Although often overlooked in favor of nearby San Francisco, the sprawling metropolis of San Jose has a wealth of amazing things for visitors to see and do. The largest city in Northern California, it acts as an important cultural, commercial, and political center and is often called the ‘Capital of Silicon Valley’.
Founded in 1777 by the Spanish, the city is noted for its wonderful weather, beautiful vistas, and has lots of lovely parks and gardens for you to check out. Very multicultural, its diverse neighborhoods are dotted with excellent museums as well as interesting historic tourist attractions and architectural gems. With everything from amusement parks and outdoor activities to huge sporting and cultural events among the things to do in San Jose, this Californian city is definitely well worth visiting.
In this post, we'll cover:
12. San Jose Museum of Art
Set right in the heart of downtown is the superb San Jose Museum of Art which boasts a captivating collection of modern and contemporary artworks. Featuring both local and international artists, its galleries are full of incredible paintings and photos, video installations, and graphic art.
Located next to both Circle of Palms Plaza and Plaza de Cesar Chavez, the museum occupies what was once the city’s main post office. While this exhibits some exquisite Richardsonian Romanesque architecture, its ‘New Wing’ is startlingly modern in comparison.
Since being founded in 1969, its collection has expanded considerably and now encompasses some 2,600 artworks. While Andrea Bowers and Russell Crotty count among its big West Coast names, striking works by international artists such as Mona Hatoum and George Grosz are also on display.
11. Tech Interactive
Just a stone’s throw from the San Jose Museum of Art, you can find the excellent Tech Interactive which also lies alongside Plaza de Cesar Chavez. In addition to interesting exhibits on science and technology, the museum has fun, hands-on activities, and design challenges for visitors to enjoy.
A firm favorite with both locals and tourists alike, it was opened in 1998 and is set in a distinctive mango and azure colored building. Across its three floors are exhibitions on everything from space exploration and sustainable living to the human body, bioengineering and robotics.
Besides building your own robot, you can experience Virtual Reality or create a new invention in one of its workshops. On top of this, there is also an IMAX Dome Theatre where you can watch fascinating educational films.
10. Japanese Friendship Garden
A very peaceful and picturesque place, the Japanese Friendship Garden lies just five minutes’ drive southeast of the center. Modeled on the famous Korakuen Garden in Okayama, San Jose’s sister city, it has lots of pretty paths, pools, and even a pagoda for you to wander past.
A symbol of ever-lasting friendship between the two cities, the gorgeous garden was first opened to the public in 1965. Since then, countless generations have enjoyed its lovingly laid out grounds that include koi ponds, cherry blossom trees, and a traditional Japanese tea house.
While ambling across its little wooden bridges and stepping-stones, you can bask in beautiful views of the resplendent scenery and nature all around you. Part of Kelley Park, the Japanese Friendship Garden is a very popular place to take engagement photos or hold outdoor wedding ceremonies.
9. Los Gatos Creek Trail
Stretching for just over 9 miles, Los Gatos Creek Trail takes you right from the edge of downtown to the Lexington Reservoir in the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains. A treat to walk, run, or cycle along, its winding route mostly runs alongside the lovely little creek of the same name.
Very popular with locals and tourists alike, the scenic trail connects numerous parks, green spaces, and communities to one another. As such, there are lots of great places to stop off at along the way such as the huge Pruneyard Shopping Center and the fancy shops and restaurants of Willow Glen.
Aside from simply enjoying the trail’s superb scenery, you can also visit Vasona Lake County Park which offers up everything from hiking and mountain biking to kayaking and paddleboarding.
8. SAP Center
If you’re after an exciting and unforgettable event to attend when in San Jose, then it is well worth checking out the SAP Center’s packed schedule of hockey games, concerts, and sports competitions.
Opened in 1993, the enormous indoor arena lies just a short stroll to the west of downtown and is most known for being home to the San Jose Sharks. Watching the city’s hugely popular professional hockey team is an amazing experience, especially since they enter the rink out of a huge shark head.
Besides its fast and frenetic hockey games, the SAP Center also hosts countless other high-profile events with Mixed Martial Arts and figure skating championships one week and massive shows by Harry Styles and Justin Bieber the next.
7. Happy Hollow Park and Zoo
Also located within the colossal Kelley Park is the Happy Hollow Park and Zoo which can be found right next to the Japanese Friendship Garden. Home to both amusement rides and animal exhibits, it is a very fun and a family-friendly place to visit with lots for you to see and do.
