Things to See and Do in San Jose, California

"Tech Innovation"
The Tech Museum of Innovation is fun for kids and adults

Are you visiting San Jose, California for the first time? Below is a list of “Insider Tips” for things to see and do in the heart of the Silicon Valley.

When I want to escape the crowds, my favorite place to visit is South First Area (SoFA) District. SoFA serves as downtown San Jose’s visual arts and entertainment district.  Cool, organic and creative, SoFA is a place where you can interact with some of the most eclectic and artistic people in the city.

Romance in San Jose

If this is a romantic trip, I recommend Alum Rock Park for kissing with a view. The narrow floor of the valley includes a visitor center, a small museum/animal rehab facility, picnic areas, playgrounds, lawns, sand volleyball pits, mineral springs, lush plant life, woodlands, places for kids to play in the creek, and occasional group camping.

If you are traveling with your pet, the best place to walk the dog is the Roy M. Butcher Dog Park with artificial grass and lots of shade. The park has both large dog and small dog sections. Small dogs, as defined by the sign at the gate, are 40lbs or under. There is also plenty of seating and toys available.

"San Pedro Square Market"
San Pedro Square Market for food, wine and friends

Gourmet to budget food in San Jose:

If you are looking for typical San Jose cuisine, I recommend the San Pedro Square Market with something for every taste bud & budget. From burgers to Bolognese and Sake to Sauvignon Blanc, Santana Row has great al fresco eateries.

The best place to go for coffee & a breakfast treat is Bijan Bakery & Café or Peggie Sue’s for breakfast and Philz Coffee.

For an expensive, yet quality meal, go to Arcadia.  Arcadia is an American steakhouse and Michael Mina restaurant. While the fish is fresh, this place is known for their steaks and awesome side dishes like the truffle mac and cheese.

Institute of Contemporary Art is free to the public

Photos and exercise places in San Jose

The best vantage points are taken by walking to the top of Mount Hamilton, in California’s Diablo Range. Mount Hamilton, at 4,196 feet (1,279 m) is the tallest mountain overlooking Silicon Valley, and is the site of Lick Observatory, the first permanently occupied mountain-top observatory.

In San Jose outdoor enthusiasts will want to go to Lake Cunningham.  The Skate Park was the answer to skaters wanting a world class park with big bowls, making it the largest skate park in California.

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Looking for a little exercise? Walk along San Jose’s Guadalupe River Trail.  The Guadalupe River Trail is an 11-mile pedestrian and bicycle path that runs along the banks of the Guadalupe River. The trail is currently composed of two discontinuous segments. This trail is heavily used for both recreation and commuting, as it provides direct access to downtown San Jose from many of the outlying neighborhoods. The trail is paved.

"Joseph Loughborough"
Artist Joseph Loughborough’s works were featured at Anno Domini.

If you are a museum lover, there is plenty to keep you busy in San Jose.

  • Winchester Mystery House – The Winchester Mystery House is a California State Historical Landmark and was designed and built by Winchester rifle heiress, Sarah Winchester. No one has been able to explain the mysteries that exist within the Winchester Mansion from a window built into the floor, staircases leading to nowhere, a chimney that rises four floors, doors that open onto blank walls, and upside down posts!
  • Tech Museum – Ensconced in the heart of Silicon Valley, the museum captures the spirit of the region through innovative hands-on science and technology exhibits designed to engage people of all ages and backgrounds in experiences that educate, inform, provoke thought, and inspire action. Here guests can attend Lecture Series on topics including politics, science, technology; sleep next to their favorite exhibit during Museum Sleepovers or by tinkering with technology at a Hands-On Science Workshop. Since San Jose was recently voted one of the best cities to meet a mate, the Tech’s After Hours program for adults is a great place for singles to mingle and friends to enjoy cocktails as they explore the entire museum under moody lighting and music.
  • Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum – Architecturally inspired by the Temple of Amon at Karnak, the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum, houses the largest collection of Egyptian artifacts on exhibit in western North America.
  • Children’s Discovery Museum – A forward-thinking experi­ence for kids, and among the top 10 kids museums in the country, the Children’s Discovery Museum brings connec­tions, community and creativity to little explorers through exhibits that encourage touching and conducting experiments. Kids (10 and under) love the educational Imagination Playground and the over­sized blue foam building blocks
  • The San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) – ICA is an energetic art space located in downtown San Jose dedicated to making contemporary art accessible and exciting to audiences of all ages and backgrounds.
  • San Jose Museum of Art (SJMA) – SJMA is a distinguished museum of modern and contemporary art and a lively center of arts activity in Silicon Valley. The leading institution in the area dedicated to the art of our time, SJMA is committed to providing access for its extraordinarily diverse populations and to pioneering new approaches to interpretation.
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"California Theater"
Catch Cinequest Film Festival at California Theater

