Let’s go! Silicon Valley for tourists

Let’s go! Silicon Valley for touristsBy Matt HaberMay 11, 2016 Updated: May 11, 2016 2:23pm 0 Photo: Matt Haber A postcard from the edgeless, circa 2001.Back in 2001, when Mark Zuckerberg was 16 years old and people still sent mail, a friend, the late Bay Area artist Susan O’Malley, sent me a postcard from San Jose.On the front was an aerial photo of the Stanford Shopping Center. On the back Susan wrote, “I thought you’d enjoy this awesome postcard. Apparently they have built more parking garages at Stanford Shopping Center since this photo was taken.”Susan grew up in San Jose. In her 20s she had a wry take on her hometown, from the generic office parks to the backyard pools with cheesy water features. (Around the time she sent that card, she’d moved home from New York and dubbed herself artist in residence of her mom’s neighborhood.) Here, Susan seemed to be saying, is a bland dispatch from the blandest possible place, a postcard from the edgeless.Imagine my surprise, then, when I heard that tourists were flying into the Bay Area with the specific goal of visiting San Jose, Mountain View, Cupertino and other hamlets of Silicon Valley. There are even bus tours that promise photo ops for you to give a thumbs-up in front of Facebook’s “like” logo at 1 Hacker Way in Menlo Park, and walks along the hallowed campus pathways of the Googleplex, where the best and brightest Stanford and MIT graduates build the future between rounds of beach volleyball and sessions on the conference bike. (Look it up.)There’s even a hotel in Palo Alto called the Clement that offers a 24-hour guest pantry, rooftop pool with cabanas, and other ultra-luxe amenities to make you forget you’re in Palo Alto.Susan’s 2001 postcard from glamorous San Jose might have been a goof, but in 2016, Silicon Valley tourism is no joke.It was with this in mind that I recently boarded a Caltrain for Mountain View, also known as MTV by the hordes of day laborers bused in from the city. As the train left San Francisco, I felt like a gap-year tourist Eurailing into some untouched Mitteleuropean burg. What would I find in this enchanting land that time forgot?Since it was a Sunday, my companion and I exited the train and walked into an adorable farmers’ market. We sampled vibrant organic produce and fresh treats made by real-life farmers, including hummus (an exotic savory spread made with chickpeas) and cured olive fruits. (The farmer warned us that the seeds, known in the local dialect as “pits” or “stones,” were not edible.) I also picked up some strawberries that were far uglier, but more delicious, than the ones I usually get at Safeway.From there we promenaded along Castro Street. While it was less colorful than its San Francisco namesake, this Castro Street had fewer nearly naked people walking around. It also had charming spots like Molly Magee’s Irish Pub, established in 1997, nearly a year before Google, and Gelato Classico Ice Cream. For those traveling with children — or for overgrown man-children — there’s Rocket Fizz, a candy shop that features dozens of sodas inspired by celebrities like Kourtney Kardashian and Osama bin Laden.Walking around, I spotted several coffee places, like Red Rock Coffee, where patrons can sample European variations on the old American cup of joe, one of which is called an espresso and comes in the teensiest cup you’ve ever seen this side of a little girl’s imaginary tea party. To judge by the Starbucks, Peet’s, Phil’z and Coupa Cafe, the Valley runs on caffeine — plus toxic rare earth metals and tax loopholes.Of course, many of Google’s employees are probably getting their coffee — as well as breakfast, lunch, snacks, dinner, midnight snacks and predawn munchies — on the company’s campus. On this drizzly afternoon, we spotted a few groups of tourists speaking various foreign languages roaming around taking photos of iconic sites like the Google cafeteria sign.Had we gone during the week, I assume I could have asked to visit the room where all my searches are stored. The Googleplex is huge and sprawls in all directions, since each of its users’ search histories is stored in a separate room, making it the world’s largest repository of late-night ex-girlfriend searches and requests for images of various rashes and over-the-counter ointments (and, to a lesser extent, unguents).What few of those tourists probably know is that the gleaming Googleplex was built on a burial ground: It was originally the site of Silicon Graphics Inc., a tech company that filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2009, something that will never, ever happen to the new crop of tech companies.Proving it understands the importance of history, Google has erected an Android Statue Garden to display its early mascots, including fan favorites Lollipop and Eclair. (Remember when Eclair-mania seized the nation in 2009? What a time!) Conveniently located near the Google Merchandise Store, at least one TripAdvisor user rated the colorful sweets-themed walk

Source: Let’s go! Silicon Valley for tourists – San Francisco Chronicle

Leave a Reply