In this day and age where there are computers in preschools and kids are online before they can even spell Internet, it’s no wonder most children are more tech savvy than their parents. If your kids love technology, a visit to Northern California’s Silicon Valley is sure to spark a whole new level of interest.
San Jose, known for being the “Capital of Silicon Valley,” is less than one hour south of San Francisco. It is the 3rd largest city in California and the 10th largest in the United States. Downtown San Jose has more than 100 technology companies, and there are more than 6,600 in the area.
Along with this expansive technology industry comes a wealth of science-inspired activities for families to enjoy, many of which can’t be experienced anywhere else in the world. Sure, there are theme parks and hiking trails and other attractions in and around San Jose, too. But don’t overlook what you might otherwise think of as “All Business.”
To get a taste of what makes Silicon Valley the technology capital of the world, check out these family-friendly attractions.
Computer History Museum
The Computer History Museum offers an immersive journey into the origins of computers and the impact they have on our modern culture. There are more than 1,000 artifacts, videos, tours and exhibits to take you through history of computing – from ancient times through today’s online world. This was a great pit stop (we only spent about an hour) to wander through, and reminds kids that computers haven’t always been the sleek, slim, high-tech tablets and gadgets they get to tote around today.
The museum is located in the heart of Silicon Valley in Mountain View.
The Tech Museum of Innovation
Located in the heart of downtown San Jose, The Tech Museum of Innovation is a hands-on technology and science museum for people of all ages. Explore space, robotics, genetics, virtual design, seismic technology and so much more. The Tech also boasts one of the largest IMAX dome theater in California.
Being the kind of kid who likes to build and tinker, my son really enjoyed the Social Robots exhibit, where kids can design, build and program a real robot using sensors, controllers and actuators.
This is a great, hands-on museum, but at 11 years old, my son was right on the cusp of being too old to be impressed by many of these exhibits. Kids 5-10 will think it’s amazing.
One really cool thing about The Tech is it offers Family Sleepovers several times a year. The sleepover includes dinner, breakfast, time to explore the museum after hours (in your pajamas!), an IMAX film with free popcorn, and, best of all, the chance to roll out your sleeping bag next to a favorite exhibit and sleep right on the museum floor. Camping in a science museum – seriously, what kid wouldn’t love that?
Nicknamed “Googleplex,” Google’s headquarters in Mountain View welcomes visitors. Guests are invited to walk around campus grounds, take photos of their unique outdoor art, check out their colorful employee bikes, or visit the store and cafeteria. Just hanging out on the Google campus with its volleyball court, colorful tables and chairs, and cool life-size dinosaur skeleton will inspire your kids to want to grow up and get a job there.
While visitors are free to wander outside, the only way to get inside is with an employee as your escort – so if you happen to have a friend who works there, ask them for a tour! Otherwise, you can still get the gist of the environment walking around outside. We were there on a Saturday so going inside wasn’t an option anyway. It was surprisingly hopping with tourists though, and a really nice security guard gave my son a Google sticker with an Android on it which he loves.
Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park are not open to the public, but for Facebook fans, this shouldn’t stop you from checking it out. Visitors are not allowed on the main campus, but there are a handful of visitor parking spots and you can walk from there to take photos of the main campus sign. We just did a drive-by; it was fun to see the building but that’s all my kid’s interest level would allow.
The Intel headquarters in Santa Clara is home to the Intel Museum, a 10,000 square foot space that offers a look at Silicon Valley’s history and Intel’s background, technology demonstrations, interactive exhibits, and more. The museum store sells Intel branded merchandise including apparel, pens, gifts, computer devices, toys, and other items. Best of all, admission is totally free! This was an interesting spot, but definitely there to promote the brand for which it’s named.
Children’s Discovery Museum
Designed with younger kids in mind, the Children’s Discovery Museum has more than 150 exhibits, giving kids a chance to build, test, tinker, dig, explore and even create their own artwork.
NASA Ames Visitor Center
Visitors can explore past and future NASA mission exhibits, including aeronautics, earth science and robotics. We didn’t go; I am going to fess up here and admit that we’re pretty spoiled. Having just been to Kennedy Space Center in Florida last year, my son was unimpressed by the notion of going to a NASA facility here in California. But still, it’s worth a visit if you like astronomy!
Whether your kids already love science and technology, or you just want to inspire them, the synergy of Silicon Valley fuels thinkers and innovators, and inspires children to dream big. It’s what makes San Jose and Silicon Valley unlike any other destination.
Start planning your visit to Silicon Valley and San Jose by visiting the Team San Jose website.
Healthy Tip for This Destination
Adjacent to Googleplex is a lovely park. Take a walk or a bike ride and enjoy the valley’s nice weather and clean air.