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5 Amazing Things to Do in San Jose

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5 Amazing Things to Do in San Jose
Culture and quirkiness abound at these spots in Silicon Valley

As the cultural center of Silicon Valley, San Jose is much more than startups, hoodies, and self-driving cars. Just a stone’s throw from some of the most innovative businesses ever founded, you can find intimate opera performances and three-star Michelin dining. Here’s how to see a different side of San Jose.

Stay at the Luxurious Hotel Valencia

Feel like an Andalusian aristocrat at Hotel Valencia, the only hotel on the city’s Santana Row, home of some of the city’s best shopping and dining. Architectural touches, inspired by Old World Spain, include a fountain-filled veranda, complete with fire pits when it’s time to get cozy.

Explore Winchester Mystery House

The product of a fascinating architectural undertaking, the Winchester Mystery House is a must-see. In 1886, Sarah Winchester, the widow of a firearms magnate, began construction on her home—a project that continued for 36 years, ending only with her death. Learn more about the eccentric millionaire and explore her home’s peculiar quirks—including 2,000 doors, staircases leading to nowhere, and a cabinet that opens to dozens of rooms.

Taste at the Historic Testarossa Winery

Built in the 19th century by Jesuit Brothers, the Novitiate Winery in neighbouring Los Gatos was one of the oldest in California. Its stunning cellars are now the home of Testarossa, where you can enjoy wine tastings, cheese pairings, and live music Thursday through Sunday.

Watch the Opera San José

Since Opera San José is the country’s only year-round company of principal artists, you can delight in arias any time of year here. Enjoy classics like Cosi Fan Tutte or The Flying Dutchman with the beautiful California Theatre offering a baroque-inspired backdrop.

Eat at Manresa

Tucked away in neighboring Los Gatos, Manresa is a member of the hyper-exclusive Michelin-three-star club. Chef David Kinch expertly crafts the season’s best products into a first-class, prix fixe experience: Think Hokkaido uni, Riesling-poached pears, and slow-roasted squab. If you can’t snag a reservation, sample his genius at Manresa Bread, which offers confections such as fluffy chocolate croissants and the perfect Pullman loaf.

Also, don’t miss:

San Jose is home to more than a dozen museums, including downtown’s lovely San Jose Museum of Art. Families will especially love the Tech Museum of Innovation, which features collaborative exhibits with Silicon Valley’s biggest brands, and the Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose, with its full-size firetrucks and giant bubbles.

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San Jose: 5 Amazing Things
San Jose is known for some of the most innovative businesses in the world. A deeper look reveals cultural experiences, world-class dining, and fascinating architecture.
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Courtesy of San Jose International Airport

Spotlight: San Jose

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The first hit of this city’s unmistakable techy-ness starts right off the bat—if you get here by plane. Meet Space Observer, a 26-foot/7.9-meter-high white-and-chrome robot that welcomes you to Terminal B at ultra-modern Norman Y. Mineta San José International Airport. But even if you don’t get the meet-and-greet from the big guy at the airport, you’ll find plenty of other ways to experience the dramatic rebirth of California’s third largest city as the Silicon Valley’s urban hub. Downtown is packed with worthy destinations, like ultra-hands-on The Tech Museum, and light and airy San Jose Museum of Art. De Anza Hotel is an Art Deco gem, while the SAP Center, which draws headline entertainers and is home to the San Jose Sharks NHL franchise, is a glassy modern palace.

And of course, there was life before silicon chips. Learn about San José’s rich agricultural and impressive ethnic roots at the expansive campus of History San José, on the southeast side of town.

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Courtesy of Team San Jose/ History Park

History San Jose

History San Jose
Experience living history and culture at a trio of parks

Think of this extraordinary complex, at Kelley Park, as the Santa Clara Valley’s memory book in real life. It’s a chance to imagine what the region was like before computer chips, gigabytes, and tech startups became the heartbeat of the region. First, there are expansive displays and historical buildings (imported to the park campus) that showcase the region’s amazing agricultural roots, including historical images, machinery, and other mementos. Other buildings shed light on various early trades and businesses, such as a recreated print shop, where costumed volunteers let kids try out an early printing press. For a fascinating look at the broad range of immigrants who have settled in the region, tour the collection of preserved buildings—from early banks to a former stable—that make up History Park. This cultural campus provides a place for 19 partner programs to tell their history, like the harrowing journeys made by Vietnamese boat people, and share their traditions at lively festivals, like the annual Dia de Portugal.

