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Apple Park: Normal people like you can now visit

Apple's new visitor center opened to the public Friday, complete with special schwag and an AR-enabled model of the spaceship campus.

The visitor center on Apple's spaceship campus has exclusive gear like tote bags, playing cards and baseball caps. 
Shara Tibken/CNET

You no longer have to be an Apple employee or journalist to visit the company's fancy new campus.

The Apple Park Visitor Center in Cupertino, California, opened to the public at 9 a.m. PT on Friday. CNET got a peek at the building an hour before dozens of Apple fans poured through the glass doors. 

Anyone who's been in a redesigned Apple Store will find the decor familiar -- long wooden tables covered with Apple gadgets like the iPhone X and tall glass walls that almost make you feel like you're outside when you're not.

Now playing: Watch this: Apple Park opens its doors to outsiders

A visitor to the Apple Park Visitor Center uses an AR-equipped iPad to peer inside Apple's spaceship office building. 

Shara Tibken/CNET

Along with the typical store format, this location offers a few things others don't: a cafe with the same Caffè Macs coffee Apple employees drink and a rooftop terrace that gives you a view of the spaceship office building where employees work. You can buy Apple Park schwag like T-shirts, tote bags and baseball caps, and Apple has installed a specially designed, 11,000-pound aluminum alloy model of the campus in an exhibition space. Hold an iPad in front of the model and an augmented reality app will let you peer inside the spaceship campus, fitness center or other areas of Apple Park. 

"We had people hanging off the top of the building with harnesses to use 360 cameras to photograph the landscape," Peter Russell-Clarke, an Apple industrial designer, said during a meeting with a small group of reporters. The company used drone footage to "get the light quality and colors of the landscape just right," he added. Apple also used motion capture to feature people in the buildings.

Those baseball caps? Also specially created by Apple's designers. The typical metal button at the top of the hat is missing so your Beats headphones fit more smoothly, said Enrique Atienza, the senior market director who oversees Apple's US stores. 

"This will be the only place in the world where you'll be able to find Apple Park merchandise," Atienza said during the meeting with reporters. It all "has been designed in close partnerships with the industrial design team here in Cupertino that basically works on all of our products." 


The Apple Park Visitor Center has a rooftop deck that overlooks the spaceship campus.

Shara Tibken/CNET

Apple's flashy new $5 billion campus was one of the last projects worked on by company co-founder Steve Jobs before his death in October 2011. The famously detail-oriented leader had envisioned Apple's new headquarters as a beacon of innovation and a place for the company's employees to continue their efforts to release groundbreaking products. Apple has seen its headcount balloon since its early years, and has outgrown its offices at 1 Infinite Loop, which hold about 2,800 employees. Apple Park can hold 12,000.

The new campus has custom-built door handles, thousands of trees and a 100,000-square-foot fitness and wellness facility that boasts a two-story yoga room laid out in custom distressed stone. It also has a flashy new building, called the Steve Jobs Theater, to hosts its product launches, including that of the iPhone X event in September.  

The visitor center is 18 feet tall and 200 feet long, said Ben Dobbin, an architect with Foster + Partners, the firm that worked with Apple to design the new campus. The roof structure rests on two support "stone-clad cores" to give the downstairs a more open feel and look, he said during the meeting with reporters. The glass walls with curved corners, plus 18-foot tall pivot doors that open the cafe to the outdoor terrace create "this seamless experience between inside and outside," Dobbin said. 

Those were all things people lined up to see Friday.

Sandy Porter traveled from Connecticut to support her son, who works at the Apple Park Visitor Center. "My son has wanted to do this since he was 11 years old," she said. Her favorite feature was the AR model of the campus. "The fact that we can see what goes on in there, how it looks and what they've done is amazing," Porter said. 

Marilia Guimaraes, who makes videos about Apple products, traveled from Brazil for the visitor center opening. She also attended recent store openings in Chicago and Miami. 

"I'm an Apple fan," said Guimaraes, who arrived at the visitor center two hours before it opened. "It's a beautiful store."

Update at 2:15 p.m. PT with additional comments from executives and store visitors.

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