San Jose, California, is the capital of Silicon Valley. Ok – not really, but it certainly is right in the middle of all the techno-businesses. It is a huge, multi-cultural city – the third largest in California – with a population of over 945,000. It has a very nice International Airport which is closer to all the tech companies than San Francisco or Oakland, and it is just a happening place. Because of its multi-cultural mix, there are so many interesting things to see, so many events to participate in and a limitless number of different places to eat. It has beautiful parks, great shopping, a very good transit system and a vibrant night life.
When to Visit:
There really is not wrong to time to visit San Jose. The temperature is almost always mild. The coldest month, January, might see a low of 42 F (6 C) while the hottest months, June July and August, will see highs in the 80’s (26+ C). The rest of the year, it’s just mild and nice. It rarely rains and it never snows. The lack of rain is problematic, however, since California has been going through years of drought. When it does rain, everything instantly turns green. If you want to see the rare moment of green San Joe, visit in the Spring.
Otherwise, you may want to plan your trip to include some of the great City festivals, like the Christmas festivities in December, or the Garlic Festival in September.
Winchester Mystery House
One of the most well-known attractions in the area, the Winchester Mystery House was created by Sarah Winchester, widow of William Winchester – heir to the Winchester rifle empire. When her husband and child died, Sarah consulted a psychic who told her to build a house to keep the ghosts of all the people who were killed by the rifle from getting her next. So she moved to San Jose and started building the weirdest house in the world. She built and tore down and re-built for the rest of her life. Either according to the dictates of the spirits (with whom she communicated each night through séances) or per her own strange whims, she built for 38 years. Then she died, and all construction stopped. Or did it? Only the ghosts know for sure…
You will have an interesting and confusing time when you visit the Winchester Mystery house. Just make sure that you do not lose your guide, or you may not find your way out of the mansion that has 160 rooms, 2000 doors, 10,000 windows, 47 fireplaces and 6 kitchens. And you might run in to Sarah Winchester’s ghost along the way. Just mind where you step – one of the doors opens onto thin air with a two storey drop. There are stairways to nowhere, windows that open on to walls, and skylights in floors. Have fun, but tread lightly!
Children’s Discovery Museum
This hard-to-miss purple building was opened in 1990 and since then over 5 million visitors have enjoyed this museum that is meant to be a center for “creative play and expression”. The exhibits and programs are all interactive, and designed especially for children. There are special events happening all the time.
With permanent “exhibits” like the Art Loft where children can create their own art, the Bubble Lab for making glorious bubbles, and Waterways, where playing with water is encouraged and expected, you and your kids can have hours of fun at the Children’s Discover Museum. Museum hours are Tuesday – Saturday, 10 am to 5 pm, and Sunday 12 to 5 pm. Remember that adults must be accompanied by children! It’s such a warm and inviting atmosphere, you children may not want to leave. Ever.
Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph
The Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph is located in downtown San Jose. It is part of the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Jose, and is the oldest non-mission parish in California. It is a beautiful Cathedral and the spiritual center for many people of the Roman Catholic faith in the city. The Cathedral hosts many concerts and musical events that make the best of the brilliant acoustics in the church.
Drop in and see the beautiful stained-glass windows which have been around for 135 years. Take some time to study the oil on plaster Frieze that was designed by Fr. Sciocchetti. If you are lucky, you will hear the Odell Organ that was built and installed in 1866. It still sounds as beautiful today. And, of course, if the spirit moves you, you could always attend mass.
San Jose Flea Market
The Flea Market has been around since 1960. Located on Berryessa Road, it is reported to the one the largest Flea Markets in the United States. That is probably true as it is spread over 118 acres. Not only is it an important shopping center in the city, offering produce, arts and crafts, and all manner of good stuff to buy, but there are rides for the kids and entertainment as well. You can buy new things, second hand items, antiques, hand-crafted items – you can even get your car detailed and have a killer sound system installed. You can eat your way through the market as well. Farmers and bakers will gladly offer you a taste of their wares. And there are a variety of restaurants and food stalls to take care of the appetite you will work up after an hour or two of shopping for bargains.
