San Jose: Family Fun Central
FAMILY-FRIENDLY SAN JOSE
Chosen as one of the top-three "funnest" cities in America by Seattle-based game-maker Cranium Inc. in 2010, San Jose has, indeed, plenty to keep a family busy and entertained—often for free. From child-oriented and inner- child-inspired museums, zoos, parks, hiking trails, picnicking havens, sports, festivals, and parades, life in San Jose means never having to hear, "Mom, I'm bored!"
Seasonal Jollies with Kid Appeal
San Jose's exciting array of events and festivals take full advantage of our abundant sunny days, like summertime's free movies in the park, Starlight Cinemas. Families with children ages 2 to 8 delight in free face painting, puppet shows, and arts and crafts classes every month from May to December at Santana Row's Mommy and Me & Daddies Too Kid's Club.
In July, the two-day Obon Festival in Japantown honors ancestors and features game booths, food, taiko drumming, cultural exhibits, and demonstrations. Then August comes alive on the grounds of the Santa Clara County Fair through old-fashioned carnival rides and livestock exhibits.
Summer signs off with a flourish in September with two big Latin festivals. One highlight of Fiestas Patrias downtown is its parade. Shortly after, the San Jose Mariachi and Mexican Heritage Festival of music, food, workshops, and shopping takes place in a variety of venues.
But fun doesn't hibernate over winter; though you probably won't see a white Christmas in San Jose, you can still ice skate outdoors in the Circle of Palms rink near the Fairmont Hotel, starting mid-November. The Winter Wonderland carnival's rides and amusements light up late November through early January. Atop its giant Ferris wheel, you might catch a glimpse of animated displays and decorated trees at the Christmas in the Park celebration in Plaza de Cesar Chavez. World-famous Winchester Mystery House gets all decked out for the holidays, reminiscent of what Christmas was like at the turn of the century.
Family-friendly Arts and Culture
L.A. may have its big museums, but San Jose has its own fascinating collections. In the Rose Garden district, the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum has the largest collection of Egyptian artifacts (including mummies) on the West Coast and Nile-invoking gardens.
Celebrating its Silicon Valley home, the mango-colored Tech Museum now offers themed galleries on innovation, the Internet, the human body, and exploration seven days a week. Interactive displays create a hands-on approach to technology and science education. The Tech also has an educational center for workshops, a café with kids' menu, a retail store, and the only IMAX dome theater in Northern California.
Children are naturally attracted to the other candy-colored museum downtown—the purple Children's Discovery Museum of San Jose that entertains, invites, and fosters children's curiosity and development. Designed for children ages 10 and under, the museum is often named among the top 10 in the nation.
Across the street from the fun splash fountains of Plaza de Cesar Chavez Park, the San Jose Museum of Art is Silicon Valley's place to see and learn about visual culture. Featuring special and continuing exhibits on modern masterworks and the newest frontiers of art, it's budget-friendly, especially for families with young children (under 6 years enter free).
What is this place called San Jose? The History Park helps answer that question through self-guided tours of restored buildings collected onto one corner of the enormous Kelley Park. Docents at this free museum-park offer a historical perspective on San Jose.
Ballet San Jose, in the Center for the Performing Arts, entices families toward the cultured life by offering discounted matinees for as low as $21.
The Really Great Outdoors
San Jose has great parks and playgrounds for kids to burn off energy, too. Alum Rock Park is San Jose's oldest and largest park, previously a hot springs resort. It still bears some of the remnants of that grandeur, including pretty stone bridges. Within its 720 acres, visitors can hike, bike, picnic, watch wildlife, or ride horses, but oddly, nobody's ever found alum.
Kelley Park provides a little of everything in the middle of San Jose: picnic areas and green spaces, plus the restful, free Japanese Friendship Garden. Based on a park in sister-city Okayama, Japan, the Garden has several linked koi ponds where kids love to feed the fish. At Kelley Park's north end sits Happy Hollow Park and Zoo, which features more than 150 animals and recently underwent a $72 million renovation with new rides, infrastructure, zoo exhibits, a restaurant, and more.
Two of San Jose's most unusual parks warrant visiting for novelty's sake: downtown's Discovery Meadow has the world's largest Monopoly game board, at 930 square feet. Groups may rent tokens to play, with funds going to further beautify San Jose. When you need a good dose of grit in your teeth, Calabazas BMX Park near Cupertino lets you work on your two-wheel stunts in the Bay Area's largest, city-funded park of its kind.
