Updated: Oct 17, 2019
I know what you're thinking, is there really stuff to do in San Jose? Really? Yes, there are plenty of things to do in my hometown.
A scene from the Guadalupe River by the SAP Center, home of the San Jose Sharks. Go Sharks! (Photo by Digital Nomad Foodie)
San Jose, California.
Current population over 1 million residents (U.S. Census Bureau 2016).
A city in a fertile valley that started out innocently full of orchards has in the past 30+ years transformed into a technology behemoth now called, "The Capital of Silicon Valley".
San Jose, is also my hometown. I was born here and moved around the Bay Area, out of the Bay Area and back to the Bay Area multiple times around my dad's and my own service in the military. I've seen it grow first-hand, for better (high incomes and real estate valuations) and for worse (lack of affordable housing and heavy-traffic).
When you think of San Jose what jumps out at you? As a visitor you might think Apple, Google or Facebook. Unfortunately, those famous companies are headquartered in Cupertino, Mountain View and Menlo Park NOT San Jose. As a local you might think the local hockey team, the San Jose Sharks, eBay or Adobe which all call San Jose home.
Well, yes I will admit San Jose does need to beef up it's entire scene (which it's planning to do with the help of Google), especially with the self-proclaimed title of, "Capital of Silicon Valley".
So without further ado, if you are looking for something to do in San Jose, California these are 41 things I would recommend to my own friends and family.
View from the Lick Observatory and Mount Hamilton. (Video by Digital Nomad Foodie)
1. Visit Mount Hamilton and the Lick Observatory
If you love the outdoors, great views and interested in astronomy, then visiting Mount Hamilton and the Lick Observatory is perfect for you. It's about an hour drive from downtown San Jose and if you own a motorcyle or scooter (like me) it's a very fun, winding drive.
The Winchester Mystery House now has a motion-picture thanks to Hollywood. (Photo by Digital Foodie)
2. Winchester Mystery House
The world-famous Winchester Mystery House built by Sarah Winchester in 1884 has daily tours. Hollywood has now filmed a full-length movie entitled, "Winchester", which is set to be released in early 2018.
Enjoy a banh mi from Duc Huong Gio Cha Sandwiches or a bowl of bun bo hue at Huong Restaurant. (Photos by Digital Nomad Foodie)
3. Eat Vietnamese food in Little Saigon
Depending on the year you check, San Jose's Little Saigon is either ranked #1 or #2 in terms of population of Vietnamese people outside of Vietnam. The area is spread-out in multiple places (Story Road, Tully Road, Senter Road and Quimby Road), but regardless you can eat a whole range of classic and specialty Vietnamese dishes. So go grab a banh mi at Duc Huong Gio Cha Sandwiches or a hot bowl of the best bun bo hue in San Jose at Huong Restaurant.
You can find Mexican food almost anywhere in San Jose like this Tacos Los 3 Hermanos food stand. (Photo by Digital Nomad Foodie)
4. Eat Mexican food almost anywhere
If you love Mexican food (not Tex-Mex), then you won't go hungry in San Jose. There are taqueria's and taco stands all over the city. A popular spot known for their orange sauce is La Victoria or "La Vics" for short. They have several locations, but I suggest going to their original location across San Jose State University.
A wine flight at Vintage Wine Bar in Santana Row. (Photo by Digital Nomad Foodie)
5. Have drinks at Santana Row, then shop for luxury goods
If you want to experience a Southern California vibe, then stop to grab drinks (at the Vintage Wine Bar) and shop at high-end retailers at Santana Row. You might run into famous athletes like players from the San Francisco 49ers, which has happened a few times.
If you are a hockey fan, then watching a game at the Shark Tank is a must-do. (Video by Digital Nomad Foodie)
6. Watch a San Jose Sharks hockey game
The home of the San Jose Sharks, which is the SAP Center is also nicknamed the "Shark Tank". If you love hockey then catching a Sharks game live at the Shark Tank is an unbelievably exhilarating experience. What else would you expect from the NHL's #1 fans?
Watch our local Major League Soccer team and grab a drink at the longest outdoor bar in North America. (Video by Digital Nomad Foodie)
7. Watch a San Jose Earthquakes soccer game, which features the longest outdoor bar in North America
The San Jose Earthquakes are a Major League Soccer team and their home, Avaya Stadium also happens to boast the longest outdoor bar in North America - Scoreboard Bar. Located across the airport and easily accessible from downtown and the 880 highway, you'll enjoy a loud stadium with plenty of room to grab a drink from the bar.
