David Laws, coordinator of our April event, tells why Silicon Valley is now a popular tourist attraction.

Our April BATW meeting will be held at two of Silicon Valley’s newest and most popular tourist attractions – the Apple Park Visitor Center and the Computer History Museum.

“Tourists in Silicon Valley” is surely a phrase about as implausible as that memorable 1970s tagline “Farms in Berkeley.” But, unlikely or not, Silicon Valley is emerging as a unique tourist attraction.

Although the area was a popular blossom-season destination early in the 20th century, tourism waned in San Jose and the orchards of the Santa Clara Valley, then known as Valley of Hearts Delight, as the trees disappeared under the glass and concrete of high-tech. The economic boom that emerged from the combination of entrepreneurial and technological innovation has recently sparked a new kind of traveler. Heads of state hoping to replicate the economic miracle back home, business people eager to make a deal, and newly minted graduates from Bangalore and Beijing to Boston and Berlin are joined by tech-history pilgrims eager to see where it all began.

For those who do not have invitations to the cloistered board rooms of Apple, Facebook, or Google, there is a bindu.com Silicon Valley High-tech Heritage itinerary covering some of the most venerated sites associated with key people, places and products that have changed the world. The route includes the Hewlett-Packard garage, the Jobs’ Family home, IBM’s first disk-drive lab, and other locations replete with stories of entrepreneurial fervor and technological breakthroughs. California Historic Landmark #1000 celebrates the creation of the first computer chip. IEEE Milestones in Electrical Engineering and Computing excite tech-oriented wayfarers. Although most high-tech offices discourage casual tourists, they can visit the Intel Museum, snap selfies with the Google Android lawn statues or pose in front of the famous Facebook finger.

The Apple headquarters and company store in Cupertino has long been a shrine for the Mac faithful. Popular interest now focuses on the donut-shaped “spaceship” building by Norman Foster (think The Gherkin in London, Hearst Tower in New York and Millau Viaduct, the highest bridge in the world). The Apple Park Visitor Center that opened in late 2017 allows the public to view the giant, circular glass structure without actually entering the campus. The dramatic glass-enclosed Center comprises a coffee bar, exhibit hall, Apple store, and rooftop terrace.

Mountain View’s Computer History Museum unveiled its first permanent exhibit “Revolution: The First 2000 Years of Computing” in 2011. Today it claims to be the world’s largest institution devoted to preserving and presenting the stories and artifacts of the Information Age. Over 197,000 people attended the exhibits, events and educational programs in 2017. In a new software gallery that opened last year, visitors can Photoshop themselves in front of the Golden Gate Bridge, diagnose patients with MRI scans, and learn about how programming works.

With these new attractions, it is no surprise that San Francisco tour companies are now adding Silicon Valley to their routes.