San Francisco has always been a huge tourism destination, but thanks to the rise in technology and Silicon Valley culture, more people want to sojourn a little south to see this area for themselves. People from outside of this area are always asking if we’ve seen the show Silicon Valley and if it’s true to life. It is, kind of, but come see for yourself. The weather is gorgeous, we’ve got endless things going on, and this is where it’s all happening.
What to See in Silicon Valley with Kids
The most interesting activity only costs a tank of gas: driving by innovation. Corporations impact all of our daily lives, but there is something more personal about tech companies, probably because many are crucial to our social lives, making them feel closer. I use AT&T’s services every day, but I have no desire to drive by their headquarters. Yet when driving around this area, it’s easy to feel a burst of excitement when driving by the big name tech companies. It’s not like Apple is outside parading around the next iPhone prototype (they save that for a bar in Redwood City
), but it’s fun to look, and kids love it, even if it’s just a standard exterior, like YouTube
in San Bruno (901 Cherry Ave, San Bruno).
Zynga and Pinterest (572 7th Street, SF) have fun offices, but no surprise, you can’t see the inside of those without a connection. The Zynga building (699 8th St, at Townsend, SF) does have their logo of a bulldog, visible from the freeway. Facebook (1601 Willow Rd, Menlo Park) has a big Like sign with the thumbs up. Google (1600 Amphitheatre Pkwy, Mountain View) has the best giant Droid and donut, perfect for photos, and Apple (1 Infinite Loop, Cupertino, off De Anza Blvd.) has a company store that sells logo’d gear you can’t find elsewhere to let those back home know you visited the mother ship.
The HP Garage
is an easy stop to see the birthplace of Silicon Valley, from the sidewalk, at least. The beautiful Craftsman house is now a private museum and an historical landmark, but the garage is visible from the sidewalk and photos are allowed. This is the house rented by Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard where they built their first product in the one-car garage, with $538 in capital.
The Tech Museum
in downtown San Jose is perfect for kids of all ages and is full of interactive exhibits. Experience the latest in education tools, biotechnology, social robots, test new exhibits in The Tech Studio, and if you visit on the right day, try tinkering in the Makerspace
. Admission is $20/adults, $15/kids.
The Children’s Discovery Museum
is right near The Tech in downtown San Jose and is a perfect compliment for families with a wide age range. The Tech may appeal more to older kids, while the Children’s Discovery Museum is perfect for those a little younger. My kids loved this museum from as early as toddlers, but now at ages 8 and 11, The Tech is more their speed. They still have fun at the Children’s Discovery Museum, but they burn through it much faster than they did when they were younger. A cool thing of note is that the Children’s Discovery Museum offers occasional special evening events for kids with Autism, allowing them to shape the experience for kids who may have difficulty with visiting the museum during the more crowded regular hours. Admission to the Children’s Discovery Museum is $12 per person.
Helix Community Science Center
, the Exploratorium’s small outpost in Los Altos, is casual and admission is donation-based. Downtown Los Altos has become a hot spot catering to local families and Helix is a great part of that. Open every day, the weekends include special activities, like dissections, art programs, and more. Within a very short walking distance are other family-friendly activities, including the arcade Area 151, Bumble, a restaurant with a fun kid-care component, Red Racer Hobby Shop, and more, thanks to investment and interest from Sergey Brin and Anne Wojcicki.
The Palo Alto Junior Museum
is an inexpensive stop perfect for little ones. We had many playgroup outings to the junior museum when my kids were very young, and the activities are best suited for kids under age seven or so. Admission is a suggested $5 donation per person.
Cantor Arts Center
at Stanford is a great stop for slightly older kids and they have a great Sunday Family program with special family tours and art-making programs each week. Admission is free. Also, there is an outdoor sculpture garden and a cafe, which are a beautiful place to take a break.
