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San Jose is just an hour’s drive from the iconic attractions in San Francisco, but it offers plenty to do of its own, underneath frequent sunny skies. Downtown hosts a wealth of attractions and a unique global food scene inspired by the city’s diversity, including not-be-missed authentic Pho in Little Saigon. Be sure to put some of these top things to do on your itinerary for enjoying in between those fabulous meals.
Santana Row is the South Bay Area’s hub, a 42-acre urban district for shopping, dining, living and entertainment, especially popular for its nightlife although it also offers a wide range of options for shopping enthusiasts from home furnishings at Crate and Barrel to luxury retailers like Gucci. It has a European-inspired town plan with wide pedestrian streets, sidewalk cafes, and an ideal blend of classic and modern architectural elements. Keep an eye on the calendar for special events like car and fashion shows.
The city’s Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum is truly a must-visit. It hosts the most extensive collection of Egyptian treasures in the western United States. The vast grounds are also home to a planetarium, peace garden, temple and research library. One of the best museums of its kind in the nation, a visit here brings the opportunity to learn about the gods, goddesses, culture and lifestyles of ancient Egyptians in addition to exploring pre-dynastic rituals, art and artifacts. The highlight, however, are the mummies, a visitor favorite. It’s a unique experience just to view them but you’ll also be able to discover how and why they were made.
The San Jose Art Museum is a hidden gem near San Francisco and a not-be-missed attraction for any culture vulture. It features a collection focused on 20th- and 21st-century works of art in a variety of different media like photography, video installation, sculpture and painting. There are temporary exhibits which typically showcase a Northern California artist, providing local flavor. While permanent exhibits have a general focus on California art, there are also Pacific Rim works. If you’re traveling with kids, before you go, check the museum schedule for family-friendly, hands-on activities that can help get them excited about art.
San Jose is an obvious spot for a tech museum as the capital of Silicon Valley and the Tech Museum of Innovation may be one of the best of its kind in the world for inspiring young people with all sorts of hands-on learning opportunities. People of all ages are likely to appreciate learning about the various scientific concepts like clean energy, genetics, space exploration, biotechnology, and more in this blue-domed facility. The exhibits are fun yet educational, like the Social Robots gallery where kids can design, build and program a real robot with sensors, controllers and actuators. There is also an IMAX Theater onsite presenting educational and feature films. The gift shop sells some great tech toys, and there’s also a cafe on site. Be sure to take advantage of the “Tech Tag,” a barcode on ticket stubs that can be scanned at some of the activities and used later to relieve experiences like the earthquake ride and 3-D head scan.
The San Pedro Square Market is a popular public food market with dozens of different food stalls, bars, and cafes, offering the ultimate place to feed your inner foodie. It has a wonderful open-air atmosphere, perfect for enjoying the area’s frequent sunshine, and offers great people watching too. Some of the favorites are the sushi and specialty cocktails at Blush Raw Bar Lounge and the authentic arepas at Arepas & Mas, although there are foods from across the globe waiting to be devoured. From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Fridays, a farmers market is hosted here as well, featuring the fresh produce from over 30 California-based growers.
Happy Hollow Park and Zoo is located just south-east of downtown and is a popular destination with families hosting a petting zoo, puppet theater, carousel, roller coaster as well as animals like parrots, lemurs, meerkats, red panda and jaguars. There are also rides and structures for young children like slides, swings, ropes and climbing areas. Daily programs at the zoo include feeding times, educational programs and animal enrichment activities.
One of the largest institutions of its kind in the country, San Jose’s Children’s Discovery Museum hosts 150 interactive exhibits encouraging young visitors to explore, understand and enjoy the world. It includes everything from bubbles and waterways to art activities and circle secrets, with enough to keep kids busy for hours.
This park is a three-mile stretch of urban parkland running along the banks of the Guadalupe River right downtown. Walk along the path from the Little Italy district to the park where you can view the Heritage Rose gardens, a collection of 3,600 antique and modern roses. The visitor center offers information along with local wildlife displays.
One of only three historic Japanese communities remaining in the entire country, Japantown is a small area but it’s one of San Jose’s most unique neighborhoods. Obviously, it’s the place to go for dining on Japanese cuisine- it’s home to some of the area’s top restaurants, owned by local Japanese-Americas who are passionate about creating authentic Japanese dishes. Check out the neighborhood event schedule before you go as it hosts a variety of Japanese-focused festivals year-round.
The SAP Center at San Jose is an indoor arena that serves as the home for the National Hockey League’s San Jose Sharks, which is why it’s nicknamed “The Shark Tank.” It also hosts concerts and other events. If you’re here from early October through early April (or beyond if the Sharks are in the playoffs), you can have a great time cheering on the home team with the locals.