The market is open on Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. There are more stalls on the weekend than on the weekdays. Some stalls are permanent and have been there forever, while some vendors just come for the day. You just never know what you are going to find. While entry to the Market is free, parking is not – and it’s a little pricy. If you get there early (before 9 am) parking is free. Otherwise parking is $3 on weekdays, and $7 on Saturday and Sunday. Which, in the end, is probably not such a high price to pay for so much fun, food and shopping.
Tech Museum of Innovation
It should be no surprise that Silicone Valley would have a Tech Museum. It is touted as being the “most innovated place on Earth”. Certainly this Museum, which took over the old San Jose Convention Center, is one of the best technology and science museums around. It was conceived by a group of dedicated visionaries who wanted to create a place that would “inspire the innovator in everyone”. That is, after all, what Silicone Valley is all about: thinking outside the box. This is an outstanding day-trip for the entire family, with so many hands-on exhibits.
Stanford University and NASA support the educational experiences and programs that are offered at the Museum. Discover your inner scientist at the Tech Museum of Innovation. If you are not a member, tickets are $20 for adults, $15 for children. There is an IMAX theater at the Museum as well, and combination tickets are available. And the Museum is open almost every day of the year – even holidays. It is only closed on Christmas Day, Easter and New Year’s Eve.
Downtown San Jose
There are self-guided walking tours available for San Jose. Ask at your hotel. If you are staying in downtown San Jose, you will be close to the Convention Center, where many concerts are held, the San Jose Museum of Art and many fine restaurants. Even though the airport is a little farther out, it is so close that is easily reached by bus, train, or a very short taxi ride. Many art galleries are located in the downtown core, along with the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles.
And, if you feel like being a little more adventurous, you can hop on any of the busses or trains that are part of the VTA – the Valley Transit Authority. The trains run right though town and can take you all the way to Mountain View (home of Elance and LinkedIn) or out to the beautiful Alum Rock Park.
Neighborhoods and Shopping
San Jose is a city that is divided into neighborhoods. When talking about shopping or visiting attractions, these activities are inescapably linked to different areas of the city.
Located in the southeast area of downtown, on Tully Road and Story Road, Little Saigon is the Asian (though mostly Vietnamese) area of the city. San Jose has the largest population of Vietnamese people outside of Vietnam, and Little Saigon is the heart of their community. There are several shopping malls in the area, like The Grand Central Mall on Story Road. Surrounding streets are full of shops, restaurants, grocery stores and wonderful Vietnamese bakeries and coffee shops.
Lee’s Sandwiches, a San Jose institution, began here, and the Vietnamese sandwiches – bahn mi – that they make are now as much a part of the overall culture of San Jose as Starbucks is to Seattle. The Viet Museum is located in nearby Kelley Park. Little Saigon, besides being the place for great meals, would be the place you would want to go to shop for any kind of Asian foods or products. The positive influence on the culture of San Jose by the Vietnamese citizen cannot be overstated. They took a deserted section and the city and turned it into an eating and shopping haven.
This area of San Jose is the “high-end” shopping and residential area of San Jose. It is an area of exclusive everything: the most innovative restaurants, the most fashionable, high-retail shops, and only the best entertainment. Yet, it is also a great place to watch people while enjoying a coffee at one of the public open air plazas. Many community events are held at Santana Row, including an open microphone stage, free music and dancing, cooking demonstrations and other “street” programmes. Dogs are always welcome in the public areas of Santana Row. Many cultural events are held at the mall, such as the Iranian No Ruz Festival (Persian New Year) or the St. Patrick’s Day celebration. Street dances are regular events. People refer to Santana Row district as the Champs-Elysées of San Jose. So grab a coffee, sit back and watch the beautiful people (or people who just think they are beautiful) wander by.
