San Jose Travel Guide

USA  #7 in Best Day Trips from San Francisco
Credit

Courtesy of by Frank Chen/Getty Images

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
    Things to do in San Jose
    View all Photos
    #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.

    The shops and restaurants open around 10 a.m. and close around 9 p.m., although many that cater to the late-night crowds will stay open well past then. Visitors should be aware that parking can be extremely limited at busy times, so you might have to leave your car across the street at the less-trendy Westfield Valley Fair mall. For more information about special events and specific store hours, check out Santana Row's website.

  • #2
    Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph
    View all Photos
    #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.

    The church offers a daily Mass (in both English and Spanish on the weekends), but you can also view its interior during a tour. You'll find the Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph in downtown San Jose on Market Street. If you'd like to schedule a formal tour, you'll have to fill out a reservation form online, which can be accessed on the cathedral's website. Entering the church is free, but it suggests a $2 donation per person if you schedule a tour.

  • #3
    Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum
    View all Photos
    #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. 

    Situated less than 3 miles west of downtown San Jose, this Egyptian treasure trove is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Friday and from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on the weekend. Admission costs $9; from 4 to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Friday entrance is free. For more information, check out the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum's website.

  • #4
    Tech Museum of Innovation
    View all Photos
    #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. 

    The museum is open every day from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission costs $24 for adults and $19 for kids ages 3 to 17, and combined educational IMAX film and museum tickets are available ($29 for adults and $23 for kids). There are several parking decks near the museum, many of which charge a daily flat rate of $5. For more information, check out the Tech Museum's website.

  • #5
    San Jose Museum of Art
    View all Photos
    #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. 

    The art museum sits along Cesar Chavez Park across from the Tech Museum. Entrance costs $10 for adults and $5 for youths ages 7 to 17; children 6 and younger enter for free. The museum is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday and until 8 p.m. on the third Thursday of the month. For more information, check out the San Jose Museum of Art's website.

  • #6
    Children's Discovery Museum
    View all Photos
    #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.

    Located in downtown, the Children's Discovery Museum welcomes visitors from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and from noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Admission costs $13 for both kids and adults. For more information, check out the museum's website.

  • #7
    Japanese Friendship Garden
    View all Photos
    #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).

    Recent visitors said the garden provided a peaceful backdrop for a relaxing stroll, though some were disappointed with its size, describing it as underwhelming. Because of its picturesque landscaping and romantic ambiance, it's also a popular spot for engagement photos and outdoor wedding ceremonies, according to reviewers.

  • #8
    California's Great America
    View all Photos
    #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.

    Most visitors recommend planning a trip to California's Great America if you've got kids in tow, praising the manageable size and fun water park. However, more than a few reviewers complained of the overpriced, tasteless food offered on-site and suggested skipping meals inside the park in favor of the neighborhood's more affordable options.

  • #9
    Winchester Mystery House
    View all Photos
    #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.

    Just a short drive west of downtown, the Winchester Mystery House offers Behind-the-Scenes, Mansion and Grand Estate tours (prices vary by tour type, ranging from $25 to $44 per person). The estate maintains a complicated schedule of operating hours, so check the website before your trip.

Explore More of San Jose

Recommended

The 5 Best Kauai Helicopter Tours

See the Garden Island's far-reaching beauty from the air.

Holly JohnsonJune 14, 2019

The 6 Best Las Vegas Helicopter Tours

Get a thrilling look at the lights and sights of Sin City and its surroundings with one of these tours.

Holly JohnsonJune 13, 2019

20 Road Trip Essentials for Your Vacation

These road trip must-haves can help you save money, travel more comfortably and ensure you stay safe on the open road.

Holly JohnsonJune 13, 2019

13 Top Charlottesville Wineries to Visit

Sip a glass of Virginia's signature viognier as the sun sets over the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Gwen PratesiJune 12, 2019

The 16 Best Seattle Tours

Explore the Emerald City's natural beauty and urban offerings with these guided excursions.

Lyn MettlerJune 12, 2019

The 24 Best London Tours

Whether it's your first time in London or you're a repeat visitor, you'll experience a side of the city you've never seen with these tours.

Kim Foley MacKinnonJune 6, 2019

The 21 Best Paris Tours

Enhance your visit to the City of Love with one of these top tours.

Claire LawtonJune 5, 2019

The 20 Best New York City Tours

These guided tours help make the most of your time in the Big Apple.

John RodwanJune 4, 2019

The 24 Best Rome Tours

Enjoy the efficiency of an organized tour led by experts who bring Rome's history to life.

Kyle McCarthyMay 31, 2019

The 8 Best Savannah Ghost Tours

Prove you're not afraid of the dark by taking one of these terrifying tours.

Gwen PratesiMay 31, 2019