Geeky places to visit before you die

If you like reliving geek history, you’ll want to add visiting these places to your nerd bucket list

geeky places to visit before you die
ITworld/Stephen Sauer

The Eiffel Tower, the Great Wall of China, the Colosseum in Rome - these are among the places that many say you should see at least once in your life. But if you’re somebody who’s into computers or gaming or math or science (fiction), then your list of must-see places probably includes some other - geekier - locations. If you’re one of those people, use the arrows above to review ITworld’s list of places where something historically geeky occurred, that are still standing, and which, if possible, you should visit before your number is up. To help plan your visits, we’ve created a Google map with all of these locations marked.

See also:

ITworld cartoons 2015: The year in geek humor (so far)

11 technologies that tick off Linus Torvalds

Superclass: 14 of the world’s best living programmers

Let’s get ready to grumble! 6 arguments that get a rise out of programmers

The Cave of Pythagoras in Samos, Greece

The Cave of Pythagoras

Location: Marathokampos 831 02, Samos, Greece

Sitting at the foot of Mount Kerkis on the island of Samos, Greece sits the Cave of Pythagoras, which, for a time, served as the home and classroom of the famous philosopher and mathematician. The man who came up with one of the bedrock equations of mathematics was born on this island around 570 BC and spent part of his life living and teaching in the cave, supposedly in hiding from the ruler Polycrates, before he left the island around 530 BC. While it’s a bit of a hike to reach, his caves are open to the public. Ironically, Pythagoras Cave, being a cave and all, doesn’t have any right angles.

Church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Trento, Italy

The birthplace of Gregorian calendar

Location: Santa Maria Maggiore, Vicolo delle Orsoline, 1, Trento, Italy

The church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Trento, Italy is where the Gregorian calendar was born. In 1563, the Third Council of Trent, meeting there, adopted a plan by Italian astronomer Luigi Lilio to modify the Julian Calendar to ensure a more consistent scheduling of Easter. That became the basis of the Gregorian calendar which now plays an important role in computing, as it accounts for some of the more unusual epoch dates on computer systems, such as January 1, 1601 for Windows and January 1, 1904 for early versions of Mac OS. Here endeth (we think) the Catholic Church’s influence on Windows.

Woolsthorpe Manor in Lincolnshire, UK where Isaac Newton was born

The site of Isaac Newton’s apple tree

Location: Woolsthorpe Manor, Water Lane, Grantham, Lincolnshire, UK

Woolsthorpe Manor is the site of the Isaac Newton’s famous apple tree, as well being his birthplace. While it’s probably not true that he was hit on the head by an apple that fell from it, several of Newton’s contemporaries wrote that Newton himself told them that it was seeing an apple fall from a tree on the Woolsthorpe property in 1666 that gave him the idea for his famous theory of gravity. The home has been restored to how it looked at that time and the famous tree, supposedly, is still there. If you go, don’t sit under it, just to be safe.

685 Main Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts

The site where the world's first 2-way phone call was received

Location: 685 Main Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts

This building on Main Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts is the place where the world’s first two-way telephone call was received. Alexander Graham Bell came to Boston from Scotland in 1872 to help teach the deaf how to speak using a system that his father developed. He soon decided to devote his time to developing techniques for transmitting sound and in 1875, with the help of Thomas Watson, he received a patent for the acoustic telegraph. On October 9, 1876, Bell made the first call from his lab in Boston to Watson at the Walworth Manufacturing Co. in Cambridge. Luckily, voicemail (or caller ID) had not been invented, so Watson had to answer.

Royal Observatory Greenwich

The origin of Greenwich Mean Time

Location: Royal Observatory Greenwich, Blackheath Avenue Greenwich, United Kingdom

People who prefer to know their time and location with high precision will want to visit the Royal Observatory Greenwich. The observatory was founded in 1675 by King Charles II to help solve the problem of determining one’s longitude (east-west location) at sea. It’s most famous today for being chosen as the site of the prime meridian (0° longitude) and the basis of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) in 1884. GMT was the global time standard until January 1, 1972 when it was replaced by Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). Computer geeks, of course, know UTC well, as it’s the official time standard of the Internet. The observatory is open from 10:00am to 5:00pm daily - GMT, of course.

