Brains & beauty

Cutting-edge technology and awe-inspiring nature live side-by-side in Northern California, reports Rose Dykins

When you think of Northern California, your mind instantly pictures the Golden Gate Bridge gleaming before a brilliant blue backdrop, of cable cars slowly gliding up the impossibly steep hills, and young, jean-clad professionals boarding the “Google bus” to work. It’s true that San Francisco dominates our perception of the region, and the city’s internationally renowned tech scene has been a huge driver of tourism since the Silicon Valley boom; last year, the city welcomed a record-breaking 25 million visitors.

However, there’s more to NorCal than its legacy of pioneering technology. The natural beauty of the region should not be overlooked – here, you’ll find California’s first national park, Yosemite, and the jaw-dropping Burney Falls, which has been nicknamed the “eighth wonder of the world.”

At the end of a business trip to San Francisco, it’s worth tagging on a weekend to enjoy what the region has to offer – whether you’re into hacking or hiking.



Seeking inspiration for the next big idea? San Francisco is dotted with sites where Silicon Valley’s greatest innovators struck gold. For example, budding entrepreneurs can be seen picnicking at leafy South Park, soaking up the atmosphere where the idea for Twitter popped into Jack Dorsey’s head. And 45 minutes from the city centre, a humble garage in the residential area of Palo Alto has become a Mecca for tech tourists; number 367 Addison Avenue is where William Hewlett and David Packard constructed their first audio oscillator, and is therefore known as the birthplace of Silicon Valley. Other options for tech fanatics include:

This interactive museum is full of nostalgic artefacts that chart the evolution of computers. Exhibitions include “IBM 1401 Demo Lab,” which recreates a 1960s computer system.

With its mission to ignite curiosity and inspire creativity, you may well walk away from this contemporary museum with a brainwave or two. Its free “Lab and Lunch” lectures from scientists and artists will fill you in on the latest research and discoveries.

If you’re always first in line for the latest iPhone launch, make your way Apple’s campus in Cupertino. The only building open to the public, this recently designed Apple store features official Apple-branded mementoes, and a space age shopping experience.

“Santa Cruz makes a great weekend trip after doing business in the city,” says Emma Westman from Visit California. “It has a wealth of things to do – from surfing in Monterey Bay to hiking in a coastal redwood forest.” Michaela Baltasar, PR Manager for Carlson Wagonlit Travel (CWT) US hails from NorCal. She recommends taking a road trip north of San Francisco. “The Marin and Sonoma coastal areas are beautiful – Point Reyes, Bolinas, Bodega Bay all offer stunning ocean views,” she says. Other unforgettable outdoors excursions include:

Situated where Nevada and California meet, the crystal waters of the sixth-largest lake in the US can be reached from San Francisco in four hours. As well as watersports, there are nine surrounding ski resorts (open November to April), and plenty of walking trails that lead you through the fragrant Jeffrey Pine trees.

Celebrated for their pinot noir and chardonnay grapes, the sun-drenched vineyards of Sonoma County are an hour’s drive north of San Francisco. “You can create your own itinerary, work with a tour company or rent a bicycle and ride from winery to winery,“ says Baltasar. “If you prefer beer, Sonoma County has some great breweries, most notably Russian River Brewing and Lagunitas.”

A four-hour drive from San Francisco, Yosemite Valley is home to dramatic ravines, towering peaks and three of the world’s top 20 tallest waterfalls – plus the tallest in the US (Yosemite Falls). Clamber to the top of the latter, and the views will justify the UNESCO World Heritage site status.

Set atop Nob Hill, with panoramic views of the city and the Bay, this five-star hotel promises grandeur and a sense of history. The Laurel Court Restaurant and Bar serves quality produce such as hand-cut organic dry-aged steaks, while the rooms and suites are classically elegant.

Part of the Viceroy brand, this contemporary boutique hotel in the trendy Union Square neighbourhood features individually-designed rooms and suites with one-off artwork or furniture pieces and an uber-stylish bar, with social spaces that are “set to a tune of a Silicon Valley start-up”.

This luxury property in the lush Sonoma Valley is an hour’s drive north of San Francisco. Its Mediterranean Carneros Bistro has a 400-strong wine list, and the outdoor pool is an oasis after an “arduous” day of wine tasting.