Downtime in Silicon Valley
Take a stroll along Redwood State Park Beach. (Richard Cummins/LPI)
After that killer meeting with Google (or the hot new start-up), it is important to know where to go to cool down in Silicon Valley, the world’s leading venture capital and high-tech hub, and home to such notables as Intel, Google, Yahoo!, Apple and eBay, along with the hallowed grounds of Stanford University.
Roughly comprising the southern portion of North California's San Francisco Bay Area, Silicon Valley - so-named originally for the numerous silicon chip inventors and manufacturers who first set up shop here in the 1970s - encompasses the whole Santa Clara Valley along with the vibrant, historic city of San Jose. Though its unofficial Silicon moniker came about more recently, the area has been well known for cutting-edge electrical and electronic innovation since the late 19th century. Yet there is more to the region than all things technological; close your iPad and offline your Blackberry, to experience - in your downtime - some of the Valley's alternative charms.
Start in San Jose, a city of roughly a million, with a visit to the mummies and reproduction underground tomb at the highly endearing Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum (1660 Park Ave) then drop in on the more thoroughly modern 20th Century West Coast art at the San Jose Museum of Art (110 South Market Street). Stepping back again just a little in time, take a look around History Park (Kelley Park, 1650 Senter Rd), an open-air museum comprising lots of winsome historic houses supplanted from across the city, including an 1888 Chinese temple, a vintage print shop, the old Pacific Hotel and a working trolley line, as well as a replica of the 1881 Electrical Light Tower originally built to supply the entire city with electrical street lights. Though the cutting-edge scheme failed spectacularly, the tower became a local landmark as well as a nod to a future brimming in more successful innovation.
If, after a glance at the Light Tower, you can not bear to set all things high-tech completely aside, there is plenty to keep you busy outside your air-con office complex. Visit the Tech Museum of Innovation (201 South Market Street) to brush up on microchips, genetics and alternative energy, or the Computer History Museum in Mountain View (1401 N Shoreline Blvd) to trace the recent history of that most indispensable of items. Those on a tech pilgrimage should swing by the Intel Museum (Robert Noyce Bldg, 2200 Mission College Blvd) at the company's headquarters, where you can indulge in such pleasures as writing your name in binary code, then drive past the now-landmark Packard's Garage (367 Addison Ave; not open to the public), within whose humble walls the now legendary Hewlett Packard was founded.
For something quirkier, and far less mentally taxing, take a trip to the Winchester Mystery House (525 S Winchester Blvd), where tragic Winchester Rifles heiress Sarah Winchester built her strange - and allegedly haunted -160-room Victorian mansion. Alternatively, rummage for treasures, from vintage comic books to antique false teeth, at the San Jose flea market (1590 Berryessa Rd), where you can also pick up a picnic lunch at its expansive Farmers' market.
Drive that picnic out for an open-air afternoon among the ancient trees of the Big Basin Redwoods State Park in the Santa Cruz mountains, where there are around 130km of hiking trails to choose from. Take the easy Redwood Loop Trail to get up close and personal with some of the park's most famous trees, or hike out farther to one of its several waterfalls. Later quench your thirst at one of the mountain range's many vineyards; taste Chardonnays and Sauvignons at the Byington Vineyard (21850 Bear Creek Rd) and the Pinot Noirs at the David Bruce Winery (21439 Bear Creek Rd), or sip Chardonnay and catch an open-air concert at the historic and highly picturesque Mountain Winery (14831 Pierce Rd, Saratoga).
Once evening falls, head back into San Jose and out to the aptly named, lounge-bar filled SOFA, the city's entertainment central, whose initials stand for "South of First Area," where you will find the heritage 1927-built California Theater (408 Almaden Blvd), home to the city's opera and symphony orchestra. Hit the clubs and lounges or - if you have more meetings in the morning - top off your day in the gentler deco surroundings of the Hotel de Anza's Hedley Club (233 West Santa Clara St) where the jazz is cool, and the drinks only as strong as your travel-alarm will allow.