San Jose & Silicon Valley:
High-tech, innovation, museums and more

By Laura Del Rosso

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San Jose and Silicon Valley, known worldwide for technology innovation, have come of age as centers for the arts, culture and attractions. The region will be in the national spotlight in February when Santa Clara’s Levi’s Stadium hosts the NFL’s Super Bowl 50. In Palo Alto, one of the world’s leading private collections of modern American art, the Anderson Collection, is drawing art lovers to its architecturally striking building on the Stanford campus.

Downtown San Jose’s vibrant urban scene continues to grow with museums, galleries and robust dining and nightlife. San Jose Jazz, which presents more than 100 live music events annually, is one of many dynamic cultural groups.

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 vigorous economy led to a revitalization of cities whose residents are known more for their long workdays than nights on the town. Visitors find pedestrian-friendly burgs, 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, which pays homage to the valley’s innovative spirit.

Palo Alto, home of Stanford University, also features 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.

The valley also offers theme parks for families and outdoor recreation in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Nestled at the foot of the 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 where dozens of software companies 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. In 2014, the $1.2 billion Levi’s Stadium opened, the home of the San Francisco 49ers NFL team and the venue for Super Bowl 50 on Feb. 7.

Heritage and Culture

San Jose offers a big-city cultural scene with first-rate museums that 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 charming History Park, which also features buildings representing Portuguese, Chinese, Italian and other ethnic communities that were instrumental in the city’s long history.

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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