Escape to the Coast - Silicon Valley
By Lauren Loftus
High tech meets idyllic orchards in California’s South Bay. Because where else would Apple come from?
The area we now think of as the birthplace of many of humanity’s greatest technical achievements was once called the Valley of Heart’s Delight. How fitting. Until halfway through the 20th century, the Santa Clara Valley was thick with spectacular flowering bows of apricot, cherry and plum trees in orchards spreading south from the San Francisco Bay. After World War II, the fruit trees were scrapped for multi-billion-dollar tech companies making silicon semiconductors and staffed by nerdy young engineers with the next great idea in their back pockets. The region’s nickname may have changed, but it’s still a verdant valley ripe for the picking for laissez-faire vacationers and tech geniuses alike.
Not everything in Silicon Valley is tech-oriented. There are still remembrances of things past dotted throughout the valley and the hills that surround it. Take a break from the tech rat race and explore the eclectic culture of this diverse community. Even tech titans need balance.
Horseback riding at Cooper-Garrod Estate Vineyards
Dating back to 1893, this family-owned 28-acre organic vineyard is also home to a few dozen horses and ponies with access to 23 miles of riding and hiking trails among the rolling hills of the Fremont Older Preserve overlooking Silicon Valley. Follow up a one-hour guided trail ride with a round of wine tasting on the winery’s quaint patio. The Viognier is particularly tangy and refreshing. (22647 Garrod Rd., Saratoga, 408-867-9527, garrodfarms.com)
Stay in Downtown San Jose
The cultural and political hub of Silicon Valley, San Jose boasts a charmingly small downtown despite being the third most populous city in all of California. To truly indulge in the new money/app-creator fantasy, stay at the Fairmont San Jose (170 S. Market St., San Jose, 408-998-1900, fairmont.com/san-jose), a grandiose hotel with stately quarters and a luxe sunken lobby bar that hosts live music on weekends.
San Jose’s Japantown is one of only three remaining in the U.S., and it’s teeming with fascinating, and heartbreaking, history. A docent-led walking tour from the Japanese American Museum of San Jose (535 N. Fifth St., San Jose, 408-294-3138, jamsj.org) will guide you through the town’s curiously large number of ukulele shops and landmarks, including memorials dedicated to the Japanese-Americans forced into internment camps during WWII, leaving the area a ghost town for years. Make sure to cap off the tour with some manju (a Japanese term for confection) at Shuei-Do Manju Shop (217 Jackson St., San Jose, 408-294-4148). The peanut butter mochi is outrageous.
Gaga for Google?
Tour the titans of the New Economy on a Silicon Valley tech tour.
“Silicon Valley is one big expanse of nondescript buildings,” says Sharon Traeger, who runs private tours of the region and San Francisco (visit traegertours.com for pricing). But behind the sprawl, she says, are really interesting stories – of virtuosos like Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page and William Shockley, whose creations turned the world on its head.
Traeger’s Silicon Valley tour is open to both techies and novices, and is fully customizable. Get your photo taken in front of the thumbs-up sign outside Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park. Hop on one of the beach cruisers parked throughout the sprawling Googleplex campus in Mountain View for a quick ride around their Android sculpture garden. Drive by Apple Park, the massive, eerie, circular “spaceship campus” due to open later this year before exploring the expanded Apple Store on the current campus.
Tech pilgrims can go even more in-depth, driving by the homes and, more importantly, garages where innovative companies like Hewlett-Packard were formed and the first Apple computer was built. Traeger will also deposit tourists at the Tech Museum of Innovation (thetech.org), a neon-colored interactive science and technology center in downtown San Jose. Exhibits for kids and kids-at-heart include a robotics studio and a space exploration wing in which you can try your hand at navigating a jet pack.
3 Silicon Valley Chefs to Know:
Jamis MacNiven, Buck’s of Woodside
Some major tech deals have gone down at owner MacNiven’s pancake joint, packed to the gills with oddities from around the world like a flea circus and Shaquille O’Neal’s shoe. Hotmail and Tesla were purportedly founded here, while PayPal secured funding over lunch. The fries aren’t bad, either. 3062 Woodside Rd., Woodside, 650-851-8010, buckswoodside.com
Native Northern Californian and one-time pig farmer Orssten helms the kitchen at Oveja Negra – “black sheep” in Spanish – serving up imaginative, “worldly” tapas like Jiffy Pop-coated fried chicken and daal-tamarind shrimp and grits. Massive glasses of housemade Sangria, too. 355 Santana Row, San Jose, 408-423-5400, ovejanegrasj.com
Soaring 1,500 feet above San Jose, the Mount Hamilton GrandView restaurant boasts the most spectacular views of the valley. Best of all, new owner Carrubba (pictured with wife Melissa) revived the 1884 property and bought the farm across the street, which supplies the freshest produce possible for hearty pasta dishes and steak sides. 15005 Mt. Hamilton Rd., Mt. Hamilton,