People come to San Francisco, still, in pursuit of the technoutopian dream, but also they like to pay homage to an idea of “Silicon Valley”. Now that the Mozilla monument has gone to storage, there aren’t a lot of public monuments out there to visit. We really need enormous, beautiful public monumental art to celebrate Internet and computer history!!
But we don’t have that. So, where to go on your nerd pilgrimage? I have a list of recommendations for the computer nerds with a romantic soul!
The Computer History Museum heads the geek tour list of course! It is in Mountainview and the public transit options aren’t ideal, but are doable. You can take Caltrain to Mountainview and look for a city bus or a shuttle bus, or just take a cab/rideshare for the last leg of your trip.
The MADE – The Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment – is a hands-on video game history museum where the retro games are all playable, often on incredible and well maintained old hardware! It’s in downtown Oakland, a few easily walkable blocks from the 12th Street BART station.
The Exploratorium, while a broad tech and science museum, is gorgeously hands on and participatory. There are actual experiments you can do (not like so many science museums where interactivity means pushing a button or watching a video). And the techy things are elevated to really beautiful art in many cases (look for the creations of Ned Kahn, for example!)
Noisebridge hacker and maker space is open daily in the afternoons and evenings, and it’s basically a long running, large, donation supported and volunteer run, workshop. It is free, but cash or online donations are very much appreciated and needed! It’s a bit like going into a giant, messy, anarchic, collaborative garage. People are generally friendly, you can show up any time, and someone will give you a tour. If you feel like soldering something, or using the 3D printers, or learning a new skill, or just want a co-working space for an afternoon, this is a great spot to meet new people and hang out. Check the meetup page for classes and workshops!
San Francisco Railway Museum – this is a tiny but fabulous museum near the Ferry Building along the Embarcadero in SF. It tends to appeal to computer geeks!
Historic Ships at Hyde Street Pier – Now, this has nothing to do with computers but if you are the sort of nerd who like me, enjoys transit and infrastructure and history, you might like this very quiet park on the waterfront at Aquatic Park (avoid the Fisherman’s Wharf maelstrom). Seriously you will be the only person on some of these ships. Giant pulleys and block and tackle arrangements! Lie down in an actual ship’s bunk! You can walk onto the sailing ship Balaclutha and onto a huge paddlewheel steamship and a couple more interesting ships. Notably — the Balaclutha is wheelchair accessible, with a (very steep) ramp onto the ship, and a scary-fun lift down into the cargo hold!!!
The US Army Corps of Engineers Bay Model in Sausalito. Nerd heaven if you like this sort of thing. It’s a giant relief map of the entire Bay Area with its waterways, the size of two football fields, and you can walk around it to learn geography and history. Sadly there is no longer water flowing in it because it is now cheaper to run computer simulations of the water flow in the Bay. You can take the ferry there and walk (a fairly long walk but doable) to the Model!
Google! If you’re walking along the Embarcadero in San Francisco, the Hills Brothers Building plaza is a nice place to sit, and you can take a picture with the Google sign if that appeals to you. Coming up soon in October 2023, the Google Visitor Center will be opening up in Mountainview – maybe good to combine with a visit to the Computer History Museum!
Apple Park Visitor Center in Cupertino is an hour or so away from San Francisco by car. If you’re already down there or in San Jose and you’re a huge Apple fan then maybe it’s worth going to see. I’ve never been to it, but I see people asking about it often in the bay area subreddits.
The Intel museum in Santa Clara! If you want to read some corporate stuff about how chips are made, this is for you, but I am not sure if I actually recommend it since I’ve never been there and it seems to be mostly for school kids.
Hiller Museum of Aviation in San Carlos. If you love planes, or you kind of like them and you’re already on the Peninsula south of SF, this is a fun and cool little museum. Also great for little kids as they can run around very freely, and there’s entire sections of planes they can go into and climb around in.
More transit! Historic aircraft! Moffett Field (ie, the Bay’s own little part of NASA!) offers tours led by a docent and they have a small visitor center.
If the Mare Island shipyard museum ever opens up again, i highly recommend it because it is HUGE and super old fashioned and sort of clearly beloved by the people who used to work there and created a lot of the exhibits. They used to build nuclear submarines ! There’s a little periscope in the cockpit of an old nuclear submarine (or whatever you call the spot in a sub where there’s a periscope) that you can look up into Vallejo from!
There must be more. And there should be more! Add suggestions to the comments and I’ll add them to the post!