San Jose: How to Visit the Capital of Silicon Valley

Posted April 26th, 2017

By James Shillinglaw  
Insider Travel Report 

It’s the technology hub of the world, the high-tech mecca, but it’s also famed as a center of agriculture, including wine, and professional sports. Located in the middle of the Santa Clara Valley, San Jose, with a population of a little more than a million people, has become a center of tourism in its own right, especially for those visitors who want to see the capital of Silicon Valley and the birthplace of many of the companies that produce the technology we use so much today.

Those tech giants located in and around San Jose have become attractions in and of themselves, even if it’s just to walk around their corporate campuses. The headquarters of Apple, Facebook, Intel, Google, and many other tech companies are all just a few miles away from San Jose. They have visitor centers, stores, and, in one case, even a museum.

Where to Tour Technology: Apple’s headquarters, located in Cupertino, Calif., was formerly in a series of non-descript set of corporate office buildings with a small Apple store, but no visitors center. But this month the company is moving its HQ to Apple Park, a sprawling spaceship ring of a building on 175 acres that will have a visitors center, a café and a much larger Apple store.

Google’s headquarters in nearby Mountain View has a campus-like feel.

Google’s headquarters, in Mountain View, Calif., is a university like campus of modern buildings. You can see Google employees walking or biking (on Google bikes) about the complex, or sitting outside having lunch from one of the many food outlets (which you can only take advantage of if you’re with a Google employee).

You also need to be signed in by a Google employee to visit the store and erstwhile visitors center (still in beta during a recent trip). Nevertheless, it’s a bit of a thrill to be surrounded by so many very young Google employees while walking around buildings and walkways emblazoned with the Google sign. You also can see some strange outdoor exhibits, like a giant T-Rex skeleton and a garden of Androids, developed as emblems of the Google Android.

Intel’s office has a museum dedicated to the development of the microchip.

Intel’s Silicon Valley office, in nearby Santa Clara, Calif., is the only one with a full interactive museum (open daily Monday-Saturday), which provides a behind the scenes look at the development of the microchip. Visitors can see inside an ultra-clean, automated silicon chip factory, and connect with technologies that helped develop. The museum also tells the story of Robert Noyce, Intel’s co-founder and developer of some of the first microchips.

What to See: The centerpiece of downtown San Jose, perhaps not surprisingly, is a museum devoted to technology. The two-floor Tech Museum of Innovation has a wide range of interactive exhibitions that showcase a number of different technologies, everything from biotech to virtual reality. Indeed, visitors should reserve a few hours just to experience (and play) with the different exhibits. And these are not just for the kids, but are adult-friendly as well. There’s also an IMAX theater with movies focused on science and technology.

The Tech Museum of Innovation has a series of highly interactive exhibits.

The San Jose Museum of Art, specializing in art and artists of the West Coast, features exhibitions devoted to California artists, but there is a growing interest in arts of the Pacific Rim. It includes paintings, sculpture, photography, drawings, and much more. The museum, located diagonally across the Plaza de Caesar Chavez from the Tech Museum, is an easy to navigate attraction that can be viewed in two hours or less.

Beyond the museums in the city is Moffett Field, a museum and joint civil-military airport located in Santa Clara County between Mountain View and Sunnyvale. This former naval air station is now owned and operated by the NASA Ames Research Center, but it has historical significance because it once served as the base for another technology innovation: the U.S. Navy’s giant airships, which were originally first developed in the late 1920s.

Moffett Field’s most famous and visible attractions are Hangars #1, #2, and #3, now on the National Register of Historic Places, which dwarf the surrounding buildings and formerly housed these giant airships. But Moffett also has a full aviation museum that showcases the airships and other aircraft that used the field.

Winchester House is a turn of the century Victorian mansion with lots of twists and turns.

Another unusual attraction is Winchester Mystery House, extravagant maze of Victorian architecture that is baffling and eerily eccentric. It was in this house that Sarah Winchester, the troubled rifle heiress, sought a way to rid herself of the spirits of those killed by the “Gun that Won the West” with advice of a medium.

Winchester spent decades, as well as her $20 million inheritance, building out the house with many additions, some of which remain incomplete and others damaged by the great earthquake that struck San Jose in 1906. Guided tours of the house are offered daily, with special tours during Halloween and the December holiday season.

Avaya Stadium is home to the MSL’s San Jose Earthquakes.

For sports lovers, especially football (soccer), San Jose is home to the San Jose Earthquakes, a team that plays in the very new and modern, two-level Avaya Stadium. San Jose residents are rapid fans of the Quakes (nobody seems bothered by the nickname) and taking in a match is an essential experience for visitors. The stadium has clear sightlines and there’s even a large outdoor bar at one end of the facility where fans can hoist a few local beers while watching all the action on the field.

Those San Jose residents who aren’t soccer fans probably like the Sharks, as in San Jose Sharks, the local NHL franchise. If you’re in town during hockey season (September -April) you can get tickets to a game at the SAP Center (otherwise known as the Shark Tank) to watch the team.

