TL;DR: The best things to do in San Jose include visting the Winchester Mystery House, wandering around Santana Row, and exploring the Tech museum. Here are some more details:
- Explore the enigmatic and historic Winchester Mystery House, a local icon, or visit other attractions like the Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph for its stunning architecture or Municipal Rose Garden for its beauty.
- Indulge in upscale shopping and dining at the vibrant Santana Row or head to Downtown San Jose or Campbell for a more lively night out.
- Get hands on experience at the Tech Interactive museum, a science and technology museum in the heart of Sillicon Valley, or visit other great museums like the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum or Children’s Discovery Museum.
Often neglected in favor of San Francisco and other Bay Area cities like Oakland or Napa, you may be surprised to know that San Jose actually has a larger population than any other city in Northern California.
In fact, it’s California’s 3rd largest city after Los Angeles and San Diego.
San Jose may not have the underground art culture or the trendiness assigned to other spots around the Bay, but there are plenty of interesting and fun things to do in the city if you know where to look.
After living in the Bay Area for the last few years and making more than a dozen trips down to San Jose in that time, these are my recommendations for the top things to do in San Jose, California to really explore what this South Bay city has to offer.
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55 Best Things to do in San Jose, California
Top Things to do in San Jose, California
Walk Around Santana Row
As the best shopping and dining destination in the city, Santana Row is one of the best places to visit in San Jose if you enjoy poking your head into interesting stores.
This is the ritzy upscale part of town and even if you don’t have the cash to spend, it’s a fun place to simply walk around, window shop, people watch, and look at nice cars.
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 restaurants in Santana Row, such as El Jardin, which is perfect to visit for a margarita on a hot summer night. Just note that most bars in the area close up by 11 pm.
Get Your Sugar Fix at Psycho Donuts
Although not as good as Bob’s Donuts in San Francisco, 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 last 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.
Their donuts are really rich, so you probably only need one or you might want to share depending on what you order.
Update: Psycho Donuts used to be located in downtown San Jose but they’ve since moved to Campbell (not too far from downtown) and the Westfield Valleyfair Mall.
Grab a Bite to Eat at San Pedro Square Market
One of the best things to do in downtown San Jose, San Pedro Square Market is the marketplace that just keeps on giving.
There are so many eateries to choose from here that you’ll probably have trouble deciding what to try first.
This is also a good place to sample craft beer at either Market Beer Co. or the Market Bar.
Some vendors 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!
Get Spooked at the Winchester Mystery House
If you’re looking for unusual things to do in San Jose, the Winchester Mystery House is an odd mansion that exists right next to Santana Row.
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 visiting at least once if you’re in the area…as long as you’re not easily spooked. 😉
Do a Self-Guided Tour of San Jose Craft Beer
The craft beer culture in San Jose is becoming more of a thing, as it is for the rest of the Bay Area.
There are a few craft breweries to check out in the San Jose area now, and a few pubs for taste-testing a variety of craft beers.
One of my favorite beer spots is Original Gravity, which offers enough tasty beers to last you for days.
With 15 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.
Another option, if you want a fun way to explore San Jose’s craft beer scene is to hop on the San Jose Brew Bike.
They offer private and group tours that take you around to two bars/restaurants in town to sample the beer. The catch is that you have to pedal the “brew bike” to get to your stops.
Cheer on One of the Local Sports Teams
If there’s one thing San Jose locals take seriously it’s their sports teams.
If you’ve never seen a professional hockey game before, catching a San Jose Sharks game at the SAP Center is a unique experience.
Not a fan of hockey? San Jose also has a professional soccer team called the San Jose Earthquakes that play at Avaya Stadium.
And lastly, even though the 49ers are technically San Francisco’s professional football team, they actually play in San Jose.
So if you’re looking to experience an NFL game, head over to Levi Stadium.
San Jose is a great city for sports enthusiasts since locals are loyal fans and there’s bound to be at least one professional sporting event going on at any given time of the year.
