San Jose & Silicon Valley:
High-tech innovation hub welcomes visitors

By Laura Del Rosso

Photo: Ariana Perez

San Jose and Silicon Valley are more than home to leading-edge technology powerhouses Apple, Facebook, Google and other familiar names, but a place of vibrant towns with cultural offerings and vast recreational areas in the nearby Santa Cruz Mountains.

The valley has undergone a dramatic change since the mid-20th century when farms, orchards and ranches lined Santa Clara Valley and the area was called “The Valley of Heart’s Delight.” With the technology boom came the development of acres of office parks and an influx of bright, young entrepreneurs—and the new name, Silicon Valley.

In the last decade, the robust economy led to a revitalization of cities whose residents are known more for their long workdays than nights on the town. Visitors now find pedestrian-friendly towns, such as charming Saratoga and Los Gatos, with Michelin-starred restaurants and chic shops. Mountain View’s Castro Street and Palo Alto’s University Avenue are hopping, and San Jose’s downtown and the Santana Row district are alive with nightlife and attractions, including the Tech Museum that pays homage to the valley’s innovative spirit.

Palo Alto, home of Stanford University, has long been a cultural center, and now offers a tiny museum significant to Silicon Valley history: the HP Garage, the garage where Stanford classmates Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard founded Hewlett-Packard in 1939.

Beyond tech, the valley offers much to see and do, with theme parks for families, cultural institutions and varied landscapes, from the Santa Cruz Mountains to lively city and town centers.

Nestled at the foot of the Santa Cruz Mountains are Saratoga and Los Gatos, hamlets with picture-perfect Victorian homes and Craftsman bungalows. Vast stretches of parks, open space preserves and rows of vineyards and winery tasting rooms cluster in the surrounding mountains, as well as south of San Jose, along the Hecker Pass Highway and around the city of Gilroy, which is home to an annual Garlic Festival that draws thousands.

With its Mediterranean climate of warm summers and mild winters, and location 50 miles south of San Francisco and 30 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean, it’s no wonder that Silicon Valley developed as a world center for innovation, drawing some of the best and brightest engineers in the world to a quiet valley where once only fruit trees blossomed.

City and Town

San Jose, the county seat of Santa Clara County, was founded in 1777 and today is the largest city in Northern California and 10th largest in the nation. Downtown has undergone significant revitalization over the last decade, with historic buildings such as the California Theatre on the same block as more than 100 software companies that have relocated. The adjacent city of Santa Clara features historic Mission Santa Clara de Asis and its lovely grounds on the campus of Santa Clara University and, in the fall of 2014, the billion-dollar Levi’s Stadium, the new home of the San Francisco 49ers NFL team and the venue for the Super Bowl in 2016.

Heritage and Culture

San Jose offers a big-city cultural scene with first-rate ballet, opera and theater. Museums include the Tech Museum, where visitors discover what made Silicon Valley successful, the Children’s Discovery Museum, the San Jose Museum of Art and the West Coast’s largest collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts at the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum and Planetarium.

About 10 percent of San Jose’s population is Vietnamese, and this ethnic group has a strong presence particularly in restaurants along Story Road and at the Museum of the Boat People in History Park. The city’s Japanese community is revitalizing the historic Japantown, which has a bustling year-round farmers’ market. The valley’s Mexican community is another large ethnic block, evidenced by the huge crowds at the festive annual Cinco de Mayo parade.

The Great Outdoors

Wherever you are in Silicon Valley, beautiful open space is not far away.

In downtown San Jose, Guadalupe River Park is a convenient greenbelt. Nearby Alum Rock Park offers 720 acres filled with tree-lined walking paths. Miles of roads in the Santa Cruz Mountains lead to a diverse collection of county and state parks and open space preserves in redwood forests ideal for camping, hiking, mountain biking or a simple picnic.

Family Fun

For fascinating local lore, head to the Winchester Mystery House, the 160-room Victorian estate built by Sara Winchester, the heiress of Winchester Rifles. The huge house is creepy but beautiful at the same time, with its weird “Stairs to the Ceiling” that lead to nowhere, séance chambers and fine woodwork.

California’s Great America theme park offers the most thrill rides in Northern California and includes the massive Great Barrier Reef wave pool. Additional fun is found at 23-acre Raging Waters in San Jose, which bills itself as the region’s largest water park. San Jose’s Happy Hollow Park and Zoo and Los Gatos’ Vasona Lake County Park, a lovely oasis with a train and 1915 carousel, are two other parks that kids love.

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