Silicon Valley lies in the South Bay and the southern Peninsula of the San Francisco Bay Area. Once best known for its prune orchards, the area underwent explosive growth with the creation of the high-tech industry in the 1960s. Although much of the area suffers from the suburban sprawl typical of much of the western United States, it still has some remarkable charm. The nearby Santa Cruz mountains make for a welcome respite from bustling 21st-century cyberliving.
The term Silicon Valley was invented in the mid 1970s. Naturally, the local residents had names for their region prior to this newfangled name, such as "Santa Clara Valley" and "Valley of Heart's Delight," and still use them. The term Silicon Valley overlaps several of the pre-existing names for this region including parts of the South Bay and Peninsula.
Because the electronics industry is considered somewhat prestigious, nearby communities often redefine the term Silicon Valley to include themselves. Some of these communities were mostly farmland when the term was invented, so it was pretty natural that the term didn't originally include them, but they might reasonably be considered part of the Silicon Valley now. On the other hand, the Mercury News's Silicon Valley 100 Index extends the term to such fabulous lengths that even Watsonville — a small coastal community on the other side of the Santa Cruz mountains — is included.
So if you're looking to visit the Silicon Valley as a tourist, look to Palo Alto, Santa Clara, and the museums of San Jose. But if you're visiting a company which is "in the Silicon Valley," you may have to look further afield around the South Bay, Peninsula, and East Bay regions.
Birthplace of Silicon Valley
Designated by the State of California as a historical landmark, the "HP Garage" located at 367 Addison Avenue, Palo Alto, is the birthplace of the world's first high-technology region, "Silicon Valley."
As inscribed on the monument, "the idea for such a region originated with Dr. Frederick Terman, a Stanford University professor who encouraged his students to start up their own electronics companies in the area instead of joining established firms in the East. The first two students to follow his advice were William R. Hewlett and David Packard, who in 1938 began developing their first product, an audio oscillator, in this garage."
The HP Garage was designated California Historical Landmark No. 976 in 1989.
Stanford Research Park
In the 1950s, Professor Frederick Terman suggested to Stanford University that the newly founded Stanford Industrial Park leases be limited to high-tech companies so a center of high technology could be created.
In October 1951, Varian Associates signed a lease with the university for a 10-acre tract along El Camino Real and built their $1 million R&D laboratory in the Stanford Industrial Park the following year. Soon after, Eastman Kodak, General Electric, Preformed Line Products, Admiral Corporation, Beckman Instruments, Lockheed, Hewlett-Packard, and others followed suit.
Stanford Industrial Park was renamed Stanford Research Park in 1974.
By 2005, Stanford Research Park was home to more than 150 companies in electronics, software, biotechnology, as well a number of top law firms, financial service firms, consultancies, and venture capital companies. R&D and service companies occupied some 10 million square feet in more than 160 buildings on 704 acres.
Stanford Research Park is considered by many the foundation of Silicon Valley.
Origin of the Name
"Silicon Valley", first used by Don C. Hoefler, publisher of Microelectronics News, in his article titled "Silicon Valley USA" on January 11, 1971, has become synonymous with the center of high technology research and development. "Silicon" refers to the high concentration of semiconductor and computer-related industries in the area at the time. "Valley" refers to the Santa Clara Valley.
Silicon Valley today has extended beyond the greater Santa Clara Valley which includes the entire Santa Clara county and parts of San Mateo, Alameda, and Santa Cruz counties in northern California. It is the southern portion of the San Francisco Bay Area, also known as, South Bay, which covers cities such as San Jose, Santa Clara, Sunnyvale, Cupertino and Los Gatos. Silicon Valley also includes parts of the San Francisco Peninsula from Redwood Shores down to the South Bay, and cities such as Fremont and Newark in the lower East Bay.
San Jose Airport is connected to the local light rail by a free shuttle bus, or you can get one of the scheduled bus services that service the airport as well . Taxis also serve the airport and can transport you to Sunnyvale for around $25 one way, for example.
San Jose Airport connects to Caltrain by VTA bus line 10, a free shuttle between the airport and the Santa Clara Caltrain station and transit center. Various other local VTA bus lines also leave from this transit center.
From the San Francisco Airport (SFO) use the BART connection to Caltrain and take Caltrain south. Note that the two train systems require separate tickets.
Its quite possible to see Santa Clara and San Jose by public transport and walking. Outside of those cities, the best way to travel in Silicon Valley is car due to weak public transportation infrastructure.
Silicon Valley has become a central location for many high-tech companies, drawing businessmen and women to the area. Attractions in the area have also increased tourism as many people enjoy the Northern California weather in combination with the high-tech community, parks, trails, exciting theme parks and more. There is, of course, the museums and tours of some of the company headquarters, but there is also a lot of outdoor space that takes advantage of the Northern California terrain, along with fun attractions the whole family will love.
Explorers can set out on a variety of trails through the mountains or by streams, or even enjoy a picnic with a scenic lake view. When you aren't out exploring the great outdoors, visitors can enjoy a variety of shopping opportunities, whether in the beautiful downtown areas of the Silicon Valley cities or in one of the area malls, such as the Great Mall in Milpitas. Families will enjoy California's Great America as there is something for everyone to enjoy! Hop on a thrilling roller coaster, relax while watching an exciting show, meet some of your favorite characters or even enjoy splashing in the lazy river or sliding down the water slides at the water park - California's Great America has it all! Some other attractions in Silicon Valley include: golf courses, Mission Santa Clara and other historical locations and buildings, wineries and vineyards, theaters featuring multiple concerts and performing arts events, farmer's markets and so much more! Many of the Silicon Valley cities also have their own festivals or special events, so be sure to check those out too!
One of the most exciting additions to Silicon Valley is Levi's Stadium, home of the San Francisco 49ers and Super Bowl 50. Levi's Stadium also plays host to multiple types of events, such as concerts, different sporting events and more. The Stadium also offers tours year-round, where guests can learn about the incredible high-tech features and visit the 49ers Museum.
One of the major Silicon Valley company that openly caters to tourists is Intel. The Intel Museum is free to the public. In addition, Apple operates the Apple Company Store at the Apple Campus. The Company Store lacks some of the products and services found at regular Apple Stores, but is the only store which offers a full line of merchandise (e.g., T-shirts, mugs, etc.) branded with the Apple logo.
Other major points of interest include the Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose and the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, as well as Stanford University's campus near Palo Alto.
Silicon Valley is in the South Bay, and is surrounded by many hills. For those who enjoy hiking, Almaden Quicksilver County Park provides many hiking trails. From the San Jose Airport, head south in Highway 87 until Almaden Expressway. Drive south on Almaden until Camden Avenue and take a right. On Camden, drive until McAbee Road, and take a left. Drive to the end. There are various other entrances as well, but this is known as the main entrance.
Every Silicon Valley city has a wide variety of specialty restaurants, chain restaurants, and of course fast-food joints. The hometown diners, mom-and-pop eateries, brunch spots and unique restaurants are fun to try in each city! Get out of the box and try them today!
Be careful to check for ticks  after hiking in fields in the Bay Area. There is a high rate of Lyme disease transmission in the Bay Area. If a bull's eye rash develops at the tick bite site, immediately seek medical help and treatment with antibiotics.