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Sammy Haile’s title at Signia by Hilton San Jose is “doorperson,” but you could call him “chief ambassador.” Typically you’ll find him greeting guests at the hotel’s front door, but at day’s end, he might be in the lobby lounge sipping a martini.

It’s the hotel’s most alluring spot, Haile says. “Our lobby bar is very modern and elegant, and it’s been renovated to the highest level. It’s very European in style. Once you sit down, your mood will completely change.”

AJI Bar and Robata boasts arched entryways, plush couches, and geometric chandeliers that hang over a horseshoe-shaped bar. Bartenders stir up signature cocktails made with pisco, mezcal, and sake, and a robata-style menu showcases Japanese and Peruvian flavors.

Haile’s favorite cocktail is the bar’s “beautiful vodka martini,” he says. “It makes you feel like you’re wearing a black and white tuxedo, like 007.”

He isn’t a secret agent, but Haile is an expert guide to California's third largest metropolis. He’s been directing hotel guests to San Jose’s attractions since 1991. (The Signia was formerly the Fairmont San Jose before a major renovation and re-opening in 2022.)

“Our hotel is in the middle of downtown, and we have two great museums next to us,” Haile says. “Our guests can visit the San Jose Museum of Art for free.”

On Signia’s north side, the San Jose Museum of Art focuses on modern and contemporary art. More than 2,500 works by mostly California artists are displayed in an 1892 library building.

The Tech Interactive is a must-see, Haile says, because “San Jose is the capital of Silicon Valley, and Silicon Valley is the tech capital of the world.”

The family-friendly museum celebrates San Jose's culture of innovation with exhibits on space exploration, artificial intelligence, and human health. Kids (or curious adults) can design their own robot, get shaken up in a simulated earthquake, or sit in an astronaut's seat and "fly" through space.

Haile recommends catching a movie in the museum’s IMAX Dome Theater, where wraparound images are projected on a four-story-high, hemispherical screen. “I saw the Star Trek movie in that theater. It was unbelievable, so beautiful,” he says.

Cutting-edge tech may be San Jose’s claim to fame, but Haile says that the city hasn’t forgotten its past. Across the street from the Signia is Plaza de César Chávez, a palm tree–dotted park known for its holiday light displays, shimmering fountains, and summer music events. Haile tells visitors to look for a plaque in the plaza commemorating the site of San Jose’s first City Hall, constructed in 1854. A few years before that, San Jose briefly served as the capital of the new state of California.

The Signia’s property is also historically significant. “Our hotel is sitting on the spot that used to be San Jose’s Chinatown in the 1870s,” Haile says.

Today San Jose is one of California’s most diverse cities. “San Jose is a melting pot. Everywhere you go, you see different cultures. That diversity makes the city even more interesting and enjoyable,” he says.

Visitors can sample multi-cultural cuisine at San Pedro Square Market, a 10-minute walk from the Signia. “It’s a public square like you’d find in Spain or Italy. The street is blocked off, and there are all different ethnic restaurants,” he says.

The market’s foods include Nepali steamed dumplings at Urban Momo, beef barbacoa tacos at Loteria Taco Bar, Vietnamese spring rolls at On a Roll, and mochi donuts at Mochinut.

For guests craving hearty hamburgers or a sizzling ribeye, Haile suggests The Grill on the Alley. “It’s inside our hotel lobby, but it has its own entrance on Paseo de San Antonio and Market Street,” he says. “The Grill’s burgers are made from Japanese Kobe beef. It just melts in your mouth—it’s so yummy.”

Even with so much to eat, do, and see in San Jose, Haile says some guests find it hard to leave the Signia’s pool. “Our swimming pool is breathtaking. It’s surrounded by palm trees and cabanas, and there’s a gazebo that serves food and drinks,” he says. “When you sit by the pool, you feel like you’re in the islands somewhere.”

FIVE MORE FAVORITES

Haile says San Jose visitors should check out these spots:

Family-friendly: The Children’s Discovery Museum is a short walk from the hotel, and it has a lot of learning and playing activities for kids. I have five children, and when they were little, they loved to go to the museum and climb around on the fire truck. Families also enjoy the Happy Hollow Park and Zoo, where kids can see all the animals. They have lemurs, meerkats, anteaters, all kinds of interesting animals. Both museums are very educational for children.

Winchester Mystery House: The Winchester Mystery House is a 10-minute drive from the hotel. It’s a 160-room Victorian mansion built by Sarah Winchester, heir to the Winchester rifle fortune. It has 950 doors, 40 bedrooms, and stairways that go nowhere. Why did one lady build this humongous mansion when she lived all by herself? It’s such an amazing and interesting mystery. When you take the tour, you learn about her obsession.

Sunset spot: The view from Mount Hamilton is breathtaking. You drive a curvy road up to the top of the mountain and look down over the entire valley and the city lights at night. It’s a beautiful place to watch the sunset. You can also visit the Lick Observatory on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. The mountain’s elevation is above 4,000 feet, so sometimes it snows up there and they close the road. People park their cars and walk up into the snow.

Tacos: La Victoria Taqueria has the best fish tacos, either fried or grilled, and they have a signature orange sauce that’s unbelievable. It’s their secret ingredient—they won’t say what’s in it. I often order their carne asada tacos, and they cook the beef perfectly. It’s spiced just right. La Victoria has five locations in San Jose.

Breakfast/brunch: For breakfast, I love the avocado toast at The Fountain in our hotel. It’s healthy and yummy. It’s so beautifully presented that it invites you to go ahead and bite it. I also like to go to San Pedro Square and have breakfast at Peggy Sue’s, a 1950s diner with a soda fountain. You can sit inside or out on the patio and have breakfast at any hour of the day. Il Fornaio has a very nice brunch, too. I usually get their eggs Benedict.

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