If you are looking for some more reasonably priced shopping, just wander across Steven Creek Blvd to the
Valley Fair Mall
. It also has great shopping, with more down-to-earth stores – tough you can visit the Luxury Wing of the mall if you are feeling high-end shopping withdrawal. Their food court is a multi-cultural dining extravaganza. You can find eateries from all over the world, all in one place.
This is one of the older parts of San Jose, and the atmosphere here is casual and laid back. Located south of Downtown, it is a very walkable area, with cool restaurants (with lots of outdoor seating) boutiques, and antique shops.
There are lots of arts and crafts store in the area, including Petroglyph’s, which calls itself a “ceramic lounge”. Just driving up and down the residential streets in this area is a treat. The houses are beautiful arts and crafts and bungalow styles
One of only three Japantowns in America, this area of town features traditional Japanese food, restaurants and markets. If you need a kimono, you can stop by the Nichi Bei Bussan store. They have been at the same location since 1902. Japantown hosts the two day Obon festival each year.
Annual Vietnamese New Year Tet Festival
has a very long name, is great fun, and a wonderful excuse to eat too much and set off fireworks. It is celebrated in late January or early February, and is held at the Santa Clara Fairgrounds, and other locations throughout the community. It is the most important holiday in Vietnamese culture and is attended by upwards of 70,000 people each year.
, a music festival and
Cinco de Mayo
are two festivals celebrating the Hispanic culture of San Jose. The Viva Fest showcases Latino music, art and film. There are dance and education workshops. Salsa dancing and food! How can life get any better? Cinco de Mayo, of course, celebrates a major Mexican victory and is celebrated with eating, drinks and fireworks.
The Tapestry Arts Festival
is held over Labor Day Weekend. It is situated in Downtown San Jose, and includes arts and crafts, artists and food. It is one of the few events in San Jose that does not include fireworks. Proceeds from this event help fund local elementary schools.
There are tons of religious events held in San Jose during Christmas and the holiday season. The city also puts on
Christmas in the Park
– which is held at the Plaza de Cesar Chavez. There are over sixty decorated exhibits and trees, caroling mice, food, entertainment, and the great one himself, Mr. S. Clause. There is a train for the little ones, and holiday refreshments. Trees are decorated by local school kids, and community groups. It’s super fun for the whole family.
Although not actually in the city of San Jose, the
Gilroy Garlic Festival
is something you should not miss. And, truth be told, if you are upwind of the city, you can’t miss the smell of it anyway. You should take the short drive (or quick train trip) down to Gilroy to experience just how many ways garlic can be prepared. They even put it in ice cream!
San Jose has a vibrant night life, with just about any kind of entertainment you can think of. Night clubs and dances are everywhere. Sometimes parking downtown can be difficult, so best it’s best to get to things early. The Convention Center is the location for most for concerts and large events, though the colleges in the area host a number of performing arts events as well. There are several sports stadiums for the professional and semi-pro teams in the area, and the new Levi Stadium will be the home field for the San Jose Giants.
Because San Jose is such a mixture of cultures, every kind of dining that you can possibly image is available. American,Hispanic, Asian, Near East, Far East, Greek, Fusion, Cajun, Seafood, Vegetarian, fast-food restaurants of every description – even vendors with food carts that travel through neighborhoods hawking their wares can be found. Taquerias are very popular. You and find very eloquent, five-star dinning, or grab a Chicken Kebab at a street-corner walk up. In Little Saigon, you will find every variety of Asian food, and Japantown has top notch Japanese establishments. It really doesn’t matter what you want to eat, you will find it in San Jose.
One particularly nice eating “institution” that is very strong is this city is the “food truck”. They are a major form of dining in San Jose – so much so that favorite trucks even have web sites so that foodies can find them. The Movable Feast is a really fun San Jose tradition. Each weekday, food trucks go to a different part of the city. – usually to a park and ride, or a large parking lot – and set up. They bring plastic pails to use as chairs, and more pails and boards to use as tables. The folks in the neighborhood come round and get their dinner from the various food trucks. Some families show up with lawn chairs or do impromptu tailgate parties. Once again a web site is available to let you know where and when you can participate in one of these moveable eating events.