within 21 kilometres of each other stand the sheds where Hewlett-Packard, Apple and Google started.

William Hewlett and David Packard, arguably the fathers of Silicon Valley, started their company in the garage at 367 Addison Avenue in Palo Alto in 1939. While the building is visible from the street and marked by a historic plaque, it’s not open to the public.

In the mid-1970s, Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak began building Apple 1 computers in the garage at Jobs’s boyhood home (2066 Crist Drive, Los Altos). They soon had their first orders and, in 1976, Apple was launched. No public tours are available, much to the relief of Jobs’s stepmother, who lives there.

When Brin and Page outgrew their Stanford dorm room and lab, they turned to Susan Wojcicki, who is now senior vice president at Google, but who then had a garage suitable for a start-up at 232 Santa Margarita Avenue, Menlo Park.

Where to stay

From quaint bed and breakfasts to luxe hotels, when it comes to accommodation, Silicon Valley has something for everyone.

Central

The Fairmont San Jose offers luxury accommodation in the heart of the city. Guests unwind in the lobby lounge, which boasts 500 varieties of martinis and live piano music.

Luxurious

Four Seasons Hotel provides the region’s pampering needs. As a bonus it’s strategically placed near several key Silicon Valley motherboards, including top-venture capital firms, Palo Alto’s start-ups and Stanford University.

Quiet

Cowper Inn is a bed and breakfast on a quiet residential street. The B&B has outdoor seating areas on its ample porches and in its peaceful garden.

Suburb spotlight

The drive to Pescadero, through the redwood-studded mountains and along the rugged Pacific coast towards the Pigeon Point Lighthouse, is enough to calm the start-up stress of Silicon Valley. By the time you hit this farming town, an hour from San Jose, you’ll find yourself in another world.

“It’s an hour away and it’s paradise,” says Tim Duarte, of Duarte’s Tavern.

In spring and summer, head to Phipps Country Store and Farm to pick strawberries and olallieberries (a cross between the loganberry and the youngberry).

Shop for art, ceramics, jewellery and locally made furniture at Luna Sea gallery or Made in Pescadero. Then head to Duarte’s, a 120-year-old family-owned restaurant with great artichoke soup to start your meal and olallieberry pie to finish it.

Don't leave without...

...discovering the Computer History Museum. The world-class museum’s main exhibit takes visitors through the entire evolution of computers, from the abacus to the iPad.

The San Jose Museum of Art, in the heart of downtown, consistently offers provocative takes on modern and contemporary art.

Big Basin Redwoods State Park is California’s oldest forest, and one of the largest. It includes 129 kilometres of trails among 7284 hectares of redwoods.

Local flavours

Buck’s of Woodside hardly looks like a place that helped launch Hotmail and PayPal, but owner Jamis MacNiven swears it’s so. The place has enough wacky bric-a-brac — a Russian space suit, flying nuns and Mona Lisa donning a cowboy hat — to warrant its own cataloguing app.

Original Joe’s in San Jose is part performance art, part dining experience, serving massive portions of classic Italian food and steaks from the open grill.

Few restaurants offer a better interpretation of Vietnamese cuisine than Vung Tau.

Chez TJ is one of a handful of local Michelin-star restaurants. And what trip to Silicon Valley would be complete without a visit to former Google chef Charlie Ayers’s Calafia Café?

Hidden gems

Hakone Estate and Gardens is the oldest Asian estate and garden in the Western Hemisphere. This suburban retreat, established in 1915, includes seven hectares of grounds and four gardens. Step away from your iPhone and relax in the bamboo garden, the tea garden, the Zen garden and the hill and pond garden, while walking among waterfalls and miniature Japanese plants.

The Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge in the city’s Alviso district provides boardwalks and paths through the wetlands at the southern tip of the bay. A stroll through the bird- and butterfly-friendly marshes and salt ponds is the perfect antidote to the hustle and bustle of the surrounding valley. The refuge also features an observation tower with sweeping views of the bay.

Living like a local

Steve Wozniak, known as ‘Woz’, designed Apple’s first computer and helped Steve Jobs launch the world’s most valuable technology company.

Where would you tell a visitor to go in the Valley for a night out? Mandarin Gourmet, across from Apple headquarters. When we started Apple, it was a Bob’s Big Boy [popular hamburger stand]. It was a major part of our history.

What makes Silicon Valley, Silicon Valley? It’s really just the preponderance of people who like technology; who grew up with technology; who grew up smart about technology. You’re around so many of those kinds of people.

What is your most memorable moment in Silicon Valley? It was Apple and it was the introduction of the Macintosh computer on that stage. I just felt like a door was being opened to the new future.

How many digital gadgets do you typically carry with you? Looking on my desk here, I have six cell phones, a MiFi (mobile hot spot), a cellular iPad and a cellular iPad Mini.

Where do you go to get away from it all? Wow. Let me think. Anywhere I’m driving alone gets me away from it and my head feels very good. I pretty much work on my computer almost all day long, in my office, just doing email, keeping up with huge amounts of email, including a lot of fan mail. But when you’re doing that, your head can’t escape and be pleasant and relaxed so you can think of new ideas. Being in the shower is my best place to think.

Which restaurants do you recommend in Silicon Valley? My favourite restaurant of all time is Jalisco Mexican Food, although I’m spending more time at El Burro. I very much like The Old Spaghetti Factory on occasion. I’ll be going there tonight with some visiting relatives.

Words by Mike Cassidy - Published in Voyeur February 2014
Quick Facts 
Population Approx. 7.0033 million
Time Zone UTC -5
Languages English (official), Spanish, Native American
Currency American Dollar ($USD)
Electricity 110v - 60Hz
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