Where to Stay: San Jose has its share of major chain hotels (Hilton San Jose, Westin San Jose, Sheraton, San Jose Marriott, etc.), but it also have a few standout upscale and boutique properties.

The city’s hub hotel, favored by the tech giants, is the Fairmont San Jose, an 805-room luxury property located in the center of of the city that combines technical innovation with comfortable upscale amenities, large meeting rooms, large rooms and the service of a major luxury hotel.

Other properties include the Hotel De Anza, a downtown San Jose luxury boutique hotel with 100 rooms, located in building with classic architecture and modern amenities. It’s within walking distance to the SAP Center (formerly known as the HP Pavilion), San Jose Convention Center, restaurants and other attractions.

Dolce Hayes Mansion is a 215-room hotel reflecting Northern California’s comfortable elegance amid lush landscapes and dramatic views of the surrounding mountains. From Bay Area vacations to conferences, Hayes Mansion offers great accommodations for all getaways.

As the only hotel on Santana Row in San Jose, the 215-room Hotel Valencia Santana Row offers interiors reminiscent of Old World Spain, laced with rich finishes and splashes of terra-cotta. There’s more than 4,000 square feet of meeting space, two on-site restaurants, a full-service bar and seasonal rooftop bar.

Where to Eat: San Jose has a full range of restaurants featuring every cuisine imaginable. Whispers Café in the center of the city, is a great place for breakfast or lunch serving up crêpes, omelets and sandwiches, with counter service and an outdoor patio.

Whisper’s Cafe is a great place for breakfast or lunch in downtown San Jose.

Located in historic San Pedro Square, the Farmers Union is a gastro-pub combined with a sports bar, featuring 60 beers on tap and the largest HD television for sports viewing. It serves delicious comfort and bar food.

San Pedro Square Market, a great place for lunch, is a downtown hot spot offering different food vendors selling pizza, Latin American food, craft beer, sushi, fusion hot dogs and much more. Visitors can dine on the patio or inside and there is live entertainment.

Adega, which means wine cellar in Portugese, serves authentic Portugese cuisine including fresh fish and seafood along with a selection of salted cod and meat dishes, and Portuguese wines. It also happens to be San Jose’s only one-star Michelin dining venue.

Straits Restaurant is a bustling venue where guests can drink specialty cocktails and dine on small, shareable plates of Pan-Asian cuisine, listing to DJs on the weekends. The Bywater, located outside San Jose in Los Gatos, offers Creole and Cajun fare, as well as a raw bar and cocktails.

Where to Taste Wine: San Jose is at the center of a California wine-growing region that reflects its reputation as an agricultural center. There are many famed wineries in the hills and mountains surrounding the city.

Testarossa Winery has regular tastings of different varietals.

Testarossa Winery, located just outside San Jose in Los Gatos, gives visitors the chance to tour the winemaking facility, original stone cellars and expansive grounds (the winery is suitable for groups and weddings). You can sample wines in the tasting room, visit the wine cave, tour the grounds or catch a concert and some small plates at Wine Bar 107. Rob and Diana Jensen started Testarossa in their garage in 1993 with just twenty-five cases of wine. Today, the winery works closely with top winegrowers throughout California.

Ridge Winery, located on a mountain high above San Jose in Cupertino, offers tours of the vineyards and the winery, including a wine tasting of different whites and reds paired with local cheeses. This winery has offered single-vineyard wines since 1962, using a straightforward approach to cultivation. Visitors also can get a great view of Apple’s new “ring-shaped” headquarters from the mountain. Ridge is also famed as the winery that elevated the global reputation of California wines in tasting competitions and French wines in the 1990s.

Ridge Winery is located high in the mountains above San Jose.

Where to Find Nightlife: Santana Row offers more than shops, restaurants, bars CineArts movie theatre, and the boutique Hotel Valencia. Visitors can find everything from burgers and Italian to Asian fusion and French. Top stores include Madewell, Ted Baker, H&M, Anthropologie, Kate Spade New York, Gucci, Tommy Bahama, lululemon athletica, Boutique Harajuku and Sephora. You can catch live music and outdoor yoga classes in Santana Row Park.

In San Jose’s SoFA District, referred to as the creative center of downtown, visitors can find history, ships, cafes, restaurants, nightclubs, museums and galleries. Many of these unique venues participate in the South First Fridays art walk by presenting exciting exhibitions, live music and special performances on the first Friday of each month (except July and January).

Great individual night spots include Poor House Bistro, which features New Orleans food like po’ boys, as well live music and an open mike night; Original Gravity Public House, one of San Jose’s first craft beer bars; 7 Bamboo Lounge, a quintessential dive bar and karaoke joint; and AFKgg Gamer Lounge, where you can drink or sit down and play video games using high-speed Internet and updated computers—this is Silicon Valley after all!

If it’s outdoor movies you’re after, the family-owned and operated West Wind Capital Drive-In is one of the last of its kind. It offers crystal-clear digital projection on huge screens of first run movies and even midnight screenings of major releases. There’s a snack bar, playgrounds and game arcades.

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