So you decided to visit Silicon Valley and/or San Francisco and want to know where to go. Here is a hand full of places you can visit during your stay. Of course there is plenty more to do and see then what’s listed below, but this should be a good start for you. Don’t forget to read public transport options so you know how to get around Silicon Valley and San Francisco.
In Silicon Valley (the bay area)
Silicon Valley is suburbia, sprinkled like candy with many high-tech firm and great places to eat. It is nothing what you expect and must be experienced to be enjoyed.
University Avenue & Stanford University, Downtown Palo Alto
You can’t go wrong here. There are plenty of great restaurants to eat at, shops to explore and Stanford University is just round the corner (across El Camino Real).
Stanford University is enormous. There are plenty of free shuttle buses from Palo Alto CalTrain (on University Ave) which can take you directly to and around Stanford University. The University is beautifully located on a large piece of land surrounded by trees, grass lands and mountains. You can freely walk through the grounds and enjoy the Spanish-colonial style building architecture. Drop by the library and the gift shop if you want to get yourself some merchandise.
The road leading out of Stanford University is called University Avenue and heads directly into Palo Alto downtown. Downtown is full of great restaurants and shops.
Some of my favorites places to eat there:
- Cheese Cake Factory – largest menu of choices you will ever see. And their cheese cake’s are like no other. Simply delicious.
- La Strada Ristorante Italiano – nice little Italian place with great Seafood Marinara and delicious thin crust Pizzas.
- Zibibbo – outstanding food & presentation and they know how to match the wine to your meal. They are a part of a larger group called Restaurant LuLu. Their San Francisco LuLu Restaurant is just as superb.
Castro Street, Downtown Mountain View
This is my home town and also another great place for dining and mixing with the locals.
- Red Rock Cafe – if you want to feel experience a hackers atmosphere then this is the place to be any evening during the week. Grab an Avalanche (a better version of Starbucks Frappuccino), connect to the free wi-fi on your laptop and absorb the energy in the room. You will no doubt also find me there. Check out my post on Red Rock here.
- East West Bookstore – known as a spiritual bookstore, it is the source for expansive ideas, a retreat from ordinary life, and a gathering place in support of community ideals and spiritual growth. It was founded by a monk by the name of Swami Kriyananda who is the author of over 100 books and the composer of over 400 pieces of music. If you are into spiritualism then you will find this place valuable + it’s across the road from Red Rock.
Some of my favorites places to eat at Castro Street:
- Gelato Classico Italian Ice Cream – you won’t look at another ice cream again after having some of these. Try the Tiramisu Gelato, there is something super tasty about it.
- Tomi Sushi – this place is a must for dinner. The sushi here melts in your mouth, it’s reasonably priced ($16 dinner combination) and the atmosphere & setup is authentic Japanese. including the chefs.
Santana Row is an upscale shopping, housing, dining and entertainment complex in San Jose, California. Westfield Valley Fair is located just to its north, on the other side of Stevens Creek Boulevard, and the Winchester Mystery House just to the west, across Winchester Boulevard.
- Grab a nice hot chocolate at “Cocola”,
- Have dinner at Maggiano’s Little Italy or Blowfish Sushi (a little on the expensive side so watch out) and
- finish the night at Vbar @ Hotel Valencia – very nice indoor like outdoor setup.
High-tech companies to drop by for a picture
- Googleplex – a must! Located at 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway Mountain View. You will see plenty of Google bikes around which the Googlers use to move around between the campuses. Something is always buzzing around here. From the T-rex in the courtyard, outside swimming pool to the university style feel atmosphere.
- If you venture a tad down the road you will come across the Android complex with the large statue of the Android robot next to a cupcake and around the corner Mozilla & LinkedIn Corporations. If you run into some sheep don’t worry, they are working for Google eating cutting down the grass.
- HP (Hewlett-Packard) & Symantec – because they are right next to each other on Ellis St in Mountain View and the HP founders are famous for having kick started what is known today as the Silicon Valley.
- While you’re in Mountain View, check out the other tech companies located in Mountain View. There are plenty here!
- Facebook is located on 1601 S California Ave, Palo Alto. Although there is not much to see from the outside. See my post on Facebook’s Open Graph Protocol (OGP) where I have included a picture of the building. Again not much to see but if you have it on your to-do list then why not.
Attend a Meetup
If you have the time try to go to one of the popular meetup groups. There is always a buzz in the air, plenty of energy and interesting people to connect with + score a free pizza & coke. Read my prior blog post on which meetups to attend.
Recapping the popular meetups:
- Hacker Dojo: Located around the corner from my place (in Mountain View) is a place for hackers to hang out and code. Also the home of Android weekly developer meetings and monthly presentations from cloud companies et al.
- Googleplex: Hosting Silicon Valley Google Technology Users offers members who develop applications using Google technology to connect and present their projects.
- Yahoo’s LAMP meetup hosted every month to share Yahoo’s engineering efforts and provide an environment to learn.
- Stanford Bases: Stanford University’s entrepreneurship group is one of the largest student entrepreneurship groups in the world dedicated to cultivating the next generation of entrepreneurs in Silicon Valley and beyond.
- The Silicon Valley NewTech Meetup Group [SVNewTech] – always fills up in minutes once the reservations open with over 200 people attending each month.
- The Silicon Valley iOS Developers’ Meetup – another one which fills up with over 100 people attending each month.
In San Francisco (the city)
San Fransisco is a city of micro climates. You can notice the difference as you drive up 101 or 280 and the weather changes from a beautiful sunny day to overcast & cloudy. So check the weather online before setting off on you trip from the valley into the city.
Lombart Street & Zig Zag Street
Lombart Street is famous for having steep hills. The Russian Hill part of Lombart Street intersecting with Van Ness Ave is the start of the most steepest hill in San Francisco. It must be driven up to be experienced. As you drive look back for a second to get a glimpse of the street’s sharp inclination.
Once you reach the top, you will be greeted by the most famous “Crookedest Street in the World.” with a 40-degree slope and tight hairpin turns. It is lined with houses and beautifully manicured gardens. It’s worth walking and driving down it.
It is the northern waterfront area of San Francisco and a famous tourist location. It is best known for being the location of Pier 39 & it’s blubbery sea lions, San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, the Cannery Shopping Center, Ghirardelli Square, a Ripley’s Believe it or Not museum, the Musée Mécanique, the Wax Museum at Fisherman’s Wharf, Forbes Island and restaurants and stands that serve fresh seafood, most notably Dungeness crab and clam chowder served in a sourdough bread bowl. It is also the place where you can organize a trip to Alcatraz (ref The Rock movie with Sean Connery) – which is clearly seen from Pier 39.
Cobb’s Comedy Club
My favourite comedy club! Headliners who performed at Cobb’s Comedy Club are regular guests on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and The Late Show with David Letterman. Many have their own comedy specials on Comedy Central and HBO and can be seen starring in movies and on television.
More here: http://www.cobbscomedyclub.com/
Samovar Tea Lounge
Fanastic place to start your day with a nice selection of teas. There are 3 unique locations: Samovar Yerba Buena Gardens, Samovar Mission-Castro, and Samovar Hayes. Yerba Buena Gardens is my favorite for it’s atmosphere and unique location.
- LuLu Restaurant – great service, reasonably priced food and always fresh and tasty.
- One Market Restaurant – awarded a Michelin Star for its excellence. If you have extra cash laying around this place is worth a visit.
- Burger Bar – never disappoints, if all you want is a burger. Try the Kobe Beef Burger – it comes from Wagyu cow and the Kobe beef is rich, tender and juicy and cannot be matched by any other beef.
- Vessel – located in the heart of San Francisco’s Union Square district, Vessel represents a luxurious lounge of signature San Francisco style and elegance.
- RubySkye – another club located in the heart of San Francisco’s Union Square district in the famed theatre district, Ruby Skye is San Francisco’s premiere Nightclub and Special Event Venue.
This should keep you busy during your visit. There are also great posts by the Y Combinator team on things to do while you’re in Silicon Valley here:
Startup School – Things to do (other than Startup School)
Paul Graham – Where to See Silicon Valley
Steve Blanks – A Visitors Guide to Silicon Valley
If you know / have heard of other cool places please share it with the rest of the readers here by placing it into the comments section below.
Other related posts of value:
Public Transport in Silicon Valley
Major roads in Silicon Valley
Red Rock – hackers hangout