Downtown San Jose
Photograph: ShutterstockDowntown San Jose

The best things to do in Downtown San Jose

Downtown San Jose boasts quality museums, delicious restaurants and some spooky attractions


What’s the deal with downtown San Jose?

Once an agricultural valley covered in fruit orchards, San Jose, for much of its history, has been something of an afterthought to beautiful San Francisco just 50 miles to the north. Even after the city became the default hub of Silicon Valley in the 1980s and '90s, San Jose was slow to develop a vibrant restaurant and bar scene. But finally, after years of waiting, San Jose is starting to come into its own. Get a taste of the city’s diversity and laid back style on a walk through the hip, street art-laden SoFa District, take in some culture at institutions like the San Jose Museum of Art (especially on free, boozy first Friday nights) or the more edgy Institute of Contemporary Art, or drop in on some of the city’s most famous landmarks like the Winchester Mystery House and the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum at the fringes of the downtown core.

If you only do one thing

Step inside the half-mad architectural mind of Sarah Winchester, heiress to the Winchester rifle fortune, at the Winchester Mystery House. The massive Victorian mansion is simultaneously beautiful and dreadful, with layers upon layers of stairways to nowhere, doors that open to walls, and secret rooms built to confuse the ghosts that haunted the widow Winchester.


Go off the beaten track

San Jose is full of its share of the bizarre. Go inside the society of ancient Egyptian-loving alchemists at the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum; play a lifesize game of Monopoly at the world’s largest gameboard in Discovery Meadow; or sip chocolate malts at a soda fountain surrounded by dozens of vintage player pianos at Orchestria Palm Court.

Stay up late 

San Jose nightlife tends more towards breweries and music venues rather than dance clubs and cocktail bars. Order a pint at the industrial Hapa’s Brewery; be player one at Miniboss, multiplayer arcade-bar; sip artisan cocktails at Paper Plane; or catch a local band at The Ritz.

Eat here

Dig into mouth-watering cochinita pibil (Yucatecan slow braised pork) at the Michelin Bib Gourmand-winning LUNA Mexican Kitchen or next-level tacos, blue corn enchiladas, and mole Oaxaqueño at intimate Zona Rosa on the Alameda.

For a hearty European-style meal, gorge yourself on perfectly grilled brauts, rich jager pommes (fries topped with mushroom gravy and gruyere) and boots of lager in the beer garden at Ludwig’s German Table.

Dine in elegance at the rustic-chic Portuguese restaurant Adega or keep things low-key at the order-at-the-counter Back-a-Yard where Caribbean dishes like jerk chicken, curry goat, and the otherworldly Saturday special, ackee and codfish, will blow your mind.

Not sure what you’re in the mood for? Head to the San Pedro Market, where everything from Nepalese to Italian fare is at your fingertips.

Drink here

San Jose loves its beer and among the best microbreweries in town is Camino Brewing Co., a bright, modern brewery with killer IPAs just off the SoFa District’s main drag.

If you’re thirsting for a cocktail, the 1920s-inspired Haberdasher serves up beautifully-crafted throwbacks like sazeracs, mint juleps, and Manhattans.

At wine-and-whiskey bar District, choose from a massive selection of bourbon, rye and scotch from around the world.

If a dive is more your style, sidle into the tiny, no-frills music venue The Caravan Lounge, or head to the historic Henry’s Hi-Life, a barbeque restaurant with a classic, old-school bar up front.

How to get to downtown San Jose

If you’re coming from outside of the South Bay, take Caltrain to the San Jose Diridon Station. For Silicon Valley travel, hop on the VTA Light Rail, which has multiple stops downtown.

What else is nearby? 

San Jose is just down the road from Los Gatos and Saratoga, two quaint towns nestled in the foothills of the picturesque wine-producing Santa Cruz Mountains.

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