San Jose night life

Looking for exciting night life? Go to one of Santana Row’s trendy night clubs. Singlebarrel is a popular speakeasy locals hit up, while Koji Sak Lounge has great Sake. Original Gravity Public House has phenomenal craft brews, while popular clubs include Agenda Lounge, Fahrenheit and Temple.

San Jose Special Events

In the spring you should attend the Cinequest Film Festival. You’ll be the first to know about innovative new films and be ahead of the curve on indy films. During my visit to the festival, Salman Rushdie was on hand to talk about the film adaptation of his novel “Midnight’s Children.” The festival showcases premier films, renowned and emerging artists, and breakthrough technology—empowering global connectivity between creators, innovators and audiences.

In the summer, go to:

  • San Jose Jazz Festival – With over 80 artists coming together to exhilarate audiences, drawing over 100,000 people and helping this jazz festival to remain one of the finest in the country. The live music festival offers more than just performances, though; activities such as a jazz brunch, master classes, mural painting, a club crawl, after-hours entertainment and even a jazz mass give fans a chance to indulge in a deeper musical experience.
  • San Jose’s Obon Festival – Obon is an annual festival/bazaar in San Jose’s Japantown – a huge festival with two days of game booths, food booths, cultural exhibits and demonstrations, the Chidori Band, San Jose Taiko and, in past years, over 1,000 dancers in full costume each evening.
  • San Jose Mexican Heritage & Mariachi Festival – San Jose’s annual fiesta celebrating “la vida Latino” – the heritage, music, cuisine, arts and beauty of Mexico. For ten days experience the best in Mexico’s heritage arts – from mariachi to rock and roll, salsa to sones, and spanning pre-Columbian to modern times there’s something for everyone to discover.
  • The San Jose Pride Festival celebrates Gay Pride and features food, volleyball, bingo, arts and crafts and entertainment courtesy of local DJ’s.
  • Dine Downtown – San Jose’s best restaurants roll out the red carpet for new and regular customers during “restaurant week.” For 12 days in June, patrons try out multiple three-course prix-fixe specialty meals at great savings.
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"Chocoatoo Cupcakes"
Chocoatoo Cupcakes in San Pedro Square Market

Come to San Jose for Christmas in the Park in the winter. Christmas in the Park is an annual holiday tradition that takes place in the heart of Downtown San José at the Plaza de Cesar Chavez. For over 30 years, this whimsical event has brought people from all over the Bay Area together during the holidays.

Insider Tip: Check out the often over-looked Cathedral Basilica of Saint Joseph in San Jose.

I’ll bet you didn’t know a small adobe church was established in the village and dedicated to Saint Joseph in 1803, making it the first parish in the state of California. Also, check out San Jose four historic theaters: the San Jose Civic (home to a variety of shows, concerts, corporate rentals, family shows, special events), the Center for the Performing Arts (home to Broadway and ballet), California Theatre (home to the opera and symphony), and Montgomery Theater (home to Children’s Musical Theater).

Just outside of San Jose you can visit Santa Cruz, have lunch in the Capitola Village, an intimate beach village tucked in a river valley in Santa Cruz County on the Monterey Bay.  Located an hour from San Jose, Capitola enjoys a lively population full of tradition and interesting history.

What are your favorite things to do in San Jose, California?

I was a guest of Team San Jose.

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