33 Must-See Attractions in Silicon Valley, California

| Greg Bulla / Unsplash
Deanna Morgado

Silicon Valley spans over 20 miles of parks, museums, culture, mountains and, of course, technology, with an endless number of things to do and see. From natural landscapes to history and science, here are the must-see attractions dotted across Northern California’s Silicon Valley.

1. Apple's Company Store and Headquarters

Store

Apple Park, Cupertino, United States
Carles Rabada / Unsplash
This is much more than your average Apple store you go to for repairs or to buy the latest i-technology. While this Apple store sells pretty much the same products as the rest, you’ll also find special merchandise such as Apple T-shirts, mugs and pens. After all, a Silicon Valley visit just wouldn’t be complete without a trip to one of the world’s most well-known tech companies – and who could pass up the chance to buy an “I Visited The MotherShip” T-shirt?

2. The Winchester Mystery House

Building, Museum

San Jose’s Winchester Mystery House will blow your mind. Guided tours are held daily at this 160-room mansion that was under constant construction for almost four decades. Sarah Winchester bought the house in 1884 after her husband, gun manufacturer William Wirt Winchester, passed away. With her inheritance of $20 million, Sarah just kept adding to the estate – which is also believed to be haunted.

3. Filoli

Museum, Shop

Filoli, Redwood City, United States
Kevin Lanceplaine / Unsplash
If you’re looking to continue the nature theme on your Silicon Valley adventure, make a stop at Filoli. This lovely estate sits on 16 acres (6.5ha) of formal gardens, in the middle of a 654-acre (265ha) estate. Located in Woodside, Filoli holds multiple events throughout the year such as an autumn festival, a centennial gala, afternoon teas and more. Visitors get to explore the estate at their leisure, and there’s a lovely café and gift shop.

4. New Almaden Quicksilver Mine Museum

Museum

New Almaden Quicksilver Museum, San Jose
Courtesy the Tech Museum of Innovation
This former mercury mine dates back to California’s Gold Rush period. Covering 4,147 acres (1,678ha) of meadows, valleys, forests and foothills, it’s a US National Historic Landmark as well as being listed on the US National Register of Historic Places. The museum is open year-round and allows visitors to explore a number of exhibits about Silicon Valley’s history of mercury mining and the New Almaden mining lifestyle.

5. The Intel Museum

Building, Museum

The Intel Museum is inside the Robert Noyce Building at Intel’s headquarters in Santa Clara. This is a great place to go in Silicon Valley if you’re looking to learn about computer technology’s history and you also want to avoid lines. Not a lot of people visit the museum, so there are never lines or crowds to push your way through. Instead, there are over 10,000 square feet (930sqm) of exhibits that explore Intel’s culture, history and manufacturing. And as if that’s not enough, the museum’s parking and admission are both free.

6. Santa Clara Railroad Depot and Tower

Museum

Built in 1863, the Santa Clara Railroad Depot and Tower is a piece of Silicon Valley history. The area used to be heavily trafficked with railroads and trains, making the tower essential for operations. Now, the tower is preserved by the South Bay Historical Railroad Society (SBHRS), and the Edward Peterman Museum of Railroad History can be found inside, along with one of the first computers ever installed in Silicon Valley, the Santa Clara interlocking machine. It’s free to get in and an interesting place to learn about the area’s railroads.

7. Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve

Natural Feature

The Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve, or Baylands Nature Preserve, is the largest undisturbed marshland left in Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay area. Come admire the vast wildlife and gorgeous scenery, hike the trails, take your kayak out through the boat launch, or just sit and soak up what Mother Nature granted Silicon Valley.

8. Buck's of Woodside

Restaurant, American

Make sure to stop and grab a bite at Buck’s Restaurant. This classic diner is said to be the birthplace of Silicon Valley ideas like Hotmail and Tesla, as many entrepreneurs have been known to meet here, filling up on brain food and putting together business ventures.

9. Ardenwood Historic Farm

Park

Experience farm life and family fun at Ardenwood Historic Farm. Visitors can feed animals, learn about the historic farming methods still used today and even learn how to work a cow-milking machine. The farm has volunteer workers strolling about in period attire, and you can tour the Patterson House, built in 1857 and home to three generations of the Patterson family.

10. NASA Ames Research Center

Museum, University

Located in the heart of Silicon Valley is the Ames Research Center. It was founded as an aircraft research lab in 1939, but it wasn’t until 1958 that it became part of NASA. The research park consists of over $3 billion (£2.3 billion) in equipment and 2,300 research personnel and, although the Research Center itself doesn’t offer public tours, visitors can wander around all the exhibits in the Exploration Center and the Moffett Museum, which are truly out of this world (pun very much intended).

