As you head south from San Francisco, San Mateo County with its famed Silicon Valley stretches across the peninsula offering magnificent Bay views on one side and the rugged beauty of the Pacific Coast and Highway 1 on the other. In between the coasts, you can check out the high-tech giants in Palo Alto, go wine tasting and pumpkin hunting in the valleys, or take in the amazing sunsets and fresh seafood. Fall in Silicon Valley and all of San Mateo County is sure to be filled with wow moments.
High Tech in Silicon Valley
For someone like me, who happens to be a huge computer geek, Silicon Valley was exciting. You can almost feel the cutting-edge in the California air there. You can drive down the street, past the high-tech giants—Apple, Google, Facebook—and even stop by the Company Store at Apple during the week to pick up logo items. If you’re looking for a great photo opp, snag a pose in front of Facebook’s headquarters (sorry, there’s not a visitor center at Google). My favorite stop to explore the computer history of Silicon Valley was the Computer History Museum in Mountain View.
The Computer History Museum is one of the best ways to experience both the history of computers and to ponder what the future of computers might hold.
The interactive experiences at the museum engage even those who might not be professed “geeks”. I love that it explains mainframes and punchcards—and on select days there’s a demonstration for those who have no idea what punchcards are and how noisy computers used to be in the old days. I’m fortunate I never worked on those, but that old technology makes me stop when I complain about a slow internet connection or something “outdated” on a computer.
The museum explores today’s gaming world and then takes you on a tour of self-driving automobiles and the future of computers.
Where High Tech Goes to School
No visit to Silicon Valley is complete without a visit to Stanford University. It is easy to walk the campus and get a feel for the history and culture of the school. Make your way to the Main Quad, a picturesque and historic with a blend of architectural styles. There are 8,180 contiguous acres that make up this beautiful campus, which includes nearly 700 major buildings.
The best way to see the campus is to book one of several available free campus tours, led by students and lasting about an hour. They take place at various times, depending on which tour you choose, and start at the Stanford Visitor Center.
If you prefer to wander on your own, pick up a map at the visitor center or download one before you leave home. For a great view over Stanford and the San Francisco Bay Area, climb up to the observation platform on the 14th floor of the 285-foot Hoover Tower. The tower, which was completed in 1941 to celebrate the university’s 50th anniversary, is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. There is a charge of $4 (cash only) to climb the tower.
Be sure to visit the Cantor Arts Center while you’re at Stanford. The building that houses the art collection is quite stately and I expected to only find traditional art. There is a lovely sculpture garden outside and the lobby is breathtakingly beautiful. The best part is that this art museum happens to be free to the public.
As I wandered the exhibits, I was surprised at the breadth of the exhibits. Rodin sculptures. Fine European and American artwork dating from 1500 to 1800. But there were also fun and whimsical collections. One of my favorite moments was rounding a corner and wondering why a man was leaning against a wall. Realizing it was a piece of art, I laughed out loud. I love when museums make me question my own preconceived ideas.
Exploring San Mateo County in Fall
As I left Palo Alto and the urban side of Silicon Valley, I discovered that San Mateo County is a diverse area filled with art, architecture, beautiful landscapes, great dining, and amazing wines. It is renowned for its great pumpkins and fall festivals.
Stroll Through Filoli Gardens
Historic Filoli Estate in Woodside was built between 1915 and 1917 and was endowed to the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1975.
Today, you can visit the beautiful home and wander the English Renaissance and Georgian-style gardens.
It is decked out for the various seasons and I don’t think there’s a bad time to visit, but during the fall and winter, it's a great time to enjoy the crisp air. The Golden Harvest takes place from early September through November 4, honoring the agricultural, homesteading, and preservation practices throughout the years at Filoli. This year, there is antique farm equipment displayed throughout the property, a mixed-media art exhibit in the Visitor and Education Center, and tours of the Gentleman's Orchard.
Wandering these gardens gives you a chance to unwind, step away from everything high tech and reach out to nature. There’s a lovely gift shop where you can take home some of the items made from the herbs grown in Filoli’s gardens. Afternoon tea is a tradition at Filoli, and there are holiday teas offered from late November through mid-December. I adore holiday teas and hope to experience this one at some point — it's definitely on my bucket list. They serve up a traditional tiered tray with finger sandwiches, fresh scones, holiday treats, Filoli Fruit Butter, clotted cream and of course your choice of teas, including a Filoli Holiday Blend.
There is a bounty of holiday events at Filoli. From mid-November through December 23, you can enjoy Luminous at Filoli, a celebration of color and light. There is holiday décor in every room, special holiday touches in the gardens and lights at night, entertainment that features holiday sounds, and a holiday wine bar in the Dining Room Terrace. Definitely a magical holiday experience.
Discover Fall Flavors in San Mateo County
Fall in Silicon Valley is filled with flavors and bounty of the fertile land that runs from bay to ocean. There are so many amazing restaurants that it will be tempting to eat your way through the Peninsula.
For innovative seafood dishes, head to The Sea by Alexander’s in Palo Alto. Chef Yu Min Lin features fresh, wild and sustainably harvested items. I recommend the lobster rocks to start—little deep-fried lobster bites with almond purée, truffle, and mitsuba. For entrées, select from wild Hawaiian tuna, wild Monterey miso black cod, wild Maryland black sea bass, wild Maine grilled lobster, wild Alaskan halibut, and wild salmon from the Pacific Northwest.
