Features & Columns

Gift of Experience

Perfect for Silicon Valley newbies and natives, a new book chronicles the region's sites, sounds and tastes

Gift of Experience | Local Treasures | Gifting, IRL

Enter the words "Silicon Valley" into Google Maps and what comes up is a zoomed-out image of the entire thumb of the San Francisco Peninsula, San Jose and points south, and a gigantic swath of the East Bay reaching all the way to Tracy. That's because Silicon Valley is much more a cultural, economic and technological term than it is a geographical one. Its boundaries are different depending on who you ask.

As if to remind the world that Silicon Valley is indeed a place IRL, here comes a new guide book: 111 Places in Silicon Valley That You Must Not Miss (Emons).

Why 111? Well, it's not an arbitrary number. It's more like a brand. This new book is the latest edition in a series of guidebooks that have covered cities and regions around the world—from Milwaukee to New Delhi. In fact, the new book's author, Floriana Peterson is also the author of the 111 Places book about San Francisco.

As if finding 111 places on the Peninsula and in the South Bay worth visiting was too daunting a task, Peterson takes the widest possible angle on what constitutes Silicon Valley, even more so than Google Maps. Among the crisply written one-page narratives in the book are selections from Hollister (Johnny's Bar & Grill), Felton (Bigfoot Museum), Pescadero (Duarte's) and, absurdly, Big Sur (Esalen). Even not considering those obvious outliers, the book's view of Silicon Valley stretches all the way up the Peninsula to Burlingame and to the east as far as the Niles district of Fremont. Still, the main focus of the book is on San Jose, Palo Alto and sites in between.

"I found out that many people who live in Palo Alto and San Jose don't really know those places very well," says Peterson, who lives in San Francisco. "It's not like San Francisco where everything is close together and easy to find. For this one, it took a lot of research."

Despite the image of a silicon chip on the book's cover, 111 Places underscores how tourist-indifferent the famous parts of Silicon Valley can be. Unlike, say, Hollywood which has traditionally welcomed tourists with studio tours and stars on the sidewalk, Silicon Valley gives the curious outsider very little.

Apple, for instance, has a visitor center. But the company's giant circular spaceship in Cupertino is not accessible to the general public. There is really no public component of the headquarters of Google and Facebook (though Facebook's giant thumbs-up sign consistently attracts visitors). Of the area's tech titans, Intel is the only one that stands out as a beacon for visitors with its small (but free) museum in Santa Clara.

As a result, there's a lot in 111 Places for the reader interested in things other than tech. There are obligatory entries for familiar landmarks such as the Father Serra statue on I-280, the Stanford Theatre and the Winchester Mystery House. And there are nods to beloved local institutions that outsiders might not know about, including San Jose's one-of-a-kind Falafel's Drive-In and the Woodside watering hole Alice's Restaurant.

Oddly, there are entries for things long gone—the Palo Alto music store where Jerry Garcia first formed the Grateful Dead, which is now a Peet's Coffee—and things yet to be—Google's Transit Village in San Jose.

Still, there are revelations to be found both for the local and the visitor. Those in Menlo Park frustrated by Facebook's nothing-burger road sign can go to nearby Bedwell Bayfront Park for a surreal but serene encounter with the immense bayside Salt Ponds. For a more poignant and wistful experience, there's the Alta Mesa Memorial Park, near Gunn High School in Palo Alto, the heartbreakingly beautiful acreage wherein lies the mortal remains of Shirley Temple Black, the Dead's "Pigpen" McKernan, Y.A. Tittle and Steve Jobs (the latter in an unmarked grave, for perfectly understandable reasons).

Naturally, Stanford University looms large in any visitor's guide to Silicon Valley. But 111 Places suggests a fun and offbeat way to experience Stanford and its long cultural shadow. The Dutch Goose is a classic old campus hangout which, as it turns out, is far from campus, thanks to Stanford's 1960s-era alcohol ban. The Goose, in neighboring Menlo Park, has made an interior-design style (some might even say a fetish) out of the destructive habit of carving one's name in a tabletop. As a result, the entire interior of the place—walls, floors, and tables—is made from table surfaces carved with the names of long-gone (and not so long-gone) Stanford alums. If you want to evoke the ghosts of Stanford, why not do so over beers and the house-specialty deviled eggs with a game on?

Maybe the best way to begin (or end) a tour inspired by 111 Places is to visit the oldest attraction in the book, which happens to be a tree. El Palo Alto is the 110-foot-tall redwood believed to be more than 1,000 years old, which gave the adjoining town its name and the nearby university its mascot and soul. The tree has been diminished by the years—legend maintains that in its original size, it could be seen from San Francisco. But if you stand by it now, you'll notice a thin PVC pipe ascending the trunk into the heavens. The pipe sends life-sustaining moisture to the top of the tree, a fitting symbol of Silicon Valley, where faith remains strong that the best form of reverence is a technological fix.