Where is Silicon Valley?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Silicon Valley is located in the northern part of the Santa Clara valley, directly south of San Francisco Bay. Since the early 1900s, this region has hosted innovators in technology, electronics, and the sciences, although the name was not coined until the 1970s. Many people associate the area with the tech industry, although the eponymous silicon chips are no longer manufactured in high volume in the region.

Santa Clara University is one of many universities in Silicon Valley.
Santa Clara University is one of many universities in Silicon Valley.

There are various ways to define the location of Silicon Valley. Some people consider it the southern part of the San Francisco Bay Area, encompassing cities on both the east and west sides of the bay, along with some cities directly below it. The city of San Jose is widely regarded as the capital of the region, and the cities of Cupertino, Palo Alto, Los Altos, Livermore, Mountain View, Santa Clara, and Sunnyvale, among others, are also included.

The origins of technological innovation in the area stretch back into the 1800s, when patrons like Leland Stanford sponsored scientific experimentation and innovation. The San Francisco Bay area also hosted a number of experimental sites for the United States military in both world wars, and the high concentration of universities and colleges in the area attracted a number of students and innovators. By the 1960s, the region was well established as a science heavy, extremely geeky section of California.

One of the first major tech companies in the region was Hewlett-Packard, founded in a Silicon Valley garage in the 1920s. When the silicon transistor was developed in the 1950s, many semiconductor firms moved into the region to start manufacturing, and the area became forever associated with computers and the tech industry. Sadly, one legacy of this industry is heavy levels of pollution throughout the region, caused by improper handling of toxic materials by many major manufacturers.

In addition to silicon chip makers, this area also began to attract other members of the high tech industry, such as software developers. By 1971, the term “Silicon Valley” was being used in a trade magazine, an apt replacement for the former nickname for the area, the “Valley of Heart's Delight,” a reference to the orchards that once sprawled across most of the region. Although fortunes in the area were damaged by the collapse of the dot-com bubble, the region continues to be recognized as a center of creativity, with new firms constantly appearing.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@Mammmood - I think the whole silicon valley concept is going to become obsolete, for one word: Google. Yes, Google is in Silicon Valley, but in recent years it has been establishing data centers in various cities throughout the United States. They’ve even decided to establish some in rural areas in Midwestern states, hardly glamorous locations by any standard.

My point is that technology startups are becoming more open about where they establish their presence; they will look at how affordable land is, the cost of living, the availability of needed human resources and other factors which may tie into their particular business model.

Frankly, with the high cost of living in California, I don’t see it maintaining its silicon valley status for many more decades into the future.


@M1ddle - I think the movie you're talking about is called Pirates of Silicon Valley. It was a made-for-tv movie based on the book Fire In The Valley: The Making of the Personal Computer.

I liked the way the movie showed the competition between Steve Job and Bill Gates. There is a lot of backstory about how their companies developed. It seems pretty relevant to how Microsoft and Apple interact today. They're two completely different, but revolutionary, operating systems. It's funny how loyal people are to one type of computer. You're either a Mac person or a PC person.

Pirates of Silicon Valley aired in the late 90s, but you can buy it on DVD. If you're looking for a cheap copy, I'd try Amazon.


I think Austin, Texas is the next silicon valley. It has a lot of high-tech talent, the University of Texas is nearby providing a wealth of resources for research, and of course Dell is located there. Further, Facebook opened up offices there as well and there are other organizations in the city providing venture capital for startup companies.

I’ve been to Austin several times and it’s a beautiful city. I think it would a perfect place to establish more high-tech companies. It also has an affordable standard of living compared to California, which makes it even more appealing to startups.


Does anyone know the name of the movie about the rivalry between Bill Gates and Steve Jobs in Silicon Valley? I watched it a few years ago. It was about how the home computer was made. It was really interesting.

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