Travel Planner: Visiting San Jose, California

Sprawled across the south end of Silicon Valley, San Jose proudly claims the title of biggest city in the Bay Area. It is the beating heart of the valley’s high-tech industry and is home to eBay, Cisco, Adobe, IBM, and many others. Long considered a cultural wasteland, in the last decade San Jose has worked to change its image, supporting local art and attracting high-end restaurants.

Sights in San Jose, California

San Jose Museum of Art

The interactive displays at the Tech invite touching and letting children explore and learn about medical technology, computers, biology, chemistry, physics, and more.The highly regarded San Jose Museum of Art (110 S. Market St., 408/271-6840, 11am-5pm Tues.-Sun., adults $8, students and seniors $5, under age 6 free) is right downtown. Housed in a historical sandstone building that was added on to in 1991, the beautiful light-filled museum features modern and contemporary art. Its permanent collection focuses largely on West Coast artists, but major retrospectives of works by the likes of Andy Warhol, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Alexander Calder come through often, giving the museum a broader scope. As a bonus, the Museum Store offers perhaps the best gift shopping in downtown San Jose. Likewise, the café, with both an indoor lounge and outside sidewalk tables, is a great place to grab a quick bite.

Tech Museum of Innovation

The Tech Museum of Innovation (201 S. Market St., 408/294-8324, 10am-5pm daily, adults $20, seniors and children 3-17 $15) brings technology of all kinds to kids, families, and science lovers. The interactive displays at the Tech invite touching and letting children explore and learn about medical technology, computers, biology, chemistry, physics, and more, using all their senses. The IMAX theater (additional $5) shows films dedicated to science, learning, technology, and adventure (and the occasional blockbuster).

Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum

Perhaps San Jose’s most unusual attraction is the imposing Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum (1660 Park Ave., 408/947-3635, 9am-5pm Wed.-Fri., 10am-6pm Sat.-Sun., adults $9, students and seniors $7, children 5-10 $5, under 5 free). The museum was opened by the Rosicrucian Order in 1928 and has a wonderful collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts, including several mummies—partly unwrapped, a rarity today. Local children and adults love the Rosicrucian’s jewels, tomb artifacts, tools, and textiles. The complex also boasts a planetarium, which has shows daily at 2pm Monday-Friday, and 2pm and 3:30pm Saturday-Sunday. Tickets are free with admission.

The Winchester Mystery House. Photo © Elizabeth Linhart Veneman.

The Winchester Mystery House. Photo © Elizabeth Linhart Veneman.

Winchester Mystery House

For good old-fashioned haunted fun, stop in at the Winchester Mystery House (525 S. Winchester Blvd., 408/247-2101, 9am-5pm daily). A San Jose attraction that predates the rise of Silicon Valley, the huge bizarre mansion was built by famous eccentric Sarah Winchester. Kids love the doors that open onto brick walls, stairwells that go nowhere, and oddly shaped rooms, while adults enjoy the story of Sarah and the antiques displayed in many of the rooms.

Sarah married into the gun-making Winchester family and became disturbed later in life by the death wrought by her husband’s products. She designed the house to both facilitate communication with the spirits of the dead and to confound them and keep herself safe. Whether or not ghosts still haunt the mansion is a matter of debate and of faith—visit and make up your own mind. Admission to the grounds is free, but to get a peek inside the house, you must be on one of the many tours (adults $27-40, seniors $26-36, children 6-12 $24-30, 5 and under free). For an extra-spooky experience, take a Friday the 13th or Halloween flashlight tour (book early, as these tours fill up fast).

Entertainment and Events in San Jose

For nightlife, most locals pick up a copy of San Jose Metro, a free rag that proclaims itself the hippest of the Silicon Valley entertainment publications.

Culture buffs can get seats to Ballet San Jose (408/288-2800, $25-80) at the Center for the Performing Arts (255 Almaden Blvd.) or to Opera San Jose (408/437-4450, $50-120) at the California Theatre (345 S. First St.).

City Lights Theatre (529 S. 2nd St., 408/295-4200, $17-30), has a tiny black box-style theater and little money to spend on fancy lobby light fixtures. But the shows, mostly featuring up-and-coming local performers, never fail to entertain. Their take on everything from Lysistrata to The Waiting Room is fresh and original, providing a perfect local theater experience with a definite Silicon Valley flavor.

The clubs in San Jose certainly are suburban, but the lack of self-conscious hipness can make a night out at Agenda Lounge (399 S. 1st St., 408/287-3991, 9pm-2am Wed.-Sun.) or Myth Taverna and Lounge (152 Post St., 408/286-7678, 6pm-3am Thurs.-Sat.) more relaxed than a trek up to San Francisco. Live comedy is another popular Silicon Valley option. The San Jose Improv (62 S. 2nd St., 408/280-7475, 6pm-midnight Mon.-Sat., 3:30pm-midnight Sun.), located in the historical San Jose Theatre, often hosts major-league headliners like Margaret Cho and Cedric the Entertainer while also granting stage time to local talent in showcases and contests.

Maps - Northern California 7e - Downtown San Jose

Downtown San Jose

Excerpted from the Seventh Edition of Moon Northern California.