How to Spend Three Days in San Jose
Discover the best of San Jose in three days with our guide to the top spots around town | © Ian G Dagnall / Alamy Stock Photo
San Jose might not always get the limelight, but this creative, affluent city has a whole host of lures for travellers wanting to see a less-trodden side of the Bay Area.
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The capital of Silicon Valley and California’s oldest Spanish settlement, San Jose combines culture-rich neighbourhoods and quirky museums with colourful markets and exceptional cuisine – then adds wineries, beaches and mountains to the mix. Here’s how to spend three days in and around the city, and why it deserves to feature in your next California trip.
Shop ’til you drop for local souvenirs at San Jose Flea Market | © Hillary Fox / Stocksy
Browse the San Jose Flea Market
Kick off your trip with a visit to the San Jose Flea Market, a colourful hodgepodge of organic food stands, vintage shops and souvenir stalls spread across 120 acres (49ha) of former farmland. More than 6,000 vendors come to show off their wares every week at what is the largest market of its kind in California, with fresh farm produce, local crafts and an amusement park among its draws.
Take in a museum or three
San Jose Museum of Art | © Jason O. Watson Photography / Alamy Stock Photo
The city dishes up culture in spades, so head south to explore some of its best museums. Among the most unusual is the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum, home to the largest collection of Egyptian artefacts in the western US, with mummies and replica tombs filling an elaborate columned building. Elsewhere there’s the San Jose Museum of Art, housing more than 2,500 works from the 20th and 21st centuries, and the Tech Interactive – a hands-on experience themed around all things innovation, complete with an IMAX cinema and VR simulator.
Drink your way around the breweries
In the afternoon, venture out on a craft brewery crawl; the city combines historic stalwarts such as the Gordon Biersch Brewing Company, opened in 1988, with new, innovative spots including Clandestine Brewing, Hermitage Brewing and Warehouse Taproom. Visit the Uproar Brewing Company for a curated beer-pairing menu, or hop on the San Jose Brew Bike for a pedal-powered tour taking in Downtown’s best spots.
Dine in Japantown
Japantown | © SiliconValleyStock / Alamy Stock Photo
If you’ve worked up an appetite, stroll on over to Japantown, established by Japanese immigrants more than 100 years ago – and one of the last remaining neighbourhoods of its kind in the US. Try local favourite Gombei for generously sized portions of teriyaki, udon and katsu curry, or stop by Mizu Sushi Bar & Grill to sample a Japanese-meets-Korean menu with creative cocktails to finish. If you’ve still got energy, head to Huilau for Hawaiian music, food and drinks, and finish the night at 7 Bamboo Lounge, one of the city’s best karaoke haunts.
Explore Alum Rock Park
Nestled in the San Jose Hills, Alum Rock Park is the perfect place to while away a sunny morning. Made up of 720 acres (291ha) of top-tier woodland and 13mi (21km) of hiking trails – with the chance to horse ride or cycle through the wilderness – this is the ideal area to come and reconnect with nature. Explore by foot or simply stretch out and enjoy a picnic surrounded by the parkland and wildlife.
Shop on Santana Row
Market, Shopping Mall
Santana Row | © Sundry Photography / Alamy Stock Photo
After a hefty dose of nature, head to Santana Row – a palm-lined shopping street home to glossy boutiques and restaurants with outdoor seating, where Tuscan-inspired architecture gives the neighbourhood a European feel. The area plays host to regular live performances and events, while on Wednesdays a weekly farmer’s market brings locals selling fresh fruit, vegetables and other produce from the region (from 4pm to 8pm).
Catch a live band at San Pedro Square Market
Bar, Market, American
San Pedro Square Market | © SiliconValleyStock / Alamy Stock Photo
There’s more in the way of markets at San Pedro Square, which lays claim to the city’s original food hall – an industrial, weathered-brick building where outlets sell Peruvian, Asian-fusion, Italian and beyond. Come in the evening for live bands playing on the (dog-friendly) outdoor patio, then venture to the nearby Five Points Bar for inventive craft cocktails served in an atmospheric, saloon-style interior.
Go star gazing at the Lick Observatory
Shane Observatory | © Sundry Photography / Alamy Stock Photo
Outside San Jose there’s plenty to explore, so drive out of the city today to take in some of its highlights. Around an hour’s drive east you’ll find the Lick Observatory, a research unit set atop Mount Hamilton that’s been used by astronomers since 1888 and offers sweeping views over the Santa Clara Valley (at 4,209ft/1,283m high). Head to the Shane dome to see a 120in (305cm) reflector once used to identify extrasolar planets, settle in for a talk in the historic visitor centre or check out the various exhibits to learn more about all things astronomy in the company of experts.
Go hiking and wine-tasting in the Santa Cruz Mountains
Big Basin Redwoods State Park | © joseph s giacalone / Alamy Stock Photo
No visit would be complete without a hike in the Santa Cruz Mountains, located southwest of the city, so take a detour here to round off your trip. At the heart of the peaks is Big Basin Redwoods State Park, the oldest state park in California, home to more than 80mi (129km) of hiking trails with thousand-year-old trees towering more than 50ft (15m) high.
The region is also renowned for its wine, with more than 150 vineyards scattered between the mountains. Visit Big Basin Vineyards for a wine-paired picnic, stop at Ridge Vineyards to sample award-winning vintages or drop by the historic Mountain Winery for a live music performance as you toast the end of your San Jose stay, amid scenes that belong on a postcard.