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29 Best Things to Do in San Jose, California

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Departing from the whir of technological buzz, San Jose is so much more than its location within Silicon Valley. While the area is known for its technology and innovation, it deserves to be known for its fantastic food and drink scene, outdoor adventure, and cultural experiences. Even a Luddite could fall in love with Teal Town.

When it comes to San Jose, you don’t have to worry about running out of things to do. You’re still well within the Bay Area if you get bored here. Even San Francisco is less than an hour away.

Although San Jose has become a hub for technological companies like Google, it is also steeped in history. Museums, shopping, hiking trails, and even amusement parks await you in this underappreciated Californian city.

TL;DR

  • Most significant landmarkWinchester Mystery House
  • Best park – Japanese Friendship Garden
  • Free activity – Municipal Rose Garden
  • Activity for kids – Children’s Discovery Museum
  • Activity for adults – Gordon Biersch Brewery
  • Place to eat – San Pedro Square Market
  • Place to StayHyatt Place San Jose, Downtown

Things to Do in San Jose, California

1. Visit The Tech Interactive

The Tech Interactive inside view.
Olga/ Adobe Stock

Address: 201 S Market St, San Jose, CA 95113

One of the best things to do when you’re spending time in San Jose is to visit The Tech Interactive. This technological museum is full of hands-on experiences that are perfect even for younger children. Depending on your itinerary, you can squeeze in a stop for an hour or a whole afternoon.

Interactive exhibits focus on technology’s past, present, and future impact on our lives. The Tech Museum of Innovation was founded in 1990 as the Center for the Advancement of Science and Technology. This is one of the best places to visit in San Jose for techies searching for their niche.

Some of the most popular exhibits include The Hackery, an exhibit that teaches visitors about computer programming, and The Workshop, which encourages building and experimenting with different types of technologies. There is also an IMAX theater. Making museum reservations in advance is recommended.

See Related: Day Trips from San Francisco

2. Stroll Through Japantown

Obon Festival in Japantown
Pmlydon / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

Address: 565 N 6th St, San Jose, CA

Another great thing to do near the downtown area is to spend a day in Nihonmachi or Japantown. This lively neighborhood has numerous shops, restaurants, and cultural hotspots deeply connected to San Jose’s history. This neighborhood is even more special because it is one of only three Japantowns in the United States–all three are in California.

Japantown is also one of the oldest neighborhoods in San Jose, historically home to a large population of Japanese-Americans. Some of the most popular attractions in Japantown include the Japanese American Museum, dedicated to preserving Japanese Americans’ history and culture, and the Buddhist Temple of San Jose.

If you love live performances, watch the Contemporary Asian Theater Scene (CATS) calendar. This San Jose artistic company showcases the Asian-Pacific American experience through various art forms, including film, theater, and arts education programming.

3. Get Lost in the Municipal Rose Garden

Municipal Rose Garden San Jose California
Andrey/ Adobe Stock

Address: 1649 Naglee Ave, San Jose, CA 95126

The Municipal Rose Garden (aka the Heritage Rose Garden) is a must-see for visitors who love nature. This beautiful garden houses over 3,500 rose bushes and features walking paths, pavilions, and a scenic pond. It’s the perfect place to spend an afternoon enjoying the beauty of nature.

The garden was originally built in 1927 to be a place where the community could come together and enjoy the beauty of nature. Roses in the garden are of various shades, including red, pink, white, and yellow.

Take some time to stroll through the garden and enjoy the beauty of the roses. The garden also has several events, including the annual Rose Festival held each spring. Are you looking for a side quest? San Jose Scavenger Hunt: The Heart of Silicon Valley will keep you entertained!

See Related: Best Places to Visit in Southern California

4. Shop at the San Pedro Square Market

Cyclists at San Pedro Square Market
S.P.U.R. / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.0

Address: 87 N San Pedro St, San Jose, CA 95110

The San Pedro Square Market is the best area in the heart of downtown San Jose to find unique gifts or sample delicious food. This famous city market features over 30 vendors selling everything from locally-made art to freshly baked bread.