Kramgasse 49, Bern Switzerland where Einstein lived in 1905

The birthplace of E=mc2

Location: Kramgasse 49, Bern Switzerland

The second floor apartment of this building in Bern is where Albert Einstein lived in 1905, his annus mirabilis (“year of wonders”). It was in this apartment that he did some of the work that became the foundation of modern physics, including his special theory of relativity and E=mc2. The apartment has been restored to its 1905 appearance and is open to the public for tours. If you go to visit this historic location, be sure to also visit the corner of Speichergasse and Genfergasse, the site of the patent office where Einstein famously worked - and no doubt didn’t see a single patent application from Apple or Google.

The garage in Palo Alto, California where Hewlett-Packard was born

The birthplace of Hewlett-Packard

Location: 367 Addison Ave Palo Alto, California

Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the garage that birthed Hewlett-Packard is also known as the Birthplace of Silicon Valley. In 1938 Dave Packard moved into this address while buddy Bill Hewlett moved into the garage. Using $538 in capital, and flipping a coin to choose the name, HP was born in 1939. They went to work in that garage producing whatever they could to make money, including a self-flushing urinal, a weight loss machine, and, their first product, the HP200A audio oscillator. The property has recently been restored and, while it's only open for private tours, you can admire it from the curb, while thinking about all the useless junk in your own garage.

A WWII display in Bletchley Park

The place where Germany’s “unbreakable” WWII code was broken

Location: Bletchley Park, Sherwood Drive, Bletchley, United Kingdom

World War II lasted for six years years, but it might have gone on significantly longer were it not for the secret work that went on at Bletchley Park. During the war it was the site of the UK’s Government Code and Cypher School, which eventually broke the “unbreakable” encryption by Germany’s Enigma machine. Over the course of the war 12,000 people worked at Bletchley on code-breaking efforts, including mathematicians, linguists, chess masters, and crossword puzzle experts, among them Alan Turing, the “father of computer science.” Visitors can see Turing’s office, Enigma machines, and the devices used to break them - which could no doubt still easily crack your own lame password scheme.

Arcade games at the Funspot arcade

The world’s largest arcade

Location: Funspot, 579 Endicott Street North Laconia, New Hampshire

If you want to visit a geeky landmark that can also provide an afternoon of fun, try Funspot, which the Guinness Book of World Records recognized as the world’s largest arcade in 2008. First opened in 1952, it now features more than 500 games, as well as bowling, bingo, and mini-golf. It also houses the American Classic Arcade Museum, featuring games built before 1988. Funspot has also been the place where world record high scores for many classic video games have been set, including Space Invaders, Pac-Man, and Centipede and was featured in the documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters. If you visit, make sure you have some time (and money) to kill.

The words “To MIT 364.4 Smoots + 1 Ear” painted in the Harvard Bridge

The birthplace of the smoot unit of measurement

Location: Harvard Bridge, Boston/Cambridge, Massachusetts

The Harvard (AKA Massachusetts Avenue) Bridge, which connects Boston and Cambridge, was the site of one of MIT’s most enduring hacks. In October 1958, freshman Oliver Smoot, a pledge at the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity, which had a house in Boston, was used to measure the length of the bridge. At 5 feet, 7 inches tall, the bridge officially measured 364.4 “smoots” plus one ear. Every ten smoots were marked on the bridge sidewalks and the markers get repainted every year by the fraternity. Fittingly, Smoot himself went on to become the chairman of the American National Standards Institute Board of Directors but has since retired from that job - and from being used as a tape measure.

Dartmouth’s Collis Center

The birthplace of BASIC

Location: Collis Center for Student Involvement, Dartmouth College, 2 North Main St, Hanover, New Hampshire

In the wee early morning hours of May 1, 1964 in the basement of Dartmouth’s College Hall, the world’s very first BASIC program was run. BASIC was designed by Dartmouth professors John Kemeny and Thomas Kurtz as a simpler alternative to existing, more complex languages like Fortran and Algol. BASIC quickly became a phenomenon and the language that introduced many people to programming. Over the decades that first implementation of the language eventually spawned hundreds of other BASIC interpreters and compilers for a wide variety of operating systems and computers. Today, College Hall is called the Collis Center for Student Involvement and known as “the heart of campus life at Dartmouth,” though it’s not clear how many students today appreciate that it is also hallowed-nerd ground.

UCLA’s Boelter Hall

The origin of the first Internet message

Location: Boelter Hall Room 3420, UCLA, 580 Portola Plaza, Los Angeles, California

It was from room 3420 of UCLA’s Boelter Hall that the world’s first Internet message was sent on October 29, 1969. UCLA was the site of one the first four nodes of ARPANET, a computer network created by the Department of Defense that was the start of the modern Internet. That first message was sent from an SDS Sigma 7 computer in room 3420 to a computer at Stanford, which promptly crashed. Today, the room and the original Interface Message Processor are preserved as part of UCLA’s Kleinrock Center for Internet Studies. Information about visiting the site is available, appropriately, on the Internet.

