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Geek out at these top tech destinations

Even in the dot-com world's shaky economic climate, geek culture isn't going anywhere. So you may as well join them in their native habitat. Don't worry. It's safe. Just bring your coffee, your iPhone, and a USB drive.
There's geeky, and then there's Cambridge geeky. At , "M.O.S." to regulars, the menu looks like a periodic table, the drinks arrive in beakers, and the condiments come in test tubes.
There's geeky, and then there's Cambridge geeky. At , "M.O.S." to regulars, the menu looks like a periodic table, the drinks arrive in beakers, and the condiments come in test tubes. Courtesy of Miracle of Science Bar and Grill
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Remember that movie "Weird Science", where two geeks conspired to make a real-live girl that would love them for who they really are? Well, a short two decades later, geek is chic and tech types are at the top of their game. They lord over the all-important venture funds, smirk with arms akimbo on the cover of Fortune, and chatter blithely about 10X returns and paradigm-shifting inventions. And even in the dot-com world's shaky economic climate, geek culture isn't going anywhere. So you may as well join them in their native habitat. Don't worry. It's safe. Just bring your coffee, your iPhone, and a USB drive.

A founding tenet of geek culture is the blurry distinction between high and low—the rumpled schmo waiting in line for a half-caff skim latte could easily be a billionaire—or your company's incomprehensible IT guy. With that in mind, we've collected a list of the hotels where titans dwell; the scruffier places where younger geeks hash out business plans on cocktail napkins; and the big events that have them dusting off their light sabers and brushing up on their Klingon.

For a complete slide show of Top Tech Destinations, click here.

1. San Francisco + Silicon Valley
Plugged in: The Bay Area is still tech Olympus, where a pantheon of heroes (that is, venture capitalists) sip ambrosia (artisanal coffee) upon winged chariots (shiny electric hybrids). The city basically invented the concept of the tech entrepreneur: young, dressed down, and brash, but unassuming. A full 35 percent of all venture capitalist (VC) dollars invested in the United States comes to the Bay Area—some $9.5 billion in 2006. Today, alternative-energy start-ups own the VC buzz.

Homeport: The restaurant and patio of the Hotel Vitale are known to draw the VC crowd. But if you want to sleep like a tech king, there's the sleek and serene St. Regis, where Al Gore crashes when he's in town and Google founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page keep pieds-à-terre. Squint, and the place is as good as home (it costs $500,000 per room, after all), with a 42-inch plasma TV, a fax/scanner/printer on request, and a bedside "digital assistant" that controls the lights, shades, TV, and alarm clock. Even the art has a touch of tech: Wooden sculptures are laser-cut instead of hand-carved.

Social networking: Buck's in Woodside is the closest thing Silicon Valley venture capitalists have to a clubhouse. eBay was first pitched at this kitschy diner; Hotmail and Netscape were conceived here as well. Those lower on the Web 2.0 food chain subsist on caffeinated beverages from Ritual Coffee Roasters, in the Mission District. You're likely to see excitable types huddling over business plans at just about any hour of the day or night (and the notice pictured above keeps Twitter-happy customers from holding up the line). Other less publicized places win high-tech workers by virtue of their coffee rep; Piccino, near the Hat Factory in Dogpatch, is a stylish group work space for freelancers.

When to interface: In San Francisco, it's easy to find fellow techies who share your love for rocketry or steampunk. This is, after all, the city that goes crazy during geek events such as Dorkbot, a boozy party held regularly in rotating venues; it's headlined by techno artists, presenting their latest projects—one recently taught a crowd how to stitch robotics into stuffed animals. Meanwhile, start-up types are easy to meet at events like January's annual "Crunchies," which have become the Oscars for the tech crowd, and TechCrunch50, a mass launch of the year's most anticipated start-ups held in September.

2. Seoul, South Korea
Plugged in: In Seoul, 2050 feels like yesterday. The future-obsessed city's broadband network is a full decade ahead of the United States'; the headquarters of Samsung and LG are located here; and there's a futuristic development 40 miles out of town that will be among the most technologically integrated in the world. Scheduled for completion in 2015, New Songdo City will link all residential, business, and medical infrastructure via RFID and Wi-Fi, so you'll be able to check your dental records, unlock your front door, and pay your bills from your cell phone. Gadget-philes flock to Apgujeong, the city's densest electronics-shopping district.

