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Silicon Valley is a popular region for sports fans- fans cheer on a  player for the San Francisco 49ers football team

Silicon Valley is a popular region for San Francisco 49ers sports fans. — Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

Silicon Valley, Calif.

We know what you're thinking: Sports? In Silicon Valley?

Well, yes, but first things first: The valley is the ultimate incubator for technology businesses, with a median household income among the highest in the United States. High-tech titans such as Adobe, Cisco and eBay are headquartered here, alongside hundreds of smaller companies, innumerable start-ups, and several major universities. If you're an investor, an inventor or a connoisseur of the cutting edge, this is your briar patch.

The metropolitan area defined by Santa Clara and San Benito Counties includes 1.8 million people at the southern end of San Francisco Bay. Its major city, San Jose, is larger than San Francisco; in fact, it's the 10th-largest city in the United States, with 940,000 people. San Jose is one of the original mission towns along Spain's Camino Real; before the tech boom it was a major center for shipping, farming and suburban sprawl.

Silicon Valley is among the most highly educated regions in the country. Stanford University, the jewel in this pedagogic crown, is pricey and exclusive, but San Jose State University (enrollment 32,000) and a large community-college system ensure that everyone who wants to learn can find what he or she needs.

The valley also gets very high scores for arts, leisure and recreation. The Shoreline Amphitheater is among multiple concert venues; San Jose is hemmed by mountainous state and county parks to the east, west and south; theater, dance, comedy and music all thrive in numerous outlets; and the legendary beach town of Santa Cruz is a 45-minute drive away.

The Tech Museum of Innovation devotes large galleries to invention, the Internet, the human body and exploration.

The environmental ethic thrives here. Palo Alto, Sunnyvale, San Jose and Mountain View have all been singled out as bicycle-friendly communities, and the Department of Energy picked San Jose as a fast-track site for the development of solar power.

Traffic congestion is a problem. Still, Silicon Valley gets high marks for the good health of its residents. Stanford's Medical School, affiliated with numerous local hospitals, fuels an A-list array of medical specialists and facilities. Housing foreclosures are high, but the job market is stronger here than in other California metros.

Oh, and those sports? The NHL San Jose Sharks are fixtures in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The other major fan draws are the Stanford Cardinal football and basketball teams, whose on-field stars just might be using their spare time to become the tech-company luminaries of the 2020s.

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