Have a Night of Opera at the California Theatre
If you’re looking for a fancy night out in San Jose, there’s nothing that says classy like the opera.
The San Jose Opera is unique in that it maintains a resident company of principal artists and it features a lot of talented young performers.
And besides the stellar opera performances, shows are put on in the historic California Theatre, which is one of the most beautiful performing arts venues in San Jose.
It was built in the 1920s as a movie theater before being turned into the performing arts venue it is today.
The California Theatre only makes San Jose opera shows that much more special, with its unique acoustics and ornate interior.
Grab Dinner in Japantown
In San Jose’s Japantown, you’ll find art galleries, souvenir shops, local boutiques, karaoke bars, and tons of delicious restaurants. It’s also one of the last three authentic Japantowns in the US.
And in terms of this Japantown, it’s unsurprisingly one of the best places to find good Japanese food in San Jose.
If you have a craving for sushi, regional Japanese fare, or unpretentious Japanese-American diners, spend at least one night eating out in Japantown.
A few of the best places to eat in the neighborhood include:
- Okayama Sushi
- Minato Japanese Cuisine
- Kumako Ramen
- Mizu Sushi Bar & Grill
Enjoy a Night of Laughs at San Jose Improv
If you want to enjoy a night of laughs, one of the best comedy spots in the city is San Jose Improv.
You won’t find as big of names as you might at Cobb’s Comedy Club and the Punchline in San Francisco, but there are a good dose of regional comedians and some lesser-known national comedians that grace the San Jose Improv stage every night.
Tickets are relatively affordable, usually starting at around $15-$20 for the cheap seats.
San Jose Improv also has a full dinner menu, so if you want to make it a proper night out you can reserve a spot for dinner before the show.
Plus, dinner can be used for the two-item minimum that’s required for every show.
Eat to Your Heart’s Content at the San Jose Farmers Market
San Jose is situated in an ideal location that’s not too far from prime agricultural areas in California.
This means that the city has a solid weekly farmers market that features several regional growers and fresh produce.
The San Jose Farmers Market happens every Friday, and besides the regional growers selling different types of fresh produce, you’ll find hot lunches and prepackaged food options as well.
It’s a great way to experience the San Jose community, shop local, and support local businesses and farmers.
Plus, it’s easy to get to. The San Jose Farmers Market is conveniently located in downtown San Jose in San Pedro Square between Santa Clara Street and St. John Street. Parking is free at the market and the San Pedro Garage.
Shop ’til You Drop at Westfield Valley Fair
Unlike Santana Row, which features a lot of upscale chains, Westfield Valley Fair is where you’ll find mostly budget and mid-range international and national chains, with a handful of luxury brands thrown in.
I used to visit Valley Fair for my back-to-school shopping when I was growing up because they had such a good selection compared to anything you could find in Santa Cruz.
In fact, it’s one of the largest malls in the US – you could literally spend hours here and feel like you’ve barely scratched the surface.
If you want to see just how many stores there are at Valley Fair, you can view the full mall directory here.
Slip Down a Water Slide at Raging Waters
It gets hot in San Jose in the summer and early fall, and a fun way to cool off is to make a visit to Raging Waters.
Established in 1985, this 23-acre park is the largest water park in Northern California and features various slides and different types of water activities.
Don’t miss the Endless River, the Family Raft Ride, the wave pool, and the many water slides on offer for thrill-seekers like Bombs Away, Dragon’s Den, and Barracuda Blaster.
Best Free Things to do in San Jose, California
Admire the Architecture at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph
The Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph is one of the prettier fixtures in downtown San Jose.
It was built 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.
Regardless of your religious beliefs, the Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph one of the best things to see in San Jose if you appreciate architecture and lofty interiors.
Cathedrals are such calm places and usually have a lot of thought and beauty put into their construction.
This is the perfect place to take a break while exploring downtown San Jose.
