Our Top 10 Stops for a Tech Road Trip

By: Robynne Boyd

Lock in your coordinates and gas up the car -- we've got 10 stops guaranteed to please your inner technophile. See more pictures of essential gadgets.
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Summer is the perfect time for hitting the road, and in this technical era, there's no better way to explore the country and its specialized gadgets than by visiting some of the most exciting tech-related destinations. Not surprisingly, many of these can be found in California, home of Silicon Valley and the Dot-com boom (and bust). They're also located in the heart of Florida's NASA country, the ivy-adorned halls of Harvard University and glitzy Las Vegas.

Don't be shy about embracing this adventure into nerd-dom. Geek has become the new chic. So whether you've fully succumbed to the technical era or stand on its fringes hesitant yet intrigued, we've created a list of tech-destinations that spotlight the haunts of high-brow geniuses and low-brow prodigies. So grab your smartphone, your beaker-distilled cup-o-Joe and your knapsack, for it's time to unleash your inner Poindexter and kick off the road trip of a lifetime. We'll be starting our road trip on the West Coast.


10: Microsoft Visitor Center; Redmond, Washington

Paul Allen and Bill Gates are celebrated as the brains behind Microsoft, a multinational corporation that forged the path of the personal computer and Microsoft Windows Operating system. Gates and Allen changed the way people interact with text and information, and the entire story can be viewed at the Microsoft Visitor Center in Redmond, Wash., home to the company's headquarters.

Once inside, people can explore the "vision, products, culture and history of Microsoft." The numerous exhibits display digital innovations from the latest Microsoft research to the first personal computer. Many of the exhibits are hands-on, so it's fun for the entire family.


9: Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment; San Francisco

Known as the MADE, this museum is considered an upcoming attraction since its still seeking a home. What we do know is that it'll be based in San Francisco and unlike museums of yore that display paintings and sculptures, MADE devotes itself to videogames and digital works of art, such as programmatic visual and audio demonstrations.

In other words, it's a museum of the new millennium. It aims to start as a small venue that will produce traveling exhibits, hold social events and display an ever-changing collection of antique and relevant artifacts. The goal in the future: to grow into a world-class art museum.


8: Attend the Crunchies Awards; San Francisco, California

San Francisco, Calif. is the home of the Crunchies, a competition and award ceremony that aims to honor the most interesting startups, internet and technology improvements, and creations of the year. The Crunchies is co-hosted by GigaOm, VentureBeat and TechCrunch, and like many competitions these days, it’s the Internet community that chooses the winners.

At the fourth annual Crunchies in January 2011, Twitter was celebrated as the best startup of 2010, while Andrew Mason of Groupon won Best CEO. You can view all of the 2010 winners at the techcrunch.com. Who knows what next year’s awards will bring, but if you’re a true technophile, you’ll make sure to be there.


7: Apple Company Store; Cupertino, California

The mantra "Think Different," has become synonymous with one of America's most recognized brands: Apple. Embraced for its gorgeous product designs, functionality and fun factor, Apple has rocketed into the annals of technical history since its inception in 1976 with the release of the Apple I computer.

Though there aren't any tours of the Apple headquarters, you can still visit the original Apple Employee store in Cupertino, Calif. You won't be able to pick up the new iPad or iMac there, but it's the only store to sell Apple logo clothing, including T-shirts, caps and other such accessories. Maybe one day Apple CEO Tim Cook should hide five golden tickets inside of Apple products that would allow a tour of the secret headquarters. Anyway, until that idea catches on, the second-best glimpse is visiting the Apple Employee store.


6: The Tech Museum; San Jose, California

The idea here is to provide people of all ages a "Silicon Valley experience," complete with interactive exhibits on alternative energy, Earth sciences, genetics, microchips and virtual design. One such exhibit called "Infinite Creativity," allows visitors to test out the devices used for clicking and typing their way into the world of digital art. Here, a big screen displays each person's artwork as he or she seemingly splatters color and paint upon it. One can also check out a movie on the eight-story tall IMAX theater screen that boasts 13,000 watts of digital sound. You think Voldemort from the Harry Potter series seems frightening when his face is on the big screen? Wait until you view his reptilian mug blown up to 80-feet tall. Eeek!


5: Pinball Hall of Fame; Las Vegas

It's not exactly coastal, but few can argue with a tour stop in the wild, western hot spot of Las Vegas. It's where a man named Tim Arnold, who used to own Pinball Pete's in Lansing, Mich., founded the Pinball Hall of Fame museum back in 2006. He opened the establishment using his own personal collection of pinball machines, and since the beginning, has donated its earnings to charities (not exactly the usual Vegas story). With more than 200 pinball machines, each unique with its own labyrinth of lights, knobs, switches, springs and sound effects, this is a place where adults can once again return to the carefree days of childhood when a quarter was all you needed to access fun.

