Why the headquarters of iconic tech companies are now among America's top tourist attractions

  • The billion-dollar headquarters of some iconic U.S. tech companies are attracting tourists from all over the world.
  • Amazon's proposed $5 billion investment in HQ2 is the latest example of this trend.
  • Campuses like Googleplex give visitors a chance to see a microcosm of smart cities of the future run by renewable energy.
Google employees arriving after bicycling to work at the Googleplex in Mountain View, CA.
Brooks Kraft | Getty Images
Google employees arriving after bicycling to work at the Googleplex in Mountain View, CA.

With many tech companies enjoying worldwide prominence, and with fodders to match, some headquarters have now become architectural wonders in their own right.

Even company offices that aren't architecturally gifted, have drawn wide interest for not only their high tech products and services but also their employee perks such as massages, volleyball courts, cafeterias stocked with free gourmet food, dry-cleaning and doctors on site. Both the state-of-the-art buildings and lifestyle are fascinating to outsiders.

"Silicon Valley is the birthplace of these things. A lot of visitors from around the world want to feel closer to that and experience it first hand," said James March of Silicon Valley Innovation Center, which organizes tours, education programs and conferences about technology.

The billion-dollar headquarters of some iconic U.S. tech companies have become so over-the-top that tourists from around the world are flocking to see them and maybe catch sight of a self-driving vehicle.

When Amazon offered to invest $5 billion in the construction of its second headquarters, finalist cities proposed some fantastical designs including public plazas, mixed-use spaces, dedicated traffic lanes for autonomous vehicles, and even a bullet train in Dallas. On Saturday, The Washington Post reported that Amazon was closing in on Northern Virginia as its choice for its 2nd headquarters.

Microsoft recently unveiled plans to overhaul its 500-acre campus in Redmond, Washington. Here is a look at some of the most popular tech headquarters that are attracting visitors.

Google's Googleplex


More of a campus than an office building, Google's headquarters in Mountain View, California, is spread out over 12 acres. To get from one part of the campus to another, Google offers its employees free, colorful "G Bikes." There are also organic gardens, tennis courts, sports fields, and beach volleyball courts.

The main building, Googleplex, is fronted by a T-Rex skeleton with twirling flamingos, a reminder to Googlers, as they are called, to stay relevant and not become dinosaurs. Inside, employees have access to fitness classes, massages, a 24/7 gym, on-site doctor, dry cleaning facilities plus cafeterias and micro kitchens, some with outdoor seating with the signature umbrellas in primary colors.

Google employees play some early morning beach volleyball on the Googleplex campus in Mountain View, California.
Brooks Kraft | Getty Images
Google employees play some early morning beach volleyball on the Googleplex campus in Mountain View, California.

While visitors can visit the grounds, they are not permitted inside the buildings unless they are escorted by a Google employee. The company doesn't run tours. Google also has a visitors' center at 1981 Landings Drive in Mountain View, but it's not accessible to the public without a Google escort. Next to the visitors center is one of the most popular spots: a sculpture garden featuring various Android statues, one for each version of Android. The versions are all named after sweets so there's a cupcake, donut, ice cream sandwich, KitKat, gingerbread and honeycomb.

Though the Google campus is pretty cool already, things are about to be upgraded. The company is working on two new buildings that will be built from the ground up: Charleston East, which would be located near the current campus in Mountain View on an 18-acre lot that's been leased by Google for years. The new building would have 595,00 square feet of office space plus more than 10,000 square feet of publicly accessible areas such as retail space, cafes or other amenities located in the middle of the building. The roof of the building would be designed to be lightweight with specially-designed solar panels that would be lighter in color and safe for birds, covering the entire roof.

The other building, Bay View, is a 1.1 million square foot facility on a 42-acre site. The design would be similar to Charleston East only over three structures containing office and conference space. The buildings would have two floors of workspace centered around interior courtyards. Any exterior glass will have a pattern so birds won't fly into the clear glass, plus shade systems and lighting controls to minimize light pollution at night.

Apple Park


More than 12,000 Apple employees moved onto the 175-acre Apple Park in Cupertino, California, starting in April of last year. The ring-shaped building, which resembles a spaceship, is 2.8 million square feet and clad entirely by panels of curved glass. The building, which was designed by famed architectural firm Foster + Partners, is surrounded by parklands that Apple created by taking down 5 million square feet of asphalt and concrete and replacing it with 9,000 drought-resistant native trees and grassy fields. There's an orchard, meadow and pond on the grounds. Employees who get tired of the 100,000 square foot fitness center can also use two miles of walking and running paths on the campus.

Apple Park Visitors Center in Cupertino, Calif.  
Source: Apple 
Apple Park Visitors Center in Cupertino, Calif.  

The dramatic-looking building is powered by renewable energy and, according to Apple, has one of the largest on-site solar energy installations in the world. There's also a 1,000 seat auditorium, named after founder Steve Jobs, which features a dramatic 20-foot tall glass cylinder with a metallic carbon fiber roof at its entrance.

Alas, all of this is closed to the public but Apple did open a Visitors Center a few months after opening Apple Park. Though the visitor center is separate from the main building, Apple said it was designed with similar aesthetics, featuring stone walls and terrazzo floors. It also has a cantilevered carbon fiber roof that is supported by stone clad cores, giving it the illusion that it's floating. Visitors at the center can check out 3D models of the actual campus, go to the roof terrace or hang out at the café for a coffee or the store, which of course is stocked with Apple products.

