55 Best Things to Do in San Jose (CA)

Written by Jan Meeuwesen
Updated on
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Two hundred and forty years after it was founded by the Spanish, the first city in the California is the diverse, futuristic and prosperous “Capital of Silicon Valley”. Tech giants like PayPal, Cisco Systems, eBay and Acer are all part of the scenery, and the likes of Apple, Intel, Microsoft and Amazon aren’t far away.

San Jose’s buying power is hard to miss in its soaring rents, luxury malls, sports venues, dining scene and burgeoning cultural choice.

Here on the South Bay you can also set a course for the Diablo and Santa Cruz ranges, for stargazing at the Lick Observatory and to watch the ocean of twinkling lights as the sun sets on the Santa Clara Valley.

Life in San Jose is infused with technology, on the ultramodern VTA light rail, at interactive museums, on the campuses of tech giants and even the city’s movie festival, Cinequest, championing virtual reality.

1. Downtown San Jose

Downtown San Jose, CASource: mTaira / shutterstock
Downtown San Jose

San Jose condenses a whole city’s worth of culture, entertainment, dining, sightseeing and nightlife into just a few blocks bookended by the Guadalupe River and San Jose State University.

It would take you minutes to get across this dynamic district on foot, but there are more places to eat and drink (250+) than you could squeeze into a whole month, and a big chunk of the attractions listed below, from the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library to the San Jose Improv, are downtown.

The geographical center is Plaza de César Chávez, a meeting place with public art, flowerbeds and fountains, and the main stage for one of country’s top jazz festivals in August.

2. Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum

Rosicrucian Egyptian MuseumSource: Wayne Hsieh78 / shutterstock
Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum

Looking like an Ancient Egyptian settlement, with a Moorish-style planetarium thrown in, Rosicrucian Park is on a whole city block in San Jose’s Rose Garden neighborhood.

The complex goes back to the 1920s and now has a temple for the Rosicrucian order, a Rosicrucian labyrinth, a research library, alchemy exhibit and alchemy garden.

But what pulls in more than 100,000 people a year is the Egyptian museum, in a building modeled on Karnak’s Temple of Amon.

It holds the largest array of Ancient Egyptian artifacts in Western North America, starting in pre-dynastic times more than 5000 years ago and running to the start of the Islamic era.

The museum has gathered some 4,000 pieces, and as you’d guess the mummies arouse the most fascination, but there’s also jewelery, sculpture, ritual objects, writing materials, toiletries, textiles, tools and vessels, and some absorbing pieces from Assyria and Babylonia.

3. Winchester Mystery House

Winchester Mystery HouseSource: Lee Boxleitner / shutterstock
Winchester Mystery House

When the gun magnate William Wirt Winchester passed away in 1881, he left a hefty fortune to his widow Sarah Winchester (1839-1922), which over the next 40 years she ploughed into one of the most peculiar buildings in the United States.

In a Late Victorian and Queen Anne styles, the Winchester Mystery House is an ornate, tile-clad muddle of gables, chimneys, conical towers and finials, with no logical plan.

This sense of disorder, and the countless deaths at the barrels of Winchester repeating rifles, may be the source of ghost stories going back to the earliest days of construction.

When Sarah died work stopped forever, but there are 161 rooms at the Winchester Mystery House, with 40 bedrooms, two ballrooms and more than 10,000 individual panes of glass.

In the Escher-esque interior, doors open onto walls and stairways lead to sealed ceilings.

The estate has been open for tours since 1923, amazing visitors with its blend of beautiful and just plain bizarre.

Book online: Winchester Mystery House Tour

4. The Tech Interactive

The Tech Interactive, San JoseSource: Mariusz S. Jurgielewicz / shutterstock
The Tech Interactive, San Jose

Silicon Valley is the place to be if you’re curious about how technology is changing our daily lives.

And just as you’d want from an attraction in San Jose, The Tech Interactive is kitted out with gadgets, gizmos, robots, virtual reality and innovative hands-on craziness.

For a quick summary, you can compose your own digital world at Reboot Reality, get clued up about Internet safety at Cyber Detectives and learn about the latest advances in biotechnology at the BioDesign Studio.

In 2019 Body Worlds Decoded began a long-term exhibition at the museum, using augmented reality and other emerging technologies to show real human bodies in a new light.

And always a show-stopper is the IMAX Dome Theater for the latest immersive presentations.

5. Children’s Discovery Museum

Children's Discovery Museum, San JoseSource: jejim / shutterstock
Children’s Discovery Museum

Technology also plays a part at this attraction for kids up to the age of ten.

Children’s Discovery Museum was inaugurated in 1990 and part funded by the Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak for whom the street, Wozniak Way is named.

Exhibits and programs here all help children understand the world through experience, interaction and inquiry.

They’ll get to dig for mammoth fossils, make gigantic bubbles, solve engineering problems with circles, role-play a healthy lifestyle at the Rainbow Market and investigate the textures, sights, sounds of an urban environment at the “Streets” exhibit.

Bill’s Backyard is a new outdoor playground, letting kids climb, build and dig as they learn about the natural world and where food comes from.

6. California’s Great America

California's Great AmericaSource: Sundry Photography / shutterstock
California’s Great America

Open from the end of March to December, California’s Great America has been around since 1976 and mixes thrill rides with the slides and pools of a waterpark at Boomerang Bay.

By 2019 there were nine rollercoasters at the park, and the headline was the wooden Gold Striker, opened in 2013. This reaches speeds of more than 50 mph on a 31.5-meter first drop that shoots you in to a tunnel more than 50 meters long.

Flight Deck meanwhile has zero-gravity barrel rolls, and the stalwart Demon, here since the park opened, is a steel coaster with four inversions.

The park caters to younger visitors at the Peanuts-themed Planet Snoopy, which opened in 2010 and has spinners, carousel, dodgems and the light Woodstock Express rollercoaster.

7. Santana Row

Santana Row, San JoseSource: Sundry Photography / shutterstock
Santana Row, San Jose

To come to terms with Silicon Valley in the 21st century you could swing by this ever-growing mixed-use development south of the mammoth Westfield Valley Fair mall.

