Silicon Valley places that Paul Graham didn’t cover

Paul Graham, founder of YCombinator, covered a bunch of places to “see Silicon Valley.” Good start, but he missed a bunch of places. Here’s my list:

1. IBM’s New Almaden research lab. This is where the hard drive was invented. They have a cool research team that moves single atoms around. You can see a qik video I filmed there.

2. The interlocking machine at Santa Clara rail yard. It’s inside this shed. It’s one of the first computers that was installed in Silicon Valley. It’s a mechanical computer, you pull out a slide which contains an “if, then, else” statement. “If this slide is out, open this track, else train crashes.” You can visit it, if you get a member of the South Bay Historical Railroad society to open it up for you.

3. The HP Garage. Come on, you gotta take a picture in front of the birthplace of Silicon Valley. Here’s a video when I got an inside peek.

4. Bucks, Woodside. Here, meet Jamis McNiven, who owns it. It’s where Netscape was incorporated, among other famous things.

5. Apple’s company store and headquarters. Come on, you gotta buy a shirt that says “I visited the mother ship.” If you get lucky enough to sneak by the front guard you’ll see a wall of the top 3,000 iPhone apps which shows which ones are being downloaded at that moment.

6. The Intel museum. Very few people visit here, but you’ll learn all about microprocessors and how our computing devices work.

7. The most interesting headquarters is actually SmugMug’s. Why? Well, for one, you’ll probably get in, unlike at Apple or Google. For two, they are nice. For three, they have the best food (better than Google or Facebook, which are awesome places to get fed). For four, they have awesome gigapixel photos on nearly every available wall space. For five, you probably will be able to get a neato camera strap. For six, they might race you around the office in their gokarts. Here’s a walk around their offices.

8. The last spike. You might not know, but Silicon Valley is really a railroad town. If it weren’t for Leland Stanford’s money, that he got by being Vice President of the Central Pacific Railroad, back when it was the only way to ship things from California back east, Silicon Valley might never have happened. What was the key event in Stanford’s life? The driving of the final spike of the transcontinental railroad. Where do you find it? It’s at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford. Free museum. From there you can walk to the Bill Gates building, which is where Google really started, among other companies.

9. Nasa Ames. Especially the wind tunnels, which are so big you can see them from nearly every vantage point. I recently got a tour, but you can’t usually get in. It took me 45 years to get my first tour.

10. Orchard Supply headquarters. Huh? Well, you have to remember that Silicon Valley used to be orchards. This hardware store supplied the farmers in the early days, now it supplies geeks with stuff to make their homes better. Other places to see the early days of Silicon Valley are all over the place, including at the Fry’s superstore in Sunnyvale (another must-visit place for geeks, this store was important in the 80s to help entrepreneurs build hardware companies). Also, you know FMC? The folks who build tanks? What does FMC stand for? Food Machinery Corporation. They used to build plows until it became more profitable to build weapons of war.

11. Xerox PARC (Palo Alto Research Center). They have the nicest view of the valley from their back deck, but I was there today and the first ethernet cable is still embedded in the wall. What else was invented here? Oh, just the basis for the Macintosh, plus laser printers and the Postscript language that built Adobe, object-oriented programming, and more. Unfortunately you can’t get in there, either.

12. The Winchester Mystery House. No geek ever will admit to visiting there, but it’s the kind of weird thing that makes for a fun afternoon. Even better if you get a tour around Halloween after dark. Scary!

13. Mount Umanhum. This is a long drive from the valley floor, but you won’t find a better view. Say hi to David Leeson, who lives near the top and was founder of California Microwave.

14. New Almaden Quicksilver County Park. One of my favorite places to go for a walk. This used to be a mercury mine, back during the gold rush period of California history. What’s the name of Silicon Valley’s newspaper? San Jose MERCURY News. Now you know where it got its name.

15. Peralta Adobe. This is the oldest surviving building in San Jose. I’m a sucker for history, which you wouldn’t know by my love of everything new and shiny, but to understand where the tech industry came from you’ve gotta study the roots of the area and it started here.

Anyway, thanks to Paul for getting me to list a few of my favorite places to take out-of-town friends who visit the area. I tried to come up with places that Paul hasn’t listed yet.

What about you, do you have a favorite place to show off to new visitors?

21 thoughts on “Silicon Valley places that Paul Graham didn’t cover

  1. Was not from Adobe Creek that the PostScript company got its name? Anyway thanks for sharing your SV places, gonna visit them on my next visit


  2. awesome list Robert!
    I found a new place up on Microsoft Campus that I don’t know if you’ve covered before – the model shop. they build mice and keyboard prototypes by hand and have a few 3D printers in there. pretty interesting place to check out next time you’re there


  3. Paul Graham appears to have never been south of 85 (or north of Menlo Park – heh), thus missing real Silicon Valley. There should be a 49 mile drive type route down here. It should cover spots where both great and temporal flashes (think peripheral startups) began, still exist or lived & died on Bowers/Great America, Scott/E. Arques, San Tomas/Montague, Central Expy, Walsh, Mission College Blvd, Patrick Henry, Wolfe, Maude & Mathilda, Lawrence and of course Tasman, with it’s literal miles of Cisco buildings. 1000’s of companies made the Valley Home. In different times it was said if you wanted change just pull into a new driveway on the way to work — it was the truth!


  4. Yeah, and what’s really fun is that almost underneath that shed is a 5megabit fiber line going to Santa Clara University. I was there when they put that in. Very surreal seeing the juxtaposition of old vs new like that.


    1. It’s often the case that historical routes end up getting re-used by new generations. Down my way in southern California, the Cajon Pass has hosted a native American trail, a railroad, Route 66, and now a freeway. Chances are that some fiber optic lines go through there also.

      Of the places that you listed, the only one that I’ve visited is the Winchester Mystery House. I hope that the house remains an anomaly, and does not become symbolic of the Valley as a whole. What if everything that we’re doing is just endless work on dead-end passages?


  5. I mentioned Fry’s. The Sunnyvale store is more grand, plus has historical photos of what Silicon Valley used to be like and the pioneers who built it. The Palo Alto store is more traditional/old school.


  6. Paul Graham said he skipped the Computer History Museum “cause this is a list of where to see the Valley itself, not where to see artifacts”, well I disagree. I think that it is worth a visit there and to The Tech Museum in San Jose. Both have something to enjoy and it all relates to Silicon Valley.


  7. I hope that the house remains an anomaly, and does not become symbolic of the Valley as a whole. What if everything that we’re doing is just endless work on dead-end passages?


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