Silicon Valley, nestled in San Francisco’s Bay Area, is home to some of the most influential tech companies in the world. Not to mention the scores of startups that hope to follow in their footsteps. In many ways, Silicon Valley looks like a land of the future, where driverless cars are a regular sight during a commute and robotic butlers deliver towels to hotel rooms. It’s a great vacation spot for techies and neophytes alike. Silicon Valley tours are a great way to get a sneak peek at the technology that’s right around the corner for all of us.
Many of the bigger Silicon Valley companies like Google and Apple don’t have official tours. But don’t let that stop you! Some Silicon Valley campuses allow you to explore on your own. There are, of course, private touring companies that offer Silicon Valley tours, but very few of them offer more access than you would have normally. They can also cost a pretty penny.
If you know the places you should visit, you can create your own, bespoke Silicon Valley tours.
The Google Headquarters, otherwise known as “The Googleplex,” is situated in picturesque Mountain View. While you may not be able to get inside any of the office buildings, Google allows you to explore the outdoor features of the whimsical, sprawling campus. Visit the Android statue garden to take a selfie with the green Google Androids, which are posing with various desserts their operating systems are named after. Check out the multicolored bikes that ferry Google employees from one building to another. Get up close and personal with a Google Street View car, parked right on campus. On the weekdays, you can also visit the Google merchandise store to pick up a souvenir.
Apple now has two campuses in Cupertino: The first at 1 Infinite Loop, and the new site at Apple Park. Apple Park has largely replaced the Infinite Loop campus, though it’s still used as secondary office space. Apple Park’s circular office building is bigger than the Pentagon, and wider than the Empire State Building is tall. You won’t be allowed to go inside the building, or its spacious courtyard, without an Apple employee at your side. But you will be able to visit Apple Park’s Visitor Center, right next door. The sleek, glass building contains a scale model of the campus, which can be explored via an augmented reality app. You can also test out Apple products, browse the store for exclusive merchandise and grab a drink or snack at the cafe. From the visitor center’s rooftop terrace, you can look out over the architectural triumph of Apple Park.
Intel, which manufactures 85 percent of all PC microchips, is based in Santa Clara. The real attraction at Intel Corps isn’t the office buildings – it’s the free onsite museum. The Intel Museum invites you to explore Silicon Valley’s namesake, the silicon chip, among other innovations, like microprocessors and semiconductors. Overall, it’s a history of computing. The exhibits in the museum are interactive and engaging for all ages. The tour guides will be happy to take you on a free tour of Silicon Valley’s past and future. Make sure to take a picture of yourself wearing the one of the full-body Intel bunny suits while you’re there.
NASA Ames Research Center in Sunnyvale is a NASA outpost that provides research on astrobiology, airborne astronomy, robotic exploration and more. It also serves as the mission center for some of NASA’s current missions, like Kepler and SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory for Infrared Astronomy), among others. NASA Ames’s Visitor Center is free, and it’s full of fascinating exhibits for guests to explore. See real moon rocks, the wind-tunnel model for SOFIA, the spoils of micro-gravity research, a capsule that was launched into space and more. Afterward, you can stop by Moffett Field Historical Museum, where you can see the development of flight through the 20th century.
Most Americans aren’t familiar with IngDan, but this Chinese company is a mover and shaker in the internet of things. “Internet of things,” or IoT, refers to the use of interconnected computing devices in everyday objects. Basically, smart objects. At the IngDan Experience Center in Santa Clara, you can get up close and personal with the latest technology in IoT and artificial intelligence. You’re free to touch and try everything on display, like 3-D printers, pet-sitting robots, virtual reality headsets, drones, pans that track your calories and gloves that can perfect your backswing. Any startup can apply to have its product on display, so a tour around the IngDan Experience Center is a little bit like a tour around Silicon Valley itself.
What sort of Silicon Valley tours would you like to go on? Let us know in the comments below!
For help planning your next trip out West, visit AAA’s travel site.