With its palms, oaks, fountains, musicians, pedestrian-friendly sidewalks and restaurant terraces, Santana Row does feel like an organic neighborhood.

But none of this existed before the early-2000s, when it was all conceived as a “village within a city”, on more than 40 acres.

For shoppers there are boutiques, galleries and more than a few well-known retailers like Ted Baker, Sephora and H&M.

In between are some 30 restaurants, bars and cafes, and the six-screen CinéArts Santana Row, playing arthouse, foreign movies and documentaries in high-tech auditoriums.

8. Happy Hollow Park and Zoo

Happy Hollow Park and ZooSource: Uladzik Kryhin / shutterstock
Happy Hollow Park and Zoo

A complete day out for kids, Happy Hollow Park and Zoo has animal enclosures, rides, a puppet theater and a fully-equipped animal hospital.

The attraction dates back to 1961, but came through a modern refit just over a decade ago.

Space is limited, so the zoo mostly keeps smaller animals like meerkats, fossas, capybaras, guinea pigs, lemurs, macaws, owls and turtles.

A lot of research has gone into the zoo’s habitats to make them as humane and stimulating as possible, providing areas where animals can go “off exhibit” if they want.

Smaller kids will be thrilled by the puppet show and there’s a choice of amusement rides and attractions, such as the Pacific Fruit Express rollercoaster and Mini Putt-Putt.

And as for food, the Picnic Basket serves healthy options made with local and sustainable ingredients and using environmentally-friendly utensils.

9. Intel Museum

Intel MuseumSource: Michael Vi / shutterstock
Intel Museum


Out of all of Silicon Valley’s tech behemoths, the best visitor experience is offered by this preeminent semiconductor chip manufacturer.

It’s a must if you’ve ever wondered what goes on under the hood of your phone, laptop, tablet or desktop.

On a self-guided tour through the futuristic visitor center you get to explore technologies that give us new ways to communicate, work, learn and play.

You’ll see how Intel’s chips are made at an ultra-clean and fully-automated silicon factory, and find out about the evolution of the semi-conductor, and just how this technology works.

Plentiful interactive exhibits allow you to write your name in binary and try coding, and there are plenty of displays of early components and chips to show you how far we’ve come.

10. Municipal Rose Garden

Municipal Rose Garden, San JoseSource: Sundry Photography / shutterstock
Municipal Rose Garden, San Jose

San Jose’s award-winning rose garden was dedicated in 1937 on what used to be a prune orchard.

If you need an idea of just how pretty this spot is, it’s the prime location for many a graduation or wedding shoot.

In a formal arrangement around a circular fountain and basin are around 3,500 individual bushes from almost 200 different species.

The colors in spring are a delight, and if you’re here in the hotter months there are tall redwoods on the margins for shade.

This is an All-America Rose Selections (AARS) test garden, the only one of its kind in North America, and receives award-winning roses from the organization before they’re released to the public.

11. Alum Rock Park

Alum Rock Park, San JoseSource: aido / shutterstock
Alum Rock Park

Embedded in the Alum Rock Canyon at the foothills of the Diablo Range is the oldest municipal park in California, established back in 1872. Alum Rock Park is in 720 acres, with a beautiful mix of vegetation on the steep slopes of the valley.

The south-facing slopes bathed in the sun grow fragrant sagebrush, while on the cooler north sides are California bay laurel, and coast live oak, with white alder, western sycamore and big-leaf maple growing on the damper valley floor.

The terrain, granting heart-lifting vistas of the North Silicon Valley, can be traversed on foot, by bike or on horseback.

The valley is riddled with mineral springs (27 in all) rich in sulfur and magnesium, and drawing health tourists from the late-19th century to the 1930s.

Today’s visitors come for the rugged terrain, seasonal creek, far-off views, birding, picnic sites and barbecue puts.

12. Levi’s Stadium

Levi's StadiumSource: Sundry Photography / shutterstock
Levi’s Stadium

Humorously dubbed the Field of Jeans, the Levi’s Stadium has been home field for the San Francisco 49ers since its inaugural season in 2014. This 68,500-capacity stadium cost an estimated $1.3 billion, replacing the 49ers fog-shrouded Candlestick Park, and was the venue for Superbowl 50 when the Denver Broncos defeated the Carolina Panthers.

In keeping with its location in Silicon Valley, the Levi’s Stadium became the first new stadium to receive a Gold LEED certificate for sustainability and even the wood fittings in its luxury suites are made from responsibly sourced bamboo.

There’s also a free Wi-Fi connection for every seat, and the mandatory globetrotting concessions, from curry to high-class steaks to fancy cocktails.

You can join a public tour if you want to go behind the scenes, while the 49ers Museum is open all day Friday to Sunday.

13. Los Gatos Creek Trail

Los Gatos Creek TrailSource: Sundry Photography / shutterstock
Los Gatos Creek Trail

Setting off from Meridian Avenue on the edge of Downtown San Jose you can hike or cycle for almost ten miles south to the Lexington Reservoir in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains in Los Gatos.

The path is paved and easy to negotiate on foot or by bike, threading through a calm natural corridor mostly next to the Los Gatos Creek.

Traveling south from Downtown San Jose you’ll pass through the City of Campbell, land managed by the County of Santa Clara and the Town of Los Gatos.

A nice place to stop in Los Gatos, especially if you’re walking with children is the Vasona Lake County Park.

This offers mountain views, pedal-boating, kayaking, paddleboarding and the Billy Jones Wildcat Railroad, a miniature railway that runs on weekends and during the school summer break.

14. History Park

San Jose History ParkSource: Iv-olga / shutterstock
San Jose History Park

On the south end of Kelley Park you could be forgiven for wondering if you’ve stepped into a time warp.

History Park is presented like a town from the beginning of the 20th century, with 32 historic buildings and other landmarks that have been relocated to this free outdoor museum since it was set up in 1971. Together with houses raised for early settlers in the Santa Clara Valley, old-time amenities in History Park include a dentist’s office (with foot-powered drill!), a blacksmith shed, a functioning print shop, a post office, O’Brien’s Ice Cream Parlor, the Pacific Hotel, the trolley barn (with restored electric and horse-drawn trolley) and the Bank of Italy.

