20 Must-Visit Attractions in San Jose and Nearby

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Bryony Hatherley

“Do you know the way to San Jose?” Once you’ve figured it out, you’ll need to plan something to do for when you get there. Luckily, whipping up an itinerary for this California city is a cinch. From thrilling water parks to luxurious shopping districts and a generous supply of natural beauty, there’s something for everyone in the capital of Silicon Valley.

1. Winchester Mystery House

Building, Museum

In 1881, William Wirt Winchester – whose family created the Winchester rifle – died. He left behind a widow, Sarah Winchester, who was so distraught that she began to believe the spirits of people killed by Winchester rifles were haunting her. She attempted to appease the ghosts by continuously building on her home. Escapologist Harry Houdini referred to it as The Mystery House when he visited one Halloween, hoping to dispel stories of paranormal activity and left baffled. The mansion still stands in San Jose, and is full of mysterious passageways, peculiar rooms and stairways that lead nowhere.

2. Great America

Amusement Park

Looking for a way to keep the entire family entertained? The Great America amusement park is one of the top things in San Jose for people of all ages. Hop on death-defying coasters, get soaked at the South Bay Shores water park, or meet Snoopy himself in the furry flesh. However, you choose to spend the day at Great America, bring a camera to capture the memories.

3. The Tech Museum of Innovation


Check out The Tech Museum of Innovation if you’re looking for San Jose things to do with younger members of the family. Your kids will love exploring the hands-on science and technology exhibits. Nestled in the heart of Silicon Valley, the Tech is renowned for its forward-thinking installations and commitment to knowledge. There is also an IMAX theater showing educational documentaries.

4. Downtown San Jose

Architectural Landmark

If you haven’t been downtown, have you really been to San Jose? This is the political HQ of the city, with a tightly-packed cluster of Silicon Valley tech companies. There are also several small breweries, as well as plenty of restaurants and shopping options. The heart of the city is the place to come to find things to do on your trip.

SAP Center

No trip to San Jose is complete without stopping by the SAP Center. Locally referred to as The Shark Tank, this arena is where the San Jose Sharks NHL team practise and host their home games. They’ve been around since 1991 and never won a Stanley Cup, but many Bay Area residents are diehard fans nonetheless.

Santana Row

Santana Row is more than just an outdoor mall – it’s a lifestyle. The luxury shopping outlet is home to posh brands such as Ted Baker and Kate Spade, as well as mid-range favorites and beloved local companies. You could spend hours strolling through the shopping district with an iced coffee in hand, or stop at one of the many comfortable outdoor seating options and spend the day people-watching.

Mountain Winery

Minutes down the road from San Jose is the Mountain Winery in Saratoga, which has been around since 1905. Not only does the outdoor venue offer some quality wines for a day of leisurely tasting; it’s also hosted some of the biggest musicians around (we’re talking UB40, Steely Dan and B-52s big). The winery looks out over Silicon Valley, so you could even just sit back with a glass (or bottle) and decide what to do next in San Jose.

Municipal Rose Garden

Despite occupying nearly 6 acres (2.4ha) and being named the best rose garden in America, the Municipal Rose Garden is one of the lesser-known attractions in San Jose. Fortunately for you, that means you get to escape the Silicon Valley bustle as you stroll through bright blooms and soak in the sunshine. Equally relaxing are the sights and scents of more than 4,000 rose shrubs, interspersed with green lawns.

San Pedro Square Market

The San Pedro Square Market is the best dining option if you can’t make up your mind. The plaza hosts a variety of different shops and restaurants, which means you can stroll through and sample everything from wood-fired pizza to tacos. The market also frequently hosts events such as karaoke and trivia nights to keep you entertained long into the night.

San Jose Flea Market

On Wednesdays, Fridays and weekends, the San Jose Flea Market is the place to be if you’re looking for things to do on a budget, or if you believe in turning trash to treasure. Wander through colorful aisles dominated by shopping stalls, and then stop for a bite to eat at one of the food vendors. If you’re traveling with kids in tow, check out the arcade, vintage carousel or mini Ferris wheel.

San Jose Museum of Art

Looking for a peek inside modern and contemporary art in the Bay Area? The San Jose Museum of Art showcases a variety of exhibits, guaranteed to intrigue people from all walks of life. From painting and photography to sculptures and light installations, you’ll want to carve out a few hours from your trip to take it all in.

Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph

Found in Downtown San Jose, the Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph is a magnificent structure that’s a registered California Historical Landmark. Originally built in 1803 to serve Spanish settlers, the Roman Catholic house of worship that stands today has undergone major renovations and rebuilding. Regardless of your spirituality, there’s something calming and inspiring in the intricate architecture, decorated ceiling and stained glass.


Arguably the most authentic Japantown in the country, this cultural base in San Jose draws is a perpetual tourist hotspot. Offering fantastic traditional Japanese restaurants, specialty shops and countless art galleries and theaters, as well as the all-important karaoke bar, a day in Japantown always promises tons of fun. If you want something more serious and enlightening, the Japanese-American Museum on N Fifth St. tells the stories of immigration and World War II internment, as well as displaying art and cultural objects.

Castle Rock State Park

Charge your smartphone and prepare to snap pictures galore at Castle Rock State Park – home to 34mi (55km) of hiking trails, towering sandstone structures and trees including coast redwoods, Douglas firs and flowering madrones. There are even campgrounds, if you want to extend your hike.

Downtown Los Gatos

While you’re technically in Santa Clara, Los Gatos provides a woodsy small-town feel to your getaway. With brick-fronted buildings, homely coffee shops and unique boutiques, you can spend the day tasting your way through town and window shopping like a local. Alternatively, explore one of the parks or the Los Gatos Creek Trail.

Raging Waters

This water park is ideal for thrill-seekers. As Raging Waters is only open during the summer months, the venue makes sure to pack in a lot of fun for the entire family. At 23 acres (9ha), it’s the largest water park in Northern California. Slip into your favorite swimsuit and soar down whitewater slides with your loved ones.

Children’s Discovery Museum

The Children’s Discovery Museum is, as you might have guessed, designed for children. The colorful and entertaining institution specializes in hands-on exhibits that get kids excited about learning. If you’re traveling with little ones, don’t miss out on the many art, science and garden installations at this family-friendly attraction.

Montalvo Arts Center

Montalvo Arts Center, also known as Villa Montalvo, is a beloved NorCal landmark. Built in 1912, a former mayor of San Francisco once owned the property, but today, it offers locals and tourists a spectacular place to picnic and hike. The grounds also include two theaters and 10 live/work studios for artists.

Kelley Park

Kelley Park is a magnificent idyll within San Jose. The public space, comprised of more than 172 acres (70ha) of land, is home to the Happy Hollow Park and Zoo, History Park museum and miles of lawns and gardens in which to stretch out and enjoy a quality picnic.

Japanese Friendship Garden

Although the Japanese Friendship Garden sits inside Kelley Park, its Eastern-inspired beauty makes it an uncontested stand-out. Constructed as a symbol of good relations between San Jose and the sister city of Okayama, Japan, the spot is a green gem within urban confines. It’s the perfect place to sit in quiet contemplation, thanks to the soothing presence of koi ponds, bridges and a tea house.

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