The place in California where all your favorite futuristic gadgets are invented is an area with quite a rich past. San Mateo County/Silicon Valley, birthplace of your favorite smartphones, search engines and modern-day miracle devices, was not always so modern-day. Several spots of historical interest still survive in San Mateo County/Silicon Valley, rich with antiquities and often preserved in their 20th-century, 19th-century and even earlier conditions. When you find yourself touching down in this high-tech hot spot, make sure to spot a few of these historical sites that will walk you back in time.
Hiller Aviation Museum
The history of aviation comes flying right at you at the Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos, located right next to the San Carlos Airport. Named for Stanley Hiller, who designed the first working coaxial helicopter at age 15, the Hiller Museum displays that historical helicopter plus several other historically significant aircraft from US and California history. You won’t believe how dangerous some of the early models were! Other highlights include flight simulators that even the kids can “fly” and a real 747 in which you can sit in the pilot’s seat. The museum is also host to events such as the annual Oktoberfest and the Halloween Hangar Haunt, with a witch arriving by helicopter.
Filoli House and Gardens
A step back in time to the era after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, Filoli is a timelessly preserved 654-acre estate in Woodside with 16 acres of formal gardens. The mansion remains in its original 1920s condition and makes for a marvelous tour, but the real attraction at Filoli is the gardens. Sumptuous sunken gardens, California redwoods and seven miles of hiking trails present all of California’s finest natural offerings. You’re likely to have seen Filoli before—the estate was featured as the mansion on the old TV show Dynasty.
The Cemeteries of Colma
The rumor that no dead bodies are buried in San Francisco is, in fact, true. So where does San Francisco bury its dearly beloved? Colma is the small town just south of San Francisco with a living population of 1,800 and a dead-and-buried population of an estimated two million. Colma’s most famous late, great gravesites include Joe DiMaggio (Holy Cross Cemetery), gunslinging outlaw Wyatt Earp (Hills of Eternity) and the pianist behind the Charlie Brown theme, Vince Guaraldi (Holy Cross Cemetery).
San Mateo County History Museum
You’ll be drawn to the San Mateo County History Museum by its magnificent stained glass rotunda, but this unforgettable building houses some unforgettable historical collections as well. The whole nine yards of California history—or, rather, the whole 170 years—is covered in an immersive series of exhibits that also cover California’s long history prior to statehood. From early indigenous and settler artifacts to the Gold Rush to the early automobile era to the surfing craze and the birth of the Silicon Valley tech industry, the San Mateo County History Museum reflects the full depth of the California experience. Special events are often held on the Courthouse Square in front of the museum.
South of San Francisco, you’ll find a little town called South San Francisco. And in South San Francisco, you’ll find Molloy’s Tavern, a landmark tavern established in 1883 as the Brooksville Hotel before becoming a bar soon after. Molloy’s has survived earthquakes, Prohibition (it became a speakeasy) and more than 130 years of change, but still maintains an atmosphere the locals love and tells the Bay Area’s history with framed vintage newspaper front pages on the walls. While Molloy’s is practically a history museum of artifacts, the cocktails and menu are entirely up to date.
San Francisco Bay Discovery Site
Of all the historical points of interest you’ll see, none have been established longer than the San Francisco Bay Discovery Site. This is literally the point from which San Francisco was first seen by Spanish explorers in 1769. While there’s only a plaque on a stone to commemorate that event, you won’t want to miss the views. The majesty of the trail you’ll take to the site in Pacifica and the mountaintop view of more than 30 miles of coastline are sights you will never forget.
Johnston House, Half Moon Bay
Since 1853, the Johnston House has had an imposing presence along the mountains of iconic Highway 1. Once known as the White House of Half Moon Bay, the Johnston House maintains its colonial heritage with period furniture, countless artifacts from Gold Rush high society and docents in full historical costume. Hours are limited, so check the Johnston House website in advance.
The past is prologue on your trip to San Mateo County/Silicon Valley, a region of the US that is celebrated today, but has quite a history to explore, too. Make time to step back in time on your next trip to northern California and you’ll see a side of San Mateo County/Silicon Valley you never knew existed.
See all that San Mateo County/Silicon Valley has to offer and plan your trip now.