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Northern California

Spotlight: Silicon Valley

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Welcome to California’s tech-centric brain pool. Wrapping around the south end of San Francisco Bay, the communities collectively known as Silicon Valley are home base for the heart and soul of computer technology, including silicon chip technology, computer design, apps and Apples, smart phones—smart everything. Some companies are so big and so influential that their names have become part of our vocabulary (if you don’t believe us, just Google it). Hike or bike a trail and overhear the next big idea. Visit a museum that blinks and buzzes with what-if technology. And enjoy the riches of a booming economy, with performance spaces, high-end shopping, and multi-starred restaurants.

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Courtesy of San Jose International Airport

Spotlight: San Jose

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Tech savvy, international flair

The first hit of this city’s unmistakable techy-ness starts right off the bat—if you get here by plane. Meet Space Observer, a 26-foot/7.9-meter-...

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Courtesy of Team San Jose/ Tech Museum

The Tech

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The Tech
A workout for your head, hands, and imagination

So much of the magic of the modern era happens invisibly and at nano scale, but The Tech Museum of Innovation—or simply “The Tech”—does a great job of creating a fun laboratory and learning experience for curious people of all ages. Dive into interactive exhibits showing the power of technologies ranging from robots to gene-splicing to alternative energy. Let virtual butterflies alight on your arm, and let the kids play with the ultimate video games—you’ll probably want to play too. Another highlight is the Silicon Valley Innovation Gallery, showcasing the machines that revolutionize human thought, creativity, and communication. Man does not live by bits and bytes alone—so relax in the café, the peruse tech-and-science-y items in the gift shop (especially great for holidays and birthdays). 

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Christy Sharp/ Winchester Mystery House

Winchester Mystery House

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Winchester Mystery House
Tour the quirky mansion of an unusual heiress

Perhaps Silicon Valley’s strangest and yet most enduring attraction is Winchester Mystery House, a 160-room Victorian mansion that was owned and built by Sarah Winchester, heiress to the Winchester fortune. Construction began on the house in 1884 and continued, almost nonstop, until 1922—racking up a bill of $5.5 million. Why the unending, breakneck pace? Because Sarah had been convinced by a medium that all the spirits of the people killed by Winchester firearms had placed a curse on her family and would haunt her forever unless she moved West and built a house to match their specifications, as revealed to her in séances.

Whether spirits gave her pointers or not, Sarah designed one heck of an oddball house. Guided tours let you ponder the heiress’s unusual designs, including doors that open onto blank walls and a stairway that leads straight into a ceiling. Other weird facts: the mansion has 52 skylights, 47 fireplaces, 40 bedrooms, 40 staircases, 13 bathrooms, 6 kitchens, 3 elevators, 2 basements, and 13 bathrooms but just one shower.

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Tech Campuses

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Tech Campuses
See where the computer magic happens

Companies like Facebook and Google don’t have formal tours, but at the Googleplex campus in Mountain View you can witness the “Googlers,” alarmingly youthful employees talking, tweeting, and riding signature Google bikes on their way to changing the world. Head to the east side of the campus, along the paved bike path, to look down on manicured playing fields that are the exclusive domain of employees. What you can’t see (but wish you could) are the campus’s gourmet-food-for-free cafeteria, on-site masseuses and daycare center, and assorted nap pods—a Eutopic campus on the edge of San Francisco Bay.

"At the Googleplex campus in Mountain View you can witness the “Googlers,” alarmingly youthful employees talking, tweeting, and riding signature Google bikes on their way to changing the world."

Just south in Cupertino, pick up logo t-shirts, baseball caps, and mugs at another legendary campus, Apple, at One Infinite Way.

North in Menlo Park, the Facebook campus continues to expand. It’s also closed to visitors, but the sign out front—the iconic, thumbs-up “like” in baby blue—has become a popular backdrop for selfies. You can do it too: just pull over, smile, click, and post.