There’s a bit more life to the museum on weekends, when several of the buildings are staffed, and you can take a ride on an antique trolley.

15. Almaden Quicksilver County Park

Almaden Quicksilver County ParkSource: Sundry Photography / shutterstock
Almaden Quicksilver County Park

This rambling hilly landscape in the south of San Jose is on the site of the New Almaden Mines, exploited for mercury from the early days of the Gold Rush in 1847 until as recently as 1976. Mercury was used to process gold ore, and, after 130 years, some 37,388 tons of the metal had been extracted from this ground.

What was once a town for more than 1,800 miners and their families is now 4,163 acres of hills climbing more than 500 meters above sea level and rich with wildflowers in early spring.

The county park is also strewn with subtle clues to its industrial history like crumbling housing and sealed adits.

There are 37 miles of hiking trails and picnic tables dotted at scenic spots.

Fishing is permitted at the Almaden and Guadalupe Reservoirs, but given the land’s mercury mining history, this fish is not to be eaten.

16. San Jose Center for the Performing Arts

San Jose Center for the Performing ArtsSource: Sundry Photography / shutterstock
San Jose Center for the Performing Arts

Still an eye-catching sight on Almaden Boulevard nearly 50 years after it was completed, the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts is the stage for two big local companies: Broadway San Jose and the San Jose Dance Theatre.

So there’s an enticing menu of performances by these resident companies at this 2,677 seat venue year-round.

In 2019-20 Broadway San Jose put on Les Misérables, Miss Saigon, Riverdance and Waitress, while the pinnacle of the San Jose Dance Theatre’s calendar is the annual Christmas performances of The Nutcracker.

In between there are shows by Symphony Silicon Valley, touring musicals, famous comedians, major recording artists and children’s entertainment.

17. Japantown

Japantown, San JoseSource: Hide Inada / shutterstock
Japantown, San Jose

One of three surviving Japantowns in the United States sits a little way north of Downtown San Jose.

This can be traced back to a neighborhood of boarding houses for Japanese migrant men in the 1880s.

By the early 20th century they were joined by “Picture Brides” (selected by matchmakers) and dozens of businesses were opened to serve the growing community.

Japantown was resettled following internment in World War II, and in the 21st century nearly a quarter of the people within a three mile radius of this neighborhood have Asian heritage.

You can swing by for spots like Shuei-Do Manju Shop, which sold manjū (sweet pastry) to Emperor Akihito in 1994. The Japanese American Museum chronicles Japanese immigration to America and the dark days of internment and there’s wonderful homemade tofu at the San Jose Tofu Company.

For a bite, one of the long-term residents is Kazoo, making sushi combos, katsu curry and noodles.

18. Avaya Stadium

Avaya StadiumSource: Luz Rosa / shutterstock
Avaya Stadium

Major League Soccer’s San Jose Earthquakes have a fantastic home stadium set next to the airport.

Compact but perfectly planned, the Avaya Stadium (2015) seats 18,000 with a main tier that wraps around three sides of the field.

Like a classic European stadium this is extra steep, for better views and a ferocious atmosphere on game-days.

The north-east side has been left without a stand, and instead has the largest outdoor bar in the whole of North America, as well as a two-acre fanzone and a massive double video scoreboard.

The Earthquakes play 17 regular season games here from March to October, not including playoffs, exhibitions and U.S. Open Cup fixtures.

The franchise’s best years came in the early 2000s when they twice won the MLS Cup (2001 and 2003) and twice reached the quarter finals of the CONCACAF Champions’ League (2002 and 2004).

19. Cathedral Basilica of St Joseph

Cathedral Basilica of St Joseph, San JoseSource: Arvind Balaraman / shutterstock
Cathedral Basilica of St Joseph, San Jose

A bold Renaissance Revival church in Downtown San Jose, the cathedral for the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Jose in California was consecrated in 1877. This is the fifth St Joseph’s Church, going back to 1803 when it was the site of the first parish in California built for the Spanish population rather than to convert Ohlone Indians.

On the Market Street facade is the impressive portico with fluted Corinthian columns and the Deo Optimo Maximo inscription in the frieze.

The interior is a marvel for its dome, the coffering on its vaults and the brilliant stained glass depicting saints, the Agony in the Garden, the Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension.

In the 12 days before Christmas the basilica hosts the Season of Hope concert series, with important ensembles like the San Jose Symphonic Choir, San Jose Jazz All-Star Big Band and the California Philharmonic Youth Orchestra performing.

20. Willow Glen

“Dancin’ On The Avenue” Festival, Willow GlenSource: Sundry Photography / shutterstock
“Dancin’ On The Avenue” Festival, Willow Glen

This walkable neighborhood of one-of-a-kind shops, picture perfect houses and sycamore-lined streets grew up independently of San Jose.

Willow Glen was first incorporated as a city in the 1920s to avoid the Southern Pacific Trunk Line being rerouted along its main drag, Lincoln Avenue, and was then annexed by San Jose in the 30s.

Even though it’s locked in a sprawling conurbation Willow Glen’s small-town feel is undeniable, shining through in its boutiques, vintage clothing stores, bookshops and specialty food shops.

In the space of a few blocks on Lincoln and Meridian Avenues you’ve got an inordinate amount of dining choices from pho to pizza, tacos, burgers, sushi and contemporary French (Black Sheep Brasserie) or Italian (Bertucelli’s La Villa Gourmet). If you’re around in mid-June Lincoln Avenue is in party mode for the one-day Dancin’ On the Avenue festival, taking over the main stretch between Willow Street and Minnesota Avenue.

21. Stanford University

Stanford UniversitySource: turtix / shutterstock
Stanford University

The city-like campus (8,180- acres) of one of the most prestigious universities in the world is inside half an hour of downtown San Jose.

Stanford University hardly needs introduction, but has produced 83 Nobel laureates, scores of members of congress, 17 astronauts and a president, Herbert Hoover.

The founders of Google, Nike, Sun Systems, Electronic Arts and Hewlett-Packard all came through this august institution.