11. Castle Rock State Park

Park

Castle Rock State Park covers an incredible 5,242 acres (2,121ha) in Los Gatos, running along the crest of the Santa Cruz mountains and into San Mateo and Santa Clara. Whether you’re after a 20-minute stroll or a 10-hour hike, the trails here have you covered – you’re guaranteed to enjoy fantastic views of Silicon Valley no matter where you roam, so don’t forget your camera.

12. The Last Spike

Museum, University

Make a stop at the Cantor Arts Center on the Stanford Campus to see the Last Spike – the final spike which was driven into the transcontinental railroad. Leland Stanford had the honor of completing the construction of this pivotal icon, and donated both the Last Spike and Nevada silver spike in 1898 to this Stanford Museum.

13. Mt Umunhum

Natural Feature, Park

At 3,486 feet (1,063m), Mt Umunhum is the fourth-highest peak in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The summit was once home to the Almaden Air Force Station, used during the Cold War as part of the early-warning radar network. Once closed due to toxic contaminants, the site is now safe and open to the public, so take the long drive up and revel in beautiful views and Silicon Valley history.

14. Peralta Adobe

Building

Considered to be the starting point of Silicon Valley, the Peralta Adobe is the oldest surviving building in San Jose. Not only is the site listed on the National Register of Historic Places, it’s also San Jose’s Historic Landmark No. 1 (and California Historical Landmark No. 866), and is open for tours daily.

15. Kelley Park

Museum, Park, Zoo

To get a real flavour of Silicon Valley, head for the 156-acre (63ha) Kelley Park in San Jose. Visit the Happy Hollow Park and Zoo, walk the Japanese Friendship Garden and see the Portuguese Historical Museum – and, when you’re finished, head for the picnic areas, complete with lawns perfect for lounging, trees and lots of pretty walkways. There’s even an 18-hole disc-golf course in the nearby walnut orchard.

16. Stanford Memorial Church

Church, Memorial, University

Stanford Memorial Church - Stanford University Campus, Palo Alto, California
© jejim120 / Alamy Stock Photo
The Stanford Memorial Church is located in the Main Quad at the heart of the Stanford University campus. It was built as a memorial to Leland Stanford by his wife Jane during the American Renaissance. It is considered the university’s architectural crown jewel, and with good reason – the gorgeous Romanesque Revival architecture of the church is truly awe-inspiring. Docent-led tours are held every week.

17. San Jose Municipal Rose Garden

Botanical Garden, Park

Take a breather at the San Jose Municipal Rose Garden. Over 3,500 plantings and 189 varieties spread over 5.5 acres (2.2ha) virtually guarantee that there’s always something in full bloom. The garden has been open and providing a beautiful green space in Silicon Valley since 1937.

18. The Tech Museum of Innovation

Museum

The Tech Museum of Innovation, also known as the Tech, sits in the heart of Silicon Valley. Offering plenty of hands-on activities, both adults and kids will have a blast here, particularly when they discover the VR bird-flying machine, robot station and IMAX theater. Tech experts and newbies alike will have a great time learning and exploring.

19. San Mateo County History Museum

Building, Museum

Located in Redwood City, the San Mateo County History Museum showcases the rich history of San Mateo County and Silicon Valley. The building itself is a piece of history, as the museum is within the former San Mateo County Courthouse which was built in 1910.

20. IBM’s New Almaden Research Lab

Building, Library, School, University

Opened in 1986, IBM’s Almaden Research Center has seen its fair share of historical advances – not least the studies which paved the way for computer science, storage systems, physical sciences and much more groundbreaking technology. The building itself includes 557 single-person offices, 20 group offices and 155 laboratories. Today, Almaden’s research focuses on solving problems in subjects such as nanomedicine, services science, atomic-scale storage, medical image analytics and even food safety. This is where so much of Silicon Valley’s brilliance was born – even the hard drive was invented here!

21. Santana Row

Market, Shopping Mall

Unleash your credit card at some of the most elegant shopping outlets in Silicon Valley. Santana Row has often been described as a village within a city, and is home to a whole host of high-end shops, excellent restaurants and pretty tree-lined avenues. When you get peckish, there’s everything from informal cafés to gourmet eateries, each one more charming than the last.