Smell the Flowers at the Municipal Rose Garden
Touted as “America’s Best Rose Garden,” the Municipal Rose Garden is a peaceful place to take a break from San Jose sightseeing, read a book, and smell the flowers.
This historic rose garden was founded in 1927 and exclusively features roses – a total of 189 rose varieties to be exact.
May and the springtime as a whole is the best time to visit the gardens for the most blooms.
However, because there are so many different types of roses, there’s almost always at least some roses blooming at any time of the year.
And if you’re looking to explore more gardens, San Jose has a lot of options. I’d recommend adding the Japanese Friendship Garden, Heritage Rose Garden, and Overfelt Gardens to your garden itinerary.
Step Back in Time at History Park
If you’re looking to experience what life was like in the Santa Clara Valley in the early 1900s, head over to the San Jose Historic Park (located in Kelley Park).
At the park, you’ll find 14 acres of historic (and rebuilt) buildings, landmarks, and old-fashioned ice cream parlors and trolleys.
While walking around the park, don’t miss the Trolley Barn, the Associated Oil Service Station, the Print Shop, the Pacific Hotel, and the historic houses that give you a glimpse into life in California in the early 20th century.
Enjoy a Day Around Willow Glen
Willow Glen has become the hipster and trendy neighborhood of San Jose in recent years.
Spend a day exploring the historic downtown, checking out the local boutiques that line Lincoln Avenue, and poking your head into independent bookstores.
This is where many of the city’s annual cultural and art events happen and there’s a Saturday farmers market in the neighborhood as well.
Learn About the California Missions at Mission Santa Clara
California has a total of 21 Spanish missions that were built by the Franciscan Order in the late 1700s and early 1800s when the Spanish took over what is now present-day California.
Mission Santa Clara was built in 1777 and was the eighth mission built in the string of 21 missions.
Located on Santa Clara University’s campus, Mission Santa Clara was also the first Mission to honor a female saint – Saint Claire of Assisi.
Although the original mission burned down, the current mission (rebuilt in 1929) is a replica of the original one and is still a good place to learn about Spanish history in California.
Mission Santa Clara is an operating church of the university, but visitors are welcome to visit the historical mission and spend time in the rose garden next door.
If you have time after touring the mission, spend an hour exploring Santa Clara University, which was founded in 1851 and is the oldest university in California.
Peruse the Unique Finds at the San Jose Flea Market
Happening multiple times a week on Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, the San Jose Flea Market (also known as the Berryessa Flea Market), is one of the largest outdoor markets in the United States.
At 120 acres, you could easily spend the whole day perusing the rows of hidden finds and trinkets.
From clothing to fresh produce, antiques, furniture, electronics, and more, there’s a little something for everyone at the flea market.
There’s also usually live music in the form of mariachi bands, a mini Ferris wheel, arcade, and various local food and drink vendors to keep you happy and full throughout the day.
Especially with the good weather that San Jose usually enjoys, this is one of the best things to do in San Jose on a sunny day.
Since the flea market is only an 11-minute drive from the airport, it’s also one of the best things to do near San Jose airport before you hop on a flight if you’re looking for unique souvenirs to take home.
Go on an Art Crawl at SoFA District First Fridays
If you happen to be in San Jose on the first Friday of the month, you won’t want to miss South First Fridays in the SoFA District of San Jose.
This monthly self-guided art walk consists of an evening enjoying the best art galleries in the neighborhood.
It’s an ideal way to support local creatives and businesses each month and to enjoy a cultured evening full of community, art, and performances.
And even if your trip doesn’t line up with being in San Jose on the first Friday of the month, the SoFA district is a fun spot to explore for an afternoon or evening.
Around the neighborhood, you’ll not only find art galleries, but trendy restaurants, museums, and a decent nightlife scene as well.
It’s one of the best things to do around San Jose if you’re looking to get an art fix, grab a drink, and immerse yourself in San Jose culture.
