things to do in San Jose California

Best Places to Visit in San Jose, the Gateway to Silicon Valley

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Just over an hour from San Francisco, San José is the third largest city in California and the tenth largest in the United States. It is located in the Santa Clara Valley and is a good base if you want to explore nearby cities like Santa Cruz, Monterey and the famous Silicon Valley.

San José is also a popular destination for those traveling in California with children. There is the Children’s Discovery Museum, large parks, a mild climate with few rainy days and a relaxed atmosphere along the tree-lined streets in the Downtown Historic District make San José an ideal place for a family vacation.

San José is also unique, because it manages to combine the modern and technological Silicon Valley, with its young startups and innovative ideas, with the historical Spanish roots and the stewardship of preserve the large green spaces of the city and the valley.

Things to Do in San José

Although it is not a major tourist destination, San José offers many attractions for adults and children alike and is therefore a destination that should not be underestimated during a California journey. Here are some tips on what to do in San José and where to stay.

The name San José is an abbreviation of Pueblo de San José de Guadalupe, which is how it was originally named in 1777 by Lieutenant José Joaquin Moraga. In 1848, the Pueblo de San José de Guadalupe ceased to be on Mexican territory and became part of the United States. At that time San José was also proclaimed the first capital of the state of California.

Downtown Historic District

downtown San Jose California

Plaza de Cesar Chavez is undoubtedly the heart of the city and the center of the colonial pueblo of San José. Around Plaza de Cesar Chavez, you’ll find the San José Museum of Art, the Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph, the Tech Museum of Innovation, the California Theater and the Children’s Discovery Museum.

Moving away from the Plaza de Cesar Chavez and walking north for about ten minutes along San Pedro Street, you’ll reach San Pedro Square Market, an indoor market with dining options where you can sample not only local cuisine, but also delicious international dishes. Just a short distance from San Pedro Square, there are two historic houses of incredible charm, the ancient Peralta Adobe, built in 1797 and probably one of the oldest buildings in the city, and Fellon House, an aristocratic Victorian mansion dating back to 1850.

Another must-see attraction is the Heritage Rose Garden. To get there from the Plaza de Cesar Chavez, you will walk north for about 30 minutes. This beautiful garden contains over 3,000 rose plants belonging to over 2,800 different species. Admission is free and the park is open every day from dawn to dusk. In addition, it is possible to participate in pruning and rose-growing lessons for beginners and for anyone who loves this beautiful flower.

San José Museum of Art

San Jose museum of art

The San José Museum of Art is located at 110 South Market Street in the historic area. The museum, which opened in 1969, houses works by the great Californian and West Coast artists of the 20th and 21st centuries with permanent collections and innovative and thoughtful temporary exhibitions. Inside the museum, you can admire artists’ skill in a variety of media, including photography, culture, digital media and paintings. The building itself is quite remarkable. The original part of the museum is built in the Romanesque style while the new part is built in a modern style, yet the two parts merge harmoniously.

Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph

San Jose California attractions

This beautiful Catholic cathedral located at 80 Market Street was the first church in the original pueblo of San José and it was dedicated to Saint Joseph. It was built in 1803, but it has been destroyed four times by natural disasters. In 1876, the cornerstone was laid for this church, the fifth church, in fact, dedicated to the saint built for the Catholic community in the area and it was inaugurated the following year.

The embellishments of the cathedral – such as the stained glass windows, frescoes on the walls and ceiling – date back to the beginning of the 20th century. Thanks to its history, artistic beauty and service to the community, the church was proclaimed a basilica in 1997. Admission is free.

The Tech Museum of Innovation

places to visit in San Jose California

In Downtown San José, there is also a museum dedicated to science and innovation with interesting interactive and multimedia exhibitions for adults and children. Located at 201 South Market Street, the museum is on three floors and houses an IMAX cinema that offers viewers a 360-degree experience of the films being screened. The museum’s mission is to make visitors understand how technology influences everyday life, from the study of earthquakes to the human body, from robots to virtual and augmented reality.

California Theater

San Jose theater California

Located in the southern area of Plaza de Cesar Chavez, at 345 First Street, the California Theater is considered one of the best preserved theaters built in the 1920s in the United States. It opened under the name Fox Theater in 1927 with 1,848 seats (today there are 1,119 seats) and after the restoration in 2004, the California Theater has become home to the San José Opera and the Symphony Silicon Valley Orchestra. Every season, it hosts major events, concerts and live performances.

If you don’t have time to visit its interior or to attend a show, it is still worth it to stop by and take a picture of the unique architecture, especially in the evening when its characteristic illuminated neon sign shines bright.