22. Alum Rock Park

Park

Set in the foothills of the Diablo Range, Alum Rock Park is best experienced on two wheels – on its three-mile (5km) bike trail – or four legs, should its six miles of horse trails be more your speed. If you prefer to walk, the hiking here is classed as “medium level”, meaning it’s suitable for most abilities and ages. The craggy splendor creates essential habitats for a host of wildlife – from black-tailed deer and bobcats to large birds of prey, Northern Pacific rattlesnakes and two species of lizard – and there are several picnic areas offering panoramic views across northern Silicon Valley.

23. Wine Affairs

Winery

Wine cannot be ignored when exploring the Silicon Valley, and Wine Affairs has enough to keep even the most knowledgeable oenologist on their toes. Conveniently situated on the Alameda – slap bang in the middle of San Jose and Santa Clara – this snug urban bar was once a bike shop and bookstore, before finding its true identity serving California and international wines, along with American porters, stouts, ales and lagers. Drink in the atmosphere, but not before sampling its delightful menu.

24. Happy Hollow Park and Zoo

Park, Zoo

This park owes its name to a contest held by the San Jose Mercury News in 1957, just four years before it finally opened to the public and ten years before it was expended into a zoo. Kids will love the wide range of animals on show (surprising, considering its small size), but for the unenthralled, there’s also go-karting, carousels and other delightful rides aplenty.

Hoover Tower

Head to the Hoover Tower, a 285-foot structure that is part of the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace on the Stanford University campus. Completed in 1941, this tower is a Palo Alto landmark. Pack a lunch to enjoy in the grassy area before checking out the many exhibitions inside, including the 14th-floor observation platform, where visitors can see the entire campus and other gorgeous views of the city.

Stanford Shopping Center

Stanford Shopping Center is one of the top open-air shopping and dining destinations in Northern California. Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s, and Neiman Marcus are just a few of the more than 140 world-class stores you’ll find. Locals and tourists also come for the range restaurants and cafés, fresh California produce, gardens, and sculptures. This isn’t just a shopping center—it’s a taste of Silicon Valley everyone should experience.

AutoVino

Car and wine lovers flock to AutoVino to store their most prized possessions in the top state-of-the-art facility. Collectors appreciate the perfect conditions to preserve timeless automobiles and to age wine. Events are held regularly and allow visitors to marvel at some of the most amazing cars on the planet and taste wines from Woodside Vineyards.

Hewlett Packard Garage

The Hewlett Packard Garage is where Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard formed their two-person company in 1939 and has since been dubbed the “Birthplace of Silicon Valley.” It was in this rented garage that the very first Silicon Valley startup began, paving the way to worldwide inspiration in technology and innovation. HP acquired the property in 2000 and restored it as it was in 1939.

Shoreline Lake Boathouse

The Shoreline Lake Boathouse is among Silicon Valley’s top scenic destinations. Spend the day kayaking, windsurfing, sailing, and more at this lakeside paradise. Camps, water sport classes, and special events are also offered. Grab a bite at the American Bistro, or pre-order their Picnic Basket to pick-up when you arrive.

Hiller Aviation Museum

This museum is fun for the young, old, and anyone in between. Pilot a flight simulator, fly a drone, or discover the preserved aviation history spanning more than a century. The Hiller Aviation Museum will captivate those who didn’t even know they were interested in taking flight. Open seven days a week, the museum holds different exhibitions weekly, and they turn the parking lot into what can only be described as a food-truck extravaganza every Wednesday afternoon.

Junior Museum and Zoo

The Junior Museum and Zoo is the place for children to explore, discover, and play through hands-on science exhibits. The zoo has more than 50 animal species for children to learn about and observe. People of all ages will leave here feeling more connected to science, plants, animals, and the planet.

Elizabeth F. Gamble Garden

Roam the 2.5-acres of gorgeous herb and rose gardens, and visit the historic home, carriage house and tearoom. The Gamble Garden is a great escape from the techie metropolis. Breathe in the fresh blooming flowers and herbs, drink in a little history, and maybe even take a class on the stunning Monarch Butterfly, or participate in the Garden Fresh Luncheon.

Google Android Lawn Statues

Every time Google launches a new Android or operating system, they add a statue to the lawn in front of the Android development team’s building. Built to represent the codename for the system—always named for a sweet treat—as of August this year, there are 15 statues. Among them are a gingerbread man for the Gingerbread operating system and an Android made out of a plastic KitKat bar, for the KitKat operating system.
Additional reporting by Jo Varley.

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