Walk Along the Los Gatos Creek Trail or the Guadalupe River Trail
Spanning over 11 miles, the Los Gatos Creek Trail is an urban path for walkers, joggers, and cyclists looking to stretch their legs and enjoy a different side to Santa Clara County.
If you want to just focus on the San Jose section of the trail, you can start from Dupont Street (Off San Carlos Street) and start walking south or from Meridian Avenue.
The full trail goes all the way down to Los Gatos and beyond, passing through scenic spots like Los Gatos Creek County Park and the Lexington Reservoir along the way.
Another urban trail that is worth checking out is the Guadalupe River Trail. This 12-mile trail heads north instead of south and starts just south of where the Los Gatos Creek meets the Guadalupe River.
Even if you just do only parts of either of these trails, it’s a nice way to spend a sunny afternoon, maybe with an iced coffee in hand.
Visit Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library
Part of the San Jose State University campus and San Jose’s main public library, if you love cool architecture and being surrounded by books, a visit to the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library is a must.
Built in 2003, this eight-story library is fun just to walk around with its unique interior and endless supply of books. There are a number of exhibits and pieces of art throughout the library as well.
One of the best ways to take the Martin Luther King, Jr. Library in fully is to hop on a docent-led tour. They have a Thursday drop-in tour at 11:30 am and an art and library history tour that can be scheduled online.
People Watch at Plaza de Cesar Chavez
One of the best places to people watch or simply relax between all of the sightseeing is Plaza de Cesar Chavez.
This two-acre plaza and park is a popular spot for San Jose events throughout the year and a main hangout spot and thoroughfair in downtown San Jose.
With the Plaze de Cesar Chavez’s history going all the way back to 1797, it’s also the oldest public space in Northern California.
Local Things to do in San Jose
Catch a Flick at the West Wind Capitol Drive-In
Drive-ins have started making a comeback since 2020 and San Jose has one of the best drive-in options in the Bay Area.
The West Wind Capitol Drive-In is actually a chain that has survived the test of time.
The franchise can be found around the Western US, including four locations in California.
West Wind Drive-In in San Jose tends to feature a mix of recently released movies and popular classics in a variety of genres.
And as a bonus, it’s an inexpensive night out at only $8.25 for general admission and $1.75 for kids under 12.
On Tuesdays, they do Family Fun Night where general admission drops down to $5.50 for general admission.
This is one of the best things to do in San Jose at night if you don’t want to hit the bars and want to go to a good ol’ retro drive-in.
Experience a Speakeasy at Haberdasher
There are various places to go in San Jose to experience the city’s nightlife, but one of the best bars in the city if you’re looking for a 1920s speakeasy theme is Haberdasher.
As soon as you walk into the bar, you’ll find yourself stepping back in time to the 1920s with plush red sofas and bartenders in themed uniforms.
And it’s not just the atmosphere that makes this bar such a special place, the cocktails are delicious and some of the best in the city.
You can either order a drink from the menu or ask the bartender to make their own concoction based on the flavors you want and the liquor base you prefer.
If you only have time to go to one bar in San Jose, this one should be it.
Test Your Escape Skills at OMESCAPE San Jose
Escape rooms have popped up in most major cities around the world in recent years, but San Jose’s OMESCAPE is one of the best ones you’ll come across in California.
In fact, it’s been voted the #1 escape room in the Bay Area.
OMESCAPE is actually a Bay Area chain, with a total of three locations, including two others in Richmond and Sunnyvale.
At their San Jose location, they offer five themed experiences that go further than your average escape room.
From Kingdom of Cats to Sorcerer’s Sanctum, and Pandemic Zero, the alternate realities you’re thrown into are creative and one-of-a-kind.
And most importantly, they’re a lot of fun.
If you’re a fan of non-generic escape rooms, OMESCAPE is a good option for a fun place to visit in San Jose with friends.