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Courtesy of Team San Jose/ Tech Museum

The Tech

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The Tech
A workout for your head, hands, and imagination

So much of the magic of the modern era happens invisibly and at nano scale, but The Tech Museum of Innovation—or simply “The Tech”—does a great job of creating a fun laboratory and learning experience for curious people of all ages. Dive into interactive exhibits showing the power of technologies ranging from robots to gene-splicing to alternative energy. Let virtual butterflies alight on your arm, and let the kids play with the ultimate video games—you’ll probably want to play too. Another highlight is the Silicon Valley Innovation Gallery, showcasing the machines that revolutionize human thought, creativity, and communication. Man does not live by bits and bytes alone—so relax in the café, the peruse tech-and-science-y items in the gift shop (especially great for holidays and birthdays). 

Where to release your inner fashionista

Shopping is an art form in California. Whether you're in search of the perfect cocktail dress or an authentic Mexican piñata, you'll find it here. Want to sample fresh produce? Try our farmers...

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Courtesy of Team San Jose/ Santana Row

Santana Row

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Santana Row
High-end fashion, casual chic, and canine indulgence

For the city’s most luxurious shopping experience, visit this snazzy outdoor mall, a mix between California’s relaxed stylishness and a swanky European village on market day. This walkable, nook-and-cranny-filled complex has benches for relaxing under leafy oaks, large sculptures by French artists André Dumonnet and Christine Foulché, antique fountains, live musicians, and open-air seating outside quality restaurants. It’s the kind of place where you can easily while away the hours, sitting on a bench perusing your purchases while nibbling fresh croissants from Cocola. If your shopping tastes run more toward Main Street than Paris boutique, there are familiar chains including Orvis and H&M. And, in the ultimate Silicon Valley indulgence, why not custom-design your own luxury all-electric car at Santana Row’s Tesla store.

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Christy Sharp/ Winchester Mystery House

Winchester Mystery House

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Winchester Mystery House
Tour the quirky mansion of an unusual heiress

Perhaps Silicon Valley’s strangest and yet most enduring attraction is Winchester Mystery House, a 160-room Victorian mansion that was owned and built by Sarah Winchester, heiress to the Winchester fortune. Construction began on the house in 1884 and continued, almost nonstop, until 1922—racking up a bill of $5.5 million. Why the unending, breakneck pace? Because Sarah had been convinced by a medium that all the spirits of the people killed by Winchester firearms had placed a curse on her family and would haunt her forever unless she moved West and built a house to match their specifications, as revealed to her in séances.

Whether spirits gave her pointers or not, Sarah designed one heck of an oddball house. Guided tours let you ponder the heiress’s unusual designs, including doors that open onto blank walls and a stairway that leads straight into a ceiling. Other weird facts: the mansion has 52 skylights, 47 fireplaces, 40 bedrooms, 40 staircases, 13 bathrooms, 6 kitchens, 3 elevators, 2 basements, and 13 bathrooms but just one shower.

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Tai Power Seeff

Levi’s Stadium

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Levi’s Stadium
In addition to hosting the Big Game, this amazing stadium honours Joe Montana's legacy in multiple ways

Now that Joe Montana has found his way to Levi’s Stadium, it’s your turn to find him at this high-tech, eco-friendly, 68,500-seat marvel in Santa Clara.

The Hall of Fame quarterback was the foundation of four championship teams, so it’s only appropriate that the San Francisco 49ers installed a brick celebrating his contributions in Levi’s Stadium Fanwalk. You can find a map that leads directly to Montana’s brick—as well as those honouring Bill Walsh, Jerry Rice, Roger Craig, and other stars.

Although it’s closed through February, the 49ers Museum is another great way to pay tribute to one of the most acclaimed quarterbacks in NFL history. The 20,000-square-foot facility includes 11 galleries where you’ll find The Catch ball that Montana tossed to Dwight Clark to clinch the 1981 NFC title game; the Lombardi trophies that Montana helped his team win; one of his early professional contracts; statues; and all sorts of artifacts and memorabilia.

Levi’s Stadium also offers a wide variety of tours that take you behind the scenes at this truly special venue. Ninety-minute public tours are held every day during business hours—although they are currently on hold until March 1—and Montana’s presence can be felt throughout. The stadium also offers guided tours of its massive art collection, and yes—artists’ renderings of Montana are a key component of the exhibition. 

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Joe Montana in Bay Area or Bust - Chapter 1 - Concert at the Country Club with Brandon & Brittani
No car. No wallet. No phone. Joe’s got more issues than the Cowboys did in the mid-80s facing the 49ers as he tries to get to the Bay Area for the Big Game. Fortunately he stumbles across YouTubers Brittani Louise Taylor & Brandon Armstrong, who agree to help him get from Palm Springs to Los Angeles for the first leg of this incredible trip.
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Brian Kriksey

San Jose Festivals

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San Jose Festivals
Happenings where geeks get their grooves on

In a city where tech is king, it makes sense that artists here get influenced by edgy new techniques and sounds. Check out the results at June’s Subzero Festival, with artists, musicians, and other artisans showing their stuff. Young techies flock to September’s C2sv (Creative Convergence Silicon Valley), a showcase for indie bands.

