A Tour of Silicon Valley

Driving south of San Francisco along the San Mateo coast, it's hard to believe that inland, behind the rolling hills, is Silicon Valley. And while the high-tech hub is known more for its semiconductors and Fortune 500 companies than its sightseeing, it does have a few cultural highlights worth stopping for—especially if you're already driving through on Interstate 280.

Computer History Museum. A hop, skip, and jump from Google (which was also established in 1996), this engaging and informative museum tells the 2,000-year story of the modern computer starting with the abacus. See more than 1,100 artifacts including antique video games, portions of the WWII ENIAC, a Pixar computer, Apple 1, and one of Google's first self-driving cars. There are special exhibits, demos, and docent-led tours as well. 1401 N Shoreline Blvd., Mountain View, California, 94043. 650/810--1010; www.computerhistory.org. $17.50. Closed Mon. and Tues..

Stanford University. Well-to-do Palo Alto and its intellectual neighbor, Stanford University, are about 35 miles south of San Francisco. Stanford's gorgeous grounds are home to a primordial-looking cactus garden, a stone river sculpture by Scottish artist Andy Goldsworthy, wood carvings and indigenous artworks from Papua New Guinea, and an excellent art museum—the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts (open daily except Tuesday)—whose lawn is planted with bronze works by Auguste Rodin. Free one-hour walking tours of the campus leave daily at 11 and 3:15 from the visitor center. 295 Galvez St., at Campus Dr., Stanford, California, 94305. 650/723--2560; www.visit.stanford.edu.

Mission Santa Clara de Asis. In the center of Santa Clara University's campus is the Mission Santa Clara, the site of the first college of higher learning in California (est. 1851). Some of the roof tiles of the current building, a reproduction of the original, were salvaged from earlier structures, which dated from the 1770s and 1820s. Restored original adobe walls (1822) and a spectacular rose garden (viewable, but not open to the public) remain intact as well. 500 El Camino Real, Santa Clara, California, 95053. 408/554–4023; www.scu.edu/missionchurch/history/index.cfm. free.

At the southern end of Silicon Valley, San Jose is home to several good museums.

San Jose Museum of Art. Nearly 2,500 modern and contemporary artworks by cutting-edge West Coast and Latino artists are featured in this downtown museum. Bay Area figurative painting, photography, and sculpture are also well represented, and, not surprising given the museum's proximity to Silicon Valley, new-media works are often exhibited. 110 S. Market St., at W. Fernando St., San Jose, California, 95113. 408/271–6840; www.sjmusart.org. $10. Closed Mon..

Tech Museum of Innovation. At this hands-on, high-tech science museum, kids can engineer multicolored bacteria, attempt to steer themselves in a vehicle like ones astronauts use for forays outside the space station, experience earthquakes of different magnitudes, or design, build, and program a robot. The on-site domed IMAX theater shows a mix of nature programs and Hollywood blockbusters. Take a quick swing through the museum during the last hour and get a discounted rate. 201 S. Market St., at Park Ave., San Jose, California, 95113. 408/294–8324; www.thetech.org. $24, educational IMAX films $10, museum–IMAX combo $29.

Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum & Planetarium. Fascinating if dated, this museum showcases the largest collection of authentic ancient Egyptian artifacts on display in Western North America. Walk through a tunnel to reach a hidden burial chamber lined with murals, see a mummy more than 2,500 years old, try to figure out which animal mummies aren't what they appear to be, take a tomb tour, and learn about games ancient Egyptian children played. If that's not enough, the planetarium shows space films. 1660 Park Ave., at Naglee Ave., San Jose, California, 95191. 408/947–3635; www.egyptianmuseum.org. $9. Closed Mon. and Tues..

Southwest of San Jose are the pretty village of Saratoga and the ritzy town of Los Gatos, nestled in the foothills of the Coastal Range.

Manresa. Los Gatos is home to one of the country's finest restaurants, David Kinch's three-Michelin-starred Manresa, which serves an exceptional nightly tasting menu of Northern California dishes that features the freshest local ingredients ($225; $198 wine pairing). 320 Village La., Los Gatos, California, 95030. 408/354–4330; www.manresarestaurant.com. Closed Mon. and Tues. No lunch.

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