San Jose, California, Offers More Than Meets the Eye
By Sierra Sumner
San Jose, often jokingly referred to as Man Jose due to Silicon Valley, is a unique place with growing urbanization. It is thought to be California’s oldest settlement since it was founded in 1777 as a farming community.
Most of its stereotypes involve its tech-centric Silicon Valley, where companies such as Apple, Facebook, and Tesla reside. In fact, roughly 35% of venture capital funds that are invested in American companies end up in San Jose. Boasting a presence of close to 7,000 tech companies, San Jose is the most concentrated tech center in the entire world.
But there is more to the city than its most famous attractions of the tech companies and the heat. Here are some unique attractions of the city and its booming scene.
A Local Perspective
Gary Singh is a born and raised San Jose local who offered his two cents about the city. “It’s a secret place. Everything here that’s interesting is beneath the surface. Everything is off the beaten path. You have to go look for stuff to do. You have to be a curious person, an explorer of that which is ignored, not a tourist or a business traveler.”
His favorite places to take family and friends to showcase the authentic San Jose: “It depends on a zillion different parameters or moods, but some cool places are: Anno Domini Gallery, Cafe Stritch Jazz Club, and Japantown restaurants: Tee Nee Thai, Roy’s Station Coffee Shop, and Good Karma Artisan Ale and Vegan Cafe.”
Singh also recommends the First Fridays art walk on the first Friday of every month to truly experience San Joe. Singh explains that the art walk has a “wide variety of the creative subcultures of San Jose.”
This art walk is a self-guided, nighttime tour through art galleries, museums, and independent, locally-owned businesses; it’s free and open to the public. One of the newer exhibits includes the gallery mentioned above, the Anno Domini Gallery.
Monopoly in the park
Only in San Jose can you find a giant life-sized monopoly board. It is the largest permanent Monopoly game in the world and it covers 30 square feet in the park. The board is located in Guadalupe River Park in San Jose.
The best part – it can be played via an online reservation. The players are given giant dice and different shaped hats for the game.
This area is a large outdoor shopping center with clubs, movies, and other events, as well as dining, housing, offices, and a “happening” social scene. Living at Santana row has a “small-town feel inside the big city,” since it offers a vibrant neighborhood and a strong sense of community.
It has a giant chess game that is a piece of interactive art for the public. The huge pieces can be used to play a life-sized game with all the same strategies, but a new element of physically moving your pieces across the board.
The Winchester Mystery House
The Winchester Mystery House was built in the late 1800s by Sarah Winchester, who demanded its construction for 38 years. The house has 160 rooms with secret passages and stairs that lead to nowhere.
The reason why the was built this way is still contested. Some argue Sarah Winchester was informed by a psychic that she would die when her house was finished, so the workers created unnecessary work on the house.
A more widely-accepted reason is that Ms. Winchester had arthritis and asked the workers to stop building to multiple stories since she couldn’t go up the stairs.
A Mansion Tour, Garden Tour and “Behind the Scenes” tour are all available. Flashlight tours are also available on special dates.
Rosicrucian Park and Egyptian Museums
The park was founded in 1927 and it includes the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum, the 5th Planetarium built in the US, the Rosicrucian Peace Garden, Rosicrucian Research Library, Grand Temple, Administration Building, and Fountain Plaza and Garden.
Rosicrucian Park is an elaborately-designed park that is the headquarters of the Rosircrucian Order. The organization’s aim is to “study the elusive mysteries of the universe.” But don’t let this deter you from seeing all this park has to offer; it has elaborate gardens and architectural designs representing Classical to ancient Egyptian styles. You will walk away with a new understanding of ancient Egyptian style.
San Jose is located near the Santa Cruz Mountains and the Diablo Mountain Range, so it has a plethora of places for hiking and exploring:
There’s Almaden Lake Park, with a sand beach and swimming area. The area is perfect for fishing, jogging on the 3.9-mile trail, renting paddle boats, or using the kid-friendly jungle gym.
Almaden Quicksilver – several trailheads lead to hikes into the hills, covered with native oaks, madrones, etc.
Mission Peak – Part of the wonderful East Bay Regional Park system, from here there are fab views of the whole area.
Uvas Canyon – probably the best place to see waterfalls.
Castle Rock State Park – Just minutes away from the heart of Silicon Valley are miles and miles of wilderness trails.
34-Mile Hiking Trail
Last, you can hike the Skyline-to-the-Sea trail, which is a 34-mile hike through the Santa Cruz mountains. I took a three-day backpacking trip along this trail and it is well worth the hike. It starts from the Castle Rock State Park, goes through Big Basin State Park, and ultimately ends at the Pacific Ocean.
