If you’re hoping to take a tour of famous Silicon Valley companies like Apple, Google and Facebook, you might be in for a big surprise. That’s because none of these companies offer public tours of their facilities and that policy is highly unlikely to change anytime soon. Instead, the only way you can tour any major Silicon Valley tech campus is if you know someone who works at one of these companies, you own stock in a tech company or invited to a special event from an academic source, business or other private organization. What other sightseers will typically do is take a Silicon Valley tour from a local operator or simply drive on their own from place to place and take selfies along the way at familiar places like the Facebook sign, Apple headquarters and the Google Android Statues.
While visiting the world’s most famous tech companies and historical landmarks are practically a given for any grand tour of the Silicon Valley, it’s important to be respectful of any place of business in Silicon Valley and its residential areas when driving about and snapping pictures.
Apple Company Store
One Infinite Loop
Cupertino, CA 95014
Long before the Apple Stores became a global phenomenon was a single, 1.0 version of the retail store at Apple headquarters. First opened in 1993, the Apple Company Store is the only place in the world where hats, clothing and other Apple logo-branded items can be purchased and is open to the public The original employee store has gone through many transformations over the years, but after a recent renovation, now resembles a typical Apple Store, with elongated tables displaying the latest, cutting edge Apple products but minus the Genius Bar. Nevertheless, the Apple Company Store is a very special Silicon Valley experience as it allows members of the public to walk on the grounds of the Apple headquarters and maybe take a picture or two of its iconic main entrance or the 1 Infinite Loop signs. When the spaceship-like Apple 2 campus is expected to open next year, it will feature a second Company Store, as well as a public visitor center.
Computer History Museum
1401 N. Shoreline Blvd.
Mountain View, CA 94043
For visitors interested in learning more about the information age, the Computer History Museum is a definite must-see attraction. Established in 1996, the museum is a non-profit organization that’s considered the world’s leading institution to explore the history of computing and its impact on society. Located less than one mile from Googleplex, the Computer History Museum is said to hold the world’s largest international collection of computer-related artifacts, including rare or one-of-a-kind items, such as an authentic Apple I computer, a 1972 Atari-Pong Prototype, a 1999 Google Server Assembly, a 1890 Hollerith Electric Tabulating System and an authentic 1935 Enigma Machine. With the use of a handy museum guide, visitors can tour the museum on their own and view several exhibits that chronicle the 2,000-year history of computers. Museum staff are also on hand to provide docent-led tours and demonstrations on designated days and times.
Google Merchandise Store/Android Statue Garden
1981 Landings Dr.
Mountain View, CA 94043
For many Google and Androids fans, the Google Merchandise Store and the Android Statue Garden is the first place to visit in Silicon Valley. First opened last October, the Google Merchandise Store is open to the public on weekdays and is reportedly the largest retail store to sell Google-branded apparel, small gadgets, drinkware and related products. Adjacent to the store on the property of Google’s headquarters is a collection of colorful Android statues which represent different confectionary codenames of Google’s Android mobile operating system, such as the Cupcake from version 1.5, the Android robot filled with jellybeans from version 4.1 and the beloved mascot, the iconic green Android robot. Visitors are strongly encouraged to take selfies here to post up on social media. Not far away from the merchandise store and statues is the Google Visitor Center, but open only to employees and their visitors.
2200 Mission College Blvd.
Santa Clara, CA 95054
Located at Intel’s headquarters and not far from Levi’s Stadium, the Intel Museum is not nearly as well known as the Computer History Museum, nor is it as widely visited. However, for the visiting computer history buff or for someone who insists on the complete Silicon Valley experience, this tech museum is a definite must-see. Generally open to the public on weekdays and Saturdays except holidays, the Intel Museum was originally an internal project created as a way to document the fascinating history of one of the world’s largest and most famous producers of semiconductor chips, which are made from silicon. The museum offers a number of fascinating exhibits and artifacts and includes a replica of the Intel first microprocessor, the Intel 4004 chip, a replica of an Intel clean room, interesting profiles and artifacts from the company’s co-founders — Gordon Moore and Robert Noyce — and an informative exhibit of the Moore’s Law, known as the golden rule of the electronics industry. Visitors can tour the museum on their own or request a guided tour, with advance notification.
450 Serra Mall
Stanford, CA 94305
Located in the heart of Silicon Valley, Stanford University is one of the world’s leading research universities and has a very special relationship with Silicon Valley businesses. That’s because many of the founders and current CEOs of the best known tech companies are Stanford alumni. Among this exclusive list are Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Instagram co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer and co-founders Jerry Yang and David Filo, YouTube co-founder Jawed Karim, Reid Hoffman and three other co-founders of Linkedin and Snapchat co-founders Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy. Stanford University offers a large number of guided campus tours that are open to the public, but does not include a tour of the Computer Science Department in the William Gates Building. However, visitors also have the option of venturing out on a self-guided tour of the acclaimed campus with recommended stops at the Oval, Memorial Church, Hoover Tower and Cantor Center for Visual Arts. One last spot about one mile from the Stanford campus that is of exceptional interest to Silicon Valley visitors is the historic HP Garage, known as the Birthplace of Silicon Valley and the site where the Hewlett Packard company was founded by two legendary Stanford alums Bill Hewlett and David Packard. While the HP Garage is now a museum, it’s not open to the public and visitors and motorists must be especially respectful of this property, the surrounding quiet residential neighborhoods and its residents.
Randy Yagi is an award-winning freelance writer covering national/international travel for CBS Local and all things San Francisco for CBS San Francisco. In 2012, he received a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. He may be contacted via Twitter or Linkedin .