Do a Couple Rounds of Mini Golf at Emerald Hills Golfland
Although San Jose has its fair share of actual golf courses, if you’re looking for something a little more colorful and family-friendly doing some rounds of mini golf at Emerald Hills Golfland is a fun afternoon or evening activity.
At Golfland, you’ll find two mini golf courses, an arcade, a snack bar, and even a few water slides if you bring your bathing suit.
Play Some Games at Miniboss
If you’re looking for something a little more adult but still in the vein of a game night, you won’t want to miss Miniboss – San Jose’s best barcade option.
At Miniboss you can grab a pint or cocktail while you play Killer Queen, pinball, or a number of other vintage arade games.
I absolutely love barcades and Miniboss has a lot to offer with its 26 arcade games, 10 different pinball machines, and a full bar and restaurants.
Catch a Show at the SAP Center
What used to be known as the HP Pavillion when I was growing up in the 90s, has since become the SAP Center – aka the place to go for large events, such as concerts or San Jose Sharks games.
I’ve gone to a variety of concerts here (including seeing John Mayer in his prime right after his Continuum album came out!), as well as Disney on Ice when I was a kid and it’s always been such a fun experience.
If there’s anything happening at the SAP Center when you’re in town, you should definitely experience this huge venue for yourself. It’s conveniently located right outside of downtown San Jose, next to Diridon Station.
Gear Up and Declare War at Santa Clara Paintball
If you’re looking for fun things to do in San Jose with friends, look no further than Santa Clara Paintball. Running since 2003, this is the best place to challenge your friends to a paintball war in San Jose, whether you’re an experienced paintballer or a newbie.
Santa Clara Paintball features 12 playing fields with plenty of obstacles to hide behind, plus a laser tag course for anyone who wants the no-contact version of paintball.
If you’re doing paintball, just make sure to cover yourself in thick clothing because those paintball welts can hurt!
Try Not to Get a Gutter Ball at one of San Jose’s Many Bowling Alleys
With four bowling alleys within San Jose city limits and plenty more outside of it, there are a lot of options for hitting the lanes and putting on some of those snazzy bowling shoes.
These are three bowling alleys you’ll find in the city:
- 4th Street Bowl – The most conveniently located bowling alley near downtown, 4th Street Bowl has 32 lanes, a lounge with a full bar, pool tables, karaoke, and a coffee shop. This one definitely has a more local feel.
- Bowlero San Jose – The largest of the bowling alleys in San Jose, Bowlero is a national chain and has 50 lanes where you can do blacklight bowling, a full bar and restaurant, and arcade. And even though it’s a chain, Bowlero feels more like a boutique place to bowl.
- Round 1 Eastridge – Another chain bowling spot (but one that’s not as fancy as Bowlero), Round 1 is located in the Eastridge Mall and offers bowling, an arcade, pool, darts, ping pong, and a bar and restaurant.
Spend the Day Golfing
One of the benefits of having such a spread out area and so much space (at least compared to other parts of the Bay Area) is that there are a number of quality golf courses in San Jose.
If you’re looking for a day out on the green, I’d recommend checking out Cinnabar Hills Golf Club, Los Lagos Golf Course, Rancho Del Pueblo Golf Course, San Jose Municipal Golf Course, or Santa Teresa Golf Club.
Lace Up and Hit the Ice at Solar4America Ice Rink
California isn’t exactly known for its cold weather activities, but in San Jose you can go ice skating year round at the Solar4America Ice Rink.
This is multi-use rink that is used by everyone from the San Jose Sharks to new skaters taking group classes. For those who are looking to drop in to experience the rink for themselves, they also offer public skate sessions.
It’s best to check their website for current schedules since it’s constantly changing these days, but it’s a fun way to spend an afternoon while trying not to fall on your butt.
Also, don’t miss getting some poutine from Stanley’s before you leave!
