San Jose Travel Guide

USA  #7 in Best Day Trips from San Francisco
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Best Things To Do in San Jose

Whether you've come for business or not, you'll find a lot to do in your spare time. San Jose hosts a bunch of attractions that don't take too long to enjoy: Burn an hour or two downtown at the San Jose Museum of Art and the Children's Discovery Museum. And if you (and your kids) are itching for a hands-on way to learn about Silicon Valley's computer industry, check out the Tech Museum of Innovation. For a whole day of family fun, head to California's Great America amusement park in nearby Santa Clara. To blow off some steam or eat a good meal, make your way to Santana Row.

How we rank Things to Do

Updated February 16, 2017

  • #1
    Santana Row
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    #1 in San Jose
    Entertainment and Nightlife, Shopping, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Entertainment and Nightlife, Shopping, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    Where do Silicon Valley tycoons go to spend their money? To Santana Row, a chic shopping development just a short drive west of downtown San Jose. Here you'll find delectable eateries, a movie theater and designer shops like Gucci and Kate Spade. And the apartments and the Hotel Valencia built above the ground-floor businesses create an urban vibe that particularly takes off at night when Santana Row becomes a nightlife hub. Many recent travelers claim that this is the best people-watching spot in the city. Also keep your eyes on the parking lot: Exotic sports cars like Lamborghinis and Ferraris are often spotted here.

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  • #2
    Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph
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    #2 in San Jose
    Churches/Religious Sites, Tours, Free
    TYPE
    Less than 1 hour
    TIME TO SPEND
    Churches/Religious Sites, Tours, Free
    TYPE
    Less than 1 hour
    TIME TO SPEND

    Architecture buffs will want to set aside some time to see the Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph, a large Roman Catholic church located in downtown San Jose. This structure is actually the fifth reincarnation and sits on the site of former basilicas that were damaged by earthquakes or fire in the 19th century. It draws in visitors with its architectural beauty, both inside and out. Reviewers were particularly enchanted by its domes and stained-glass windows (of which there are 39 colorful panes to behold). Aside from its impressive structural elements, the cathedral wins praise for its peaceful atmosphere.

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  • #3
    Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum
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    #3 in San Jose
    Museums
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    The Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum hosts the largest collection of ancient Egyptian finds on the West Coast, boasting more than 4,000 artifacts. Along with a tomb replica, the museum's many sarcophagi and mummies thrill most visitors. And many appreciate the detailed descriptions and timelines adjacent to the displays. A few recent travelers express mild disappointment, however, saying the museum may not appeal to those with a surface interest in ancient Egypt. Still, this off-the-beaten-path attraction (many locals said they didn't even know it existed) offers a unique and educational (not to mention affordable) alternative to some of the area's other top to-dos. What's more, you'll also find a planetarium on-site that screens three different space films. 

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  • #4
    Tech Museum of Innovation
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    #4 in San Jose
    Museums
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    The Tech Museum of Innovation is right at home in San Jose, the capital of Silicon Valley. This blue-domed facility in downtown brings in school children by the busload  literally. This place thrives off the curiosity of young people and offers plenty of hands-on learning opportunities that serve to educate museum-goers about scientific concepts, such as space exploration, biotechnology, clean energy, genetics and the science of sound. Recent visitors raved about the fun yet educational exhibits for their children like the Social Robots gallery, an area that allows kids to design, build and program a real robot using sensors, controllers and actuators. The museum also has an on-site IMAX Theater that runs both educational and feature films. Those who ventured in without young children offered a word of caution for future visitors, saying the facility is better suited to elementary school kids and not necessarily an entertaining stop for adults or teens. 

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  • #5
    San Jose Museum of Art
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    #5 in San Jose
    Museums
    TYPE
    Less than 1 hour
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums
    TYPE
    Less than 1 hour
    TIME TO SPEND

    The San Jose Art Museum brings a bit of high culture to the downtown area. Its collection focuses on 20th- and 21st-century works in a variety of media  painting, video installation, photography and more. The temporary exhibits frequently feature a local Northern California artist, which gives some personality to the space. Although some reviewers remark on the museum's small size and limited collection, they do say it's worth a visit thanks to its interesting exhibits and reasonable admission prices. What's more, most appreciated that the museum can be viewed in a matter of hours thanks to its manageable size. 

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  • #6
    Children's Discovery Museum
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    #6 in San Jose
    Museums, Parks and Gardens, Recreation
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Museums, Parks and Gardens, Recreation
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    Like the nearby Tech Museum, the Children's Discovery Museum offers hands-on experiences for kids as well as some interesting displays for adults. Recent travelers seem to have several favorite exhibits, but the WaterWays  a large network of water-filled tubes through which colorful balls travel  stands out above the rest. Parents like the sections of the museum that are designed for specific ages like the Wonder Cabinet, which caters to children age 4 and younger and encourages exploration in a safe and stimulating setting (like an art studio). And although there is a food court (which some say is a bit expensive), you're also permitted to bring your own lunch or snacks.

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  • #7
    Japanese Friendship Garden
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    #7 in San Jose
    Parks and Gardens, Recreation, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Parks and Gardens, Recreation, Free
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    Visitors frequently describe this small garden as "tranquil" and a nice place to let the kids run around. Built in 1965 as a symbol of everlasting friendship between the city of San Jose and its sister city, Okayama, Japan, the garden features Japanese bridges, waterfalls and koi fish (a favorite attraction among youngsters).

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  • #8
    California's Great America
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    #8 in San Jose
    Amusement Parks
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND
    Amusement Parks
    TYPE
    Half Day to Full Day
    TIME TO SPEND

    It's no Disneyland, but this theme park in the Santa Clara neighborhood (about a 15-minute drive from downtown San Jose) will surely satisfy your family's craving for thrilling rides, water park fun and live entertainment. While the high-flying coasters like Flight Deck steal most of the attention (and the wait times), the theme park offers a wide variety of carnivalesque booths along with a few entertaining performances. You'll find many of the families with younger children enjoying the smaller thrills of Planet Snoopy. And to make this into a great summer attraction, Great America also offers the Boomerang Bay Water Park and its fun slides, cabana and wave pool.

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  • #9
    Winchester Mystery House
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    #9 in San Jose
    Historic Homes/Mansions, Parks and Gardens, Tours
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND
    Historic Homes/Mansions, Parks and Gardens, Tours
    TYPE
    1 to 2 hours
    TIME TO SPEND

    Across the street from hip Santana Row, the Winchester Mystery House is both a piece of San Jose history and, according to some, a tourist trap. The incredibly superstitious Sarah Winchester  heiress to the firearm fortune  built this monstrous structure in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The estate boasts 161 rooms and a bevy of mind-boggling designs, such as a staircase to nowhere, secret passageways, a séance room and the Hall of Fires, which is equipped with four fireplaces and three hot air registers. While some visitors appreciate the architectural oddities, others quickly grow bored of the furniture-less rooms. Still, you might consider a visit: The house is one of San Jose's oldest homes, and some people won't believe you've truly seen the city if you don't make a quick stop here. What's more, it's a California Historical Landmark. Reviewers who visited with tweens and teens said it proved an entertaining activity for the whole family.

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