Picture of the former Andy Capp’s Tavern where Pong debuted

The site of the first Pong arcade game

Location: 157 West El Camino Real Sunnyvale, California

This is the former site of Andy Capp’s Tavern, which was where Atari’s first Pong arcade game was installed in November 1972. Atari had been founded earlier that year by Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabney, and Pong was their first official release. The Pong prototype was made by Allan Acorn and included a black-and-white TV and an old milk bottle to collect the change. The game quickly proved to be the world’s first popular video arcade game. Andy Capp’s is now Rooster T. Feathers, a comedy club, so if you go there, have a laugh and a moment of silence in remembrance of this epic moment in the history of time-wasting activities.

House in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin where D&D was born

The birthplace of Dungeons & Dragons

Location: 330 Center Street, Lake Geneva, Wisconsin

When most people think of geeks, they picture guys in a basement rolling 20-sided die playing fantasy games, which is why we’ve included the birthplace of Dungeons & Dragons on this list. The game was created by Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson and first published in 1974. The initial 1,000 copies of the game were printed and assembled in the basement of Gygax’s home in Lake Geneva. Gygax also held the first Gen Con, now one of the largest gaming conventions in the world, in his house in 1967. If you fly there to visit this hallowed nerd ground, be sure to leave your chainmail behind, since it probably won’t be allowed through airport security.

The renovated Sundowner Motel where Microsoft began

The birthplace of Microsoft

Location: 6141 Central Ave NE, Albuquerque, New Mexico

Route 66 is famous for being one of America’s first highways, eventually stretching from Chicago to Santa Monica. While “The Main Street of America” gave birth to a famous song and TV show, it also gave birth to Microsoft. In 1975 founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen set up shop in the Sundowner Motel to write a BASIC interpreter for the new MITS Altair 8800 microcomputer, which was eventually released as Altair BASIC. While Microsoft moved to Washington in 1979 and the Sundowner closed in 2009, the building was recently renovated and has been turned into apartments for those with lower incomes and special needs. Needless to say the motel has lots of windows.

House in Los Altos, California where Apple started

The birthplace of Apple

Location: 2066 Crist Drive, Los Altos, California

Back in 1976, this nondescript California house (which, at the time, was 11161 Crist Drive) owned by Paul and Clara Jobs became the birthplace of Apple. The Jobs’ adopted son Steve founded Apple along with Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne on April Fool’s Day, 1976 (Wayne, who helped to design the original Apple logo, sold his 10% share in the company less than 2 weeks later for $800). Apple began in a spare bedroom of the house, before the operation was moved to the garage. The first 50 Apple I computers were built here (one of which sold in 2013 for $671,000). If you take a selfie there, have some respect and don’t do it with an Android phone.

The Alpine Inn in Portola Valley, California

The origin of first cross-network Internet message

Location: The Alpine Inn, 3915 Alpine Road, Portola Valley, California

When the world’s first Internet message was sent in 1969, it stayed within the same network, going from one node on ARPANET to another. It would be another seven years before a message was sent across networks. That happened on August 27, 1976 and, unlike that first message in 1969, it was not sent from a lab or a university location. Instead, it was sent from a computer set up on a wooden table behind the Alpine Tavern, also known as Rossotti’s or Zott’s, south of San Francisco. The computer and an accompanying van outfitted by the Stanford Research Institute made up a mobile node in PRNET, a packet radio network (a precursor to today’s wireless networks) created by  DARPA. On that August day, a message was sent from the picnic table behind the Alpine Inn via the PRNET node to an ARPANET node in Boston using protocols for packet-switching across networks that are known today as TCP/IP. Today, you can still visit the Alpine Inn and, of course, send an email just using your phone - no van required.

Hôtel Sidi Driss in Tunisia used in Star Wars

The setting for Luke Skywalker’s boyhood home

Location: Hôtel Sidi Driss Matmatat-Al-Qadimal Tunisia

Not so long ago (almost 40 years), in a galaxy not so far away (this one) the Hôtel Sidi Driss in Tunisia served as the (interior) setting of Luke Skywalker's boyhood home in Star Wars. The hotel is a centuries old Berber house where you can actually stay and feel The Force be with you (NOTE: not guaranteed). While you’re in Tunisia, you may as well also swing a few hundred kilometers west to Chott el Jerid, a salt flat where the exterior shots were filmed and some of the original sets are still standing. We don’t know if the Hôtel Sidi Driss is pet-friendly, so, just to be sure, leave your Wookie at home.