Homeport: In the middle of Gangnam, Seoul's finance center, is the swank, ultramodern Park Hyatt Seoul. Each room has a panel that controls the room's electronics and blinds; laptop safes cleverly have sockets for charging during storage; and the stereo systems have MP3 hookups. You can also watch satellite cable on a 13-inch LCD TV while relaxing in a bubble bath.

Social networking: If you wanted to show a business titan mulling your start-up plan that you're serious, a meal at the Café at Kukje Gallery would certainly do (82-2-735-8449). Attached to a famed contemporary-art space, it looks across the grounds of the historic Gyeongbok Palace, and is the province of the business elite. But in Korea, business courtship still begins over golf, and deals are sealed and celebrated in private rooms, a standard feature at the city's top-flight hotel restaurants, such as Namu in the W.

When to interface: In Seoul, hacker culture doesn't exist in quite the way it does in America's tech capitals. But events catering to a future-forward, cultured crowd are rising. One is Media City, taking place through November at the Seoul Museum of Art. The show features 70 pieces of tech art—including virtual reality games and a "typewriter" that prints in light and shadow.

3. Boston
Plugged in: Thanks to MIT and Harvard, Boston has eggheads galore. As a result, investment dollars abound and the high-tech industry has flourished—from topflight venture capital firms like Charles River and Bessemer Ventures, to iRobot (one of the military's leading robot builders, started by MIT grads), to the thriving biotech industry.

Homeport: One of the most stylish hotel options in Beacon Hill, not far from the business hubs downtown, is the new Liberty Hotel. The building retains traces of its former role as a jailhouse, such as original iron doors at Alibi, the hotel bar. The rooms have VoIP phones equipped with a touch screen for in-room services, flat-screen TVs with HD cable, and audio systems with MP3 docks. Instead of a corporate-bland minibar, there's a martini set.

Social networking: There's geeky, and then there's Cambridge geeky. At Miracle of Science, "M.O.S." to regulars, the menu looks like a periodic table, the drinks arrive in beakers, and the condiments come in test tubes. It's big among MIT profs and undergrads If you've got a new idea to pitch, head to venture capitalist haunt Noir in the Charles Hotel, where Mark Zuckerberg (at the time, a Harvard undergrad) first pitched Facebook to outside investors.

When to interface: There's no greater challenge than the Mystery Hunt, a puzzle contest convened every January at MIT that has spawned copycats in Seattle and San Francisco. The object is to find a coin hidden somewhere on the MIT campus. Sample problem: What do plague, adman, Yale, rime, pastries, and maracas have in common? Give up? Substitute one letter in each word, and they form a world capital. Duh.

4. London
Plugged in: It may be dark, rainy, and ancient, but London is packed with one of the highest-paid, best-educated workforces in the world. As a result, it's rated as one of the best cities in Europe for tech start-ups—not least because London, which has always been a finance hub of Europe, has the continent's most established venture capital community.

Homeport: There's no shortage of fancy boutique hotels in London, but the Zetter, in hip Clerkenwell, is one of the better, more affordable ones. High-tech features include an interactive TV with 4,000 MP3s on demand; it's also super-green—the AC uses water from the hotel's own well, and when it's hot, skylights automatically pop open to vent air. And though it's in a converted 19th-century warehouse, the Zetter has an Austin Powers sensibility: Every room has a "porno pink" lighting option. The vending machines sell Champagne, gin and tonics—and cameras, you animal.

Social networking: London's leisure proprietors are obsessed with high-tech geekery. The Asian-fusion menu at Inamo is beamed down onto your place setting from overhead. (If that seems gimmicky, think of the business benefits: fewer waiters, faster food=more money.) At 24:London, you summon the bartender via the touch-sensitive bar, and the walls are adorned with rotating projections such as deserts and waves.