You can grab a map and tour the campus as you please, or join a student-led tour at 11:30 or 15:30. There’s much to see, like the Mission Revival and Romanesque Revival architecture of the Main Quad, the 87-meter Hoover Tower (1941) for a complete view of the campus and the first-rate Cantor Arts Center, which we’ll talk about next.

You can also see what’s on at one of Stanford’s performance venues, while the Anderson Collection deals with modern art.

Meanwhile and you can learn about Stanford’s most decorated teams and athletes at the Home of Champions.

22. Cantor Arts Center

Cantor Arts CenterSource: Sundry Photography / shutterstock
Cantor Arts Center

Set up in 1891 at the same time as the university, the Cantor Arts Center reached its current scale in 1999 after a program of renovations and extensions in response to the Loma Prieta Earthquake ten years earlier.

It adopted the name of its main donors, Iris and B. Gerald Cantor and mixes contemporary architecture with its Neoclassical original building from 1891. More importantly, the Cantor Arts Center has collections that wouldn’t be out of place at the world’s top museums.

Comprising almost 40,000 objects, these come from a wealth of world regions and periods.

There’s photography by Warhol, decorative arts by Louis Comfort Tiffany, Mesoamerican ceramics and Native American, African and Oceanic/Indonesian artefacts.

But the museum’s greatest feature is the largest assemblage of sculpture by Auguste Rodin, outside of the Musée Rodin in Paris, running to more than 400 works, displayed inside and at the museum’s exceptional Rodin Sculpture Garden.

23. Computer History Museum

Computer History Museum, Mountain ViewSource: Sundry Photography / shutterstock
Computer History Museum

Since you’re in the world’s high technology hub you can go back to the dawn of the Information Age at this first-rate museum near the Googleplex in Mountain View.

The Computer History Museum has gathered more than 90,000 pieces – claimed to be the largest collection of computing artifacts in the world, counting hardware, source code, patent documents and even lab notebooks.

The fantastic “Revolution: The First 2000 Years of Computing” has firsthand accounts from world-changing innovators, together with early calculators, punched cards, analog computers, robots, mainframe computers and game consoles and much more.

When we wrote this list in November 2019 there were also exhibitions on the history of autonomous vehicles, the story behind world-changing applications like texting, car crash simulators and Wikipedia.

Finally the IBM 1401 Demo Lab (Wednesdays and Saturdays) brings the bustle of a business computer center from the late-1950s back to life.

Book online: Computer History Museum General Admission Ticket

24. SoFa District

SoFa District, San JoseSource: Sundry Photography / shutterstock
SoFa District, San Jose

This culture, arts and entertainment enclave within downtown San Jose touts itself as “Silicon Valley’s Creative District”. The name means “South First Area” and along with chic cocktail bars and ultra-hip cafes is home to big venues and institutions like the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art and the Silicon Valley Symphony and Opera San José, based at the California Theatre.

On the first Friday of the month, the district’s shops, galleries, restaurants, museums and nightclubs participate in the South First Fridays art walk.

On the first Friday in June, South First Street is closed off to road traffic for the Subzero Festival, with live music, a beer garden and art vendors.

A long-term resident, pre-dating Silicon Valley is the Original Joe’s Italian restaurant, dating to 1956 and staffed with waiters in tuxedos.

25. California Theatre

OrchestraSource: 18percentgrey / shutterstock

The main stage for the Silicon Valley Symphony and Opera San José is a beguiling landmark in the SoFa District.

It was completed in 1927 as a movie palace and vaudeville stage, and from the 70s was left abandoned for more than 30 years until a $75m restoration project by the Packard Humanities Institute in the early 2000s.

The theatre’s exuberant Jazz Age decor was brought back to life, with its profuse plateresque mouldings, stained glass chandeliers and Solomonic columns.

The venue is boutique in size, seating 1,119, which puts it among the world’s smallest opera houses.

Productions of Il Trovatore, The Magic Flute, Hansel and Gretel (Opera San José) and movie scores and works by Brahms, Mozart, Beethoven and Schumann (Symphony Silicon Valley) were on the menu in 2019-20. In March the California Theatre also hosts the annual Cinequest film festival, which we’ll bring up below.

26. San Jose Museum of Art

San Jose Museum of ArtSource: Mariusz S. Jurgielewicz / shutterstock
San Jose Museum of Art

The oldest wing of this museum off Plaza de César Chávez is a grand Romanesque Revival edifice, built as the San Jose post office in 1892 and serving as the city library between 1937 and 1969. Founded that year, the San Jose Museum of Art added a new wing in 1991. The focus here is on modern and contemporary West Coast artists, and the museum has put together a strong permanent collection of installation art, paintings, sculpture, drawing, photography and graphic art, by Dale Chuhuly, Milton Avery, Deborah Butterfield, Joan Brown, Richard Diebenkorn, Jim Dine, Robert Arneson and Frederick Spatt.

At any time there will be five concurrent temporary exhibitions, and on a formidable list of past shows are names like Catherine Wagner, Dinh Q.Lê, Woody de Othello, Diana al-Hadid and Robert Henri.

27. Excite Ballpark (San Jose Municipal Stadium)

BaseballSource: noraismail / shutterstock

Known until 2019 as the San Jose Municipal Stadium, this 4,200-capacity sports venue has been here since 1942. In its 80 or so years, the stadium has had 11 different tenants, the current being the Class A – Advanced team, the San Jose Giants.

The shared name with their more famous neighbors in San Francisco is no coincidence as this is a farm team for the MLB franchise.

The San Jose Giants have a history to be proud of, having lifted five Minor League titles between 2001 and 2010. And as a farm team, more than 190 MLB players have cut their teeth right here, including a few members of the SF Giants’ World Series-winning roster, like Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum, Buster Posey and Jonathan Sánchez.

When it comes to food, you choose from churros, BBQ, nachos, funnel cake and of course hot dogs.

28. Rancho San Antonio Preserve

Rancho San Antonio PreserveSource: Mariusz S. Jurgielewicz / shutterstock
Rancho San Antonio Preserve

You can hike out into the Santa Cruz Mountains at this 3990-acre preserve and the 290-acre County Park attached to it.

Your walk will take you through a variety of ecosystems, all shaped by their orientation towards the sun or position on the range’s slopes.