The 7-Eleven featured in WarGames in Big Bear Lake, California

The 7-Eleven featured in WarGames

Location: 41440 Big Bear Boulevard Big Bear Lake, California

Fans of movies about hacking should be sure to make a pilgrimage to southern California to the 7-Eleven featured in the movie WarGames. Matthew Broderick played teenaged computer whiz David Lightman in this 1983 classic who hacks into a NORAD computer and almost starts World War III. When the feds finally catch up to him, they do so outside this 7-Eleven. Hardcore WarGames fanatics may also want to bid on the actual computer used in the movie. If you visit the 7-Eleven, buy yourself a Slurpee and relive the movie moment in the parking lot - unless you have something to hide from the feds, in which case you should probably stay away.

Dobie Center in Austin, Texas where Dell Computer was born

The birthplace of Dell Computer

Location: Dobie Center Room 2713 2021 Guadalupe Street, Austin, Texas

Dobie Center is notable not only for once being the tallest building in Austin, but also for being the birthplace of Dell Computer. Part of Dobie Center, which is privately owned, serves as a residence hall for the University of Texas at Austin and it was here in room 2713 where Michael Dell was living as a student in 1983 when he began his business, originally called PC’s Limited. Dell began by upgrading existing IBM PCs, before eventually building and selling his own brand of personal computers. Today, you can’t visit Dell’s old room, but you can grab a bite in the Dobie Center Subway while recalling better times for Dell.

The Lucille Y. Gilman Memorial Fountain at Occidental College used in Star Trek III

The Vulcan fountain from Star Trek III: The Search for Spock

Location: Occidental College 1600 Campus Road, Los Angeles, California

At the entrance to Occidental College is the Lucille Y. Gilman Memorial Fountain which should be more recognizable to Trekkies as the fountain used in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. The fountain, installed in 1979 and featuring a sculpture named Water Forms II, became famous in the 1984 movie when it was used as part of the Vulcan scenery during a visit from the crew of the Enterprise. In addition to its movie star credentials, the fountain continues to be an integral part of the Occidental campus life, as students are often thrown into it on their birthdays. Hopefully, the fountain will live long and prosper.

House at the University of Arizona used in Revenge of the Nerds

The Lambda Lambda Lambda frat house from Revenge of the Nerds

Location: 931 N. 5th Avenue, Tucson, Arizona

Released in 1984, Revenge of the Nerds is one of the most famous geek movies of all time. Starring Robert Carradine and Anthony Edwards, the movie follows a group of geeks and outcasts attending a big college and their battles with the jocks and cheerleaders. In the end (SPOILER ALERT), the nerds band together, form their own fraternity (Lambda Lambda Lambda) and eventually triumph over the jocks. Building exteriors were shot at the University of Arizona in Tuscon, including the Tri-Lamb house. If you visit, show your nerd pride by wearing a pocket protector.

The building in Chicago where the name for Doom originated

Origin of the title for the game Doom

Location: 6414 S. Cottage Grove Avenue Chicago, Illinois

Die hard fans of first person shooters should know, if they don’t already, that the name for the FPS classic Doom came from a scene in the 1986 movie The Color of Money. As Tom Hall, id Software’s creative director, tells it, the title was taken from the name of Tom Cruise’s pool cue in a scene shot at North Center Bowl (formerly at 4017 North Lincoln Avenue in Chicago but since demolished). You can, however, still visit the site of the exterior shots for that famous scene were done, at 6414 S. Cottage Grove Avenue in Chicago. Who knew something so historically geeky could come from a movie that was so cool?

The Large Hadron Collider tunnel at CERN
REUTERS/Denis Balibouse


Location: Route de Meyrin 385 1217 Meyrin, Switzerland

The European Organization for Nuclear Research, or, as it’s better known, CERN, is a must-visit place for any physics geek. Created in 1954 to research the building blocks of the universe, CERN is home to the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s most powerful particle accelerator which has been called “one of the great engineering milestones of mankind.” CERN is also hallowed ground to computer geeks, though, since it was the site of the world’s first web site, which launched on December 20, 1990 on the world’s fist web server, a NeXT computer. CERN is open for visits and tours but, don’t get too excited; they won’t let just anybody smash particles.