See a Show at City Lights Theater Company
Looking for a unique night out in San Jose? The City Lights Theater Company is a small non-profit theater that produces six creative shows per year that are usually written by local writers.
Many of their productions focus on relevant modern-day topics or put a spin on a classic storyline. Recent productions have included stories about internet trolls, classist entitlement, and Vietnamese refugees.
Best San Jose Museums
Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum
San Jose has a few unique museums and one of the most interesting ones in the city is the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum.
If you’ve ever been interested in life in ancient Egypt, this is a good introduction to all things Egyptian.
The museum is home to the largest collection of Egyptian artifacts in the Western US and includes exhibits that span from the predynastic period to the early Islamic era in Egypt.
Exhibits go into depth about everything from Egyptian history to the beginnings of mummification and home life in ancient Egypt.
And don’t be fooled by how small it looks when you walk in.
As you go through the exhibits, you’ll realize just how much there is to read and see.
It could easily take a whole afternoon to go through the museum.
If you only have time for one museum in San Jose, this is the one I would recommend visiting.
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.
The main draw to this museum is its large permanent collection of West Coast artists from the 20th and 21st centuries.
This is San Jose’s main art museum, but it’s relatively small and manageable enough to walk through all of the exhibits within an hour or two.
San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art
One of the few free museums in San Jose, the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art is where you’ll find unique local and regional artists on display in a minimalist space.
This art museum is on the smaller side with only three galleries, but the variety of thought-provoking pieces means it’s well worth stopping in for 30 minutes to an hour.
And all of their exhibits are constantly rotating so you’ll always find something new to appreciate with each visit.
San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles
It may not have the most interesting name, but the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles is a quirky museum that houses artwork made from, you guessed it, quilts and textiles.
Founded in 1977, the museum features a number of rotating exhibits and hosts various workshops, talks, and events throughout the year. If you’re into different patterns and fabrics at all, make this a stop on your San Jose itinerary.
Japanese American Museum of San Jose
In the middle of Japantown, you’ll find the Japanese American Museum of San Jose.
At the museum, you can learn more about Japanese culture through art, historical artifacts, photographs, and a discussion about what it means to identify as Japanese-American in this country.
Best Things to do in San Jose With Kids
Bring Your Kids to the Children’s Discovery Museum
If you’re wondering what to do in San Jose if you’re traveling with kids, the Children’s Discovery Museum is another highly ranked attraction in the city and one of the best things to do in downtown San Jose.
It’s ranked as one of the top 10 children’s museums in the US and has various interactive science exhibits geared towards the younger ones.
Enjoy a Sunny Afternoon at Happy Hollow Park and Zoo
A popular 16-acre zoo and amusement park, Happy Hollow is one of the best San Jose tourist attractions to visit if you’re traveling to the city with kids under the age of eight.
Operating since 1961, the park features kids’ rides, puppet shows, animal exhibits, a petting zoo, and educational programs that put an emphasis on conservation and sustainability.
Have a Day on the Farm at Emma Prusch Farm Park
If you’re looking for a full day of animals and fun for the whole family, Emma Prusch Farm Park is another great option for a San Jose activity with kids.
This 47-acre park was once a working dairy farm in the San Jose area.
Today, it offers a glimpse into San Jose’s agricultural past.
At the park, you’ll find fruit orchards, community gardens, small animal areas, a plant science center, butterfly gardens, and plenty of open spaces for picnics.
One of the best ways to experience the park is by visiting on the first Saturday of the month when they have their farmers market event that features food from the gardens and live music.
Get Nerdy at the Tech Interactive
If you want to learn about Tech, there’s really no better place to do that than the Capital of Silicon Valley.
One of the more popular San Jose attractions, the Tech Interactive is located in downtown San Jose and features hands-on science and technology exhibits.
The museum is more geared for children than it is for adults and there tends to be a lot of school field trips that take place here.
Because of this, it’s the perfect interactive museum to visit if you have school-age kids in tow.
