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Low-Key Tech Treats Wow Out-Of-State Guests
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209 Living

SAN JOSE — A few years back some friends from the Midwest and their 17 year-old son were hiking with me at Big Basin Redwoods Park about 30 miles in a slight northwest direction from downtown San Jose as the hawk flies.

I took them down the moderately traveled 4.6-mile Meteor Trail loop where a short side trip took us to the largest redwood in the park soaring skyward some 328 feet. It isn’t the tallest tree in the world — that distinction belongs to the 379.2-foot redwood dubbed “Hyperion” on California’s north coast. Still it was more than impressive for folks from the Midwest. It even elicited a look of awe from Jake, the 17-year-old.

That was nothing compared to later that afternoon as we were driving through Menlo Park. Jake, who hadn’t realized where we were, suddenly pressed his face almost to the window and was acting like an excited 10-year-old basketball fan that had just seen Stephen Curry, LeBron James, and Michael Jordan walk by together.

We were passing 1 Hacker Way where Facebook is headquartered.

Yes, he got the obligatory selfie in front of the Facebook sign with the iconic “like” thumbs up symbol.

That was the first of several times taking people — especially from out of state — on Peninsula hiking trips or to visit the ocean or take in some of the sights of San Francisco that one of the highlights for them was simply driving past headquarters of storied Internet firms such as eBay, Facebook, Hewlett-Packard, Yahoo, and Oracle.

We may not think much of it living in the 209 because they’re in our backyard and we may know people who actually work in the buildings, but for a lot of folks, especially teens to 20-somethings from out of California, just seeing the headquarters in passing ranks up there with crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, riding a cable car, and even watching surfers battle the waves during the famous Mavericks contest near Half Moon Bay.

There are a lot of great tech places to visit in the Greater San Jose area from the never boring interactive Tech Museum in downtown San Jose, the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, the self-guided tours of the mock space station at NASA Ames Research Center at Moffett Field in Mountain View to the Lick Observatory at 4,200 feet on Mt. Hamilton to the east of San Jose.

Then here are the techie hangouts that range from restaurants and such to the Rodeo Drive of the Silicon Valley — Santana Row. The ultimate techie stomping grounds includes a wide array of shopping and changing entertainment offerings to restaurants complete with al fresco dining to the flagship Tesla showroom.

There are easily hundreds of specific designations in the Bay Area that you could easily make into a day trip whether it's hiking, frolicking on the beach, browsing a museum, shopping, entertainment and sports venues, museums and more.

But what if you’re looking for a drive-by sample of tech sites to spend a day or provide out-of-area guests with a whirlwind tour of the Silicon Valley combined with perhaps one “A” ticket tech attraction such as the Tech Museum and perhaps lunch or dinner on Santana Row?

The San Jose Convention & Visitors Bureau has cobbled together a tour guide to the most famous garages in the Silicon Valley where titan firms such as Google, Apple, and Hewlett-Packard got their start. The windshield tour provides a good feel for the neighborhoods and communities that are the Silicon Valley.

Perhaps the lowest-key place to go in the Silicon Valley especially if you are an Apple aficionado is the Apple Park Visitors Center in Cupertino.

Yes, there are those who have panned the place as too low key and not much to do save snapping selfies with the Apple spaceship headquarters in the background, hitting the cafe, relaxing on the roof top terrace with commanding views of the rolling Apple headquarters landscape, inspect a scale model of the Apple Park complex or enjoying views of an olive orchard that surrounds what can be at any given time the most technological advanced company in the world and our most valuable corporation. Personally, I like the irony that less than 50 years ago agriculture was still flourishing in the Santa Clara Valley as the olive trees indicate and the apples were bitten into and not a source of bytes.

There is, of course, an Apple Store. Browsing Apple items at the Apple Park store is an experience in itself. Besides Apple products there is Apple Park branded merchandise.

Apple Park is destined to be an iconic sample of architecture inspired by California’s endless possibilities. It has 2.8 million square feet of office space in a circular ring structure built of curved glass. It’s designed to house 12,000 employees. The 175 acre campus is also a prime example of true California landscaping with the grounds boasting more than 9,000 native drought resistant shrubs and trees.

The visitors’ center employs some of the same aesthetics as the main building. Touches include stone walls, terrazzo floors, and similar stair cases. The public accessible center employs a roof design that gives you the impression it is floating thanks to the cantilevered carbon fiber roof supported by only stone clad cores.

Apple likes to say the visitors’ center is a place where you can learn, explore, shop, and relax.

It’s not an “A” list attraction per se but a visit combined with some low-key sightseeing, shopping or dining is as good of an excuse as any to take the drive from the Central Valley to Cupertino.

The visitors’ center is at North Tantau Avenue and Pruneridge Avenue in Cupertino.

It is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.