Shoreline Lake is a hidden treasure to check out. It’s located on the right of the Shoreline Amphitheater at the inlet of the bay. It’s a good place for kayaking and biking. Plus it is hidden well, so even locals forget it’s there and provides a peaceful getaway to the water.
Mount Lick Observatory
Lick Observatory has a lens diameter of 36 inches and a focal length of 17.6 meters, making it the third-largest optical refracting telescope around.
Mount Lick can be accessed near the Alum Rock area of San Jose. There are multiple telescopes in the white domes, which can be seen from many of San Jose’s freeways on clear days.
Japan town is a small 3 block strip of shops and restaurants in San Jose found on Jackson Street near 4th. It is one of the few remaining Japantowns in the United States.
If you like Japanese food, it has a wide variety to choose from; there are tea shops (genmai cha & hoji cha teas), year-round farmers’ market, and the Obon Festival in early July.
Dobashi Market, in particular, is a good place to check out for fresh fish, shellfish, rice, sake, Japanese condiments, fresh vegetables, Japanese dry noodles, Japanese bento lunches and Japanese snacks.
You can find the Japanese American Museum in Japantown as well. It honors the heritage of those who are of Japanese American descent. The museum focuses on World War II internment camps in the United States, those who served in the military during WWII, and what Japantown was like before the war.
Night Life in San Jose
Many locals spend their nights out getting drinks at the bars San Jose has to offer.
Local Jamie Lesperance describes the nightlife as “more lounge-like.” She has been living in San Jose for seven years and a total of ten years in the surrounding area. Jamie says, “craft beer is getting big nationwide. There is an up and coming local brewery scene here, especially up North.” Santa Clara Valley Brewery and Sherry Kick are two of her local favorites.
San Jose has a small wine scene, but it bleeds into its surroundings. You can make a day trip from San Jose to Santa Cruz, which is about an hour away, for wine tasting in the Santa Cruz Mountains. These wineries focus on organic products and sustainability, so you can rest assured about being eco-friendly.
If you’re looking for live music, little eateries, and community seating on your night out, then Jack’s Neighborhood Bar and Lounge is the perfect place to check out. It has nationally known mixologists and it is known for its crafts cocktails.
Jack Rows is tucked away at the base of the mountains, so it’s just right if you’re looking to get a little out of the city and into a more relaxed atmosphere.
Little Italy is the first stop to make in San Jose. It has a sign and archway to signify you’ve found it.
There’s Willow Glen, which has a cute and quaint atmosphere. It has a Victorian bungalow style with antique shops, thrift stores, and shopping. Moscato’s is a downtown strip in San Jose.
The neighborhood of Chamble wraps around San Jose. It makes a perfect stroll through the city, so you can see the scenic views and rolling hills.
If you’re in the area, there’s ample opportunity to check out Levis Stadium. It’s the home for the 49ers football team, so you can take a tour of the new stadium that has all sustainable equipment, such as solar panels and other eco-friendly aspects. The stadium is located just outside the San Jose city line, so it’s more convenient for traffic and parking.
Right next door to Levis is the Great America Theme Park. It’s known for its family-friendly fun and is comparable to Six Flags New England.
For the Foodies
There’s always a booming downtown area for food. There are revitalized restaurants and cocktail bars, such as Paper Plane or ISO Beers in San Pedro Square Market. Orchard City Kitchen is a locally-owned, tapas-style small business. They have craft cocktails that change each season.
You can also find Farmers Union: it’s a great place to eat and it’s located where an old Farmer’s Market Union used to be. It’s a spacious building with multiple restaurants inside and community seating in the middle area of the building.
There’s also a heavy Asian culture in San Jose, so if you’re looking for authentic Vietnamese, Japanese, or Chinese food, you’ve come to the right place. Most of these authentic eateries are located downtown in San Jose as well as all over the city.
San Jose Culture
After hearing about all the unique cultures and experiences San Jose has to offer, I had one lasting question. I asked Singh, as a San Jose local, what are the biggest problems facing the city? He concisely replied, “gentrification. On all fronts.”
Gentrification is known for its negative effects since it displaces lower-income residents and businesses. This is a commonly seen problem in cities, where the district’s character and culture can become lost in the process. If you want to preserve San Jose’s culture and uniqueness, then a good way to go is to support local businesses.
Sierra Sumner is a writer from Massachusetts, Hawaii and California. She loves the outdoors, such as hiking and kayaking, and has traveled all across the US. She hopes to continue her explorations and to encourage others to expand their horizons.