If you’re looking for a unique souvenir or a bite to eat, you’ll find plenty of options downtown – but the market is our favorite. It’s housed in a historic building built in 1866.

It was initially built as a Southern Pacific Railroad Company warehouse. In the early 1900s, the building was converted into a marketplace where farmers could sell their produce.

Some of the most popular events at the market include the Silicon Valley Wine Festival and Christmas in the Square celebration, held each December. You can also tour the nearby Fallon House Historic Site and Peralta Adobe Plaza from the market, visiting a potentially full-day event.

5. Marvel at The Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph

Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph on W. San Fernando St in downtown seen in San Jose, CA
Jammy Jean/ Adobe Stock

Address: 80 S Market St, San Jose, CA 95113

The Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph is a stunning religious landmark in the city’s heart. Built in the 1880s, the Romanesque-style cathedral features beautiful stained glass windows and intricate architecture.

Visitors can tour the cathedral or admire its beauty from the outside, depending on their free time. It’s only a one-minute walk from the San Jose Museum of Art, right in the middle of downtown.

Catastrophes like fire or earthquakes destroyed multiple churches in this spot. What stands now is the fifth iteration. This church was elevated to a cathedral in 1985 and then a minor basilica in 1997. It seems that the fifth time’s the charm for the parish.

See Related: Things to Do in Sacramento

6. Find serenity in the Japanese Friendship Garden

Japanese Friendship Garden in San Jose, California
Jason/ Adobe Stock

Address: 1300 Senter Rd, San Jose, CA 95112

San Jose’s Japanese Friendship Garden is a peaceful oasis with traditional Japanese landscaping, koi ponds, and a tea house. It is modeled after the famed Korakuen Garden in Okayama, Japan. Okayama is also San Jose’s sister city in Japan, making the garden a beautiful symbol of their friendship.

The Japanese Friendship Garden was first built in 1894 as part of the California Midwinter International Exposition of 1894. It was a gift from the people of Japan to the city of San Francisco. The garden was originally located in Golden Gate Park but was moved to its current location in San Jose in 1913.

7. Visit the Children’s Discovery Museum

Children's Discovery Museum Architecture

Address: 180 Woz Way, San Jose, CA 95110

The Children’s Discovery Museum is a popular spot to take the kids. This museum features exhibits on science, art, and culture so that kids can explore, play, and learn in a fun and interactive environment.

The Children’s Discovery Museum was founded in 1990 and opened in downtown San Jose, immediately becoming one of the best attractions for families. In 1995, the museum expanded and moved to its current location in Santana Row.

Like many children’s museums, the name of the game here is hands-on exploration. Over 150 exhibits here encourage kids to be kids while learning at the same time. Some favorite exhibits include the Amazing AirMaze, Waterways, Imagination Playground, and Mammoth Discovery.

There are experiences here for kids from 0 to 10. From the littlest learners to curious double-digit tweens, this museum is worth visiting at every age.

8. See the Sharks Play at the SAP Center

SAP Center Building
Travis Wise from Bay Area, California, United States / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.0

Address: 525 W Santa Clara St, San Jose, CA 95113

For hockey fans, a visit to the SAP Center is a must. This arena is home to the city’s NHL team, the San Jose Sharks, and hosts other significant events like concerts.

The SAP Center, formerly the San Jose Arena, Compaq Center, and the H.P. Pavilion, is a multi-purpose arena. It’s also lovingly called The Shark Tank, a nod to its residents.

You may also recognize the SAP Center from the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. The center has held them five times, in 1996, 2012, 2018, 2021, and 2023. It has also hosted several WWE matches, including the Royal Rumble in 1998, the SummerSlam in 2001, and Payback in 2017, to name a few.

