San Jose-area tourist destinations for geeks

Silicon Valley is the home of Apple, Facebook, Google, Intel and other leading technology companies. It is also the home of top science and tech museums that provide a window into the valley’s rapidly changing life and culture. If you're in the San Jose area to catch the third stage of the Amgen Tour of California or passing through on vacation, stop by these hot tech destinations that will have your inner geek going gaga.

The Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose

Locals call it, simply, The Tech—it's the place to start on a geek’s tour of the valley. Housed in an eye-catching orange building with a blue dome—officially, the colors are “mango and azure”—it is teeming with science and tech exhibits of an interactive kind. Both children and adults build their own robots, grow jellyfish DNA in a lab, make funny faces on screen using face-recognition software, do an audio and video mash-up, stand on a moving platform that simulates the feeling of an earthquake and more. Find it: 201 South Market, San Jose. $15 adults/$10 children. 408-294-8324.

Children’s Discovery Museum

A short drive away at 180 Woz Way—named for Apple cofounder Steve Wozniak—is the Children’s Discovery Museum, which features interactive exhibits for young children especially. They learn about dinosaurs, play with bubbles, walk a “sound stair” between the first and second floors, make art and do other activities. Find it: 180 Woz Way, $12 adults and children. 408-298-5437.

Computer History Museum

For those interested in the history of the computer—a history that keeps adding new chapters all the time—try the Computer History Museum in Mountain View not far from Google headquarters. The museum walks you through the birth of the computer from early calculators to the coming of Pong, PCs and Macs, mobile phones and the Internet. $15 adults/$12 students. Its $28 “Super Geek” package includes admission, button, t-shirt and souvenir guide. Find it: 1401 N. Shoreline Blvd., Mountain View. 650-810-1010.

The Original Apple Store

Not a museum but a curiosity worth seeing, especially for Apple devotees, is the original Apple employee store at Apple headquarters in Cupertino. Open to the public, it’s not a retail outlet that sells iPhones or iPads like other Apple stores. But it does sell Apple logo t-shirts, caps and accessories that you can find nowhere else. Find it: 1 Infinite Loop, Cupertino. Call for hours. 408-974-5050.

Hiller Aviation Museum

Further north up the Peninsula in San Carlos is the Hiller Aviation Museum at the San Carlos Airport. Here, you can see a small fleet of planes, helicopters, flying platforms and other amazing flying machines, many from the personal collection of Stanley Hiller Jr., the museum’s founder and a brilliant helicopter inventor and pioneer. Find it: 601 Skyway Road. $14 adults /$9 children. 650-654-0200.

The Exploritorium

Speaking of amazing, geeks and non-geeks alike should not miss San Francisco’s Exploratorium at its new (since 2013) waterfront location at Pier 15 on the Embarcadero at Green Street. Its six main galleries, indoors and out, are filled with a mind-boggling array of hands-on exhibits designed to stimulate creative thinking and an appreciation for science and the arts. Find it: $25 adults/$19 youth. 415-528-4444.

The 2014 Amgen Tour of California will pass through San Jose on May 13 in Stage 3. Read more on the all-AXS guide to Amgen.