Known as the capital of Silicon Valley, San Jose is a forward-thinking city surrounded by creative innovation on a daily basis. As one of the major hubs in the Bay Area – the city has the third-largest population in California – tech is far from the only attraction on offer, though.

From its lively art scene to themed bars, trendy foodie spots, professional sports teams, kid-friendly attractions and a love for ancient history, these are the top things to do in San Jose to get to know the city in the best way. 

Scenery of the flower bed in the street
Head to Santana Row for all your upscale dining and people-watching © Masao Taira / Getty Images

High-end shopping and dining in Santana Row 

Take your time as you walk down the wide streets of Santana Row, lined with palm trees and Lamborghinis juxtaposed with Tuscan-style architecture, striped awnings and umbrella-covered patios. This is where the rich tech scene of Silicon Valley meets European-inspired architecture for a unique and upscale dining and shopping atmosphere. 

For two decades, Santana Row has been the bustling go-to hub for shopping, people watching and catching up with friends over dinner or a drink. And with 70 shops, 20 restaurants and nine spas and salons, you can rest assured that there’s a little something for everyone. If your budget won't stretch to Santana Row's heights, there are plenty of free things to get up to in San Jose too.

Travel the world on one table in San Pedro Square Market 

On sunny weekends (there are a lot of those in San Jose), you’ll find the patios at San Pedro Square Market filled with friends sipping iced coffees and digging into tasty dishes from one of the many food vendors from inside. 

With the backdrop of busy downtown San Jose, this is where you can feel the vibrancy of the city, appreciate dog-friendly outdoor dining and taste test your way through a wide assortment of different cuisines. From craft beer to cocktails and hipster-approved coffee, to food inspired from Peru, Mexico, Japan, Italy, Nepal, Vietnam and the US, you won’t find a more diverse place to eat in the city.  

The Willow Glen Sweet Shoppe sells Schurra's Fine Confections
Sweet shops, boutiques and local eateries are fun to explore in Willow Glen © MediaNews Group / Getty Images

Live like a local in Willow Glen 

If you want to get to know a more local side to San Jose, head to Willow Glen, where you can grab brunch from a sidewalk cafe, peruse antique stores and admire the Victorian architecture. 

Snag a seat at The Table for the neighborhood’s most noteworthy brunch, pick up some delectable chocolates from Powell’s and explore the local boutiques along Lincoln Avenue to get the full Willow Glen experience. On Saturdays, don’t miss the neighborhood’s small farmer’s market, where you can rub shoulders with locals while devouring fresh pastries and vegan food. If you have the luxury of spending a little longer in the city, get to know a few more of the local San Jose neighborhoods.

Come face-to-face with a sphinx at Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum 

The Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum is by far the coolest museum in San Jose, featuring the most extensive collection of Egyptian artifacts in Western North America. 

As you approach, you’ll be welcomed by ram-headed sphinxes and Karnak-style architecture in the form of impressive white and blue columns and golden doors.

Inside is just as impressive. You’ll be whisked away to another time, with exhibits that span from mummies and tomb replicas to a look at alchemy and ancient Egypt’s version of daily life.  

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Low Angle View Of People Enjoying Rollercoaster Ride Against Sky
This classic American theme park is a fun fest for everyone © Tomás Pedreira / Getty Images

Must-dos for thrill-seekers are California’s Great America & Raging Waters

Whether you’re a teenager or an adult, if you love your thrills, there’s no better place to get your adrenaline pumping than at California’s Great America and Raging Waters. Operating since 1976, California’s Great America is a 112-acre wonderland where you can test your stomach on upside-down rollercoasters, stop to smell the funnel cakes, enjoy live music, and watch fireworks on summer weekends.

Looking to cool off during one of those stifling hot days of summer in San Jose instead? Make the 20-minute drive across town to Raging Waters, where you can cannonball into pools and zip down high-speed waterslides. 

Teach the kids about conservation at Happy Hollow Park and Zoo 

Located in Kelley Park, the 16-acre Happy Hollow Park and Zoo has been thrilling kids since 1961 with its assortment of rides and over 150 exotic, endangered and rescued animals. With a portion of proceeds from ticket sales going towards conservation efforts for threatened and endangered species and comfortably sized enclosures, this is a zoo that your conscience can feel good about supporting. 

Other features, like a repurposed broken glass entry walkway, one of California’s oldest puppet theaters, a dedicated nursing room and an eco-friendly cafe with locally sourced food, make you quickly realize this isn’t your average zoo. 

Spend a day exploring the SoFA district 

Once San Jose’s red-light district up until the 1980s, SoFA (South First Arts) has blossomed into a trendy, Instagram-famous neighborhood to experience art, unique cocktail bars and several creative festivals throughout the year.  

During the day, enjoy a cup of craft coffee from a knowledgeable barista, explore the Institute of Contemporary Art, visit an art gallery and discover colorful street murals. After hours, grab tickets for a show at the California Theatre featuring artists like Symphony Silicon Valley, listen to live jazz, grab a drink at a 1920s-themed speakeasy, or dance the night away at a neon nightclub. 

The possibilities are endless as long as you’re up for art, culture and fun. Once a month, you have the chance to experience South First Fridays, a popular, free art gallery walk that features local artists and live music. 

Look out for high spirits at Winchester Mystery House

Who doesn’t love a creepy mansion full of ghost stories, mystery and odd design choices? Located next to Santana Row, the Winchester Mystery House was once the home of Sarah Winchester, heiress to the Winchester Rifle Company’s massive fortune in the 19th century.

Sarah lived in the house for over 50 years, a period during which the sprawling 160-room mansion received a series of never-ending renovations. A hundred years later and there are still plenty of questions and legends as to why Sarah never stopped incessantly building onto the maze-like manor. Today, you can sign up for a tour of the mansion to discover secret rooms, doors that open to walls and stairways that lead to nowhere to try and unravel the mystery for yourself.  

Tampa Bay Lightning v San Jose Sharks
San Jose Sharks fans really show up for their team © Brandon Magnus / Getty Images

Get your cheer on at a San Jose Sharks game 

Around town, you’ll probably see at least a few San Jose Sharks bumper stickers on random cars zooming by. However, you won’t truly know how deeply San Joseans love their sports teams until you’re in a raucous crowd of cheering fans at the SAP Center during a Sharks game.

If hockey isn’t your thing, Santa Clara County is home to plenty of other stadiums and parks where professional and minor league sports teams play. Most notably, you can catch a San Francisco 49ers game at Levi’s Stadium or a San Jose Earthquakes game at PayPal Park. 

Get experimental at Tech Interactive 

There’s no better place to learn about how technology and science impact our world than in San Jose and, more specifically, one of the city’s most popular museums, the Tech Interactive

At this future-focused hub, you’ll be treated to hands-on exhibits geared for kids and adults alike that will make you feel like the next innovator of your time. Before calling it a day, experience complete immersion with the Birdly VR simulator that lets you fly like a bird and an educational flick at the IMAX theater.

Find some treasure at the San Jose Flea Market 

As the old proverb goes, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” and nowhere is that more true than at the extensive San Jose Flea Market, also known as the Berryessa Flea Market. Come here to ride the carousel, shop for fresh produce, enjoy live music and entertainment, grab ready-to-eat food from local vendors, or look through the many antiques and collectibles from another era. 

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This article was first published October 2021 and updated January 2022

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