“Silicon Valley is as much a state of mind as a geographical location” 
As a former long-time resident of the Santa Clara Valley, I recall on numerous occasions being asked by bewildered visitors “Can you tell me how to get to Silicon Valley?” My reply “You’re there” typically generated looks of disappointment and doubt. “Can this cacophony of strip malls and tilt-up temples of industry really be the Athens of our era?” they seemed to say.
Indeed, I reassured them, this is indeed the landscape that has delivered more innovative technology, more creative business opportunities and more entrepreneurial wealth than any other geographical region of our time. In Cities in Civilization (1998), cultural historian Peter Hall compares the rise and influence of Silicon Valley to that of classical Athens and Renaissance Florence. Sadly, unlike Athens and Florence, Silicon Valley is not graced by great art or architecture.
Residential garages and faceless concrete buildings are the physical artifacts of the heady early days. They are scattered across industrial parks, college campuses, and residential neighborhoods of suburban cities on the southern San Francisco Peninsula. Some of the most sought after locations include the home of the first practical silicon computer chip (Fairchild in Palo Alto) and the first disk drive (IBM, San Jose). Both are honored with coveted IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineering) Milestone in Electrical Engineering and Computing plaques. Other popular places of pilgrimage include sites related to the arcade video game (Atari, Sunnyvale), video tape recorder (Ampex, Redwood City), personal computer (Apple, Los Altos), PC networks (Xerox, Stanford), search engine (Google, Stanford and Menlo Park) and numberless other long forgotten widgets and gizmos.
This distributed heritage allows many communities to claim Silicon Valley as its own. Palo Alto likes to be known as the “Birthplace of Silicon Valley” because of the iconic Hewlett Packard garage on Addison Avenue. As the center of gravity of technology start-ups moved south in the 1970s, San Jose crowned itself the “Capital of Silicon Valley.” City vehicles still carry that title. After the tech boom exploded early this century, San Francisco, which at one time disdained association with its nerdy neighbors to the south, began to claim direct lineage.
As a graduate of the silicon industry, when asked for a specific destination that marked the heart of the Valley, I would direct them to a humble Quonset-style hut, a former apricot packing shed at 391 San Antonio Road, Mountain View. A bronze plaque in the sidewalk identified this spot as the place where, in 1956, co-inventor of the transistor William Shockley established his Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory and introduced silicon device technology to the Valley.
Shockley initiated another phenomenon endemic to the region when his unfortunate management style drove a group of key employees to quit and start their own company, Fairchild Semiconductor, just up the road. Fairchild quickly emerged as one of the most successful technology companies of the 1960s before imploding and spinning out dozens of other ventures, including Intel, a decade later.
Sadly, real-estate developers recently razed the Shockley building. The 391 San Antonio address will reemerge in 2017 as city-block-size, mixed-use commercial center. Its history will be celebrated in a Technology Plaza with artwork and IEEE plaques denoting its role as the birthplace of silicon in Silicon Valley. Finally visitors will have a public space dedicated to the scientists and engineers who achieved the dreams of the ancient alchemists — how to turn sand (silicon) into gold (computer chips) — and in doing so kick-started the digital revolution.
Few technology pilgrims require directions to Silicon Valley today. Bus tours disgorge nerdy shoppers seeking logo gear to the Apple campus store and Google’s Merchandise Store but there is still no signposted Heritage Technology Trail, akin to Boston’s Freedom Trail, bustling with tourists and T-shirt touting hucksters. Until then, touring the sites where budding entrepreneurs figured out, often unwittingly, how to change our world remains a do-it-yourself affair guided by online resources and articles like this one.
Viewing the products and learning about the pioneers of early Silicon Valley is easier than finding their birthplaces. The Computer History Museum in Mountain View, now the world’s largest institution devoted to preserving and presenting the artifacts and stories of the Information Age, offers a “Where is Silicon Valley?” guide to some of the most significant local originals on display in its Revolution exhibit. These include the IBM Disk Drive, Intel Microprocessor, Atari Pong prototype, Apple 1, PalmPilot, and Google Server Engine.
A more philosophical response to the question posed by visitors in my first paragraph is the increasingly popular characterization — Silicon Valley is no longer just a place but a state of mind shared by entrepreneurs from Bangalore and Beijing to Boston and Berlin. 
 Adapted from “California is a state of mind” quoted by author Ross Macdonald in Archer in Hollywood (1967) and given credence by State Librarian Kevin Starr’s comment at the National Symposium on the California Gold Rush, Oakland Museum, CA (January 24, 25 1998), that during the Gold Rush era “California was as much a state of mind as a geographical location.” He explored this theme at length in his book Americans and the California Dream 1850–1915 (1973).
As Semiconductor Curator at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California, David Laws writes on technology history topics for the museum blog site @chm and on his Silicon Valley Roots & Shoots Facebook page.
This article is an updated version of material previously published on examiner.com in 2010