Our first look at Apple Park

Apple's spaceship has touched down in Cupertino, California. We visited its landing zone.

James Martin/CNET

Tuesday wasn't just the launch of three new iPhones, an Apple Watch and an Apple TV. It was also the first time Apple welcomed journalists to its gigantic, 175-acre Apple Park campus in Cupertino, California. 

Apple Park is home to several buildings, most prominently a 2.8-million square-foot ring unofficially known as the Spaceship, which boasts four-story curved glass panels, custom aluminum doorhandles and one of the largest roof-mounted solar farms in the world. It's the new home for more than 12,000 Apple employees, a sizeable chunk of Apple's Cupertino workforce. 

Building this campus was one of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs' dying wishes, and there's video proof: An ailing Jobs went before the Cupertino City Council just months before his death to pitch the project personally. (They approved it, unanimously, two years later.)

Apple Park is just a few minutes' drive from Infinite Loop.

Google Maps/Screenshot by CNET

Built on a concrete office park formerly owned by Hewlett-Packard, Apple Park sits on 175 acres in the heart of Silicon Valley, just a few minutes' drive from Apple's previous headquarters at 1 Infinite Loop. The spaceship wasn't finished, so we weren't allowed inside. Apple employees won't start moving in until the end of the year.

Instead, we visited two other buildings on campus -- the new Apple Park Visitor Center, which houses its own Apple retail store (which Apple are now calling "Town Squares"), and of course, the 1,000-seat Steve Jobs Theater where the company held its iPhone presentation.

The public cafe at the Apple Park Visitor Center.

James Martin/CNET

In addition to the store, the Visitor Center hosts Apple's first-ever public cafe, plus an exhibit space currently being used to show off an augmented reality "experience" -- through the window of an iPad, you can hover over a 3-D model of the campus to see how it looks at different times of day, how traffic flows and where you can find a spot in Apple's giant detached parking structure.

The Steve Jobs Theater, meanwhile, is set on a small hill, a short walk above the Visitor Center. You reach it after walking up a lovely (though smelly -- they'd just fertilized the grounds) paved pathway, with trees and flowers all around. And then, you see it: a 20-foot-tall glass cylinder, 165 feet in diameter, with a roof that reflects the sky. It's a spaceship, too, on a smaller scale. And glass is the only thing holding that stunning roof up.

CNET editor-in-chief Connie Guglielmo poses with Steve Wozniak, Apple's co-founder and Bay Area legend, in front of the Steve Jobs Theater.

James Martin/CNET

The glass dome is merely the foyer for the auditorium, which sits below ground. To get there, you take two curved glass elevators that rotate as they descend, or one of a pair of curved staircases that step down to the reception area and demo room for Apple's new products. A small sign hangs above the entrance to the auditorium, carved into the bare white stone. It simply reads "Steve Jobs Theater."

James Martin/CNET

Inside the theater, the feeling is one of simple, elegant lines and designs. White, black, gray, brown. No jarring colors. Curved edges. Smooth surfaces. Serene is the word that comes to mind. We sit on squishy, comfortable brown leather seats, each with a power outlet built into the side, presumably so you never have to stop using your favorite Apple device. 

The front few rows, which were used to seat VIPs like Disney's Bob Iger and director J.J. Abrams on Tuesday, are basically couches made of the same brown leather that curve, slightly, around the main stage. Curved is the theme.

Outside the theater again, standing in the courtyard, the nearly finished spaceship is visible in the background. The building looks massive, otherworldly, even at this distance.

The spaceship, as viewed from the Steve Jobs Theater.

James Martin/CNET

The other thing we notice is how quiet and peaceful it is here -- quite a feat considering the campus sits adjacent to Interstate 280, one of the main arteries through the Silicon Valley. That quiet could be temporary, because Apple Park isn't really open yet to the tens of thousands of Apple employees and visitors who will make it their mecca, or merely want to visit the campus Jobs designed. 

It's hard to believe, as Apple CEO Tim Cook noted in his opening dedication on Tuesday, that this now park-like campus was once an asphalt jungle of industrial office buildings surrounded by acres of parking lots.

James Martin/CNET

Apple: See what's up with the tech giant as it readies new iPhones and more.

Goodbye, home button? Get ready for the iPhone's biggest change ever.