There’s also an IMAX theater inside that features educational films about science, animals, and the Earth.
Best Outdoor Things to do in San Jose
Alum Rock Park
Alum Rock Park is one of the best historic parks and outdoor places to visit near San Jose.
It has roots that go back to 1777 when it was a pueblo.
And it’s California’s oldest municipal park, having been established in 1872.
Besides its layered history, Alum Rock Park is an ideal place to have a day in nature that’s not too far from the city.
The park features 720 acres of hiking trails, picnic areas, bike paths, as well as a few scenic views.
Don’t miss walking the South Rim Trail (4.3 miles) or the lookouts from Eagle Rock, Inspiration Point, or Canyon View.
Almaden Quicksilver County Park
An even better place to go for a hike near San Jose is Almaden Quicksilver County Park.
The park covers over 4,000 acres and includes the historic remnants of 135 years of mining, including various former mercury mines.
At the park, you’ll find over 35 miles of hiking trails, 30 miles of equestrian trails, and 16 miles of bike trails with scenery that varies from open meadows to oak woodland.
If you’re looking to hike for a few hours, a good trail to start with is the Quicksilver Trail (5 miles).
Otherwise, the Senador-Guadalupe and Guadalupe-Mine Hill Loops are short and easy trails to tackle.
If you’re able to visit the park during the spring, do it.
This is where you’ll find some of the most impressive wildflower displays in the San Jose area.
Sierra Vista Open Space Preserve
If you’re more interested in wide-open spaces and valley views than long hikes, the Sierra Vista Open Space Preserve is a good spot to visit near San Jose.
Located in the Eastern foothills of Santa Clara County, just above Alum Rock Park, Sierra Vista is 1,611 acres of panoramic views, peaceful walks, and grassland.
It’s also home to various protected wildlife species and only a 25-minute drive from downtown San Jose.
A good hike to start with that provides some of the best views in the park is the two-mile Aquila Loop Trail.
For more hiking ideas, check out our list of the best hikes in San Jose.
Best Seasonal Events in San Jose
- SubZERO Festival (June)
- Santa Clara County Fair (July)
- Obon Festival (July)
- Viva Fest: Mexican Heritage & Mariachi Festival (July-Oct)
- C2SV (September)
- Christmas in the Park (last week of November to January 1st)
Best Things to do Near San Jose, California
Wine Tasting Around the Santa Cruz Mountains
One of the best things to do in the South Bay, and just outside of San Jose, is wine tasting.
I don’t know why I never realized how many great wineries there are just outside the city, but there are a ton in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
With the sometimes pretentiousness of Napa Valley, the Santa Cruz Mountains is the perfect alternative to trying some tasty local wines with the backdrop of rolling hills and forested vistas.
When I did my own tour, I was impressed at how beautiful some of these wineries are.
They convinced me just how gorgeous the South Bay can be.
If you want to do your own self-guided winery tour around the Santa Cruz Mountains, a few that shouldn’t be missed include Regale, Loma Prieta, and Picchetti.
Read my full guide to doing a winery road trip in the Santa Cruz Mountains
About a one-hour drive east of San Jose, you’ll find the Lick Observatory perched atop Mount Hamilton.
The observatory was built in 1888 and is an active research facility owned and operated by the University of California.
If you’re into astronomy or you just want a stunning view of the Santa Clara Valley, this is a great option for a day trip from San Jose.
At the observatory, you can view exhibits, hear talks about the history of the observatory and James Lick, take a look at the Great Lick Refractor in the 36-inch telescope dome, and view the 120-inch Reflector in the Shane Dome.
During the summer, they usually have a concert and lecture series in the evenings by renowned scientists – it’s one of the best ways to experience the observatory to its fullest.
Just note that the road up to the observatory is winding and remote so drive safely and fill up on gas ahead of time.
Explore Downtown Los Gatos
Ranked the 33rd wealthiest city in the US, Los Gatos is an upscale hideaway and one of the best day trips from San Jose.
