35 Best Things to do in San Jose, California

Things to do in San Jose California

The best things to do in San Jose, California – one of the most overlooked cities in the Bay Area.

Often neglected in favor of 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 art culture or as much going on as San Francisco on any given day, there are a lot of interesting and fun 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 recommendations for the top things to do in San Jose, California in one day or for a weekend itinerary in the South Bay.

Note: this post contains affiliate links, which help run this site at no extra cost to you so I can keep providing free travel advice and tips. 

Things to do in San Jos California | Things to do Near San Jose

Table of Contents

Is San Jose, California Worth Visiting? 


San Jose is often overlooked with its proximity to San Francisco, but there’s enough to see in San Jose to make the trip worth it, even if it’s just for a day or two. 


What is San Jose, California 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. 

things to do in san jose, California | Date Ideas San Jose

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. 

Related: Best Weekend Trips from San Francisco 


35 Best Things to do in San Jose, California

Top Things to do in San Jose, California

Shop at Santana Row

COVID-19 Update (6/10/2020): Many stores are still closed along Santana Row, but some restaurants are open for pickup and delivery and some stores are now doing curbside pickup.

How to Spend a Day in San Jose, California | Santa Row | San Jose Itinerary

As the premiere shopping and dining destination in the city, Santana Row is one of the best places to visit in San Jose if you enjoy shopping.

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 11pm.


Get Your Sugar Fix at Psycho Donuts

COVID-19 Update (6/10/2020): Psycho Donuts is currently closed, but delivery is available via DoorDash, UberEats, and Waiter.com.

How to Spend a Day in San Jose, California | Psycho Donuts | Date Ideas San Jose

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.

Their donuts are really rich, so you probably only need one or you might want to share depending on what you order.

Besides the sugary offerings, they also show films such as Psycho and The Rocky Horror Picture Show at Camera Cinemas attached to the donut shop. 

Before you head out, don’t miss snapping some pics in the Psycho photo booth, complete with a straight jacket.


Grab a Bite to Eat at San Pedro Square Market

COVID-19 Update (6/10/2020): San Pedro Square Market is currently closed to indoor eating and shopping, but delivery and pickup are now available.

How to Spend a Day in San Jose, California | San Pedro Square Market | Is San Jose California Worth Visiting

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 in 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 

COVID-19 Update (6/10/2020): The main Winchester Mystery House tour is currently paused, but they’re offering a historic outdoor Victorian Garden Tour right now instead. 

Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California

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.

It’s a slight tourist trap but still worth a visit 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 visiting at least once if you’re in the area…as long as you’re not easily spooked. 😉


Go on a Self-Guided Tour of San Jose Craft Beer

COVID-19 Update (6/10/2020): Breweries and bars in San Jose are currently closed. This post will be updated once they’re opened again.

How to Spend a Day in San Jose, California | Original Gravity | one day tour San Jose California

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 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.

There are a few breweries in the San Jose area that are a must-visit as well, including Hermitage Brewing, Strike Brewing, Clandestine Brewing, and Faultline Brewing in Sunnyvale.

And, if you’re as into craft beer as I am, other bars to find a crafty pint around San Jose besides Original Gravity are ISOBeers, Liquid Bread Gastropub, and Good Karma.


Cheer on One of the Local Sports Teams

COVID-19 Update (6/10/2020): Professional sports events are currently canceled. This post will be updated once they resume again.

Cheer on a local sports team in San Jose, like the 49ers who play at Levi Stadium

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 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

COVID-19 Update (6/10/2020): San Jose Opera Season is currently on pause. This post will be updated once it resumes again. 

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 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 

COVID-19 Update (6/10/2020): Restaurants in Japantown are closed for indoor seating, but many are now offering delivery and pickup.

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 one of the best places to visit in San Jose for Japanese food.

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
  • Gombei
  • Mizu Sushi Bar & Grill  

Enjoy a Night of Laughs at San Jose Improv

COVID-19 Update (6/10/2020): San Jose Improv is currently closed. This post will be updated once it’s opened again. 