Children’s Discovery Museum

places to see in san jose california

The Children’s Discovery Museum is about a 12-minute walk from Plaza de Cesar Chavez. In this museum, children of all ages are exposed to science, art and technology through interesting permanent installations and exhibitions that are renewed periodically. Thanks to the simple use of multimedia, children will discover and learn about the beauty of our universe while also having fun.

The museum is located at 180 Woz Way. The entrance fee is $15. Operating hours are:

  • Tuesday to Friday from 09:30 am to 12:30 pm
  • Saturday and Sunday from 09:30 am to 12:30 pm and from 13:30 am to 16:30 pm

Outside the Downtown Historic District of San José

San Jose California things to see

On the west side of San José we find a unique tourist attraction. The Winchester Mystery House belonged to Sarah Winchester, a member of the family of the manufacturers Winchester rifles, who bought it in 1884. From the time she purchased the house until her death in 1922, Sarah Winchester never stopped expanding and modifying the house. A medium convinced her that if she finished the work the spirits of the people killed by the weapons produced by her family would haunt her.

The house has 160 rooms and many oddities, such as stairs that lead nowhere or windows on the floor. The Winchester Mystery House is located at 525 Winchester Boulevard and is truly a beautiful Victorian mansion with its large garden, luxurious furniture and a weapons museum. Admission, which includes a tour, costs from $20 to $42 depending on the day of the week and age of the visitors. You can easily check the website for the prices and to buy the ticket.

The SAP Center is the sports center where the famous San José Sharks play hockey. It is located west of the historic district, at 525 West Santa Clara Street, about a 15-minute walk from Plaza de Cesar Chavez. In this big stadium, you can watch a game (tickets are not expensive) or attend one of the many concerts or events that take place here.

San Jose california must see

The Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum and Planetarium is located in a beautiful building with a well-kept garden, a labyrinth, a planetarium, a temple and a library. Inside you’ll find many artifacts from Ancient Egypt, such as mummies and the reconstruction of an underground tomb. The address of the museum is 1660 Park Avenue and the museum is open Wednesday to Friday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm and Saturday and Sunday from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. Tickets are $9 for adults and $5 for children between 5 and 9 years old.

East of the historic center of San José there is the History Park, another important museum. It is one of the most important open-air museums in the United States with over 20 buildings and landmarks related to the historic settlement of San José. You’ll be able to walk through the old city with a hotel, gas station, electric tower, and several original houses. It is located in a beautiful park, Kelley Park, which is also worth visiting. Take a look at the official website for the hours of operation that change according to the time of year.

San Jose California mission

Speaking of history, it is impossible not to mention the Mission San José, which is part of the historic Camino Real of California. Although it’s actually in Fremont and not in San José, if you’re interested in Catholic missions, it’s still worth visiting since it houses one of the largest and most well-kept museums that you’ll find in the Franciscan missions in California.

Where to Stay in San José

The city is quite large and the hotel selection is extensive. You could choose to stay near San José Airport if you land or take off from there, or near the many parks, such as Alum Rock Park or Almaden Quicksilver County Park if you love California’s hiking and biking trails.

Below you can read about three hotels that we recommend that are located in the Downtown Historic District of San José, close to the main attractions we talked about in this article, with parking and that give you the possibility to take a walk, even in the evening, to discover the city.

where to stay in San Jose
The Fairmont San Jose
  • Four Point Sheraton: At 211 South First Street, this 3-star hotel offers excellent value, especially since it is located right in the center of town. Plaza de Cesar Chavez is located behind the hotel and is less than a hundred yards away. You can walk to all the major attractions of Downtown San José, as well as shops, restaurants and bars.
  • AC Marriott San José Downtown Hotels: At 350 West Santa Clara Street, this hotel is located between Plaza de Cesar Chavez and San Pedro Square. It has an outdoor pool, a fitness center, a terrace and a restaurant that serves European cuisine. If you love modern hotels, this is the one for you.
  • The Fairmont San José: At 170 South Market Street, this 5-star hotel has an elegant outdoor pool, four restaurants, a gym and a spa with hot tub, steam room and sauna. Located in the heart of the historic district, the hotel overlooks Plaza de Cesar Chavez.

Search for accommodations in San Jose

Our Tip:
Looking for accommodations for your trip from California to other parts of the Southwest? Read our guide that contains reviews of hotels and strategic tips for finding accommodations near major attractions: Where to Stay: Our Tips for the SouthWest Area

Warning: Operating hours can change and closures for extraordinary events can occur, so we strongly suggest to check the venues official websites.

Flora Lufrano
Flora Lufrano

I am a translator and teacher. I love to travel, meet new people and cultures and never cease to be surprised by the beauty of our planet.

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