Not everyone can afford to live there, but it has a beautiful little downtown area that’s fun to visit for an afternoon if you’re looking for a different pace from San Jose.
Incorporated as a town in 1887, it’s also one of Santa Clara County’s oldest communities.
Spend the afternoon walking along N Santa Cruz Avenue, poking your head into the boutiques and local shops that line the main downtown thoroughfare.
Afterward, you can go for a tasting at one of the many Los Gatos wine bars to try the delicious wine varieties found in the nearby Santa Cruz Mountains.
If you have more than just an afternoon, there are plenty of things to see just outside of the downtown area as well.
Get Your Thrills at California’s Great America
If rollercoasters are your thing, then California’s Great America is a good day trip to include if you have more than one day in San Jose.
Only a 15-20 minute drive from downtown San Jose, this 100-acre amusement park, has eight rollercoasters in addition to its many other thrill rides.
It’s something to experience at least once if you’re in the area and perfect to visit if you’re traveling with older kids.
Related: 101 Things to do in California
Where to Eat & Drink in San Jose
- Nirvana Soul
- Voyager Craft Coffee
- Academic Coffee
- House of Bagels
- Mimosas of Willow Glen
- The Table
- LUNA Mexican Kitchen
- Bertucelli’s La Villa
- Falafel’s Drive In
- Firehouse No.1 Gastropub
- SJ Omogari Korean Restaurant
- Sweet Mango
Bars & Live Music
- Paper Plane
- Original Gravity Public House
- Cafe Stritch
Get your FREE California Travel Planner – including printable checklists and my favorite two-week itinerary for the state.
Where to Stay in San Jose
Once you’re done checking out the many things to do in San Jose, California, these would be my recommendations for 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 more of a cushy budget, I would highly recommend staying at one of the classy hotels on Santana Row.
Hotel Valencia Santana Row
I had the chance to stay here once on a trip to San Jose and could not recommend it enough.
Hotel Valencia not only offers great customer service, but it’s also from one of my Mediterranean daydreams – with a rooftop and balcony rooms that feature grand views looking out over Santana Row and the valley.
An affordable option for those who don’t want to go completely budget.
Pavilion Inn is located a little bit outside the city center (about an eight-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.
What to Pack for San Jose
- Good walking shoes
- Nice pair of shoes (for going out at night)
- Reusable water bottle
- Portable charger
- Travel insurance for San Jose
Best Time to Visit San Jose
Like most of California, San Jose has a temperate climate that stays within a fairly comfortable range year round.
It’s generally a few degrees warmer than San Francisco on any given day and the city enjoys hot summers and winters that rarely get below freezing.
My favorite seasons for nice weather and fewer crowds are spring and fall. Summer, especially July and August, can be very busy so you might want to avoid those months if you don’t want to deal with crowds.
FAQs About San Jose, CA
What is San Jose Known For?
San Jose is the third-largest city in California by population (larger than San Francisco).
It’s part of Silicon Valley, and even considered the “Capital of Silicon Valley,” which is where many large tech companies are based.
Although the cost of living is slightly less than San Francisco, it’s still one of the most expensive cities to live in California.
San Jose is also known for its temperate and Mediterranean-like climate.
How Many Days Do I Need in San Jose?
Give yourself at least a day in San Jose.
If you want to tackle everything on this list or add on a day trip, I’d give yourself up to a week to see a good chunk of the San Jose area.
In general, 1-3 days is usually a good timeframe for exploring San Jose.
How Far is San Jose From San Francisco?
San Jose is 48 miles from San Francisco. It usually takes around an hour to drive from San Francisco to San Jose.
Or you can take the Caltrain from San Francisco to Diridon Station in San Jose. The journey on Caltrain is around an hour and a half.
Get your FREE California Travel Planner – including printable checklists and my favorite two-week itinerary for the state.
PRACTICAL INFO FOR SAN JOSE
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