Although kiddie books frequently star farm animals, not every kid sees them in action. The free Emma Prusch Farm Park on 47 acres of original dairy farm land contains a mid-1800s farmhouse, the largest freestanding wood barn in California, a rare fruit orchard, and Old MacDonald's friends: pigs, cows, ducks, chickens, rabbits, and more. There's also a new playground in the park.
Mysteries, Thrills, and Splashes
Anything billing itself a "mystery" is an automatic lure for kids, and Winchester Mystery House lives up to the biggest expectations: Winchester Rifle heiress Sarah Winchester spared no expense transforming a farmhouse into the 160-room Victorian behemoth near Santana Row. See exquisite Tiffany windows and panels, including a spider web window Winchester designed herself. Spooky nighttime Flashlight Tours are held on Friday the thirteenths, and around Halloween. Also at Halloween, big kids will love the mansion’s haunted maze with scary characters jumping out of the shadows.
Families demanding thrills with their leisure love Great America in neighboring Santa Clara, just a few miles from downtown. The 100-acre theme park, which introduces the tallest and fastest wooden rollercoaster in May 2013, packs heart-pounding rides, speeding roller coasters, stage shows, and Boomerang Bay, an Australian-themed water park exploring the many ways to get wet: a heated lagoon, water slides, wave-pool, tubing, and "spray-ground" of fountains for tots.
Back in San Jose, Northern California's largest water world, Raging Waters, corrals pools, slides, wave pools, a lazy river, kiddie splash zones, and speed slides for brave hearts inside Lake Cunningham Regional Park off Tully Road. Want more water with your water? Lake Cunningham itself is a popular fishing and boating (though not swimming) destination. Sailboats, sailboards, rowboats, and canoes are just some of the watercraft you can rent or launch.
Play Ball! (Or Hockey, or Lacrosse, or Tennis…)
Live sporting events are easy to catch: the NHL Sharks (sharks.nhl.com) play in the "Shark Tank," downtown's SAP Center at San Jose, as does the arena football team SaberCats. The Center also hosts the first West Coast stop on the worldwide ATP circuit, the SAP Open. See team web sites for special family pricing, like the Sharks' Family Packs on select nights.
If it's an old-fashioned, outdoor stadium experience you crave, take 'em out to the ball game at Municipal Stadium near Kelley Park, where the San Jose Giants—the San Francisco Giants' farm team—play. Or join them on the field with summer camps for girls and boys, ages 8 to 14. Major League Soccer is so popular here that the San Jose Earthquakes are getting a new stadium, which broke ground in October 2012 with a Guinness World Record attendance of 6,000 shoveling fans, and is well on its way toward its March 2015 debut. Adjacent to the stadium, the City of San Jose is building four turf soccer fields for public use.
Adding to the appeal of San Jose as a great sports town for families, the San Francisco 49ers will soon have a new home worthy of champions. The new $1.2 billion Levi Stadium, just minutes from San Jose, will not only be the new home of the NFC Champions, but it will serve as one of the world’s best outdoor sports and entertainment venues. This multi-purpose facility is set to debut in August 2014, offering the flexibility to host a wide range of events including, domestic and international soccer, college football, motocross, concerts and various civic events.
More Fun Nearby
San Jose's central location makes it a short drive east to the mountains for skiing the Sierras, or west to the Santa Cruz coast for beach combing or surfing. A must-see is Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk amusement park which is over 100 years old and still going strong; visitors can arrive by car or take the Santa Cruz, Big Trees & Pacific Railway Company train, traveling from Roaring Camp in the mountains at Felton down through the redwoods to the beach. Three well-known aquariums—California Academy of Sciences, Aquarium of the Bay in San Francisco and Monterey Bay Aquarium are only an hour's drive away. And a short drive northwest to Big Basin Park takes you into Northern California's famed redwood territory, where easy and strenuous hikes await (to the coast, even!).
San Jose is so much more than a business trip these days—giving travelers and their families a chance to escape their routines and get out and play. With great weather and a wide variety of activities from amusement parks to petting zoos and interactive museums, San Jose is truly Family Fun Central.
For more information go to www.sanjose.org.
Team San Jose (TSJ)
Team San Jose, Inc. is an innovative partnership unifying the San Jose Convention and Visitors Bureau, hotels, arts, labor and venues to deliver an exceptional visitor experience and serve as the gateway to San Jose as a destination. Our company manages the San Jose Convention Center and Arts and Entertainment venues including the California Theatre, the Center for the Performing Arts, Montgomery Theater, Parkside Hall, City National Civic and South Hall. For more information about San Jose and Team San Jose, please visit the new www.sanjose.org.