California Dreamin’ Series 1: Back in Silicon Valley

You are going to ask: and where are the lilacs?
and the poppy-petalled metaphysics?
and the rain repeatedly spattering
its words and drilling them full
of apertures and birds?
I’ll tell you all the news.
--Pablo Neruda -- from "I'm Explaining A Few Things"
My mother failing health deterred me from making any travel plans to far-flung and exotic destinations this summer. So I decided on taking a continuing education class at a local university to be near her. That’s when I found myself driving and crossing Dumbarton Bridge from my temporary residence, heading west to go to the university campus, passing the Facebook headquarters. Continuing onto University Avenue, I noticed for the first time, the charm of the place. I drove through University Avenue many times, to go to Stanford Shopping Center or eat at one of many restaurants along the avenue or attend a concert at the University Memorial Church, but took this charming place for granted. As I drew closer to the University, I saw tour buses parked around the ‘OVAL’*. I saw people taking pictures around the campus, pictures of science and engineering building including taking pictures of the names on the buildings like Gates, Huang and Yang. That’s when I realize the significance of Stanford University to Silicon Valley.

One week later, I found myself playing a Silicon Valley tour guide to college students vacationing in California.

“You’re kidding, right?" said my boyfriend when I told him that I was playing tour guide and doing a Silicon Valley tour. When he finally realized that I was not kidding, he said, “But there’s nothing to see in Silicon Valley!” He was partly right. Silicon Valley has no significant and old monuments and heritage sites. It’s more than a state of mind like my office, which is physically located in Silicon Valley, but literally a virtual office since I travel most of the time. Where exactly is Silicon Valley? I could not answer that based on a scientific survey, but based on my familiarity from driving through Highway 101 and Highway 280; I could say that Silicon Valley is the stretch from San Jose area to South San Francisco. It comprised of these towns - Campbell, Cupertino, Gilroy, Los Altos, Los Gatos, Menlo Park, Milpitas, Mountain View, Palo Alto, San Jose, Santa Clara, San Mateo, Saratoga, South San Francisco and Sunnyvale.

My version of Silicon Valley tour consists mainly of driving by Facebook, Yahoo, Google, LinkedIn and Apple buildings and taking pictures in front of the company building logo, and a walking tour in Palo Alto – the birthplace of Silicon Valley.

The Young and the Restless
Our Silicon Valley tour begins at Facebook. We come from the East Bay, so we head south onto Highway 880, then west to CA-84 and cross Dumbarton Bridge to Menlo Park. The Facebook headquarter is visible as soon as we get off the bridge. It is hard to miss because of the big board with the Facebook logo and people taking pictures of it. We can only take photos in front of the Facebook logo and the “Hacker Way” street sign outside the building. Across the FB headquarters is the start of Willow Rd.   I then drive west to Willow Road to get to Mountain View and drive by Google.

Eight minutes later, I find myself driving by Amphitheater Parkway. The Google buildings are scattered along Amphitheater Parkway, and they’re hard to miss because of the bright yellow, green and red color logo in front of each building, but I drive all the way to the end of Amphitheater Parkway and end up at LinkedIn. However, we are looking for the Googleplex so we can take pictures in front of the modern sculptures outside the buildings. After taking pictures, I drive back to US101 and take the next exit to Palo Alto.

The Birthplace of Silicon Valley
Driving onto University Avenue, we see mansions (including a century old Georgian mansion), some are hidden behind the matured and towering magnolia trees that line the street. Turning into the downtown area we see shops and restaurants, some quaint, some modern as found in malls like ‘the Cheesecake Factory”. I drive by Addison Avenue, stop in front of #367 address, the old HP Garage (now a private residence/museum), and take pictures of this California landmark – the birthplace of Silicon Valley. Then we drive by Emerson and Channing Streets where there is a plaque showing that the triode vacuum tube was developed there. I then park my car by the University Avenue and Emerson Street to eat pizza at Patxi Chicago Pizza and ice cream from Gelato Classics.

