San Jose is an exciting metropolis that offers a lot more to travelers than what first meets the eye.
Divided into 18 distinct neighborhoods that cover 181 square miles, the sprawling area that constitutes San Jose houses the third-largest population in California. With so much ground to cover, you won’t be able to fit everything into one trip, but this San Jose neighborhood guide is a good place to start.
These are the best neighborhoods to visit in San Jose, whether you’re visiting for the first time or you’re a habitual guest.
Downtown San Jose
Best neighborhood for sightseeing and nightlife
If there’s a community event, new pop-up art gallery, or trendy cocktail bar to visit, it’ll probably be in Downtown San Jose. Downtown is the central hub of the city, where you can feel the quickening pulse of people and things to do alongside peaceful corners in leafy parks.
This neighborhood is where you’ll find some of the best museums, art galleries, street art (especially in the SoFA District) and a good variety of mid-range to luxury hotels. It’s the place to explore the city after dark. Whether you want to dance the night away, sip on a pint of craft beer, listen to live jazz, or step back in time at a 1920’s-themed speakeasy, you can find it all downtown.
This is the best neighborhood for first-time visitors to take in all that the city has to offer in a walkable area filled with the main highlights and tourist attractions. It’s also the most connected neighborhood to public transportation, making it an easy base to get around other parts of the city and the greater Bay Area.
Best neighborhood for families and brunch
Tree-lined streets, wide sidewalks, strollers and the smell of avocado toast as you walk by brunch hot spots, this is what awaits you with a visit to Willow Glen. Willow Glen is a neighborhood to explore on foot, ideally with an appetite. With its pedestrian-friendly streets, historic homes and local boutiques, it’s no wonder it’s such a popular hangout for San Jose locals and tourists alike.
Located in the southwest section of the city, it’s surprising how residential this area is with how close it is to bustling downtown. Lincoln Avenue is a cozy bubble of bookshops, clinking champagne flutes filled with mimosas and a variety of family-friendly restaurants.
When you’re not shopping or brunching, it’s the perfect place for people watching and rubbing shoulders with locals. In terms of places to stay, you can find budget to mid-range hotels on the outskirts of the neighborhood or a number of vacation rentals in the middle of it all.
Best neighborhood for food and history
Only taking up a few city blocks in between downtown and the San Jose International Airport, Japantown might seem on the small side but it packs in a lot within its cultural streets. Visit with an empty stomach to explore the authentic Japanese culinary scene (and Hawaiian diner fare) to the fullest.
Besides the food, Japantown has a storied history as one of the last remaining authentic Japantowns in the US (the others being in San Francisco and Los Angeles). Head to the Japanese American Museum to learn more about that history and the lasting legacy of World War II on the Japanese American community.
Other features in the neighborhood include a mix of boutiques, souvenir shops and karaoke bars where you can belt your heart out into the wee hours of the morning, seven days a week. With its proximity to the airport, there are a number of international chain hotels and budget-friendly motels and inns just northwest of the neighborhood.
Santana Row and West San Jose
Best neighborhood for shopping, wine tasting and day trips
With a mix of upscale luxury brands and popular national chains, Santana Row is the neighborhood to indulge in a shopping spree. Along the main thoroughfare, you’ll find a leafy, wide street lined with fancy hotels, high-end brands, and an array of restaurants, spas and salons.
If the 70+ shops along Santana Row aren’t enough, there’s another shopping area across the street at Westfield. Frequented by families, back-to-school shoppers and college students, Westfield is for those who are looking for a more affordable selection of clothes, accessories and standard chain restaurants.
With its convenient location on the outskirts of the city and its proximity to major freeways, the West San Jose area is also the perfect jumping-off point for day trips. Whether you want to visit the sprawling Winchester Mystery House, hit the beach in Santa Cruz, go wine tasting in the Santa Cruz Mountains, or drive up the scenic Peninsula, this neighborhood is an ideal base.
The accommodation options right in Santana Row are pricey. However, if you look just outside of it, you’ll find some good budget and mid-range options too.
Best neighborhood to get away from the crowds
Surrounded by open spaces, golf courses and hiking trails, Almaden Valley is the neighborhood to relax and get away from it all.
Don’t miss the most popular attraction in the area, Almaden Quicksilver County Park. At the park, you’ll find beautiful views, dusty hiking trails and remnants of the area’s mining past. Head to the small town of New Almaden to step back in time and explore the history of what was once the richest mercury mining area in North America.
Top off your time at one of the other scenic parks in the area or with an impressive view from nearby Mt Umunhum that towers more than 3,400 feet over the Santa Clara Valley.
As a mostly residential area filled with green spaces, there aren’t many accommodation options in the area. Your best bet is to find a vacation rental nearby.
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