9. Learn About Local History at History Park

History Park in San Jose, CA
dragan1956/ Adobe Stock

Address: 635 Phelan Avenue, San Jose, California 95112

History Park is a great place to learn about the city’s history and that of Silicon and Santa Clara Valley. This park features 32 original or reproductions of historical buildings, including a schoolhouse, a fire station, and a blacksmith shop.

Visitors can also ride on a vintage streetcar or grab a treat from the old-fashioned ice cream shop. It’s about a ten-minute drive from downtown, so it’s a nice break from the more crowded city streets.

History Park is located on the site of the former Agnews State Hospital. The hospital was built in 1889 and was initially used as an asylum.

In 1906, the hospital was destroyed by an earthquake. In 1976, the City of San Jose purchased the property to turn it into a historical park and opened it to the public in 1980.

10. Taste Some Wine at a Santa Cruz Vineyard

Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard Tables
Image by Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard/Facebook

Address: 334 Ingalls St, Suite A, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

Checking out a Santa Cruz Vineyard is a must for wine lovers. This region of Northern California is a haven for some of the best wines in the country.

Visitors can tour the vineyards, taste the wines, and learn about winemaking. Hopping over to Santa Cruz only takes about an hour from downtown San Jose, so it’s a perfect day trip opportunity!

The Santa Cruz Mountain vineyard region was first planted in the mid-19th Century. At that time, the area was known for its production of brandy.

In 1876, a devastating phylloxera bug infestation destroyed many of the vineyards in the region. By the early 20th Century, the area began to recover. New vineyards were planted, and the soil began producing wine again.

11. Take a Hike Through Almaden Quicksilver County Park

Almaden Sunset in Quicksilver County Park
FASTILY / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

Address: 21785 Almaden Rd, San Jose, CA 95120

Almaden Quicksilver County Park is perfect for getting fresh air and exercise. This park features over 50 miles of hiking trails, also available for biking and horseback riding. Visitors can go camping, fishing, picnicking, and more.

Almaden Quicksilver County Park is located within the Santa Cruz Mountains. The park was first established in 1976 and named after the quicksilver mines that were once located here. If you’re eager to learn more about the former mines, don’t forget to stop by the New Almaden Quicksilver Mining Museum, which is on-site.

See Related: Things to Do in Three Rivers

12. Attend a Show at the Historic California Theatre

California Theatre Building
Cristiano Tomás / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

Address: 345 S 1st St, San Jose, CA 95113

Originally known as the Fox Theatre when it opened in 1927, the California Theatre is now considered one of the best-preserved examples of 1920s movie palaces. It was built by the renowned architects Weeks and Day and was once called “the finest theater in California.”

This theatre has been home to various performing arts since its transition from movie palace, including Broadway shows, concerts, and ballets. Visitors can also tour the theatre or enjoy the grandiose architecture.

13. Browse the Exhibits at the San Jose Museum of Art

San Jose Museum of Art Building

Address: 110 S Market St, San Jose, CA 95113

Located in the city center, the San Jose Museum of Art in downtown San Jose is where you can see some of the best modern and contemporary art in the Bay Area. This museum features a selection of exhibits, including the 2500+ items in their permanent collection and temporary shows that rotate through the year.

A few of the celebrated artists in their permanent collection include Hung Liu, George Herms, Luis Crus Azaceta, Andrea Bowers, and Terry Winters. Visitors can also take a break in the museum’s cafe or shop in the bookstore.

14. Relax in Kelley Park

Kelley Park Streetcar Line and Train
Victor Solanoy from Silicon Valley, USA / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 2.0

Address: 1300 Senter Rd, San Jose, CA 95112

Kelley Park, at over 150 acres, is an ideal spot to relax and enjoy the outdoors. This park features picnic areas, a playground, and a pond.

Visitors can also take a walk or bike ride through the park. It’s also just a skip away from the Happy Hollow Park and Zoo, making this a terrific place for families.