Growing along creeks are willows and cottonwoods, and the shaded canyons have groves of big-leaf maples and bay trees.

Sunny south-facing slopes are scrubby and blanketed with manzanita, chamise and mountain mahogany, while oaks and bays grow in deep woodland on the north slopes.

Mountain lions (take sensible precautions), deer and bobcats all inhabit the preserve, in one of the last patches of Silicon Valley where native animals are free to roam.

For humans there are almost 30 miles of walking trails, with an elevation difference of more than 700 meters.

For an interesting break from hiking there’s the 150-year-old Deer Hollow Farm, which now has an educational role but continues to produce and sell eggs and fresh fruit.

29. Apple Park Visitor Center

Apple Park Visitor CenterSource: Valeriya Zankovych / shutterstock
Apple Park Visitor Center

Apple’s new landscaped campus in Cupertino was dreamed up by Steve Jobs, designed by Norman Foster and opened to its 12,000 employees in April 2017. Almost all of this workforce is employed in one ring-shaped solar-powered structure, larger than the Pentagon and praised as one of the most energy-efficient buildings in the world.

And while that strange edifice is off-limits for the public, there is a specially designed visitor center opposite.

As stylish as you’d imagine, the visitor center, couched in olive groves, has a 3D model of Apple Park using augmented reality to show off its design philosophy and many innovations.

Needless to say there’s an Apple store with exclusive merchandise, along with a cafe and roof terrace with the best view of Apple Park and its rolling woodland.

30. Mount Umunhum

Mount UmunhumSource: Sundry Photography / shutterstock
Mount Umunhum

The fourth-highest peak in the Santa Cruz Range stands at more than 1,060 meters and is a convenient excursion from San Jose, for hikers craving a bit more of a challenge or drivers as the Mt Umunhum Road leads right to the top.

The summit had been closed to the public because of hazardous materials left over from the defunct Almaden Air Force Station, but the road and hiking trail were officially opened in 2017. Like its accompanying peaks, Mount Umunhum is a piece of oceanic crust and mantle from the Middle Jurassic period (up to 203 million years ago), converted into metamorphic serpentinite.

At the peak is a radar surveillance post, known as The Cube, built in 1962 to detect hostile aircraft in the Cold War.

Panoramas extend as far as Mount Hamilton and the Lick Observatory in the Diablo Range to the north-east and Mount Tamalpais, north of San Francisco.

There are interpretive displays informing you about these visible landmarks, as well as Mount Umunhum’s historic ties to the Ohlone Native American tribe.

31. San Jose Museum of Quilts & Textiles

San Jose Museum of Quilts & TextilesSource: Billvolckening / Wikimedia | CC BY-SA 4.0
San Jose Museum of Quilts & Textiles

Unique in the United States when it opened in 1977, this museum celebrates the art, craft, creators and history of quilts and textiles.

The inventory exceeds 1,000 pieces, including quilts, textile-based art and clothing.

Some outstanding exhibits are a c.1830 mosaic quilt top made by Mary Taylor Lloyd Key (married to poet composer of the Star Spangled Banner, Francis Scott Key), scores of molas by the Kuna people of Panama’s San Blas Islands, quilts by notable 20th-century designers like Ernest Haight and Ruby McKim and a rare linsey-wooley whole cloth quilt from c.1820. The museum holds three short-term exhibitions at any time, and in late-2019 the standout was Know Your Meme.

This crowdsourced show explored the concept of Internet memes as a means of communication, translating them to media like quilting, cross-stitching, knitting, crocheting, embroidery, basketry and weaving.

32. Sikh Gurdwara Sahib

Sikh Gurdwara SahibSource: yhelfman / shutterstock
Sikh Gurdwara Sahib

After a second phase was completed in 2011, this Gurdwara, right where eastern San Jose borders the Diablo Range, became the largest Sikh place of worship in North America.

In fact there’s no larger Gurdwara than this outside of Amritsar’s Harmandir Sahib in India.

Catering to Santa Clara Valley’s large and growing Sikh minority, the Gurdwara San Jose was first founded in 1984, moving onto this 40-acre property on the Evergreen Hills in 2004. From the fountain outside you can see right across the Silicon Valley, and the view is awesome at night.

In accordance with Sikh beliefs, everyone is welcome at the Gurdwara, which has translations in several languages throughout, explaining the temple (head-coverings are also provided). There’s also a langar (Sikh community kitchen), serving daily free meals to people from all walks of life in a shared space where everyone eats together.

33. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. LibrarySource: Brian Lam / shutterstock
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library

The City of San Jose and the San Jose State University teamed up in the early-2000s to build an eight-story library to serve the city’s public and SJSU students.

As of 2010 this is still the largest library built in one phase in the entire Western United States.

During planning, the Houston conceptual artist Mel Chin was recruited to produce a series of artworks for the interior, titled “Recolecciones”. Entering the atrium, a digital display shows how many hundreds of millions of items the library system has loaned out since 2000. For families, the children’s section is a revelation, with LEGO, video games, movie screenings, storytimes and tons of other programs.

Serious academics will have access to the university’s research collections on floors 6 to 8, while on the first three floors you can make use of one of the public computer terminals.

34. Mission Santa Clara de Asís

Mission Santa Clara de AsísSource: jejim / shutterstock
Mission Santa Clara de Asís

This Spanish mission in Santa Clara goes back to the roots of European settlement in the Bay Area.

The expeditionary leader and future governor of the Province of Mexico Juan Bautista de Anza (1735-1788) was sent to this region by King Carlos III to lay down future settlements.

He set up a military enclave and mission in San Francisco, as well as a mission on the west bank of the Guadalupe River and the civilian settlement of San Jose on the east bank.

Dating to January 1777, Santa Clara de Asís was the eighth mission in California and is the only one to now be found on a university campus (Santa Clara University), which evolved from a college dating back to 1851. Given the short lifespan of adobe structures the church has been rebuilt a few times, most recently in 1929 following a fire.

Beside it are gardens on the site of the original cemetery (since relocated to 490 Lincoln Street), with an intact 18th-century adobe wall.

Captivating artifacts from this and other Californian missions are on display at the university’s de Saisset Museum opposite.