And then there’s the modest building where it all began: the shed/garage at 367 Addison Avenue, Palo Alto, where, in 1939, Bill Hewitt and Dave Packard forged a partnership that would become the global tech powerhouse known as HP.

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Courtesy of Team San Jose/ Santana Row

Santana Row

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Santana Row
High-end fashion, casual chic, and canine indulgence

For the city’s most luxurious shopping experience, visit this snazzy outdoor mall, a mix between California’s relaxed stylishness and a swanky European village on market day. This walkable, nook-and-cranny-filled complex has benches for relaxing under leafy oaks, large sculptures by French artists André Dumonnet and Christine Foulché, antique fountains, live musicians, and open-air seating outside quality restaurants. It’s the kind of place where you can easily while away the hours, sitting on a bench perusing your purchases while nibbling fresh croissants from Cocola. If your shopping tastes run more toward Main Street than Paris boutique, there are familiar chains including Orvis and H&M. And, in the ultimate Silicon Valley indulgence, why not custom-design your own luxury all-electric car at Santana Row’s Tesla store.

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Stanford University by Kazuhisa Otsubo/Flickr

Stanford University

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Stanford University
Visit this world-class campus for art, architecture, and athletics

You can almost feel the smarts when you visit this elegant, red-tile-and-sandstone campus. Stanford is the academic home of 22 living Nobel laureates, 5 Pulitzer Prize winners, and 3 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Not bad for a place nicknamed “The Farm.” Fortunately, mere mortals are welcome to enjoy Stanford’s riches, and a bike ride around the large, mostly flat campus to uncover some wonderful finds. Start with a visit to Hoover Tower; on clear days views from its observation deck on the 14th floor can stretch for miles.

Next, take in the exquisite mosaic tile work fronting Memorial Church, a popular wedding spot for alumni. See 20 original Rodin bronzes in the sculpture garden outside Cantor Arts Center; there are roughly 170 more works by Rodin on view inside, along with other international treasures. Time your visit to catch a performance at Bing Concert Hall, a $111.9 million masterpiece on the campus’s north side. First-rate scholars show they are first-rate athletes at Stanford too, with outstanding teams in intercollegiate soccer, baseball, basketball, swimming and diving, water polo, and more. As for that nickname, it comes from founder Leland Stanford’s original horse farm. The original Red Barn, a soaring Victorian structure that has been restored to its late-1800s glory, is located in the hilly western side of the campus, just north of the campus golf course. Oh, and those Stanford links? That’s where a promising collegiate named Tiger Woods played.

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Palo Alto

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Palo Alto
Walk, fuel up, grab a java, and a catch a vintage flick in Palo Alto

Once a train stop and a sleepy “Professorville” for Stanford University, Palo Alto’s profile and cred took off like a rocket beginning in the 1980s, as both Stanford’s prominence and Silicon Valley’s fortunes exploded. Today, think twice before passing a parking spot in the town’s thriving downtown; this almost-perfect town is always a hive of activity. No worries—it’s a great place for strolling, so ditch the car and walk the grid of flat streets to favorites like trendy Lyfe Kitchen. Appealing shops line the main drag of University Avenue, which leads to—you guessed it—the heart of the Stanford campus. Also near the university is the posh Stanford Shopping Center, with Armani Exchange, Tiffany & Co., Stella Mccartney, and valet parking and EV charging stations for your Tesla. Dinner and a movie? Nab a reservation at Greek-themed Evia or fusion Tamarine, then watch a classic at the Stanford Theatre, a richly restored art-house cinema that includes nightly performances on an original Wurlitzer organ.

"This almost-perfect town is always a hive of activity."

Palo Alto also has a natural side. See birdlife and beauty (especially at sunset) on the 1,940-acre/785-hectare Baylands Nature Preserve. There’s also “The Dish,” an approximate 3-mile/5-kilometer paved loop circumnavigating a retired satellite dish on the campus’s southwest side.

