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I went to Google's new Visitor Experience in Mountain View, and here's what it's like!
It might be hard to believe, but until October of this year, there were only two official Google Stores — both in New York City. Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, CA, had a Google-owned shop that sold various Google products, but nothing like the official Google Store in Manhattan, for example. In early October 2023, though, Google finally opened an actual store on its home turf. What’s more, this third Google Store is part of a larger complex known as the Google Visitor Experience.
Mountain View isn’t exactly a tourist hot spot, so lots of Google fans might not ever find themselves in the area. As the next best thing, I stopped by the Visitor Experience building to see it for myself and have photos, videos, and thoughts to share!
Google Store at Mountain View
Unsurprisingly, the Google Store in Mountain View resembles the ones in Chelsea and Brooklyn. It’s very open, incorporates a lot of natural wood tones, and borrows a few aspects of Apple Stores, such as abandoning the idea of a formal checkout area. There’s also a lounge space with a big “G” logo, a help desk for support and repairs, and a small kids’ area for keeping the young ones occupied.
Oh yeah, and there are Google products everywhere. There had to be a dozen stations with either a Pixel 8 or Pixel 8 Pro, allowing anyone in the store to play with their phone of choice without needing to wait in a queue. Most of the products weren’t even tethered — I actually felt weird being able just to pick up a fully functioning Google Pixel Fold and wander around with it. Obviously, there are cameras, security guards, and other systems in place to prevent anyone from being able to walk out with a product, but it was still notable. Even most Apple Stores I’ve been into have products tethered to the table.
Aside from the latest Pixel phones, there were also stations for the Pixel Watch, Pixel Buds, Pixel Tablet, and even non-Pixel products, like those from Nest and Fitbit. There were also plenty of accessories on offer for your new gadget, such as phone cases, watch straps, and more.
The Mountain View Google Store is a lot like the other two in New York City, but nonetheless an exciting place to shop.
Of course, these are all products you can get online or from other brick-and-mortar retailers. But the Google Store at the Visitor Experience also has a swag section filled with hats, t-shirts, water bottles, pens, pads, and other Google-branded gear. A lot of this stuff, I’m told, you can’t buy in many other places. Surprisingly, this was the busiest section of the store, as tourists from around the world grabbed souvenirs and gifts for folks back home.
There is one gem in the store that’s a bit hidden in plain sight. At the mobile order pickup table, you’ll find a display of every mainline Pixel phone, from the original to the Pixel 7. It’s a neat look at the evolution of the phone and will probably be missed by most tourists since they will have no reason to visit the mobile order pickup area.
Interestingly, the specialized stations at the Manhattan store weren’t here. There was no selfie booth or a place to experience what it’s like to live in a Google smart home. There certainly wasn’t a Stadia room (Google removed this from the Manhattan store at some point in 2022). I suppose since the Google Visitor Experience has so much more on offer besides the store, Google felt these weren’t necessary.
Speaking of which, let’s visit the spot right next to the new Mountain View Google Store.
Google Visitor Experience Café
To the right of the Google Store, you’ll find a café. It takes up almost the same amount of space as the store and has a pretty robust menu of breakfast, lunch, snack, and drink options. Most of the items on the menu are sourced from local California businesses, some of which I knew well.
The most interesting thing about the café, though, is that it’s not that interesting. It’s a lovely café with good food and a great atmosphere. There are no Google products, no tidbits from Google history, and no pushes for you to buy into the Google philosophy. It’s just a café. The only thing even remotely Google-related I could find was a specialty drink called a “Noogler,” which is steamed oat milk with cinnamon.
If you didn't know where it was located, you'd never assume the café had anything to do with Google.
This ties into the whole idea behind the Visitor Experience, which is that it should be a public space that’s open to everyone. Even if you’re simply looking for a good cup of coffee or a place to get some work done, this café is available to you. You don’t need to buy a ticket to get in or be a part of a larger tour group. Like any other restaurant, you just park your car in the lot and walk in.
Google’s intentions of supporting the community are even more apparent in the third section of the Visitor Experience.
Huddle: A free and public space
To the right of the café, you’ll find a space called Huddle. This is directly connected to the café, but you don’t need to buy anything from the café to visit Huddle. Essentially, Huddle is a free meeting space where anyone can hang out for as long as they want. Assuming you don’t cause any problems (there is a Google staff person on hand at all times), you could show up with a laptop and spend all day there without any harassment from security.
With Huddle, Google has opened its doors to anyone who needs a place to work or meet.
Inside Huddle, there’s also a reserved event space. This is also free to use if you sign up ahead of time to reserve a slot and aren’t using it for commercial purposes. Google wants this to be used for community chats, meetings for non-profit organizations, and other events where people need a space to get together to discuss important issues but don’t want to spend a ton of money to do it. It’s not designed for social meetings.
Huddle also has a tiny section reserved for local businesses to show off their wares. This spot will change periodically, allowing local merchants to display and sell their products to a broad audience.
Google Visitor Experience: More than just a gift shop
As mentioned earlier, Google used to have a semi-standard gift shop in Mountain View. This was explicitly designed to appease tourists and visitors, featuring the usual t-shirts, hats, and other souvenirs. Google shut this shop down in 2021.
The Google Visitor Experience replaces this gift shop, but it’s also much more than a new tourist merchandise establishment. The Google Store, café, and Huddle aren’t designed just for tourists. They are there for everyone. If you live in Mountain View, you now have a cute new café and a free place for some remote work if you need it. If you live in the surrounding cities and towns, you have a free place to hold your next community or non-profit event and a full-fledged Google Store to grab your next phone or other gadget. And, if you’re visiting Google HQ from wherever you call home, you have all the Google swag you could want.
The surrounding grounds are also part of the Visitor Experience. There’s plenty of open green space for picnics, fantastic sculptures to check out, and the chance to spot a famous Googler making their way to an important meeting of some kind.
I would still only recommend hardcore Google fans make the trek to Mountain View. The Visitor Experience would only take up an afternoon at most. The nearby Computer History Museum would be a fantastic place to check out, and downtown Mountain View has some terrific restaurants. But unless your visit also involves some time in nearby San Francisco or another major California destination, Google HQ isn’t enough to build a whole holiday around. But, if you find yourself in the area, it is definitely worth a stop.
Be sure to try the butter noodles at the café — they were delicious!