25 Must-See Attractions in Silicon Valley, California

Silicon Valley's attractions offer the chance to delve deeper into the technology, history and nature of the region
Silicon Valley's attractions offer the chance to delve deeper into the technology, history and nature of the region | © Yuval Helfman / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Deanna Morgado
21 September 2020

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 25 must-see attractions dotted across Northern California’s Silicon Valley.

The Intel Museum

Building, Museum
Map View
USA, California, Santa Clara, Intel Museum, detail of integrated circuit
© mauritius images GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo
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.

Santa Clara Railroad Depot and Tower

Museum
Map View
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.

Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve

Natural Feature
Map View
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.

Ardenwood Historic Farm

Park
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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.

Apple's Company Store and Headquarters

Store
Map View
The old Apple Inc Head Office Campus, One Infinite Loop, Cupertino, California, USA
© Ian Dagnall / Alamy Stock Photo
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?

NASA Ames Research Center

Museum, University
Map View
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).

Castle Rock State Park

Park
Map View
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.

Filoli

Museum, Shop
Map View
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.

The Last Spike

Museum, University
Map View
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.

New Almaden Quicksilver Mine Museum

Museum
Map View
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.

Mt Umunhum

Natural Feature, Park
Map View
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.

The Winchester Mystery House

Building, Museum
Map View
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.

Peralta Adobe

Building
Map View
Consisdered 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.

Kelley Park

Museum, Park, Zoo
Map View
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.

Stanford Memorial Church

Church, Memorial, University
Map View
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.

San Jose Municipal Rose Garden

Botanical Garden, Park
Map View
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.

The Tech Museum of Innovation

Museum
Map View
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.

IBM’s New Almaden Research Lab

Building, Library, School, University
Map View
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!

Santana Row

Market, Shopping Mall
Map View
San Jose's Santana Row Shopping Mall where there are over 70 Shops 20 Restaurants and 9 spas. Urban Outfitters store
© John Crowe / Alamy Stock Photo
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.

Hermitage Brewing

Brewery
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Absorbed as much technological history as you can handle? Wind down at this chic brewery. Established in downtown San Jose, Hermitage’s first brewpub opened in 1987, and the brand has been brewing some of the finest ales and beers in California ever since. Cellar master Greg blends individual batches from 50-120 barrels, producing frothy tipples with hints of spice, herbs and the customary toasted oak. Visit the Tap Room and be guided through the brewing process, sampling IPAs and American sours – and if any really take your fancy, you can purchase them to take home.

Alum Rock Park

Park
Map View

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.

Wine Affairs

Winery
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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.

Happy Hollow Park and Zoo

Park, Zoo
Map View

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.

Additional reporting by Jo Varley.

These recommendations were updated on September 21, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.