San Jose activities - San Jose Improv

Although San Jose’s comedy scene might not be as well known as San Francisco’s, there are still a few quality comedy venues to check out in the city. 

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, reserve a spot for dinner before the show. 

Plus, dinner can be used for the two-item minimum that’s required for every show. 

Test Your Escape Skills at OMESCAPE San Jose 

COVID-19 Update (6/10/2020): OMESCAPE is currently closed. This post will be updated once it’s opened again.

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. 


Catch a Flick at the West Wind Capitol Drive-In

COVID-19 Update (6/10/2020): West Wind Capitol Drive-In is currently open.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, drive-ins have started making a comeback as a safer way to enjoy the movies from the comfort of your car. 

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 

COVID-19 Update (6/10/2020): Haberdasher is currently closed. This post will be updated once it’s opened again. 

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. 


Eat to Your Heart’s Content at the San Jose Farmers Market 

COVID-19 Update (6/10/2020): The San Jose Farmers Market is open and running again as of June 12th. 

San Jose Farmers Market - one of the best things to do in San Jose

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. 


Best Free Things to do in San Jose, California 

Admire the Architecture at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph

COVID-19 Update (6/10/2020): The Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph is currently closed and has paused its religious services. This post will be updated once it’s opened again. 

How to Spend a Day in San Jose, California | Cathedral Basilica of St Joseph | Downtown San Jose Attractions

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, this is 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

COVID-19 Update (6/10/2020): The Municipal Rose Garden is currently open.

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. 


Step Back in Time at History Park 

COVID-19 Update (6/10/2020): History Park is currently open, although businesses are mostly closed and tours aren’t running.

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 

COVID-19 Update (6/10/2020): Most places in Willow Glen are still closed, but many restaurants are offering pick up and delivery.

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.

Don’t leave without trying a scoop at Willow Glen Creamery or a drink at The Table.  

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. 


Discover the Peaceful Japanese Friendship Garden

COVID-19 Update (6/10/2020): The Japanese Friendship Garden is currently open.

Another peaceful place to spend the afternoon in the city, the Japanese Friendship Garden is another attraction located in Kelley Park and features six acres of lush greenery and a tranquil atmosphere. 

Landscaped since 1965, the park has a layout that replicates Korakuen Garden in Okayama, Japan – San Jose’s sister city.

Within it, you’ll find three ponds with koi, bridges, and plenty of benches to sit and reflect. 


Learn About the California Missions at Mission Santa Clara

COVID-19 Update (6/10/2020): Mission Santa Clara is currently closed to the public and all religious services have been paused.

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

COVID-19 Update (6/10/2020): The Berryessa Flea Market is currently open.

san jose flea market - places to visit in San Jose

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 

COVID-19 Update (6/4/2020): First Fridays are currently on pause, although some local restaurants in SoFA are starting to open now for takeout. This post will be updated once First Fridays resume again

How to Spend a Day in San Jose, California | Where to Stay in San Jose California

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. 


Best San Jose Museums

Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum

COVID-19 Update (6/10/2020): Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum is currently closed. This post will be updated once it’s opened again. 

San Jose Itinerary 1 day | Rosicrucian Egyptian-Museum | Free Museum Days San Jose

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

COVID-19 Update (6/10/2020): The San Jose Museum of Art is currently closed. This post will be updated once it’s opened again. 

One Day in San Jose California | San Jose Museum of Art | Free Museum Days San Jose

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 

COVID-19 Update (6/10/2020): The San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art is currently closed. This post will be updated once it’s opened again. 

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.  


Best Things to do in San Jose With Kids 

Bring Your Kids to the Children’s Discovery Museum

COVID-19 Update (6/10/2020): The Children’s Discovery Museum is currently closed. This post will be updated once it’s opened again. 

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.


Get Your Thrills at California’s Great America 

COVID-19 Update (6/10/2020): California’s Great America is currently closed. This post will be updated once it’s opened again.

