Home to international tech companies like Google, Apple, and Facebook, Silicon Valley is the center of the technology industry. It encompasses the cities of San Jose, Palo Alto, Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Cupertino, and more -- all linked by interstate 101 and the Caltrain system, making it an easy day or weekend side trip from San Francisco. Inextricably linked to the tech industry and the history of computers, it’s no surprise that science and technology play a big role in the area’s attractions. Here are five geeky reasons to visit Silicon Valley.
Retired real estate developer David Rumsey doesn’t just like maps; he’s obsessed with them and has collected thousands of them over 30 years. Rumsey donated his entire collection -- more than 150,000 maps -- to Stanford University in Palo Alto and now the David Rumsey Map Center displays his beloved atlases, wall maps, globes, and maritime charts. Maps are found on the doors, on the wallpaper in the stairwells, and on computer screens (more than 67,000 of the maps have been digitized). For anyone for whom maps spark wanderlust, the Map Center represents a (literal) world of travel possibilities.
Mountain View’s Computer History Museum was built in 1996 to preserve the machines and share the stories that represent the information age and how it’s changed the lives of people around the world. Exhibits include rare and one-of-a-kind computers, as well as photographs and films that document the history of computer technology. But the exhibits aren’t all focused on machinery; one exhibit follows the life of English mathematician Ada Lovelace and another focuses on the history and future of autonomous vehicles and how they’ve impacted our lives. Admission is $15.
3. NASA's Ames Research Center
One of 10 NASA field centers, the Ames Research Center is located between Mountain View and Sunnyvale and was built in 1939 to conduct research in aeronautics and exploration technology. The free public visitor center offers a self-guided tour of exhibits that include a visualization of the universe, models of spacecraft missions, a display of real moon rock, and a shuttle cockpit simulator.
4. Pez Museum
Burlingame’s one-room Pez Museum will appeal to any connoisseur of the candy and its famous dispensers, or anyone with a love of sweet nostalgia. The museum was opened in 1995 by a lifelong Pez collector and claims to have one of every type of dispenser ever sold. A short guided tour will tell you everything you ever wanted to know about Pez (such as: it was made by an Austrian company and got it name from the original flavor, which was peppermint, or Pfefferminze in German). The building that houses the museum also contains the Classic Toy Museum and the Banned Toy Museum. Admission is $3.
5. The Tech Museum of Innovation
The Tech Museum of Innovation, located in San Jose, is a 132,000-square-feet family-friendly interactive celebration of science and technology. Exhibitions offer hands-on discovery: play “Cyber Sleuth” to learn about internet security or explore the tech behind robotics engineering by building your own robot. Innovation in healthcare, wearable tech, and environmental sustainability are also showcased, connecting the dots between technology and its real-world applications to show kids how something conceived in a lab can change lives around the world. Admission is $24.