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Burrell School Vineyards

Silicon Valley Wine Country

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Silicon Valley Wine Country
Apricot and prune blossoms complement local vineyards

The west side of the Silicon Valley, where the land rises to meet the rumpled, wooded folds of the Santa Cruz Mountains, has become an inviting wine-country destination. The charming village of Saratoga is the region’s hub, with in-town tasting rooms including Cinnabar, where you can savor small plates and award-winning Mourvedre on a shaded patio. For a real treat, check the calendar and catch an evening of entertainment at the historic Mountain Winery. The legendary Paul Masson, who emigrated to San Francisco from Burgundy, France in the late 1800s, acquired a Saratoga vineyard where he developed fine California sparkling wines. Today, his winery is the site of summertime concerts in an intimate venue under the stars—a worthy splurge.

Saratoga has a spa tradition too, thanks to natural mineral springs and lavish retreats built around them in the late 1800s. Today’s modern Shangri-Las include Nilou and Preston Wynne.

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Levi’s Stadium

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Levi’s Stadium
In addition to hosting the Big Game, this amazing stadium honours Joe Montana's legacy in multiple ways

Now that Joe Montana has found his way to Levi’s Stadium, it’s your turn to find him at this high-tech, eco-friendly, 68,500-seat marvel in Santa Clara.

The Hall of Fame quarterback was the foundation of four championship teams, so it’s only appropriate that the San Francisco 49ers installed a brick celebrating his contributions in Levi’s Stadium Fanwalk. You can find a map that leads directly to Montana’s brick—as well as those honouring Bill Walsh, Jerry Rice, Roger Craig, and other stars.

Although it’s closed through February, the 49ers Museum is another great way to pay tribute to one of the most acclaimed quarterbacks in NFL history. The 20,000-square-foot facility includes 11 galleries where you’ll find The Catch ball that Montana tossed to Dwight Clark to clinch the 1981 NFC title game; the Lombardi trophies that Montana helped his team win; one of his early professional contracts; statues; and all sorts of artifacts and memorabilia.

Levi’s Stadium also offers a wide variety of tours that take you behind the scenes at this truly special venue. Ninety-minute public tours are held every day during business hours—although they are currently on hold until March 1—and Montana’s presence can be felt throughout. The stadium also offers guided tours of its massive art collection, and yes—artists’ renderings of Montana are a key component of the exhibition. 

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Joe Montana in Bay Area or Bust - Chapter 1 - Concert at the Country Club with Brandon & Brittani
No car. No wallet. No phone. Joe’s got more issues than the Cowboys did in the mid-80s facing the 49ers as he tries to get to the Bay Area for the Big Game. Fortunately he stumbles across YouTubers Brittani Louise Taylor & Brandon Armstrong, who agree to help him get from Palm Springs to Los Angeles for the first leg of this incredible trip.
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Trip 3-5 days 10 stops

San Francisco Bay Loop

Discover this something-for-everything loop tour around an iconic bay
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Start your trip with a visit to one of the most iconic spans in the world. With towers soaring 746 feet/227 meters into the sky, its span arcing across the mouth of San Francisco Bay, and all of it painted fire-engine red, the Golden Gate Bridge makes a dramatic destination, and a great way to...

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End your road trip by exploring one of the world’s great cities. Famous for grand-dame Victorians, classic cable cars, dynamic diversity, a beautiful waterfront, and a soaring crimson bridge, the “City by the Bay” truly has it all. Trend-defining cuisine ranging from Michelin-starred dining to...

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Computer History Museum

Computer History Museum

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Computer History Museum
Deep-dive into everything tech

It’s not everyone’s cup of Red Bull, but if you really want to get your geek on, the Computer History Museum in Mountain View lets you get right to the region’s cyber roots. ‘Birth of the Computer’ and other exhibits remind us of the not-so-long-ago time when basic computers took up entire rooms. Another fascinating exhibit sheds light on the little-known story of Colossus, an electronic code-breaker device developed by British maths whizzes and engineers, that helped win World War II. You can also learn about the surprisingly complicated science behind computerised chess, and unravel the amazing technology behind microelectronic silicon computer chips.