35. San Jose Improv

MicrophoneSource: Andrey Armyagov / shutterstock

This historic theater in Downtown was taken over by The Improv chain in 2002, for wall-to-wall laughs Tuesday to Sunday.

There’s a busy schedule of A-list and upcoming stand-ups, sketch groups, open mics and live podcast recordings.

Combine that with an intimate ambience, great food and snazzy cocktails and you’re sure to have a good time.

Some picks from late-2019 were Cristela Alonso, Nicole Byer, Jay Mohr and Michael Blackson.

And as well as being the go-to for side-splitting humor, the building has a lot of history.

This is the oldest theater in the city, starting out in 1904 as the Jose Theater for vaudeville acts and stock companies.

In its early days it had a four-man orchestra, and its plush interior dates from an Art Deco makeover in 1933.

36. Moffett Field Historical Society Museum

Moffett Field Historical Society MuseumSource: Mike Brake / shutterstock
Moffett Field Historical Society Museum

On the San Francisco Bay and traced by Silicon Valley giants like Yahoo!, Amazon and Google, is Moffett Federal Airfield, a civil-military airport that started out as a naval air station in 1931. From 1942 until the station closed in 1994 untold anti-submarine weapons and maritime patrol aircraft were developed at this site.

One early monument is Hangar One, built to house airships, and measuring a colossal 345 by 95 meters, while Hangars Two and Three, from the WWII era, are two of the largest freestanding wooden structures in the United States.

If you want the lowdown on this interesting place the historical society’s museum is open Wednesday to Saturday.

Awaiting you are black and white photos going back 90 years, detailed exhibits about Hangar One, silverware from the officers’ mess, Cold War anti-submarine technology, artifacts from blimps, aircraft electronics, aircraft cockpits, uniforms and much more than we can list here.

37. Japanese Friendship Garden

Japanese Friendship Garden, San JoseSource: Sundry Photography / shutterstock
Japanese Friendship Garden

In November 2019 this symbol of American-Japanese relations in Kelley Park was open but undergoing long-term repairs after the California floods of February 2017. Landscaped in 1965, the Japanese Friendship Garden is designed after the Korakuen Garden in San Jose’s sister city of Okayama, which also supplied the koi for its three main ponds.

You can forget the city for a hushed few minutes amid the garden’s ponds, tea house, stepping stones, bridges, waterfall and fastidiously tended shrubs, lawns and trees.

When the ponds are full they’re flocked by waterfowl like ducks and geese, but also the also the occasional great egret, easily spotted for its long slender neck.

38. Ames Research Center

Ames Research CenterSource: JHVEPhoto / shutterstock
Ames Research Center

As of 2019, the visitor center for NASA’s research facility in Silicon Valley is essentially a gift shop, but comes with a few exhibits worth your time.

One show-stopper is the gigantic blade from the Ames Research Center’s wind tunnel, measuring 24 by 37 meters.

The Mercury Redstone capsule is a 1950s test capsule preceding the Apollo missions, while there’s a moon rock, Martian steroid and a Lunar glove box to prevent contamination of samples during moon missions.

Also on show are full-size models of the Pioneer Venus Orbiter and an array of other historic satellites.

39. Downtown Campbell Farmers’ Market

Farmers MarketSource: Arina P Habich / shutterstock
Farmers Market

This farmers’ market is rated one of the best in the South Bay area and you can get there within ten minutes of downtown San Jose.

The market trades year-round on Sundays, 09:00-13:00, whatever the weather.

The only exceptions are mid-May and late-October for the Boogie Music Festival and Oktoberfest respectively.

Shop for eggs, honey, seasonal fruit and vegetables, cheese, fresh pasta, meat, flowers and many more organic options, right from the producer.

There will be plenty of vendors to tempt you with craft beer and Mexican food, all soundtracked by talented live musicians.

Downtown Campbell also has no lack of mom and pop, stores, cafes and restaurants to keep you around a little longer.

40. Emma Prusch Farm Park

Emma Prusch Farm ParkSource: Wayne Hsieh78 / shutterstock
Emma Prusch Farm Park

One for families with smaller children, this farm park was donated to the city in 1962 by the farmer Emma Prusch.

It was her wish that the land where she cultivated wheat and fruit be preserved to show San Jose’s agricultural heritage.

Now swallowed by urban East San Jose, the 42-park introduces a new generation to farm life at an animal yard, the handsome Prusch farmhouse, a rare fruit orchard, a deciduous orchard and the largest freestanding barn in San Jose (used by the 4-H and Future Farmers of America). There’s also space for picnics and flying kites, and the first Saturday in October is the farm’s free Harvest Festival.

On the agenda are hayrides, multicultural dance performances, fresh pressed apple cider, a 4-H animal expo and all sorts of other family fun.

41. Lick Observatory

Lick ObservatorySource: Sundry Photography / shutterstock
Lick Observatory

The University of California runs this historic mountaintop observatory 1,238 meters above sea level in the Diablo Range east of San Jose.

Completed in 1887 this was the first permanently occupied observatory of its kind in the world, and was funded by the real estate investor James Lick, the wealthiest man in California at the time of his death in 1876. Some huge discoveries have been made at this facility, including four of Jupiter’s moons, a number of extrasolar planets and the near-earth asteroid (29075) 1950 DA.

Like a mountain village of white domes, the observatory commands an almost indescribable view of Silicon Valley, all the more beautiful at night when there’s an endless lattice of lights.

But you can also drive the long, winding road to visit Thursday-Sunday, when there are five free talks a day inside the dome of the 36-inch Great Refractor.

You can also get onto the gallery of the 3-meter Shane Reflector, installed in 1959.

42. San Jose City Hall

San Jose City HallSource: Galina Barskaya / shutterstock
San Jose City Hall

After more than 50 years in an office park, San Jose’s City Hall returned to Downtown at the two-block San José Civic Plaza.

This complex, costing almost $400m, was completed in 2005 and designed in a Postmodern style by Pritzker Prize-winner Richard Meier, of Getty Center fame.