For a rustic Italian experience in the heart of San Mateo County, I suggest Donato Enoteca in Redwood City. The menu changes regularly, but pasta is made fresh daily. If available, start with the prosciutto platter served with an amazing little cheese tart and homemade pickles.
These cool fall afternoons beg for some wine tasting. There are three wine trails and a wine road in San Mateo County: Santa Clara Valley Wine Trail, Silicon Valley Wine Trail, Mid-Peninsula Wine Trail, and Summit Road Wineries. These range from small urban wineries to sprawling estates, so you can create your own wine experience. The best part is that you can experience all of this about 30minutes from San Francisco International Airport.
Take a Fall Road Trip through Silicon Valley
Many people don't realize that San Mateo County has a beautiful, rugged coastline and majestic Highway 1 runs down the county's western edge. This is the perfect way to get out and see fall throughout San Mateo County.
Make a stop at Devil’s Slide Trail to check out the coast. This 1.3-mile-long trail is part of the San Mateo County Park system and is built on what was once a treacherous section of Highway 1. Today, the flat stretch of paved trail provides some spectacular views of the California coast.
Just a bit up the road is Half Moon Bay, a tiny coastal town with a quaint downtown dating back to the 1840s, impressive bluffs, beautiful California redwoods, and the iconic Ritz-Carlton Half Moon Bay. The Ritz-Carlton celebrates the local food heritage by sourcing from nearby organic farms, local fishermen, and area wineries.
As you meander the county, you will find some pretty amazing pumpkin patches. Stop by Farmer John’s Pumpkin Farm in Half Moon Bay, where local farmer John and his wife Eda grow more than 60 varieties of pumpkins. The working farm is open to the public each fall where you can pick out pumpkins for decorating and cooking, explore the Native American TiPi, and get those fall family photos.
If you’ve always wanted to try one of those crazy mazes, head to Arata’s Pumpkin Farm, which features a 2-acre Minotaur’s Labyrinth hay maze along with a cornfield, plenty of pumpkins, and a haunted barn. For the little ones, there’s a mini-maze and a train ride.
Wherever you explore throughout San Mateo County in the fall, you’ll find the beautiful backdrop of pumpkins and festivities.
Staying in Silicon Valley
When you visit San Mateo County and explore Silicon Valley, even the accommodations show off that world-class technology, but it’s blended with a smart sense of hospitality.
The Clement Hotel in Palo Alto provided one of my all-time favorite hotel stays. The Clement Hotel seamlessly blends high tech with high touch, offering an all-inclusive experience in the heart of Palo Alto. Before my arrival, the hotel asked me what types of wines I liked, what types of non-alcoholic drinks I preferred, and which snacks I enjoyed. When I arrived, they had ALL the wines available in my room, along with a fully stocked refrigerator and the salty snacks I had mentioned.
There was a beautifully appointed sitting room, where I found a variety of device plugs and chargers, a large television and the faster internet I’ve ever experienced. The adjoining bedroom had a sleek, modern bed with comfortable mattress. My bathroom was divine with a large shower, a deep soaking tub, and even an electronic toilet. All of that modern efficiency was balanced by a selection of natural bath products made not far from the hotel.
I was tempted to just stay in the room and absorb the atmosphere, but I decided to make my way to the kitchen where the chef keeps trays of fresh fruit, cheese, and an array of foods that are there for your pleasure. Don’t see what you want? Just ask the chef to prepare you something special throughout the day, from breakfast through dinner.
You can relax downstairs in the living area, enjoy the rooftop pool, or soak in your luxurious bathtub. My dinner at The Clement Hotel was exquisite and the wine choice was exceptional—all-inclusive, of course. I mentioned in my pre-trip survey that I adore eggs Benedict, but can’t have meat with nitrates. Not to worry; chef sourced local bacon and served up amazing eggs Benedict. I didn’t get nearly enough time to enjoy everything The Clement has to offer, including the most hospitable and discreet staff I’ve ever experienced.
If you’re traveling with your family, you may prefer something a bit more kid-friendly, I recommend staying at Dinah’s Garden Hotel, also located in Palo Alto.
The Handley family opened this one-of-a-kind hotel in 1957 and Mr. Handley’s daughter operates it today.
The Handleys traveled the world and filled each room with unique finds. There are many different room types available and each is filled with its own unique treasures. While my room had an African theme, there's something for everyone. One room even has a train that goes around a track close to the ceiling.
Exotic plants and koi ponds make this property a garden oasis and you’ll forget you’re in the heart of the city. I sat at the pool area for breakfast and walked to The Sea by Alexander, which is adjacent to the hotel, for dinner. Rooms at Dinah’s Garden Hotel are large, and many have private patios that look out over the creek or the gardens. No two rooms are the same here. Another plus is that there is plenty of free off-street parking, which is at a premium in Palo Alto.
A festive fall escape in San Mateo County and Silicon Valley awaits. There are so many flights into San Francisco that you can get there easily from across the country or around the globe. Then you can head to the peninsula and soak up fall colors, flavors, great wine, and hospitality with a high-tech edge. Fall in Silicon Valley is sure to offer plenty of wow moments and lasting memories.
Be sure to check out more great ideas on Wander about what you can do when you visit California.
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with accommodations, meals and other compensation for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.