When to interface: In 2008, Mashed expanded from a Yahoo! employee freak-out to a geek-community olympics. The weekend starts with a lineup of technologists showing off their projects and culminates in a fevered, 24-hour coding session with 200 teams competing to build the coolest applications. Last year's winners included an application for tying "Lonely Planet" recommendations into online maps, and an RSS feed system for your TV screen. If you're looking to cadge a brilliant new idea, this would be the place.

5. Austin, Texas
Plugged in: Austin feels like the San Francisco of the grittier pre–dot-com years, a fertile ground for tinkerers, techies, and wing nuts, with a friendly, close-knit culture. Though local behemoth Dell isn't exactly cool anymore (Remember the Dell guy? How lame was that?), the spirit that inspired its founder to sell computers out of his truck is very much alive. Lately, alternative-energy start-ups are taking center stage.

Homeport: Business travelers prefer the Renaissance Austin because of its close proximity to the high-tech corridor along the city's northern edge. But for a less anonymous option (and free Wi-Fi), you'll want to book a room at the historic Driskill. The hotel has Texas swagger—cowhide upholstery and taxidermy—alongside a new, 24/7 business center (with homegrown Dell workstations).

Social networking: Virtually anyplace you go will be eclectic—Austin nightlife is relatively egalitarian, and high-end lounges were nonexistent until recently. The rooftop bar at Union Park attracts a mishmash of finance guys, techies, and cool kids, while at 219 West the sprawling whiskey collection caters to fat cats. But there's no reason to choose when you can make the rounds with like-minded geeks on a pub crawl organized by Austin Tech Happy Hour.

When to interface: Every October, you can drown yourself in geek culture's DIY ethos at Maker Faire, a show-and-tell session for "makers"—that is, homegrown inventors who build everything from miniature warships.

6. Seattle
Plugged in: Amazon, Adobe, Microsoft—heard of 'em? Though often overshadowed by San Francisco, Seattle is just as rich in geek culture, though it lacks some of SF's bohemian edge. Still, the city is home to "Mythbusters", which is every geek's favorite show (besides "Heroes"). And every October, it hosts Brick Con, a convention for masters in Lego model making.

Homeport: The tech amenities at Hotel 1000 mirror those found in Billy Gates's own high-tech manse. Flat-panel TVs like the one pictured at right can be switched to show famous works of art, and guests can play a virtual-reality golf game loaded with replicas of 50 courses from around the world. And there's no need for a "Do not disturb" sign: Heat sensors tell the managers which rooms are occupied.

Social networking: nPost, a Seattle tech-jobs site, hosts meet-ups and pub nights for all comers. For pure networking usefulness, there's Lunch 2.0, a catered series hosted around town by various high-tech firms. Anyone can sign up, though seating is always limited.

When to interface: Compared with their compatriots in a lot of cities, Seattle's techies are a well-organized bunch. Ignite is a recurring geek night with changing themes; recently, 17 teams competed to make the sturdiest bridge out of Popsicle sticks. But Ignite's main event is a series of five-minute talks with a how-to bent, such as "How to be a tech evangelist" or how to file your own patents. Ignite also organizes Thingamajiggr, an annual blowout that features lectures by tech artists on subjects like "knitting 2.0" as well as a DJ lineup.

7. Tokyo
Plugged in: Ever since Sony came to prominence in the 1980s, Tokyo has been home to myriad big-time tech firms. But that's not what makes it so appealing to geeks—rather, it's the city's headlong acceptance of any electrical whizbang. This is the city that gave the world vending machines hawking live lobsters and robots like ones at right that run in front of the Miraikan national science museum. This is also where cell phones the size of breath mints are passé in three months. Even the cabs have automatic doors.

Homeport: A flood of hotel building has glutted the market with luxury options, but the newest and most high-tech is the Peninsula. It's sleek, modern, and stately, with cutting-edge appointments. For example, your in-room phone tells you the time and weather of the place that you're calling, and seamlessly switches from Skype to cellular if you take it with you from the hotel; the CD/DVD has 5.1 surround-sound speakers; and the bathroom phone has a digital filter for rude noises.