Kelley Park was named after Timothy Kelley, a former mayor of San Jose. Look no further if you need a lovely green space to relax on the city’s North Side during a self-guided San Jose tour.

15. Soak Up the Sun at Santa Cruz Beach

Santa Cruz Beach

Address: 400 Beach Street, Santa Cruz, California 95060

Spending the day at Santa Cruz Beach is one of the best things to do on a day trip from San Jose. About an hour outside the city, the beach features swimming, sunbathing, surfing, volleyball, and more. Visitors can also enjoy the nearby restaurants, shops, and attractions.

Santa Cruz Beach opened in 1909, and the beach was named after the nearby city of Santa Cruz. In the early 20th Century, the beach became a popular destination for locals and tourists.

16. Watch the Sun Set at Mt. Diablo State Park

Mt Diablo State Park
Wenli/ Adobe Stock

Address: Summit Rd, Walnut Creek, CA 94598

Renowned for its breathtaking sunsets, Mt. Diablo State Park is a haven for hikers seeking scenic San Francisco Bay Area vistas. Established in 1931 and named for its most prominent peak, the park became a state wilderness area in 1978.

One of the most fascinating areas in the park is Rock City. Rock City is a rock formation along the mountain that has been molded through the millennia to appear as a row of sandstone homes.

The allure of Mt. Diablo State Park continues to draw residents and visitors. With its diverse array of hiking and biking trails that meander through stunning landscapes, the park is ideal for outdoor activities like camping, picnicking, and stargazing.

17. Explore the Silicon Valley

downtown of San Jose, California, the capitol of Silicon Valley, high tech center of the world,
khalid/ Adobe Stock

Silicon Valley is the world’s technological hub. That said, this region of Northern California is also famous for parks, contemporary art, museums, cuisine, and several historic sites, in addition to its wide variety of tech companies.

This region is notably home to high-profile companies such as NASA and Apple. This includes NASA’s Ames Research Center, which hosts exhibits and events. Some tech attractions include The Computer History Museum, the Palo Alto Baylands Nature Preserve, and The Hiller Aviation Museum.

Other major Silicon Valley cities include Palo Alto, Santa Clara, Mountain View, and Sunnyvale. If you’re interested in this techy part of Northern California, be sure to book a Silicon Valley Tech Tour from San Francisco and learn about technology.

Need a place to call base while you’re touring the valley? The Shashi Hotel Mountain View or Dinah’s Garden Hotel are terrific options if you want to fully explore Silicone Valley.

See Related: Things to Do in Bakersfield

18. Explore Santa Cruz Boardwalk

Sign of Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
studiorosa/ Adobe Stock

Address: 400 Beach Street, Santa Cruz, CA 95060

Not far from the beach we mentioned earlier is the Santa Cruz Boardwalk, located just an hour south of San Jose. This historical landmark has been open since 1907. Today, the boardwalk has become an amusement park with plenty to do and over 40 rides.

There are two rides that you shouldn’t skip. This includes the world-famous Giant Dipper, which was built in 1924. Additionally, you should also try the Looff Carousel, which was built in 1911.

The Santa Cruz Boardwalk offers more than just its amusement park elements. Close by, there are hundreds of top-rated restaurants that have exceptional food. The Picnic Basket, Ideal Bar & Grill, and Firefish Grill are just some to name.

19. Visit the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum

Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum Architecture
Cristiano Tomás / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0

Address: 1660 Park Ave, San Jose, CA 95191

The Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum is great for learning about ancient Egyptian artifacts. It has the most extensive collection of artifacts from ancient Egypt in the Western United States. It was founded in 1928 and was created to display artifacts collected by the Ancient and Mystical Order of the Rosae Crucis.

There are four permanent gallery sections: Afterlife and the Rock Cut Tomb, Daily Life and Other Cultures, Kingship and Palace, Temple (Sekhmet), and Akhenaten’s Amarna Period. The fifth gallery is reserved for rotating or visiting exhibitions.

