Silicon Valley is famous for having things with nonsensical names. It’s not just the startups, it’s also the place names. For example, “Mountain View”. Here’s a view from a field right next to Google’s main campus. It seems… pretty flat. How do you arrive in this place, look around, and think, I know, I’ll call this “Mountain View”?

So for a long time I assumed “Silicon Valley” didn’t mean anything. It doesn’t feel like a valley, it feels like a flat area that’s next to a bay. This is the sort of trivia that I ignore for a decade, and then one day in a fit of random curiosity look it up on Wikipedia, and lo and behold it is actually named after a valley:

Silicon Valley is a nickname for the southern portion of the San Francisco Bay Area, in the northern part of the U.S. state of California. The “valley” in its name refers to the Santa Clara Valley in Santa Clara County, which includes the city of San Jose and surrounding cities and towns, where the region has been traditionally centered.

This naturally leads to the question of what counts as the Santa Clara Valley. Wikipedia again:

The valley is bounded by the Santa Cruz Mountains on the southwest, which separate Santa Clara Valley from the Pacific Ocean, and by the Diablo Range on the northeast.

Here’s a diagram:


The Santa Cruz Mountains, on the left, are the same mountains you can’t quite view from Mountain View.

Originally the “valley” referred to the area San Jose and southwards. Its industry-specific nickname was the “Valley of Heart’s Delight”, because until the 60’s it was the largest fruit production region in the world. Then that all got displaced by tech companies, which makes the name “Apple” seem a bit less friendly and a bit more passive-aggressive.

Nowadays the area considered Silicon Valley has expanded to include the stretch from Palo Alto to San Francisco. But in a sense it’s still a valley between the Santa Cruz Mountains and the Diablo Range. It’s just a really big valley so you can’t necessarily see its valley-ness while you are in it.

So Silicon Valley is sprawling. Where will it stop? My theory is that Silicon Valley will inevitably expand to fill all of the space between these mountain ranges, like a modern version of Manifest Destiny. Imagine Oakland, San Leandro, Fremont, and Gilroy all steadily invaded by an army of techies.

Why Silicon Valley’s Manifest Destiny Is to Fill Up The Physical Valley

  1. Rent. This is the obvious one, everywhere from San Francisco to San Jose is getting more and more expensive.

  2. Nominative determinism. The word “valley” is part the phrase “Silicon Valley”. Therefore, mystical grammatical fate will drive them together. There is a certain magic to saying, yes we’re located in Silicon Valley. I think you can say that with good faith if your company is located in San Leandro or Gilroy. If someone complains, point to this picture of the mountain ranges.

  3. Software is eating the world. There are still lots of non-tech-dominated industries. If we keep eating those industries a la Uber and Airbnb, and Silicon Valley keeps having most of the eaters, we will have more and more massive companies in Silicon Valley and need more space to put them.

  4. Self-driving cars. It takes two hours to commute from Gilroy to Menlo Park. If self-driving cars make a two-hour commute something that isn’t too bad, all of a sudden Gilroy is a much nicer place to live.

I think this last reason is underrated. Imagine a world where your car is a great place to work. Sure you can have a two-hour commute. Just hop in your car at 8, get to work at 10, leave work at 4, get home at 6, and hey that’s a 10-hour work day because your car is just a one-person office on wheels. You can put your in-person meetings from 10 to 4 so you don’t have that “remote office” feeling of not actually sitting next to your coworkers. So why bother living closer than two hours to the office?

Recently I have read a number of interesting analyses theorizing what the good investment opportunities are, if self-driving cars work out. Perhaps a simple answer here is “Gilroy real estate”.