Social networking: The hard-core geeks hang out in Akihabara, which also happens to be home to the city's best electronics stores and manga shops. But at night, fanboys and oddballs can burrow into any subculture imaginable—theme bars are the rage, from eyelash-wig bars to maid cafés, a bizarrely ubiquitous trend in which servers wear French-maid outfits. Meanwhile, for a techie bent in the more polished Roppongi district, there's Super Deluxe. Usually, it's a concert venue, but every month, it hosts special meet-ups for Web entrepreneurs and technologists. It's also the birthplace of Pecha Kucha.

When to interface: Pecha Kucha—which means "chitchat"—is a recurring, semiregular event that's spawned outposts in more than 143 cities. The conceit: Presenters from all walks of geekdom show 20 slides in 20-second intervals, on whatever super-quirky subject they please. It's like a poetry slam for ideas: Presentations have included Nokia's ergonomics guru talking on how herders in Mongolia repair their cells and Thomas Heatherwick touring highlights of his techno-utopian architecture.

8. Bangalore, India
Plugged in: If you've called any customer service lines in the past few years, chances are you've spoken to someone in Bangalore, the epicenter of India's tech outsourcing industry. But the city is rapidly moving up the food chain: It's now home to a booming high-tech services industry, making it the so-called Silicon Valley of India. Locally, the big players include Wipro and Infosys, two tech-consulting firms idolized in India, and Biocon, a biotech company that made its founder India's richest woman.

Homeport: The Leela Palace sits within a half hour's drive of Whitefield and Electronics City, two of the city's major tech hubs—and as it says on its Web site, the rooms befit "a business hotel created for the emperors of the IT world" (Tel: 91-80-2521-1234; In deluxe rooms, that means a 42-inch plasma and an infrared locking mechanism—when no one's there, the room is locked down. (Doors that lock behind you are simply passé, you know). In the Maharaja Suite, guests scarfing truffles at the 16-seat dining table don't have to worry about snipers—the windows are bulletproof and the hallway outside has built-in metal detectors. The hotel's restaurants, including Jamavar and Zen, are some of India's most expensive eateries and are popular with the city's new millionaires.

Social networking: Where the tech scene stateside is a bit scruffy, in Bangalore it's corporate and very nouveau riche. Tech consultants and programmers preen at luxury lounges such as Opus, a nightclub featuring karaoke nights; the open-air Blue Bar, on the grounds of the luxurious Taj West End; and Kosmo, which could easily be transplanted to South Beach (Tel: 91-80-4170-2030). Signature dish: "Rich Man's Tapas," which includes foie gras, oysters, caviar, salmon, and quail.

9. Berlin
Plugged in: For a few years now, Berlin has been a hotbed of art, attracting expats with its promise of cheap rent. Its tech boom has had a similarly arty bent, with a rash of music 2.0 start-ups like Hype Machine, Hobnox, and Soundcloud. More traditional ventures have been aided by initiatives like the Adlershof, a science park 20 minutes outside the city that has drawn billions in government investment. Siemens already calls Berlin home, while Rolls-Royce and General Electric are among many that have made big new investments.

Homeport: The nearly brand-new Ritz Carlton Berlin has aggressively styled itself for picky business travelers. It's set near Potsdamer Platz, and, despite all the brass and marble, has techno amenities you'd demand, such as heated bathroom tiles, a bedside touch-screen controlling the room's lights and electronics, and an in-house "technology butler" for any PowerPoint glitches. Meanwhile, the suite amenities are mogulworthy: stocked library, fireplace, telescope, and tripod.

Social networking: Berlin is filled with bars that double as hacker clubs, and their denizens are the pauper kings of the city's techno elite. C-Base is a regular bar/club upstairs; downstairs, crowds gather nightly to work on joint projects. According to the group's own goofy creation myth, its members are resurrecting an abandoned spaceship. Outside Eschschloraque, a bar that doubles as a lounge for hackers, hangs a pneumatically powered, coin-operated batlike creature.

When to interface: The most famous hacker club is the Chaos Computer Club, which organizes the Chaos Communication Congress, Berlin's biggest tech event of the year. Since 1984, it's grown into the world's premier hacker convocation, with thousands of attendees from around the world. The next one is December 27–30, 2008. Though it no longer hosts the World Lockpicking Championships, the event still gets rowdy. Kind of. Recent workshops included ragers such as "Practical Quantum Cryptography" and "High-Frequency Sniffing."