The inside guide to San Jose, California's tech capital

Discover mysterious mansions, sweeping vineyards and experiential fine dining in California's tech capital.

By Celeste Brash
Published 24 Nov 2022, 08:00 GMT
San Jose

Enjoying the sun in Plaza de Cesar Chavez.

Photograph by David Binder

With its wide, palm-lined streets, sprawling green parks and historic buildings, San Jose will surprise anyone expecting the heart of Silicon Valley to be a densely packed, futuristic hub.

Only half an hour from the white sand beaches of Santa Cruz, the 10th-largest city in the US has a small-town feel, but has a thriving arts scene, eclectic restaurants and plenty of live entertainment to rival many of its West Coast neighbours. More than 40% of San Jose’s residents were born overseas, and local restaurants map their story.

You’ll find cuisines from every corner of Asia, but iChina takes its modern fare one step further in its augmented reality room. Here, each creative course is paired with surround imagery — expect dishes such as sea cucumber stuffed with shrimp and lobster, while virtual jellyfish swim over your plate.

Alternatively, head to the Little Portugal neighbourhood and Michelin-starred Adega, where locally sourced ingredients share the spotlight with a dizzying selection of more than 200 wines and ports.

Tiny and traditional Japan-town, meanwhile, is home to Shuei-Do, which has been making handmade Manju (a soft sweet similar to mochi) for over 70 years. The peanut butter Manju is justifiably popular.

Steamed egg and pickle platter at iChina.

Photograph by David Binder

Santana Row, with its upscale shops and restaurants, is the place to be on Friday and Saturday nights. Yard House is a high-end sports bar with an excellent selection of craft beer, while Zazil serves upmarket Mexican fare, from citrusy shrimp ceviche to skirt steak with chorizo and black beans.Stay at the elegant Hotel Valencia, where you might just spot an A-lister at Vbar, its slick hangout.

There’s an eerie side to San Jose, too. The Winchester Mystery House is a Queen Anne-style mansion where a suspicious owner built stairways and doors that led to nowhere, to ward off evil spirits. Nearby is the quirky Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum, where the artifacts have a focus on spiritualism. Don’t miss the reproduction of an ancient tomb, as well as the manicured gardens. 

The California Theatre, a performing arts venue since the 1920s.

Photograph by David Binder

If you’re keen to explore more of San Jose’s green side, the surrounding hills are threaded with hiking trails, and Almaden Quicksilver County Park’s 37-plus miles are the best of the bunch, shaded by heritage oak trees and dotted with wildflowers.

Afterwards, wind down at the Mountain Winery and enjoy the vineyard views from its stone chateau, or see who’s headlining one of the live summer concerts. Previous performers have included Diana Ross, Boy George and Willie Nelson, but you can enjoy a glass of California’s best on the beautiful grounds at any time of year. 

As this is the epicentre of the world’s tech industry, it would be remiss not to visit the Computer History Museum, 10 miles northwest of San Jose. Exhibits chart the evolution of the technological world, from early vacuum tubes to the self-driving car. From there, it’s a short hop to some of computing’s big-hitters: Facebook fans can snap a selfie at Meta’s ‘thumbs-up’ sign at 1 Hacker Way, before heading to the 42-acre Google Bay View Campus, opened in May 2022. You can’t go inside, but the buildings are a sight: a vast, sustainable complex with curving, tent-like canopies, surrounded by 17 acres of wetlands and woodlands. 

Last, visit the Apple Park — think of it as a kind of giant Apple Store, with friendly guides on hand to show you around the futuristic building. If you’ve got kids in tow, don’t miss The Tech Interactive, a multi-storey technology centre in the heart of San Jose, where hands-on exhibits explore a number of today’s big issues, from climate change to space travel. 

Published in the  December 2022 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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