20. Explore the Winchester Mystery House

Night view of the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California
Victoria/ Adobe Stock

Address: 525 S Winchester Blvd, San Jose, CA 95128

The Winchester Mystery House is a great place to explore a unique piece of history–especially if you’re interested in stories of intrigue. This house was built by Sarah Winchester in 1884, the wife of the man who created the Winchester rifle. She continued to add to the home for over three decades.

By the time Sarah died, the house had over 160 rooms. It was full of oddities, including secret passages and staircases that led nowhere. Sarah Winchester was convinced that her family was cursed due to the rifle’s creation.

She thought spirits were out to get her and her family to seek revenge for being killed by her husband’s successful gun design. Hence, she built the Winchester Mystery House to appease the spirits. Visitors can book a tour of this historic and creepy home or participate in numerous other activities.

21. Sample the Local Craft Beer at Gordon Biersch Brewery

Interior of Gordon Biersch Brewery in San Jose, California
Nattysimps / TripAdvisor

Address: 357 E Taylor St, San Jose, CA 95112

Gordon Biersch Brewery is the place to sample local craft beer in the San Jose. This brewery offers a variety of house-brewed, German-style beers, as well as a full menu of pub food. Visitors can tour the brewery or enjoy activities like beer tastings, brewing classes, and live music.

The brewery was founded in 1988 and originally created to brew German-style lagers. The most popular beers at Gordon Biersch Brewery include the Golden Export, the Hefeweizen, and the Munich Lager.

22. Get up close to animals at the Happy Hollow Park & Zoo

Happy Hollow Park and Zoo Landscape
Lululu007/TripAdvisor

Address: 748 Story Rd, San Jose, CA 95112

The Happy Hollow Park & Zoo is incredible for families as you can see a wide range of animals. Initially, the zoo only had a few animals to start. However, it expanded to include many kinds, including lions, tigers, and bears (oh my!) Some of the animals you can expect to see are the African Spurred Tortoise, Navajo Churro Sheep, and Parma Wallaby, to name a few.

Visitors can tour the enclosures, visit the petting zoo, or participate in one of the workshops. The Happy Hollow Park & Zoo workshops include animal feedings, keeper talks, and behind-the-scenes care. 

23. Hike through Alum Rock Park

Old Bridge at Alum Rock Park / in San Jose, California
aido/ Adobe Stock

Address: 15350 Penitencia Creek Rd, San Jose, CA 95127

California’s oldest municipal park, Alum Rock Park, was founded in 1872 but has been accessible on public land since 1777. With 13 miles of trail, Alum is a great place to hike while surveying the different plant and animal species.

There are many different animals that you can see at Alum. Some animals you might see include deer, squirrels, and birds. You might see some different trees, such as oak trees and redwoods. You might also see some bushes and flowers.

Besides meandering the park’s acreage, you can also check out the on-site small museum and animal rehab facility. There are also picnic areas, playgrounds, volleyball courts, and camping.

See Related: Tropical Vacation Ideas in the World

24. Take a tour of the H.P. Garage

HP Garage, historic Silicon Valley birthplace landmark in Palo Alto
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Address: 367 Addison Ave, Palo Alto, CA 94301

The H.P. Garage dates back to 1939 when it was originally just a simple garage, but it has since been turned into a museum. Here, you can learn the history of Silicon Valley as it’s where the company Hewlett-Packard was founded. Visitors can tour the garage or participate in one of the many events.

Some popular workshops include the History of Silicon Valley Tour, the H.P. Garage Class, and the H.P. Garage Event. The H.P. Garage is designated a California Historic Landmark on the National Register of Historic Places.

