The best things to do in San Jose, California in a day. This post will show you why it’s one of the most overlooked cities in the Bay Area.
Often neglected by its artsy sister, San Francisco, you may be surprised to know that San Jose actually has a bigger population than the Golden Gate City.
And although it may not have the underground artsy culture or as much going on as San Francisco does on any given day, there are a lot of fun and interesting things to do in San Jose, California.
So, if you’re asking yourself whether San Jose is worth visiting, the answer is a resounding yes.
These are my top recommendations for things to do in San Jose, California in one day or for a weekend itinerary in the South Bay.
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The Best Things to do in San Jose, California
San Jose Craft Beer
Always on my mind, the craft beer culture in San Jose is becoming more prevalent, as it is for the rest of the Bay Area. There are a couple of great breweries to check out in the San Jose area, and a few pubs that are ideal for taste testing a variety of craft beers.
My sister and I only had the chance to stop at Original Gravity, but that was more than enough beer goodness to last us for the day.
With 35 rotating taps, you can pretty much find any style and a multitude of breweries on tap from around the West Coast and beyond. I was happy to find my favorite beer, Ballast Point Sculpin pouring on nitro. A craft beer girl’s dream come true.
Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph
Even if you’re not religious, the Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph is a pretty fixture in downtown San Jose.
Regardless of my religious beliefs, I enjoy looking at cathedral architecture and wandering inside peaceful religious places. Cathedrals are such calm places and usually have a lot of thought and beauty put into their construction.
The Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph is the cathedral for the Roman Catholic Diocese in San Jose, and it’s the oldest non-mission parish in the state of California, having been consecrated in 1877.
We didn’t have the chance to wander inside because there was Sunday mass going on at the time, but next time I would love to see the inside of this historical cathedral, it has a beautiful enough exterior.
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One of the best things to do in San Jose, California if you enjoy shopping. Santana Row is the place to go shopping in the city.
It’s the ritzy upscale part of town and even if you don’t have the cash to spend, it’s a great place to simply walk around, window shop, people watch, and look at nice cars.
I think of it as the equivalent of what Beverly Hills is to LA or Nob Hill is to San Francisco.
In addition to the shopping, there are quite a few bars and good restaurants on Santana Row. We went to the outdoor tequila bar, El Jardin, which was perfect on a hot summer night. Just note that most bars close up by 11pm in the area.
Although not as good as Blue Star Donuts in Portland, Psycho Donuts is a fun and tasty donut shop in San Jose, if only for their originality. They specialize in wacky and over-the-top unique donut flavors.
When I was there I tried their donut with peanut butter drizzle and cereal bits on top.
They also have flavors such as the Canadian Morning Squeal with maple icing and bacon bits, and the Dead Elvis with bananas, bacon, peanut butter, jelly, and a cream filling.
Oh, yeah their donuts are really rich, so you probably only need one or you might want to share depending on what you order.
They show cult films such as Psycho and The Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Camera Cinemas attached to the donut shop. They even have a little Psycho photo booth, complete with a straight jacket for some great photo opportunities.
San Pedro Square Market
San Pedro Square Market is the marketplace that just keeps on giving. There are so many decent eateries to choose from in here that you’ll probably have trouble deciding what to try first.
This is also a great place to sample craft beer at either Market Beer Co. or the Market Bar. Some vendors also validate parking so ask for validation with purchases so you can enjoy free parking.
If you’re after more of a caffeine buzz to start off a day in San Jose, B2 Coffee has some of the tastiest coffee in the city!
San Jose Museums
Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum
My sister and I visited the Egyptian Museum and were blown away by how in depth it went into history, from the beginnings of mummification to home life in ancient Egypt.
Don’t be fooled by how small it looks when you walk in. We thought the same when we first arrived, and as we went through the exhibits began to wonder if we could’ve read through everything if we had a whole day at the museum.
Probably not. There were a ton of interesting exhibits and information on display. If you’re into Egyptian history at all, you can’t miss this museum in San Jose.
