Santa Cruz County, an hour south of San Jose, has so much more to offer than Boardwalk—it also happens to be one of California’s agricultural powerhouses. Many smaller farms in the area let visitors pick their own fruit straight from the vine, so grab a basket and stock up on delicious, ripe produce like apples, blackberries, boysenberries, and raspberries.
Alameda itself is historical—and just west of downtown San Jose—with mid-century architecture and signage throughout the downtown area. But the city’s antiquing culture is huge, with Park Avenue as a top antiquing spot. Keep an eye out for the Alameda Antiques Faire, held the first Sunday of every month at the old naval base; the huge flea market has everything from furniture to vintage fashion and apparel.
Drive an hour and a half north to Napa and experience real wine country. Book a wine tour or just wander around the downtown area, where the wining and dining is plentiful. Just remember to make sure to wait a while before driving back, or bring a friend who happens to be more into the delicious Napa food experience than the booze.
An hour northwest of San Jose, Half Moon Bay is one of California’s most iconic coastal towns, quaint and quiet—unless you count the Pacific crashing along the shoreline. The big waves of the beach make for ample surfing opportunities for sportier adventurers. Weather is almost always chilly, so when San Jose hits one of its inevitable heat waves, Half Moon Bay’s fog is a welcome treat.
Perhaps one of California’s most popular tourist destinations, San Francisco is accessible without a car in under two hours, and the city’s world-class public transportation system—including Muni, CalTrain and BART—means no dealing with its infamous parking woes. Sightseeing spots include Mission Dolores; Alcatraz, Angel and Treasure islands; and great photo op destinations like Twin Peaks and the Golden Gate Bridge.
The self-described garlic capital of the world, Gilroy makes a great trip for foodies and is only 30 minutes south of San Jose. Time the trip right and attend the massive Annual Gilroy Garlic festival (every summer on the last full weekend in July at Christmas Hill Park), and eat the freshest garlic fries—even garlic ice cream! Gilroy is also well-known for its shopping: high-end outlet mall Gilroy Premium Outlets includes world-class shopping destinations such as Coach, Sax Fifth Avenue, and Kenneth Cole. This 145-store center, conveniently located just off Highway 101, features the largest collection of designer and brand name outlet stores in northern California.
For wine lovers who don’t want to make the trek to Napa, Livermore’s up-and-coming wine industry is a fantastic option. While this area has been producing wine since the early days of the San Francisco Mission, it has only become a popular tourist destination in the last decade; dozens of wineries scattered through Livermore (30 minutes east of San Jose) produce some of California’s most critically acclaimed wines.
Outside of wine, the city is also home to the Guinness Book World Record-holder for the longest burning light bulb. A 115-year-old 4-watt bulb, called the Centennial Light Bulb, has been glowing since 1901 at the city’s main firehouse with the exception of power outages and three moves.