If rollercoasters and thrills are your thing, then California 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


Enjoy a Sunny Afternoon at Happy Hollow Park and Zoo 

COVID-19 Update (6/10/2020): Happy Hollow Park and Zoo is currently closed. This post will be updated once it’s opened again. 

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 

COVID-19 Update (6/10/2020): Emma Prusch Farm is currently closed. This post will be updated once it’s opened again. 

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 

COVID-19 Update (6/10/2020): The Tech Interactive is currently closed. This post will be updated once it’s opened again. 

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 Things to do Near San Jose, California 

Wine Tasting Around the Santa Cruz Mountains

COVID-19 Update (6/10/2020): South Bay wineries are currently closed for wine tastings and picnics, but are still open for wine sales and pickup. This post will be updated once they’re fully opened again. 

How to Spend a Day in San Jose, California | Things to do Near San Jose | South Bay Santa Cruz Mountain Wineries

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.

Lick Observatory

COVID-19 Update (6/10/2020): Lick Observatory is currently closed. This post will be updated once it’s opened again. 

lick observatory - things to do near San Jose

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 

COVID-19 Update (6/10/2020): Most places in downtown Los Gatos are still closed, but many restaurants are offering pick up and delivery.

explore downtown Los Gatos - things to do in San Jose at night

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. 

You really can’t go wrong with the food in downtown Los Gatos, but I’d recommend lunch from Campo di Bocce, Los Gatos Cafe Uptown, or Oak & Rye

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. 

A couple favorites include Rootstock Wine Bar or Cin-Cin Wine Bar.

If you have more than just an afternoon, there are plenty of things to see just outside of the downtown area as well. 

Vasona Lake County Park, Castle Rock State Park, or wine tasting around the vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains are just a few options. 

You Might Also Like: 101 Things to do in Santa Cruz

Best Places to Go Hiking Near San Jose 

Alum Rock Park

COVID-19 Update (6/10/2020): Alum Rock Park is currently closed. This post will be updated once that changes.

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

COVID-19 Update (6/10/2020): Almaden Quicksilver County Park is currently open.

Almaden Quicksilver Park - San Jose hikes

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 

COVID-19 Update (6/10/2020): Sierra Vista Open Space Preserve is currently open.

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. 

Related: Best Hikes in San Francisco 


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Where to Stay in San Jose

where to stay in San Jose, California

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.

Find updated prices & availability here

You Might Also Like: A Wine Weekend Getaway with Hotel Valencia


Pavilion Inn 

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!).

Find updated prices & availability here


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.

Find updated prices & availability here

San Jose Itinerary | Where to Stay in San Jose | Hotel Valencia Santana Row
The view from Hotel Valencia Santana Row.

You Might Also Like: 101 Things to do in Santa Cruz

What to Pack for San Jose


What are your favorite things to do in San Jose, California?


Get your FREE California Travel Planner – including printable checklists and my favorite two-week itinerary for the state. 



Find accommodationbook your rental car, or sign up for a local tour.

Book a vacation rental on Airbnb (and get $20 off your first booking).

Buy your Northern California Travel Guide.

Get travel insurance for your trip here.


How to Spend a Day in San Jose, California | The Atlas Heart

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Looking for more Northern California travel inspiration? Check out these related posts below!

101 Things to do in Sacramento

How to Spend the Perfect Weekend in Mendocino 

The Best Things to do in Lake Tahoe (For Every Season)

Best Hikes in Big Basin Redwoods State Park 

Where to See the Redwoods Near San Francisco

Mimi McFadden
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4 Responses

  1. I’m a local here in San Jose, and my favorite is San Pedro Square. I have recommended this to my friends and family who comes and visit, and not once that it has disappointed them. So if you happen to have time don’t forget to drop down this place!

  2. I know I was surprised too! It’s definitely worth a visit if you’re in the Bay Area, I feel like San Jose is one of those underrated destinations 🙂

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