25. Learn about science at Los Alamitos Creek Trail

Sunset in Los Alamitos Creek
image by donjd2 is licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Los Alamitos Creek Trail is an excellent educational resource for those interested in the natural sciences. A diverse array of flora and fauna can be found here, offering a rich subject matter for visitors. If you want to walk the entire trail, it’s a fairly easy route, though it is 10 miles out and back — so keep that in mind.

Established in 1974, the primary goal of the Los Alamitos Creek Reserve was to conserve a selection of wildlife and plant life. Today, it engages visitors with various educational programs such as guided tours and special events. Among the favorite activities are the Exploration of Nature Tour, the Avian Observation Workshop, and education on minimizing human impact on nature.

26. Embrace your wild side at Yosemite National Park

Yosemite national park in California during winter
Michael/ Adobe Stock

You’d be mad to be in this neck of the woods and NOT visit Yosemite National Park. If you’re visiting San Jose and need an extended adventure, the city is one of the best hubs to strike out at this magnificent national park. I know I did, you’ll fall desperately in love with the ancient giant sequoias.

As one of the first parks in the U.S., Yosemite National Park is known worldwide for its stunning landscapes of thick forests and immense cliffs. It’s one of our favorite national parks; I could talk about this place for days. Book a Yosemite National Park Full-Day Trip to easily see it for yourself.

27. Get artsy at the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art

San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art Exhibit
An0nyMs / TripAdvisor

Address: 560 S 1st St, San Jose, CA 95113

Looking to scratch that art itch? The Institute of Contemporary Art San Jose (I.C.A. San Jose) is a small art museum with three galleries. The majority of the works on display here are rotating examples of art created by West Coast artists.

These exhibits rotate quite frequently, so you’ll likely see something new every time you visit this brilliant little museum. Some of the museum’s past exhibitions have included Sarah Blaustein: Present Tense, Facing West Shadows: The Endless End, and Soo Sunny Park: Viewing Filter (Veil of Vision).

28. Los Gatos Creek Trail

Vasona Reservoir in Los Gatos, California
Ray / Adobe Stock

Another of the pedestrian and biking trails in Santa Clara County is the Los Gatos Creek Trail, which has some of the most stunning views you’ll see in the area. One end of the trail starts at the Lexington Reservoir in Los Gatos and goes through to Meridian Avenue in San Jose near Los Gatos Creek (hence its name).

In total, it is a 9.7 mile out and back trail. Should you decide only to do part of the Los Gatos Creek Trail, have no fear. There are several connection points that allow you to enter the trail or exit it at varying spots along the way.

29. San Jose Flea Market

San Jose Flea Market in San Hose, California
Lisa E / TripAdvisor

What began as an endeavor with 20 sellers in March 1960 has blossomed into a 6000-per-week vendor extravaganza. The San Jose Flea Market is a staggering experience for shoppers in the city that spans over 120 acres in the city’s heart.

Open each week on Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, the market is a major tourist attraction, with millions of visitors partaking in its wares every year. There are also dozens of food vendors here to keep you satiated as you shop the day away.

Tours in San Jose

1. Big Sur Monterey California Coast McWay Falls One Day Tour from San Jose Top Recommendation

Big Sur is one of the most popular tourist attractions in California, and for good reason. It boasts a long coastline and miles of stunning Pacific Ocean views. The area also offers an abundance of flora and fauna, making it a perfect place for nature-lovers to explore.

2. San Jose: Yosemite National Park and Giant Sequoias Trip

Take an unforgettable Yosemite National Park Tour from San Jose and immerse yourself in the wilderness at Yosemite. Appreciate the beauty of Yosemite Valley, El Capitan, Half Dome, and more by spending as many hours as you want exploring this national park.

3. San Jose Brew Bike Bar Tour

San Jose Brew Bike is the ultimate party-bike bar tour in downtown San Jose. Your knowledgeable and entertaining guide ensures a great experience in the Silicon Valley as you pedal around Downtown and sample the best bites and drinks San Jose has to offer.

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