Salesforce Tower


At 1,070 feet tall, Salesforce Tower in San Francisco is the tallest office building west of Chicago. Opened in 2016, the $1.1 billion skyscraper rises 61 stories over the Transbay District downtown. It has quickly become a landmark not only because of its height but also because of the ever-changing light display at the top of the building. The top nine floors of the building have 11,000 LED lights on the exterior which feature work by artist Jim Campbell.

Inside, the 10-foot tall windows maximize natural light. Employees sit at desks that can adjusted for height and can choose from three different ergonomic chairs and have clear sight lines to the windows. Green and brownish carpeting throughout the floors are designed to resemble pebbled paths and grassy areas. There are flexible seating areas on every floor, located in places where the view is the best, to encourage impromptu meetings.

Marc Benioff, chairman and chief executive officer of Salesforce.com Inc., speaks during the grand opening ceremonies for the Salesforce Tower in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Tuesday, May 22, 2018. 
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Marc Benioff, chairman and chief executive officer of Salesforce.com Inc., speaks during the grand opening ceremonies for the Salesforce Tower in San Francisco, California, U.S., on Tuesday, May 22, 2018. 

Every employee floor has a meditation room with floor pillows and books about mindfulness. There are also parents' rooms on every third floor, which can be used for pumping. Notably, there's no dining hall as Salesforce encourages its employees to go out and buy lunch, but there is a social lounge on every floor with big comfy seating. There are also social lounges featuring mural designs by artist Shinji Murakami and a large kitchen island stocked with snacks and drinks.

Many lounges have views of the nearby Salesforce Transit Center and Park, which has a 5.4-acre rooftop with botanical gardens, a jogging path, open grass areas, children's playground, outdoor amphitheater and café and restaurant.

The Ohana floor in Salesforce Tower. 
Source: Salesforce
The Ohana floor in Salesforce Tower. 

Of course, with a building this size, the best view is a few blocks away. Starting sometime early next year, Salesforce is set to open the top floor of the building, the 61st floor, to the public during limited hours. On nights on weekends, the "Ohana Floor" will be open to select nonprofit and foundations.

For now, curious visitors can check out the Salesforce lobby, which is open to the public. Facing Fremont Street, the lobby is decorated with company mascots and a natural park scene. There's also currently a Ducati motorcycle "experience" which lets visitors don a leather jacket and pose on a Ducati bike.

Facebook

Facebook moved into its new 430,000 square foot Menlo Park, California headquarters, designed by Frank Gehry, in 2015. LEED-certified, MPK 20, as it's called, has a 9-acre green roof with a half mile loop that weaves among trees and antive plants, cafes, gathering spaces and work cabanas. Inside, the building has an open floor plan and features large murals and art installations from local artists. The new building is connected the company's old headquarters, located on the other side of a highway, with a tunnel. Employees can walk, bicycle or take a tram from one side to the other.

Facebook's Menlo Park headquarters. 
Source: Facebook 
Facebook's Menlo Park headquarters. 

Most of the company's 2,800 employees sit in spacious bullpens lacking dividers or walls, designed to evoke the company's ethos of openess. The space also includes some cafes and micro-kitchens so employees can grab a coffee or snack, as well as spaces with couches and whiteboards for casual meetings.

Though it's only been a few years, Facebook is expanding again and last year unveiled plans to build a new campus, right next to its existing headquarters. The new "Willow Campus" is to include a 125,000 square feet in retail space including a grocery store and pharmacy plus 1,500 housing units, 15 percent of which will be offered at below-market prices. The first phase, including a grocery store, plus housing and offices, is expected to be completed in 2021.

Microsoft


Microsoft just recently unveiled its plan to overhaul its 500-acre campus in Redmond, Washington—16 miles east of Seattle. The renovation, which just started, will take five to seven years to complete. Old buildings will be taken down and new ones added.

As part of the project, Microsoft will add 18 new buildings, ranging from 180,000 to 220,00 square feet, for a total of 131 buildings when completed.

Microsoft Headquarters 
Source: Microsoft 
Microsoft Headquarters 

The buildings, which are being built or refurbished with new tech such as sensors and building automation systems for security and power generation, will be four to five stories in height with spacious atriums and courtyards. The company will also continue adding outdoor meeting spaces like treehouses amongst native Pacific Northwest Douglas firs. They'll also be clustered into five "villages" or "team neighborhoods." The plans include a 2-acre open plaza that can fit up to 12,000 people. In all, the multi-year project will add almost 3 million square feet of workspace and designed to promote physical activity and alternative transportation.

The campus will be built for pedestrians and bicycles and there will be a foot- and cyclist- only bridge to connect both sides of the campus. The bridge will cut down the time it takes to get from one side of the huge campus to the other will be cut to about 7 minutes after the renovation, from a 22-minute walk today. It will also tie into the Redmond Technology Transit Station that is scheduled to have a Link Light Rail in 2023. Cars will be hidden away in an underground parking facility. There are also running and walking trails, soccer and cricket facilities and retail space. Construction is scheduled to be completed in 2022.