And the best thing about the exhibits? Here you're expected to handle the "artwork." Arnold also scattered change machines around the Hall of Fame to ensure your hands are full of quarters as you play the day away.


That wraps up our tech tour of the West. Next we hit all the cool stops the East Coast has to offer.

4: NASA's Kennedy Space Center; Orsino, Florida

In the inspiring words of Star Trek, the Kennedy Space Center aims to provide each visitor the chance to "boldly go where no man has gone before" -- or woman, for that matter. The vision is simple at the Space Center: explore the limitless world of outer space without the requisite years of training it takes to be an astronaut, and without the heavy funding necessary to support space travel and research.

Instead, all in one day, try meeting a real-life veteran astronaut, experience a simulated shuttle launch, test out inter-galactic travel, watch the breathtaking pictures captured by the Hubble Telescope and walk the Astronaut Hall of Fame. No matter which attractions you choose to explore, you'll walk away light-years wiser than before.


3: DARPA's Future Headquarters; Arlington, Virgina

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is not exactly the most transparent or visually striking stop along the tour, and that's because it's in the process of being relocated. However, DARPA is known as the inventor of Arpanet, the Internet's predecessor.

Based in Arlington, Va., the building itself will be somewhat of a technical marvel. It is expected to meet LEED Gold requirements and the Department of Defense's Minimum Anti-terrorism Standards for Buildings, featuring force protection, 82-foot standoff distance and controlled parking. So though you may feel free to view the building from a distance, don't expect a warm welcome inside -- and please don't take photos.


2: Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum; Washington, D.C.

With approximately 50,000 artifacts from microchips to Saturn V rockets, this museum's two facilities are must sees. The one on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. opened in July 1976. Walking through the halls, visitors can view the original 1903 Wright Flyer, Charles Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis, Chuck Yeager's Bell X-1, John Glenn's Friendship 7 spacecraft, the Apollo 11 command module and a lunar rock sample.

The museum's second location is in Chantilly, Va., and showcases relics in an airplane hangar-like setting. Here, you can view a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, a Concorde, the Boeing B-29 Superfortress Enola Gay, the "Dash 80" prototype for the 707, the Boeing 307 Stratoliner and space shuttle Enterprise.


1: Kirkland House; Cambridge, Massachusetts

Walk to the end of Dunster Street in Cambridge, Mass. to find Kirkland House, one of the more sought after undergraduate houses at Harvard University. It also happens to be the dormitory where Mark Zuckerberg co-founded Facebook, along with a few classmates, in 2004. What started as a small University-focused social networking site burgeoned to more than 500 million users in 2010 [source: Facebook].

Though there's no official tour of Zuckerberg's scholarly housing unit (since university students continue to live there), you can still stroll the famous Harvard campus where more than one famous technophile has studied. If you're looking for a great nerdy hangout for lunch, go to the Miracle of Science Bar and Grill for its "geek-chic" atmosphere where you order from a menu designed like the periodic table of elements.

Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Arlington Virginia News. "DARPA Moving to New Location." July 22, 2009. (June 29, 2011) http://www.arlingtonva.us/departments/Communications/PressReleases/page71400.aspx
  • CoStar News. "$100M In Financing Raised for Future DARPA Headquarters in Arlington." (June 29, 2011). http://www.costar.com/News/Article/$100M-In-Financing-Raised-for-Future-DARPA-Headquarters-in-Arlington/125694
  • The Harvard Crimson. "Kirkland House." 2011. (June 29, 2011). http://www.thecrimson.com/series/the-housing-market-2009/article/2009/3/14/the-housing-crisis-kirkland-house/
  • Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex. 2011. (June 29, 2011) http://www.kennedyspacecenter.com/
  • Las Vegas Pinball Hall of Fame. "About." 2011. (June 30, 2011). http://www.pinballmuseum.org/
  • Microsoft. "Welcome to the Microsoft Visitor Center." (July 8, 2011) http://www.microsoft.com/about/companyinformation/visitorcenter/en/us/default.aspx
  • Museum of Art and Digital Entertainment in San Francisco. "About." 2011. (June 30, 2011). http://www.themade.org/content/what-are-we
  • The Tech Museum. "Exhibits." 1994-2010. (June 30, 2011) http://www.thetech.org/exhibits/
  • Vegas Solo. "The Pinball Hall of Fame: More Fun Than Slot Machines." 2010-2011. (June 29, 2011). http://www.vegassolo.com/pinball-hall-of-fame-vegas/