The home in Bellevue, Washington where Amazon started

The birthplace of Amazon

Location: 10704 NE 28th Street, Bellevue, Washington

When Jeff Bezos quit his job in finance in 1994 to move to Washington and start an online bookstore, he was inspired by the previous success of garage-based startups and looked for a house to rent with a suitable one. He found such a house on 28th Street in Bellevue and it was here that Amazon was born. The site was officially launched in July, 1995 and within two months was selling $20,000 worth of books per week. Amazon is currently building a new headquarters in Seattle to house up to 50,000 workers - and who knows how many drones.

The Google garage at 232 Santa Margarita Ave, Menlo Park, California

The birthplace of Google

Location: 232 Santa Margarita Ave, Menlo Park, California

Google’s search engine began as a research project called BackRub in 1996 by Stanford PhD students Larry Page and Sergey Brin. In September 1998 Page and Brin officially incorporated Google as a company and set up shop in the garage of the Menlo Park home of Susan Wojcicki, paying her $1,700 a month in rent. The quick growth of Google led Page, Brin, and their first 8 employees to move to proper office space in Palo Alto in February 1999. Renting out to Brin and Page was a wise career move for Wojcicki, who joined Google in 1999 as its first marketing manager and has remained with the company ever since, currently serving as the CEO of YouTube. Wojcicki, who bought the house for $620,000 in 1996, sold it eight years later for more than $1.2 million, though she didn’t have to “search” far for a buyer, since she sold it to Google.

Hobbiton in New Zealand


Location: 501 Buckland Road Matamata, New Zealand

If you’re a fan of fantasy books and movies, as most geeks are, you will definitely want to visit Hobbiton, the set of the fictional middle earth village in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies. Built on a 1,200 acre family farm in New Zealand, Hobbiton fell into disrepair after the LOTR trilogy was finished, but was restored on a more permanent basis for the Hobbit prequels. Hobbiton is the most popular of numerous LOTR-related sites you can visit in New Zealand. Be warned, though, if you go there because you have a thing for small, hairy creatures: the only ones you’ll see are the 13,000 sheep that also live on the farm.

Pinocchio’s Pizza & Subs in Cambridge, Massachusetts

Mark Zuckerberg’s favorite college pizza place

Location: Pinocchio’s Pizza & Subs 74 Winthrop Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts

The next time you're near the Harvard University campus be sure to drop in for a slice at Pinocchio’s, Mark Zuckerberg’s favorite college pizza place. Reportedly, the Zuck would often hang out here late at night talking about - what else? - “computer stuff.” Zuckerberg has been known to visit the tiny restaurant in Harvard Square when in town and has been commemorated with his picture on the wall. After eating there, be sure to walk off some of the calories by strolling past nearby Kirkland House where Zuckerberg lived as an undergraduate and, so, was the birthplace of Facebook. If you have heartburn from the pizza, don’t worry; there’s a CVS nearby.

South Park in San Francisco where Twitter was born

The birthplace of Twitter

Location: South Park, San Francisco, California

This small park near San Francisco’s financial district is the birthplace of Twitter. According to Jack Dorsey, Twitter’s co-founder (and, later, founder and CEO of Square), he first shared the idea for everyone’s favorite status-sharing service with two of his Odeo co-workers while on the slide in this park in 2006. Shortly thereafter, the idea was fleshed out and a prototype built, which served as an internal communications service at Odeo. The following year, Twitter, which Dorsey originally wanted to call, was formally spun off as its own company by founders Dorsey, Evan Williams, and Biz Stone. Of course, if you visit the park, be sure to tweet out a picture.

A marker in Riverside, Iowa proclaiming the future Birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk

The future birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk

Location: Riverside, Iowa

Nothing historically geeky has happened here - yet. But it will on March 22, 2233 (pardon me, I mean stardate 1277.1) when it becomes the birthplace of Star Trek's Captain James T. Kirk. While the exact location of his birth is still unknown (odds are the hospital doesn’t yet exist), you can see the plaque commemorating (er, prememorating?) the event (which, for some reason, lists a different birth year from the accepted one), a model of the USS Riverside, which looks a lot like you-know-what, and the Voyage Home Museum. There’s also the annual Trekfest, for hardcore Trekkies. Getting here may still take you a little while, though, since, like Captain Kirk, warp speed doesn’t exist yet.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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