The Tech Museum of Innovation
I wish we would’ve had the chance to visit this museum during our one day in San Jose, but alas, due to time restraints we didn’t get the chance to. I have heard great reviews about it; however, and what a fitting museum to visit in the middle of Silicon Valley.
There’s an IMAX theater inside and apparently they have a new Star Wars Exhibit that is pretty stellar.
Children’s Discovery Museum
A great place to go if you’re traveling with kids in San Jose, the Children’s Discovery Museum is another highly ranked attraction in the city.
It is ranked in the top 10 children’s museums in the US, with highlights including interactive science exhibits geared toward the younger ones.
San Jose Museum of Art
If you want to get cultured during a day in San Jose, the San Jose Museum of Art is the ideal place to go look at classic and modern artwork from local, regional, and international artists.
I always enjoying visiting art museums in any city that I visit, especially if they highlight local artists.
Where to Stay in San Jose
If you’re on a budget, there are not that many inexpensive options in San Jose due to the lack of affordable accommodation in Silicon Valley, but there are still a few.
Once you’re done checking out the many things to do in San Jose, California, these would be my recommendations where to stay in San Jose for any budget.
If you’re looking for a decent hotel, expect to shell out at least $150 – $250 a night.
If you have a bit more of a cushy budget, I would highly recommend staying at one of the classy hotels on Santana Row. It’s a little outside the city but a great area in itself and a one of a kind experience.
Hotel Valencia Santana Row
I had the chance to stay here while I was in town and could not recommend this hotel enough. They not only provide superb customer service, but the hotel itself is from one of my mediterranean daydreams, with a rooftop and balcony rooms that provide grand views looking out over Santana Row and beyond.
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An affordable option for those who don’t want to go completely budget. Located a little bit outside the city center (about an 8 minute drive), but offers a clean, quiet, and comfortable stay with a quality continental breakfast (including waffles!).
The Flamingo Motel
If you’re looking for an inexpensive stay right in the heart of downtown, this motel is right next to the SAP Center (formerly the HP Pavilion) and offers free parking.
The motel is 100% nonsmoking and features basic amenities, as well as kitchens in some rooms.
Other Notable Things to do Near San Jose
Wine Tasting in the South Bay
Before my trip to San Jose, I had never thought of the South Bay as a place to seek out good wine. I don’t know why, because there are some impressive and quality wineries around South Bay and Santa Cruz mountains.
With the rising pretentiousness seen in the Napa Valley these days, the South Bay is the perfect alternative to trying some tasty local wines, with the backdrop of rolling hills and forested vistas.
I was astounded at how beautiful some of these wineries are, and exploring them was one of the reasons I changed my mind completely about how gorgeous the South Bay can be.
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California’s Great America
If rollercoasters and thrills are your thing, then California Great America is a bloody good day trip to include if you have more than one day in San Jose.
This is an 100-acre amusement park in Santa Clara, a mere 15-20 minute drive from downtown San Jose, that has 8 rollercoasters in addition to its many other thrill rides. It’s something to experience at least once if you’re in the area!
San Jose Sharks Game
I’m bummed I still haven’t had the chance to see the San Jose Sharks ice hockey team play at the SAP Center. If you’re into ice hockey or watching sports at all, this is a great venue to see a game.
Plus, Sharks fans are the real deal so it will always be a good atmosphere at games.
Winchester Mystery House
The odd mansion that exists right next to Santana Row is a slight tourist trap but still worth a visit, if anything, just for the weird factor.
The house was built by Sarah Winchester, the spouse of William Winchester, from the family that created the popular Winchester Rifle Company.
After Sarah lost both her child and her husband, she was convinced that the spirits of all the people killed by Winchester rifles were coming back to haunt and punish her.
She started building the Winchester House to confuse the spirits and continuously built and remodeled the house until her death. She kept carpenters on a rotating shift so there was always work being done on the house at any given time while she was living in it.
It’s an eccentric and interesting stop in San Jose, and worth a visit at least once if you’re in the area…as long as you’re not easily spooked. 😉
What are your favorite things to do in San Jose, California?
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