T he Mani family had set out for a photo with the oversized "Like" symbol that guards Facebook's idyllic Menlo Park headquarters, but they were not allowed in the 1 Hacker Way. No tourists are, unless they have a meeting with an employee.
The Toronto residents still enjoyed themselves, and later that day, Eva Mani changed her Facebook cover photo to a picture of the smiling family of four at Google's sunny office.
In the parking lot, her two teenage son argued about the result of their visit.
Rahul Mani, who loves to code and wants to grow up as an engineer, said he felt he knew Facebook better after seeing his offices.
His older brother Rohan disagreed: "All of us found the sign and take pictures with it! How do you feel you know Facebook better?"
Technical tourism is thousands of people coming to Silicon Valley every year from around the world. By looking for Instagram placement tags for Facebook, Google and Apple, hundreds of posts are revealed in dozens of languages. I talked to people from Canada, Spain, Italy, Hong Kong, Colombia, Chile, Japan, the Philippines, Texas and California on the technical campuses for this story.
So what do the tourists get out of it? Can you interact with Google more personally as you would at google.com? The tech giants cause seismic changes around the world, but they are not historical sights open to the public in the way a museum is. No matter how many times Apple calls its stores "squares", it's private buildings full of people on computers. They do not offer tours.
Google and Apple, both operating the visitors' premises open to the public, are more friendly to tourists than the offices of YouTube, Netflix, Instagram and Facebook, which only offer photos up with their logos on the side of the road. YouTube is just 1
A YouTube engineer, who asked to be anonymous for fear of professional repressal, summed it up: "It's very strange. I'm not sure what people get out of it. The only interesting things are all behind closed doors, but even then it's just an office. "
The tourist experience on YouTube is about the same as on Facebook. Visitors without employment connections are not allowed in the offices, but they can take a picture with the sign from the outside. A security guard on YouTube confirmed that the company does not offer tours: "There is not much to see."
But this is lifestyle brands as much as they are technology companies, and people have toured their websites billions of times. Instagram employees Instagram themselves on Instagram HQ, and YouTubers takes pictures with the same barren characters to post about corporate-connected meetings. An image of a Silicon Valley company, whether you are there for work or not, gives a preferred status of intellect and wealth. You seem to be in control, though briefly, of the architecture on the internet that we all use.
For some, the reasons for visiting do not elicit so many questions.
"Why go to Google? Because it's my life. I use Google every day, so I'm curious to see where all of the creations come from," said Clement Poidatz, a resident of Milan, who stands in front of the Facebook sign.
He and a friend from Spain had come to Facebook "just to say we have been here. It's once in life that we will be here, so why not?" As a fan of Netflix mafia drama Suburra he also planned to visit the video streaming company and joked that he wanted to ask about the new season.
Even after the scandals that Facebook has endured, both this year and later, visitors continue. Fame is fame. Kanako Yanai had come from Tokyo to see Facebook because she looked at The Social Network three years ago.
For young tourists like Rahul, Silicon Valley presents a vision of the future. Students from a computer graphics class at Pittsburg High School, one hour north of Silicon Valley, came to Google after visiting the Computer History Museum. Five girls sat in the Android sculpture garden, populated with statues of the operating system logo that were transformed into various desserts.
Carsheala Bankston, senior, said: "The museum made me feel like a real computer scientist, which I actually knew what I was doing … You see computers from the beginning and when you get to the modern part, you're like, "Oh, this is what I do in class." "
Dayahna Celestine, also an elder, added:" There were signs of Boolean expressions, and we make boolesans in the class. We actually do what we came to see. "
They had just left the Google Visitor Center, where tourists can buy Google branded, sweaters, $ 37 stuffed Androids and some Google products like Chromecast or a Nest Thermostat. The site's transformation from office space to store is not completely complete; An artist painted a mural on a wall the day I arrived. Visitors can also find their homepages on a massive Google Earth screen.
Compared to the museum, tech giant had disappointed the girls.
"I expected to see Google phones and Chromebooks, but it was just Google water bottles. Then there's this park with no slides or swings," Celestine told gestures against the Android sculptures.
To make matters worse, the students de facto tour guide had bailed on them. (Google does not offer formal tours, so the wizard would have been an employee.)