The Brains of Silicon Valley
We hop back into the car and drive down University Avenue that turned into Palm Drive. Then I park my car on the “Oval” and tour the campus. The university offers ‘free’ walking tours, but we like the freedom of discovering things and places on our own, so we wander around the campus. As we enter the Quad Court, we find Rodin’s sculpture “The Burghers of Calais”. The campus has mix architecture of old and new. The most notable are the Quad with its arches and red-tile roof reminiscent of Spanish mission and the Memorial Church (Memchu), Romanesque-style architecture. Then on to Hoover Tower, a tall bell tower with four minor towers on the corners in Art Deco design. Then the Green Library that also has a hint of Art Deco design in its façade. I'm pleasantly surprised to find the art in the Cantor Center for visual arts, Rodin Sculpture garden, New Guinea Sculpture Garden. We drive by the Red Barn – large Victorian stables. Although we did not go inside the Art Gallery and the Anthropology Museum and did not see the Green Library Special Collection, School of Earth Sciences Mineral Collection, I'm glad to learn that they are just around the campus.

I almost forget that I'm giving a tour to a Math major and a geek. So we head on down to the science and engineering quad. And boy, Ted has a taste of heaven upon seeing the buildings named after famous technology pioneers like Allen, Gates, Hewlett, Huang and Yang.

Siri and the Dish

Leaving Stanford University, we head down to Cupertino to visit the Apple Campus. Although I already know the direction to get to the Apple Campus from Palo Alto, I thought I would test Siri and the so-called ‘mothership’ of its technology by asking Siri how to get to the Apple campus. It gives us the fastest route towards Highway 280.

Right after entering the freeway, we see the looming white huge dish that was visible from Highway 280. So we decide to give it a visit and ask SIRI for direction. It's the Stanford Dish, a part of the Stanford University’s Academic Reserve dedicated to the field research activities. Siri has disappointed me on various occasions by not giving me the most efficient route or perhaps not fully understanding my accent. For example, when I say, “Direction to Stanford Dish,” Siri replies, “I don’t see any places matching Spend for a Dish in Sacramento. Sorry about that.” Frustrated, I hand my IPhone to Ted and say, “Here, talk to SIRI!” He picks up the phone and says, “Di rec (pause) sion (pause) to (pause) Stan (pause) ford (pause) Dish.” “Why are you talking like that?” I ask. “You have to talk almost like a robot to relate to Siri”, Ted responds. It works. Siri gives us the direction towards US-280 Stanford Dish Gate.

We hike the steep paved road to get to the top and see the Dish up-close and the marvelous view of the San Francisco Bay and Santa Clara and San Mateo hills.

A Visit to the Mothership
I drive down to Cupertino to visit the Apple campus. We just drive by the various apple buildings, each building designated by a different color Apple logo: pink, green, yellow, purple, etc. There are no tours here, but they do have an Apple Company Store, where Ted buys hat and T-shirts, one with Apple logo and printed quip “Siri, how do I get coffee stains out of a T-shirt?”

Chip of the Old Block
We then head northeast to Santa Clara to visit the Intel Museum. I then drive onto CA-237 heading east to return to my office in Milpitas, but caught in traffic, so I decide to go westbound and drive by Yahoo before heading home. Returning from Yahoo, we pass Lockheed Missile and Space and see the humungous satellites. I’m a software person and not interested in military hardware and missiles. I know from the little business background that I have, is that Lockheed built missiles for the military and had contracts with the government. Could it be that those humungous satellites were used for spying on us? Next to the Lockheed we see the huge hangar in Moffett Field, used by the navy, now a designated Naval Historical Monument.

NOTE:  All photos by the author 
* Palm Drive ends at the Oval (an oval street surrounding a grassy area, entrance to Stanford University)
**Today, June 12 is Pablo Neruda's (one of my favorite poets) Birthday


                                                        Stanford University Campus


  1. I loved your post about Silicon Valley! So many things to discover. Loved the pictures!


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