In a departure from the flamboyant Beaux-Arts city halls in Oakland and San Francisco, the seat of government in San Jose evokes Le Corbusier and the International Style in the clean lines of its 18-story tower and the free-standing Rotunda next to it at the center of the plaza.

Looking like an observatory with its 30-meters, this space is rented out for private events but deserves a flying visit from the outside.

43. SAP Center

SAP Center, San JoseSource: jejim / shutterstock
SAP Center

It’s a given that the naming rights for San Jose’s NHL team should go to another computing giant.

The San Jose Sharks were born in 1991 and moved into the SAP Center two years later.

From fall to spring you can join 17,500 Sharks fans at the “Shark Tank” to see the team competing in the Western Conference.

The Sharks haven’t managed a Stanley Cup yet, but did take the conference and reach the final in 2015-16 with Peter DeBoer at the helm.

The SAP Center plays host to Disney on Ice, winter sports events, WWE, UFC and major artists (The Raconteurs, The 1975, Miranda Lambert and Louis Tomlinson in 2019-20). A new food concept called “Test Launch Kitchen” offers fans a constantly evolving food selection, with limited runs given to vendors for grilled cheese, chicken and waffles, fish tacos, cheesesteaks and BBQ.

44. San Pedro Square Market

San Pedro Square MarketSource: Michael Vi / shutterstock
San Pedro Square Market

An afternoon will fly by at this shopping and dining hangout in on a whole block in Downtown San Jose.

Food-wise, the advantage of a place like the San Pedro Square Market is that you can bring a group of friends and everyone can try something different, be it pasta, falafel, burgers, tacos, pho or pizza, paired with craft beer, inventive cocktails or artisanal coffee.

Sharing this space are vendors for fresh produce and handmade gifts, as well as a trendy barber shop and the Peralta Adobe, the oldest building in San Jose, dating to 1797. The market thrums with activity all week, hosting live music Thursdays to Sunday, trivia, karaoke and fun for children.

45. Westfield Valley Fair

Westfield Valley FairSource: Sundry Photography / shutterstock
Westfield Valley Fair

Silicon Valley’s astronomic wealth is encapsulated by places like Westfield Valley Fair, one of the largest malls in the country and with the highest sales volume in the state.

This luxury playground, straddling the San Jose-Santa Clara city line, was formed in 1986 when two post-war malls merged to create the Valley Fair Shopping Center.

In the last 30+ years this giant has not stopped growing, and in 2019 completed a $900m expansion, leaving it with almost 240 tenants.

It’s hard to know where to start, but if you’re here to splurge then look no further than the “luxury wing”, where Prada, Giorgio Armani, Versace and Louis Vuitton are all lined up in a row.

There are also brands that you’d hope to find in any large mall, like Sephora, Nordstrom, Gap, Levi’s, J. Crew, Claire’s, Zara, Banana Republic and the like.

Food is front and center, with an inexhaustible choice that includes staples like Subway, Cheesecake Factory and Starbucks, as well as 20+ options for Asian food alone.

46. Great Mall

The Great Mall, MilpitasSource: Sundry Photography / shutterstock
The Great Mall, Milpitas

This mall, the largest indoor outlet center in Northern California, is on what used to be Ford’s San Jose assembly plant, manufacturing Mustangs and the like from 1955 to 1983. The expansive Great Mall opened for business a decade later and has just shy of 180 stores and services.

Not every tenant is an outlet, but there are factory stores for many big brands including Gap, Polo Ralph Lauren, Timberland, New Balance, Abercrombie & Fitch, Adidas, Guess, Banana Republic, Bose, J. Crew, Old Navy and many more.

These are alongside regular branches of chains like GameStop, H&M and Foot Locker, a varied food court and a 20-screen Century Theatres multiplex.

47. Heritage Rose Garden

Heritage Rose GardenSource: Kurkul / shutterstock
Heritage Rose Garden

There’s a pocket of greenery at the north end of downtown, by the Guadalupe River opposite branches of Trader Joe’s and Target.

This is made up of several distinct spaces like the Guadalupe River Park, the Rotary PlayGarden, Guadalupe Gardens and Columbus Park.

But if you time your visit right (March-May), the best bit is the formal rose garden, growing 2,800 varieties of modern, heritage and miniature roses.

The Heritage Rose Garden was planted in 1995 and is maintained by dedicated volunteers.

If you stop by in January and February you’ll be in time for pruning season.

On Wednesday and Saturday mornings there will be an expert pruner teaching skills that you can put into practice at home.

Shears and leather gloves are provided.

48. Ed R. Levin County Park

Ed R. Levin County ParkSource: yhelfman / shutterstock
Ed R. Levin County Park

Barely ten minutes on the road from Great Mall you’ll find yourself in the scenic Chaparral foothills of the Diablo Range.

What’s special about the Ed R. Levin County Park is the way it combines the facilities of an urban park, like fishing ponds, play areas and picnic sites, with the network of trails and panoramic scenery of California’s wilderness.

In more than 1,500 acres, the undulating grasslands and oak forest of this park aren’t difficult to hike, but give you spellbinding views over Silicon Valley and the bay.

With its high ridges grass exposed to the prevailing wind, Ed R. County Park is a literal jumping off point for hanggliders and paragliders.

There are also a couple of ranches in Milpitas, like the Chaparral Ranch for horseback treks into the park and the Diablo Range.

49. Triton Museum of Art

Triton Museum of Art, Santa ClaraSource: Joseph Sohm / shutterstock
Triton Museum of Art, Santa Clara

A place to go to take the pulse of the Greater Bay Area’s contemporary art scene, the free Triton Museum of Art was established in 1965 as the first non-university museum in Santa Clara.

It was founded by the art patron, rancher and lawyer Robert W. Morgan and in 1987 moved into its current home, with lofty ceiling and pyramidal skylights.

Exhibitions at Triton are all temporary, showcasing talent from Northern California.

At the end of 2019 there were two engaging shows, “Fight”, by photo montage artist Deborah Oropallo, and drawings by Judy Shintani in remembrance of Japanese-American incarceration in World War II.

50. J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines

J. Lohr Vineyards & WinesSource: Danicox40 / Wikimedia | CC BY-SA 4.0
J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines

You don’t need to travel out into the Central Coast Wine Country for some wine-tasting, as one of the biggest names in the business, J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines, has a “Wine Center” at 1000 Lenzen Avenue near downtown San Jose.

