Come for a football game, stay for the roller-coasters and Korean cuisine in this dynamic Silicon Valley city
Once the domain of the Ohlone Indians and later a rich farming area of fruit orchards, Santa Clara has grown into a city of nearly 130,000 residents with a diverse range of attractions in Silicon Valley. Bordering San Jose and less than an hour south of San Francisco, this longtime tech hub has emerged as a prominent player on the international sports scene and makes an ideal base for visitors looking to explore the Bay Area.
The 2014 opening of Levi’s Stadium brought new attention to Santa Clara as the city began hosting some of the world’s biggest sporting events, including Super Bowl L, the 2017 Concacaf Gold Cup soccer finals, and the 2019 college football national championship game. High-tech and high-class (the dining choices include Bourbon Steak Michael Mina, a James Beard winner), the stadium is the home field of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers. Be sure to visit the 49ers Museum to see the Vince Lombardi Trophies the team has won as five-time Super Bowl champions.
Long before Santa Clara became a destination for sports fans, theme-park lovers flocked to California’s Great America for the gravity-defying thrills on the looping, corkscrewing Demon roller-coaster and summertime water-park fun. The tradition that began in 1976 continues today on such rides as the revolutionary RailBlazer roller-coaster, which has three inversions and reaches speeds of up to 52 mph, and at Great America’s South Bay Shores water park, where the seven-story Pacific Surge sends you plunging along six waterslides.
The city is also home to Mission Santa Clara de Asís, the eighth of the 21 California missions founded by the Spanish. Established in 1777, the mission moved five times before reaching its current site in 1822. There are also living reminders of the mission era, including a 140-year-old wisteria arbor and a rose garden.
The mission is situated on the Santa Clara University campus, where you can attend theater and dance performances, as well as sporting events featuring teams competing in 20 Division 1 sports (Santa Clara’s women’s soccer team won the 2020 national championship). Or visit the university’s de Saisset Museum for exhibits focused on California art and history.
There’s more art in Santa Clara at the free Triton Museum of Art, which specializes in contemporary California works and features a lovely sculpture garden. For a very different kind of museum experience, Santa Clara’s 10,000-square-foot Intel Museum takes you inside the world of the computer-chip industry.
Like much of the Bay Area, Santa Clara has an almost perfect climate. You can get outdoors at the city’s Central Park, a 52-acre recreational gem along Saratoga Creek with a lawn bowling green, an aquatics center, and a lake that draws flocks of ducks and geese. Not far from Levi’s Stadium, explore the Ulistac Natural Area on trails that meander through 41 acres along the Guadalupe River. You’ll see a butterfly and hummingbird garden and seven different California natural habitats, including wetlands and oak woodlands, used seasonally by the region’s Ohlone Indians for 1,500 years.
These days Santa Clara is home to one of the country’s largest Korean communities, which is centered in an area dubbed “Korean Silicon Valley.” Discover authentic Korean cuisine at such popular Santa Clara restaurants as Jang Su Jang, which has earned multiple Michelin Guide recommendations for its smoky barbecue and tofu stews, and the intimate Restaurant Gish. If you’re a dumpling aficionado, don’t miss Din Tai Fung, the only Northern California branch of the Taipei dumpling house that has earned a global following for its dim sum delicacies.
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