Top Things to See and Do in Santa Clara

Santa Clara is Silicon Valley's cultural quarter, with museums, shops and elegant architecture
Santa Clara is Silicon Valley's cultural quarter, with museums, shops and elegant architecture | © iStock / Getty Images
Photo of Nick Dauk
29 July 2021

Home to 130,000 people, the city of Santa Clara is Silicon Valley with soul. It’s got parks, it’s got art. You’ll find ancient history (Egyptian, no less) and 21st-century theme-park thrills. Tuck in to aromatic Korean cooking and inhale the perfume of manicured flower gardens. What’s more, since it’s home to one of the top universities in the USA, you can be sure of a young-and-up-for-it buzz. Here are the unmissable things to do in Santa Clara, California.

49ers Museum

Museum
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Santa Clara, Calif., USA. 5th Aug, 2014. Posters of old San Francisco 49ers programs in the Heritage Gallery at the Levi's Stadium 49ers Museum in Santa Clara, Calif., on Aug. 5, 2014. © LiPo Ching/Bay Area News Group/Alamy Live News
© Tribune Content Agency LLC / Alamy
Flash 80. The Comeback Kid. If you’re already replaying highlights in your head, then your vacation needs to run a slant to the 49ers Museum. Located in Levi’s Stadium, this museum is the ultimate fan experience. Walk among the life-size Hall of Fame statues of the greats, or step into augmented reality to see yourself standing beside your favorite players. Be sure to take on the interactive Gridiron Challenge, too, to see how you stack up to the team.

Central Park

Park
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Santa Clara California
© SiliconValleyStock / Alamy
No, not that Central Park – but with so many things to do in Santa Clara’s central green space, you’ll see why this 52-acre (21ha) oasis is so popular. A picnic area with grills and a play area for children together create a family-friendly space for you and your clan. You can stroll around the fountains and garden or get a little more active with a game of lawn bowling, softball, tennis, or basketball. You might like a splash in the International Swim Center, but note that your idle doggie paddle might look a little out of place among the keen beans training for the Olympics.

Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum

Museum
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Bet you never thought the ancient Egyptians made it all the way to California. Well, they did – or rather, magnificent finds from the civilization of the Nile were brought here to create the largest collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts on display in western North America today. There are 4,000 wonders, great and small, to behold here, from 27th-Dynasty funerary papyrus dating back to 500BCE, to a ring belonging to Tutankhamun from 1,323BCE.

Koreatown Dinner

Architectural Landmark
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Choi's Korean Restaurant, Santa Clara CA
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LA may have its iconic Pink’s Hot Dogs, but Santa Clara has Jang Su Jang, and we’ll take Korean barbecue over a sausage in a roll any day. Cooking up a storm on El Camino Real, this sizzling hotspot is a dream destination for dinner. Order up goon mandoo dumplings (pan-fried with beef and pork) to help you decide between hot pots and Korean barbecue. You won’t regret a side of fish roe tofu or ahgoo jjim (steamed monkfish in spicy sauce), although anything you pick really must come with a tot of ChungHa Korean sake – cold, refreshing, and (at 13% ABV) nicely head-spinning.

Santa Clara University Gallery

University
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The DeSaisset Art gallery at Santa Clara University
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Santa Clara University’s de Saisset Museum has grown from a small collection of paintings to a stunning historical showcase ranging from the Renaissance to today. Even if you only have a couple of hours, the collected art (which originated with 100 paintings by Ernest de Saisset himself) is an immensely rewarding experience. Take time to admire the decorative glass, ceramics, and furniture, and be sure not to miss the photography by Ansel Adams and Judy Dater, as well as amazing works by Andy Warhol.

California’s Great America Theme Park

Amusement Park
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August 1, 2019 Santa Clara / CA / USA - Entrance area of California's Great America amusement park located in South San Francisco Bay area; owned and
© Sundry Photography / Alamy
Looking for some cool things to do in the Central Cali heat? Get your thrills and spills (and the wind in your hair) at California’s Great America theme park. Leave your stomach in the parking lot and hit the Drop Tower, Flight Deck, Demon, and Delirium. Haven’t tossed your cookies yet? The Psycho Mouse will change that. Another heat-beater here is the South Bay Shores Waterpark: see if you can keep your cool while plunging 45ft (14m) near-vertically down the Mission Falls waterslide, which involves a negative g-force hill.

Triton Museum of Art Sculpture Garden

Museum
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Triton Museum of Art, Santa Clara, Silicon Valley
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Art-lover? Ink a date in your diary for the Triton Museum of Art – especially if you’ve got a soft spot for contemporary Californian creativity. You don’t need to be an aficionado to thoroughly appreciate the Triton’s sculpture garden, though. This peaceful, thought-provoking outdoor space behind the museum has a couple of cowboys waiting to greet you, including the bronze Young Cowboy who’s clutching a 1st-place trophy. Say hello, too, to Edith, Katherine, and Suzanne: three bronze beauties who are always ready for a selfie.

Ulistac Natural Area

Natural Feature
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Close up of Island Tree Mallow (Malva assurgentiflora), Ulistac Natural Area, California
© Sundry Photography / Alamy
If you need respite from Santa Clara’s urban shove, head out for lungfuls of fresh air and photogenic nature at the Ulistac Natural Area. This riverside park is the sole dedicated natural space in the city which explains why its 40 acres (16ha) of untouched land draw healthy numbers of joggers and cyclists. There’s animal magic too: have your camera at the ready to take snaps of the many birds, lizards, butterflies, gophers, and jackrabbits that call this green space home.

Shop at Santana Row

Market, Shopping Mall
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Silicon Valley likes its big (and little) spenders. So check the plastic in your wallet and head out to rack up points at Santana Row. It’s paradise found for incurable shoppers, home to 50 must-browse outlets – including fitness freak favorite Lululemon, and beach babe hotspot Tommy Bahama – and 30 diverse restaurants (it’s always a good time for Dumpling Time). Even if you never have the urge to splurge, Santana Row hosts live music events and yoga classes. Retail + therapy = the perfect combo.

Municipal Rose Garden

Botanical Garden, Park
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Municipal Rose Garden, San Jose, Silicon Valley
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A rose by any other name, so the saying goes. Well, there are many roses and many names in this immaculately tended garden – too many to remember between the Topsy Turvy, the Shockwave, and the other 187 varieties. Still, you won’t forget the perfume wafting everywhere. You’ll find all the classic varieties, but keep your eyes peeled and your nose primed for the hybrids and new species that haven’t been released to the public. With so many bulbs and blooms to admire, you might want to make a day of it: pack a lunch to grill in the picnic area.
These recommendations were updated on July 29, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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