The Intel Museum
frequently offers incredible workshops for kids and allows all visitors to see inside microchip fabrication, including the history of microprocessing and silicon chip design. If you know when you’ll be in the area, always check on the Intel Museum calendar ahead because the many great workshops for kids have early reservation cut offs generally 48 hours before the event. If nothing is on their website, it’s worth a phone call because we’ve noticed their website isn’t always up to date with the latest activities. Admission is free.
Computer History Museum
in Mountain View has been described as nerd heaven, bringing to life the history of computing while showing kids that computers didn’t always fit into the palm of their hands. Learn how video games were invented, compete against IBM Watson (through Aug. 2014), and see into the future with a look at computer-driven cars. General admission is $15, free for kids 12 and under.
The NASA Ames Research Center
isn’t a tech company, but it’s a key part of NASA projects and Moffett Field, where it’s located, is an opposing site off 101. It’s a free stop where you can see a real moon rock, learn about past NASA missions, try a shuttle cockpit simulator, learn about life in space, and more.
If in San Francisco, the Exploratorium
is a must-see, now located on the lovely Embarcadero on Pier 15. You can spend hours inside, easily. Our recommendation is to go in the morning when it’s less crowded, stay until lunch, then walk down to the Ferry Building for a bite to eat. After that, you can always return to the Exploratorium because tickets are good for the day and this way, any crowds will be less bothersome. Cost is $29/adults, $24/kids ages 13-17, and $19/kids 4-12.
Children’s Creativity Museum
has amazing hands-on activities and hosts monthly innovator workshops, giving kids a chance to learn from the designers and makers behind innovative new products or toys. The Children’s Creativity Museum has fun permanent programs, like stop motion movies, a Photoshop-driven Design Studio and Audio Studio using the basics of Garage Band, with something for kids of all ages and interests. Best of all, they now have a drop off program! Woo! We haven’t tried the drop-off Creative Adventures
program, but it sounds awesome! Drop the kids off, then head to a nearby restaurant for a kid-free lunch. The only bummer is that it tops out at age 9. General admission is $12.
We’ve saved the best for last…
The Best Silicon Valley Stop for Families…
, without a doubt. Bike the campus, walk the halls, play Frisbee in the quad, and go to sporting events. Our favorite nerdy activity doesn’t sound nerdy at all: Stanford Athletics
. College athletics, especially football games have an electric environment, and Stanford is no exception. The Stanford crowd probably skews nerdier than more college football fans, evident by the use of the #nerdnation hashtag, but the eclecticness is best seen with the band. The Stanford Band is eccentric with creative, always changing costumes, and sometimes illogical field shows, and they clearly support the “be yourself” culture. They’re fun, and clearly having fun, and it’s contagious. Not only are Stanford athletes great at their sports, they all excel academically, too, and that is worthy of showing off to your kids.
Some Last Silicon Valley Tips
Before your visit, check out the Bay Area Science calendar
for special science and innovation-related activities around the Bay Area. If none of this works for you, then go outside! We’ve got beaches, hiking, biking, surfing, stand up paddle boarding
, windsurfing, and almost anything else you can dream of. We have professional football, baseball, soccer, hockey, minor league baseball, and more right here in Silicon Valley. If nothing else, immerse yourself in the culture by visiting a coffee shop. Take a seat at any Starbucks during the week and soon enough you will hear hopeful entrepreneurs discussing their next big deal. Seriously, the best SV
gossip can be overheard in a cafe.
Places to Visit with Kids in California:
Sunshine Kids Blog Hop 2014
Summer is a great time to explore with your kids – and you don’t have to travel far to do it! California has so much to offer to families. Take a great staycation this summer by visiting your local treasures! In our second annual Sunshine Kids Blog Hop, we are focusing on our favorite places to visit with kids in California. Enjoy! And be sure to add your own family-friendly California posts in our linky at the bottom. You can also check out even more California posts on our collaborative Kid Friendly California Pinterest board!
And now it’s time to see what everyone has been up to: