Is San Jose just San Francisco's little brother to the south? Not at all. America's 10th largest city is a wonderful tourist destination in its own right. So forget about Alcatraz, settle into a San Jose hotel and sample the fine food, nightlife, shops and outdoor attractions that make it such an irresistible vacation destination.
Grab a bottle of local wine and head to the Heritage Rose Garden for the most romantic picnic of your life. Tour the eateries of Japantown, discovering a world of authentic Japanese cooking. Hit the city's year-round farmers' markets or the array of boutiques in Santana Row. And then relax. With bars aplenty, and amusement parks like Raging Waters nearby, you can let off steam in San Jose whenever you want to.
It all combines to form an underrated tourist gem. So give San Jose a try for your next getaway. It won't disappoint you.
Food is one of San Jose's greatest assets. If you love sushi, the 150-year-old Japanese community in Japantown will satisfy any gourmet with top restaurants like Okayama. There are also great Mexican eateries like Taqueria Corona, steak restaurants like Arcadia - and much, much more.
San Jose is an excellent place to base yourself if you want to explore the wineries of the Napa Valley. Companies like Liberty Limousine or Extranomical will pick you up from your hotel, show you the finest wineries and have you back in San Jose for dinner.
If you want to entertain your kids, San Jose has it covered. Visit Happy Hollow Zoo with its large petting area, ride the roller coasters and other thrilling attractions at California's Great America or get soaked at Raging Waters.
Malls like Valley Fair and upscale shopping neighborhoods like Santana Row are heaven for lovers of jewelry, art and high fashion, while the huge Berryessa Market is a superb place to find bargain souvenirs.
San Jose is a beautiful place to be. Walk with your partner in the gorgeous surroundings of the Heritage Rose Garden, walk the Los Gatos Creek Trail or head out onto golf links like Cinnabar Hills. With such great weather, you definitely won't want to be stuck indoors.
One of the most acclaimed retail and urban recreation developments in the USA, Santana Row is much more than just a shopping mall (although there are plenty of sought-after brands, from Gucci to Ann Taylor LOFT). It's also San Jose's major events space, hosting festivals, markets, fashion shows, and live music events. It's a nightlife hub thanks to bars and restaurants where happy hour never seems to end. Plus, it's a cultural quarter, with performance spaces and arthouse cinemas. Right at the heart of town, it's a great place to begin your exploration of San Jose.
The Tech Museum of Innovation sums up what this corner of California is all about: cutting edge apps, coders functioning solely on coffee, and a never-ending quest to introduce the next big thing, whatever that might be. Located right next to the historic Montgomery Theater, the museum is the perfect place to take any budding Bill Gates. From informative exhibits on cyber-security to the opportunity to "build your own robot", there's no end to the gadget-related fun on offer.
Just next to the hip bars and boutiques of Santana Row, you'll find this quirky attraction. Once the home of wealthy widow Sarah Winchester, this mansion was designed in a willfully eccentric way, with rooms dedicated to contacting spirits, bizarre attics, and corridors that seem to lead nowhere. More importantly, thousands of visitors have reported a ghostly presence (maybe the souls of those killed by Winchester rifles). Either way, it's a fascinating place to tour, whether you are into haunted houses or just an architectural enthusiast.
A mile or so west of Downtown San Jose, you'll find this magnificent collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts. Founded by the Ancient Mystical Order Rosae Crucis, who were seeking Egyptian objects for their spiritual powers, the museum was also constructed in what the founders considered a classically Egyptian style. Nowadays, it houses 2,000 ancient items in a completely unique setting, coupling their permanent collection with sumptuous gardens and a captivating planetarium. If you've ever wanted to know how to make a mummy, or you want to learn about the Egyptians' obsession with cats, the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum has all the answers.
Built by the Spanish rulers of California back in 1803, the Cathedral Basilica of St Joseph is San Jose's spiritual and civic heart. It's been rebuilt on a number of occasions, and renovated in recent times, resulting in a tranquil, beautiful place of worship that's full of decorative details. From the numerous stained glass windows to the pipe organ that is well over 100 years old, tours of the cathedral unveil plenty of delights, and seeing mass being celebrated there is a magical experience.
There's not really a bad time to visit San Jose. The city is an excellent tourist destination but attracts far fewer visitors than San Francisco, so crowds and hotel bookings shouldn't be a problem. High summer could be a little hot for some visitors, so why not try a spring or fall break? Both seasons allow you to walk in the rose gardens, attend music festivals and shop at the farmers' markets, and accommodation rates should be low.
Visitors can fly directly into San Jose, with Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport just a couple of miles from the city center. From there, the number 10 bus heads into San Jose every 15-30 minutes from Terminal A. Many travelers also choose to fly into nearby San Francisco, which is around 35 miles to the north. From San Francisco International, catch the BART train to Millbrae, and transfer to the Caltrain to San Jose.
San Jose Diridon Station is on the national Amtrak network, connecting San Jose with most parts of the United States. You can catch the Coast Starlight from Seattle or Los Angeles or the regional Capitol Corridor from California cities like San Francisco or Sacramento.
If you are driving from San Francisco, just take US-101. From the east, I-40 is probably the most useful route, but you'll have to switch to I-5 in southern California. I-80 also links San Jose to Chicago and New York, while those coming from the north need to take I-5.
The major Greyhound station in San Jose is located at 70 S Almaden Ave and the company links the city to almost every town in California. Other intercity bus companies serving San Jose include Bolt Bus (who stop at Diridon Station) and California Shuttle Bus which connects the city with both Los Angeles and San Francisco. Megabus offer a budget express service from Los Angeles, as does Hoang Express.
Dependable and comfortable family options in Downtown San Jose include the Hilton on Almaden Boulevard, The Fairmont San Jose, and the pet-friendly Crowne Plaza. Outside of the center, you might want to check out options near the airport like The Clarion or The Courtyard or more secluded rural retreats like The Pruneyard Plaza.
Downtown – San Jose's Downtown neighborhood is full of charm and attractions, but it doesn't advertise itself loudly. Local museums like the Tech Museum of Innovation showcase the computing heritage of Silicon Valley, the San Jose Museum of Art has one of the West Coast's finest modern art collections, while on weekends you can head to San Pedro Square Farmers Market to buy the freshest organic produce around.
Santana Row – Probably San Jose's most prestigious address, Santana Row is an upscale shopping and dining district with all the trimmings. It has a year-round farmers market, popular boutiques like Franco Uomo or Dafe, and the city's best restaurants. Don't miss the all you can eat Brazilian buffet at Fogo de Chão.
Japantown – You'll find Japantown between First and Eight Streets and Empire and Taylor Streets, and it's well worth visiting. Home to a Japanese community that has been resident for over a century, it's a great place to dine on authentic sushi at restaurants like Mifune, attend festivals organized by the Japanese community or find out more about Japanese-American history at the Japanese American Museum.
Most of central San Jose is easily walkable, but the city has an excellent light rail system which serves Downtown well. Single fares are $2 and day passes cost $6, so it's not expensive either. You might also want to consider renting a bike, as the town has a network of specially marked cycle lanes. Local businesses like Tread or Bicycle Express will be happy to provide the transportation you need.
Taxis in San Jose charge an initial meter drop of $2.50, then $2.50 for every subsequent mile and $0.30 per minute stuck in traffic. UberX is much cheaper, however, charging just $1.50 for the meter drop, then $0.85 per mile, so it could be the most economical way to get around.
Driving in San Jose is simple, with a conventional grid system and streets that increase in number as you move from north to south. Before heading into town on weekends or at peak times, check the ParkSJ app or website to find the nearest parking lot to your destination. Renting should be simple, with major companies like Enterprise, Alamo and Hertz represented both at the airport and Downtown.
Santana Row is the place to go in San Jose if you want to shop at luxury apparel stores, shoe boutiques, art galleries and other high-end retailers. However, Valley Fair is close behind, offering over 200 stores, including major brands like Nordstrom and Macy's. If you are more interested in shopping for unique items, you can't beat a visit to Berryessa Flea Market, a massive emporium where you could find anything. Moon Zooom on W San Carlos Street is also a standalone vintage clothing store that attracts fashion fans from all over California.
Self-catering tourists can stock up on high-quality organic produce at a selection of farmers markets in San Jose, including outlets in Japantown and Blossom Hill. For lower prices and a selection of standard groceries, there are also supermarkets like Trader Joe's, Lucky and Whole Foods, along with plenty of Asian markets, including Mitsuwa and Nijiya. Don't expect rock bottom prices, however. San Jose isn't the cheapest destination for many groceries. Expect to pay almost $4 for a gallon of milk, $2 for a pound of apples (but just $10 for a high-quality bottle of wine).
If you love Asian food, San Jose is one of America's best destinations. Head to long-established Japantown fixtures like Okayama, Gombei or Kyoto Palace, Chinese options like Hunan Taste or down a bargain bowl of noodles at Krung Thai. Other highlights include the chimichangas at Taqueria Corona, the classically Italian menus at Il Fornaio and Good Karma Vegan House, where healthy, sustainable food is served along with bingo nights and excellent locally brewed beer. Expect to pay less than $20 for a good mid-range meal.