For $15 you’ll get to sample six of the company’s limited-production and club-only wines.

If you sign up for membership that fee will be waived, and the same applies if you purchase two or more of the wines that are on the tasting menu.

51. The San Jose Flea Market

The San Jose Flea MarketSource: Dragan Jovanovic / shutterstock
The San Jose Flea Market

What claims to be the largest outdoor market in the United States, encompassing 120 acres, is a shock to the system.

The San Jose Flea Market, around since 1960, is a bazaar on a grid of alleys or streets, labelled with numbers running east to west and names like Nut Street and Produce Row north to south.

The choice of vendors is mind-boggling, whether you’re out for clothing, electronics, fruit and vegetables, accessories, fabrics, homewares, handmade gifts, antiques or food made on the spot, from BBQ to Mexican, pizza, breakfast food or sweet treats.

You’ll shop to the strains of mariachi bands, and on hot days the soft drink and beer carts floating around the market do a roaring trade.

52. Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge

Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife RefugeSource: yhelfman / shutterstock
Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge

Each year more than 280 bird species pause or nest at this wildlife refuge in the south-easternmost pocket of the San Francisco Bay.

The refuge is enormous, spreading out over more than 30,000 acres of open water, mudflats, salt marsh, vernal pools and dry upland areas.

During the spring and fall migrations it plays host to a marvellous spectacle of millions of shorebirds and waterfowl, as well as kites, hawks, eagles and ospreys, pausing here to refuel.

Among the many resident birds is the endangered Ridgeway’s rail, found only on San Francisco Bay and Baja California.

The Visitor Center, open Wednesday to Saturday, is in Fremont and sits above the LaRiviere Marsh, a restored salt marsh inhabited by Ridgeway’s rails and, another endangered species, the salt marsh harvest mouse.

You can explore the trails, borrow binoculars and check out exhibits about the refuge’s ecosystem.

53. Yosemite National Park and Giant Sequoias Trip

Yosemite National ParkSource: shaferaphoto / shutterstock
Yosemite National Park

If you’ve come to the Bay Area from a different state or country, San Jose is tantalizingly close to one of the country’s most iconic landscapes.

Yosemite National Park can be done on a day trip, and this package advertised on GetYourGuide.com involves pickup and drop-off from and to your accommodation.

You’ll travel by luxury van (fitted with Wi-Fi) to the western Sierra Nevada to spend five hours gazing in awe at monuments like the Half Dome, El Capitan, Yosemite Falls and Bridalveil Falls.

There’s more wonder in store at the park’s Tuolumne Grove, growing 25 giant sequoias of an unimaginable scale and dating back 2,000 years.

54. Cinequest

Cinequest in San JoseSource: Michael Vi / shutterstock
Cinequest in San Jose

The cinematic arts and Silicon Valley’s innovative spirit collide at this independent movie festival, held across the first two weeks of March.

Over 110,000 people head to San Jose for 300 movies and virtual-augmented reality experiences, almost half of which make their premieres at the festival.

You can discover cutting-edge innovations, attend creativity forums and check out the latest in fashion, dance, comedy and art, with some 1,100 artists showing up from 50 countries each year.

Cinequest honors rule-breakers with its Maverick Awards, presented to artists (Maverick Spirit) and technologists (Maverick Innovator). In the list of famous guests over the last few years are Nicolas Cage, Neil Gaiman, Tatiana Maslany, Elle Fanning, James Franco and Harrison Ford.

55. San Jose Jazz Summer Fest

Jazz FestivalSource: 13_Phunkod / shutterstock
Jazz Festival

For three days in August Plaza de César Chávez, in front of the Tech Interactive, is the anchor for a leading jazz festival.

Going strong for more than 30 years, San Jose Jazz Summer Fest is loved for the amount of performances it squeezes into these three days (100+), the event’s small footprint (over just a few blocks downtown) and the sheer breadth of performers.

Every sub-genre has equal footing, be it blues, Latin, R&B, funk, soul or gospel.

Well-known names on the bill in 2019 were pianist Fred Hersch, Grammy-winning vocalist Gregory Porter, drummer Kassa Overall and R&B icons the O’Jays.

The festival partners with local bars, clubs and hotels so you can party into the night, and at the Swing Stage you’ll find teachers showing you how to do the Charleston and Lindy Hop.

55 Best Things to Do in San Jose (CA):

  • Downtown San Jose
  • Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum
  • Winchester Mystery House
  • The Tech Interactive
  • Children's Discovery Museum
  • California's Great America
  • Santana Row
  • Happy Hollow Park and Zoo
  • Intel Museum
  • Municipal Rose Garden
  • Alum Rock Park
  • Levi's Stadium
  • Los Gatos Creek Trail
  • History Park
  • Almaden Quicksilver County Park
  • San Jose Center for the Performing Arts
  • Japantown
  • Avaya Stadium
  • Cathedral Basilica of St Joseph
  • Willow Glen
  • Stanford University
  • Cantor Arts Center
  • Computer History Museum
  • SoFa District
  • California Theatre
  • San Jose Museum of Art
  • Excite Ballpark (San Jose Municipal Stadium)
  • Rancho San Antonio Preserve
  • Apple Park Visitor Center
  • Mount Umunhum
  • San Jose Museum of Quilts & Textiles
  • Sikh Gurdwara Sahib
  • Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library
  • Mission Santa Clara de Asís
  • San Jose Improv
  • Moffett Field Historical Society Museum
  • Japanese Friendship Garden
  • Ames Research Center
  • Downtown Campbell Farmers' Market
  • Emma Prusch Farm Park
  • Lick Observatory
  • San Jose City Hall
  • SAP Center
  • San Pedro Square Market
  • Westfield Valley Fair
  • Great Mall
  • Heritage Rose Garden
  • Ed R. Levin County Park
  • Triton Museum of Art
  • J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines
  • The San Jose Flea Market
  • Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge
  • Yosemite National Park and Giant Sequoias Trip
  • Cinequest
  • San Jose Jazz Summer Fest