By Laura Del Rosso

San Jose and Silicon Valley, known worldwide for technology innovation, have come of age as centers for the arts, culture and attractions.

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 what was then called Santa Clara Valley, or “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 is filled with nightlife and attractions, including the Tech Museum, which pays homage to the valley’s innovative spirit.

During the valley’s warm evenings—and there are many, with an average of 300 days a year of sunshine—visitors fill Santana Row, a chic shopping and dining district with a central European-style promenade lined with boutiques, eateries and landscaped gardens. A farmers market, live music, cultural events, restaurants ranging from French bistros to Mexican taquerias are also big draws to Santana Row.

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.

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 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.


San Jose, the county seat of Santa Clara County, was founded in 1777 and today is the largest city in Northern California and tenth 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. In 2014, the adjacent city of Santa Clara welcomed the opening of Levi’s Stadium, home to the San Francisco 49ers NFL team and Super Bowl 50 venue in 2016.


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.


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.

The valley’s park system continues to grow with the latest addition, Martial Cottle Park, which features a working organic farm that dates from 1864 and covers 180 acres, showcasing farming techniques and tracing the valley’s long agricultural history.

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.


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.


San Jose Museums
Downtown San Jose has a wealth of cultural institutions including one of the country’s top science and technology museums, The Tech Museum, where some of the interactive exhibits were designed by Stanford and NASA engineers. Nearby, the San Jose Museum of Art is devoted to California artists with paintings, sculpture, photography and more. The San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles promotes the appreciation of textiles as art.

Valley Wineries
While dozens of wineries and tasting rooms are in the Santa Cruz Mountains and south of San Jose, some are located right in the valley, including Testarossa, in a 19th-century monastery that has access to parklands for hiking. Three others also have access to open space for post-tasting walks, including Picchetti Winery in Cupertino, Cooper-Garrod Estate Vineyards in Saratoga and Ridge Vineyards, founded by Stanford Research Institute engineers, in Cupertino.

Stanford Art
Stanford University’s campus includes the Anderson Collection, a private modern American art collection that features major works by Pollock, Still, Rothko and Diebenkorn, housed in a striking 33,000-square-foot building. Next door is the Cantor Arts Center, which includes 24 galleries and one of the largest collections of Rodin bronzes outside Paris.

History Park
Stretching over 14 acres, San Jose’s History Park conveys the richness of Santa Clara Valley’s long history. The park features 27 original and re-created buildings connected by running trolleys. Included are the Chinese-American Museum, the Portuguese Historical Museum and one of the first banks opened by A.P. Giannini, founder of the Bank of America, who was born in San Jose.

Computer History Museum
Technology giants call Silicon Valley home and this museum explores their history and impact on society. Large-scale exhibits describe the creation of self-driving cars, and are filled with the world’s largest collection of computing hardware, software, ephemera and photographs.

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