The region’s rich ethnic mix fuels high-energy festivals such as Viva Fest: Mexican Heritage & Mariachi Festival (events held July through October), and July’s Obon Festival in Japantown. Some events just aim to make people smile, like the seasonal favorite, Christmas in the Park, celebrated downtown at Plaza de Cesar Chavez. Wander through a winter wonderland of lights, snowmen, trains, and other holiday themes. The highlight is an enchanted forest of trees decorated by local schools, community groups, and businesses.  

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Courtesy of Team San Jose/ San Jose Museum of Art

San Jose Museum of Art

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San Jose Museum of Art
A museum with community spirit and a local zest

This downtown museum prides itself on its origins: In 1969, the beautiful 19th century building that then housed a library was threatened with demolition, and a group of citizens banded together to save it and open an art gallery. That local effort grew, creating this remarkable downtown facility, including a light-filled wing added in the 1990s. Permanent exhibits present an outstanding and varied collection, including contemporary abstracts, photography, figurative painting, sculpture, and works in new media by Bay Area artists. If you’ve got kids, check the schedule for family-friendly, hands-on activities to help children get excited about art. 

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Courtesy of Team San Jose/ City National Civic

San Jose Performing Arts

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San Jose Performing Arts
Historic venues present Broadway, Bach, and more

Culture hounds have plenty to do in California’s third largest city. Downtown, the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts hosts Broadway traveling productions, as well as a full calendar of international artists. Ballet San Jose also graces the stage here. Big names are often the draw at the handsome City National Civic; The Who kicked off their first headlining U.S. tour here in 1968, and other big stars, including Barbra Streisand, The Rolling Stones, and Frank Sinatra have all performed in this beautiful space, which debuted a multi-million dollar renovation in 2012.

The 1927 California Theatre, originally a grand movie palace, creates a lavish backdrop for performances by Symphony Silicon Valley and Opera San Jose, presenting classical works and chorale events. Even if you don’t step inside the beautiful theater, take special notice of the marquee out front. It’s decorated with a motif of California poppies, based on historic drawings and photographs, and meticulously recreates the look, size, and detail of the theater’s original sign.

For plays and musicals performed by local companies, check the schedule at the1936 Montgomery Theater, an intimate and elegant venue.

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Courtesy of Team San Jose/ Nemea Greek Tavern

Dining and Food in San Jose

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Dining and Food in San Jose
Food court dumplings, Michelin star chefs, and everything in between

San Jose’s vibrant dining scene is one of the Bay Area’s best-kept secrets. In recent years, dozens of excellent restaurants, breweries, and wine bars have opened their doors in the so-called Capital of Silicon Valley. 

San Jose serves up exceptionally elevated dining experiences. In 2018, Adega became the first restaurant in the city’s history to receive a Michelin star—one of only two Portuguese dining spots in the country to ever receive that honour. Three different prix fixe menus (splurge for the seven-course tasting menu) are offered daily at the family-owned establishment. Celebrity chef Michael Mina, a Michelin-star winner in his own right, works his magic at Arcadia, a steakhouse that’s a popular spot before or after shows at the nearby San Jose Center for the Performing Arts.

Think of a global cuisine and you’re almost sure to find it in San Jose. Enjoy a kaleidoscope of authentic international flavours, including traditional Ethiopian fare at Zeni Restaurant and homemade tarmosalata at Nemea Greek Taverna. With more Vietnamese residents than any city outside of Vietnam, San Jose is a hotspot for pho, bahn-mi, and banh xeo—all of which can be found at Grand Century Mall in Little Saigon. If American-style meat and potatoes is what you’re after, head to Harry’s Hofbrau for an old-fashioned buffet paired with specialty craft beers.

Downtown San Jose’s lively, open-late food hall, San Pedro Square Market, is a great place for a casual hang or a grab-and-go meal. How about a bowl of Nepali steamed dumplings from Urban Momo? A glass of wine from local vintners at Vino Vino? Check out Treatbot, the ice cream trike from the future, serving up karaoke and local ice cream flavours like the “408” (caramel ice cream, fudge, and Oreos). No sense goes un-served in the public market’s three halls: Keep your nose peeled for the aroma of roasted coffee beans and wood-fired pizza, while enjoying live entertainment and local artwork.

On sunny days (which are the norm here), take your food out to a table or bench in the adjacent plaza, bordered by the Peralta Adobe (the city’s oldest building; guided tours are offered throughout the year). 

Alongside its outstanding eats, San José is making a name for itself in the craft brew scene as well. Following the Silicon Valley creed of “iterate, iterate, iterate,” Hermitage Brewing brews three or four beers almost every single day. Strike Brewing Company marries a sports bar feel (pretzels and ping pong) with upscale Belgian-style beers. At local favourite Good Karma Artisan Ales & Café, you can sip carefully crafted lagers alongside the best vegan food in the South Bay. Enjoy!