But before I could ask them more, our interview of one of their classmates running a Google Bike interrupted painted Google's distinctive tricolor and open to everyone on the company's campus . The girls rushed to catch their own bikes and rode in circles on the nearby parking lot.
Other Toronto tourists in the visitor reception had the same debate as Rahul and Rohan were on Facebook.
] "I don't think you can really get to know the brand better here. Google is a search engine and sells things like phones and anything," says George Springer, a teenager who had come with his family.
He felt in the same way about Facebook that the family had visited earlier in the day: "The other is a social media company; You don't have to go to the physical location to know anything about it. Everywhere you access it online, it is the same. "
" Google seems to track tourist movements as they shop. "
His mother Dora replied:" But this is the head office. This is where everything comes from. That's why we're here. "
George's father Peter did well:" You don't need to see where it is made. It's not like we're talking about a car, where you can go to the factory. This is another industrial area. Any city has an industrial manufacturing area … I'd rather drive up the mountains. You can see concrete and steel anywhere. "
But Dora got the last word:" Here we are on the other side of the country from Toronto. We are already Googling everything. Our whole life is Google. Let's take a walk down and see where all things are going. Maybe it's just a wall, just another brick and mortar, maybe there's more! We do not know. We've never been here! It's an adventure! "
Google's physical spaces are more like their digital than perhaps Peter Singer may think. The company reduces people's bodies for data, just as it does against their actions online. Two Velodyne LIDAR sensors, the type used to control self-driving cars, In the gift shop above the visitors' heads, Google seems to track the movements of tourists as they shop. The company did not respond to the request for comment on what it does with that information.
The highest girls in Pittsburg were not the only ones released during their visit.  eBay, one of the oldest Silicon Valley successes, appears confused about what it wants to do with visitors, when I told a security guard I was a reporter and asked him about tourists on eBay, he said the cafe was open to the public and Seller sometimes came through, so did the odd tourist, he said, but no one seemed to be there that day, he was upset when I asked him his name n for this story and said he didn't know I was a reporter. I left the lobby.
On the cafe's patio, a second security guard approached me and asked that I leave, saying that the company "limits access to only eBay employees and people with meetings". A third security guard, who here runs a SUV with a siren light, followed me out of the parking lot and pointed to her phone camera at my car.
eBay did not respond to the lobby policy clarification request.
Discussions about seeing technical companies in person are noticeably absent from Apple's visitors, a soft bungalow whose roof appears to be supported by columns of air
On a rainy March Sunday there were families around the glass-and-wood building in pods, buying appliances, coffee and $ 40 Apple-Park labeled t-shirts. The shirts, like the iPhone, are manufactured in China.
Apple urges its visitor of $ 108 million "an architectural expansion of our private campus". It has been open since November 2017 and smells like a museum store. Employees explain that the gray stone steps and corners of the aluminum fence bend in the same curve as the edge of your iPhone, a talent point that sometimes goes to the tourist's Instagram post.
"I thought we could have gone inside the ring. Because we're here, we hoped we'd see everything, but the iPad thing was cool," said Cindy Lam, a Boston University student from Hong Kong.
She said seeing the office, even far from, made her want to work at Apple. She bought a t-shirt.
"I'm an Apple user, and I like their products, but now I like them even more," she said.
Mark Badella drove two and a half hours from Sacramento so his 3-year-old son Leon could play at the visitor center.
"[Leon] loves to go to Apple stores. He always wants to go, Mark said." He is familiar with the iPhone. Even a 3 year old can use the iPhone with a sweeping gesture. Perhaps he makes a connection between it and the real world. "
iPhone seems to have influenced how Leon interacts with the world. He wants every screen to respond to his touch. When we talked, he tried to sweep directly on a giant screen that Apple uses for demonstrations. It was not a touch screen.
Visitors are not allowed in the Apple Park itself, designed by star architect Norman Foster, so they are given a replacement: a model of the big ring seen through an iPad, jumps to life in increased reality. The roof covers the iconic ring behind a tree stand. 80% 80% of the office space is professionally laid out. his new campus, which met Steve Jobs himself, a CEO notoriously for his demanding attention to detail.