Since opening in 1961, the park has delighted adults and children alike with its roller coasters, rides, and friendly residents. Although its zoo is mostly home to smaller animals, you can also spy jaguars and giant anteaters ambling about their spacious enclosures as well as capybara, lemurs, and fossa.
In addition to stroking goats and rabbits in its petting zoo, you can also play mini golf, explore its crooked house, or watch a show at its puppet theater.
6. Children’s Discovery Museum
Back in the city center you can find another of San Jose’s standout tourist attractions: the fun and fascinating Children’s Discovery Museum. Located not far from Tech Interactive and the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts, its state-of-the-art center lies at the southern end of the Guadalupe River Park.
Established in 1990, its endless galleries now contain countless hands-on displays and play-and-learn areas that are perfect for kids aged ten and below. Its interactive exhibits stimulate creativity and curiosity and really allow young ones to engage with and learn from the world around them.
As well as interesting exhibits on everything from physics and paleontology to art and geology, the museum also has a brilliant BioSITE for you to check out. Here, students learn about environmental responsibility and even conduct their own research amidst the pristine nature of the park.
5. Winchester Mystery House
One of the most unique and unusual buildings you’re able to come across, the Winchester Mystery House certainly lives up to its name. Full of secret passageways, misleading doors, and a whole host of other peculiar features, it really is an amazing place to explore.
While work on the massive mansion started in 1886, it was only completed thirty-eight years later as Sarah Winchester, the widow of the firearms magnate, constantly changed its design and layout. She believed that this was the only way to keep the spirits of the people who had been killed by the Winchester rifle at bay.
The result is as beautiful as it is bizarre with the exquisite Queen Anne Style Victorian mansion now being a National Historic Landmark. Inside there are 160 rooms for you to find if you can navigate the false halls and staircases that is.
4. Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph
Another of San Jose’s must-see architectural marvels is the Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph which is located right in the heart of downtown. An absolutely phenomenal building, it lies at the top of the Plaza de Cesaz Chavez, not far from many of the city’s other main attractions.
Originally a small adobe church, the current cathedral was built in 1877 and exhibits some stunning Renaissance Revival architecture. Alongside its fetching facade you can spy two elegant towers and countless stained-glass windows with the cathedral’s huge dome being its defining feature.
Its light-filled interior is just as impressive as fine religious artworks and fabulous friezes can be found alongside a lovely altar and the only remaining Odell pipe organ in the States.
3. Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum
Boasting the largest collection of ancient Egyptian antiquities in the Western United States, the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum really is a fascinating place to explore. Located just five minutes’ drive from the city center, its sprawling complex lies in San Jose’s Rose Garden neighborhood.
Since being founded in 1928, its collection has expanded considerably and now includes over 4,000 ancient artifacts. While exploring its endless exhibitions you’ll come across everything from textiles and tools to stupendous stone statues, scrolls, and sarcophagi.
Aside from all its incredible objects and detailed displays, the museum has a replica of an ancient tomb for you to check out with one of its buildings being modeled on the famous Temple of Amun in Karnak. In addition, the site also contains a Rosicrucian Temple and planetarium.
2. Municipal Rose Garden
Just a short stroll from the museum you can find the magnificent Municipal Rose Garden which is a very peaceful and picturesque place to amble around. Due to its scenic splendor and strong scents, the award-winning garden is very popular with locals and tourists alike.
Once a prune orchard, the gorgeous garden is now home to more than 3,500 of the fantastic flowers with pretty paths winding their way amidst the rows and rows of roses. In total, there are around 200 varieties on show with pockets of other plants, shrubs, and trees dotted about here and there.
Established in 1927, the garden is open every day of the week with May being the best time of year to visit as a kaleidoscope of different colors greets your eye with all the flowers being in bloom.
1. Santana Row
One of the best places to shop, dine, and be seen in San Jose is the chic and sophisticated Santana Row. Located just ten minutes’ drive west of downtown, it is in this delightful district that Silicon Valley tycoons spend their time and money.
Formerly a sleepy neighborhood like any other, the area was developed as a ‘village within a city’ in the early 2000s. Since then, upmarket boutiques and swanky hotels have sprung up next to trendy bars, gourmet restaurants, and luxury residences.
Immaculately manicured with fountains and flowerbeds set alongside outdoor terraces and public spaces, its streets are a treat to stroll along and have a very lively yet laidback feel. Thanks to its superb street musicians, numerous cultural events, and arthouse theater, there is always some going on at Santana Row.