The perfect combination: Krazy George and 50% off beers at a San Jose Giants game. (Photos by Digital Nomad Foodie)
8. Get 50% off beers if the "Beer Batter" strikes-out at a San Jose Giants baseball game
There's nothing better than watching a baseball game with the inventor of the infamous "the wave" cheer, Krazy George at a San Jose Giants game. I've been going to games since I was 10 years old and it's still a great place to take your family. You can even get free tickets to attend a game during "Merchant Nights" (usually found at check-out at Costco or Orchard Supply Hardware).
Go old school at one of the few drive-in movie theatre's left in the world. (Video by Digital Nomad Foodie)
9. Watch a movie in your car at the Capitol Drive-In
If you like watching movies, then don't miss out on watching a Hollywood blockbuster like your parents did at a drive-in movie theatre. Luckily for you, San Jose has West Wind Capitol 6 Drive-In. They've kept pace with technology. No more heavy-metallic speakers you had to mount on your rolled-down window, now they have FM stereo sound! I can only imagine what a movie sounds like in a car that is hooked up with some good bass.
Chopping it up at Icicles, you always get the free show here, always. (Video by Digital Nomad Foodie)
10. Enjoy handmade ice cream Thai style at Icicles in Willow Glen
If you have a sweet-tooth especially for ice cream and happen to be in Willow Glen, then you are in stupendous luck. Make sure you stop by Icicles and enjoy your "Thai Rolled Hand Crafted Ice Cream" where you can add as many yummy toppings as possible.
Grab your favorite Bay Area team gear at Fresh Society in Westfield Valley Fair Mall. (Photo by Digital Nomad Foodie)
11. Shop at Westfield Valley Fair Mall, Westfield Oakridge Mall, Eastridge Mall or Westgate Center
If you are a shopaholic you should have no problems finding what you want at San Jose's four malls. One of the most profitable malls in the United States with over 200 stores is the Westfield Valley Fair Mall (of which half resides in Santa Clara, the other half in San Jose). As many of you might already know from reading the current news, the nation's aging malls are slowly going extinct, but have no fear with Valley Fair as it's been adding more structures (stores, places to eat/drink, banks and parking garages) the past couple years. As a matter of fact, it's so busy that the highways that lead into it now have direct exits that lead into the parking garage.
12. See animals at the Happy Hollow Zoo
The Happy Hollow Zoo is a small zoo has been around for 57 years (established in 1961). For those of us who went to elementary school in San Jose, I can almost guarantee that you've been there on a field trip. It's a great place to take your family for a few hours, especially if you want a low-key experience compared to bigger zoo's.
13. Waterslide at Raging Waters
Raging Waters is a decent-sized water park that is very popular with the younger crowd, think Millennials and Generation Z and the best time to go is during the summer (closed during winter). They have some fun water slides, which help during our annual heatwaves we experience usually in August and September.
Sunsets from higher ground in Evergreen or Silver Creek hills are breathtaking. (Photo by Digital Nomad Foodie)
14. Watch the sunset from Evergreen or Silver Creek hills
Believe it or not you catch some very photogenic sunsets from the Evergreen or Silver Creek hills. I wish I could give out one of the locations to watch the sunset in Evergreen hills, but I don't think the neighbors would appreciate that, so your best bet is to head up Quimby Road.
My favorite place to grab a drink, San Pedro Square Market Bar. (Photo by Digital Nomad Foodie)
15. Grab drinks during happy hour at San Pedro Square Market
San Pedro Square Market is a great place to mingle if you are single, have a family, just getting off work or hanging out in San Jose. There are many eateries to satisfy just about all your tastes buds (pizza, beach food, Mexican food, Vietnamese food, a wine bar, craft beer store + more). It's located downtown right off the 87 highway. There are two main buildings with a courtyard that separates them. In the courtyard is one of the oldest remaining Spanish settlements, the Peralta Adobe, which was built in 1797. Don't forget the weekly farmer's market held on Friday's.
16. Go bargain hunting at the San Jose Flea Market
Before there was Craigslist, there were garage sales and the San Jose Flea Market. Open since 1960, this is where you can come find those special nuts and bolts that only fit in that vintage car or other collectible you might have. It's also a great place to buy fresh produce and heck even animals like rabbits and chickens.
Did you know you about Sultan Bakery in San Jose? (Photo by Digital Nomad Foodie)
17. Buy fresh Mediterranean goodies at Sultan Bakery
My wife and I recently discovered this hidden gem of a bakery. If you love Mediterranean goodies, then make sure you swing by Sultan Bakery in San Jose. We absolutely love their fresh falafels!
The now closed San Jose Tofu Company in Japantown will be sorely missed. (Photo by Digital Nomad Foodie)
18. Visit Japantown
I lived in San Jose's Japantown for a couple years. It's a very quiet area, but it's going through some modernization. There are some newer shops and housing sprouting up around the area. One of the original shops, the San Jose Tofu Company recently closed (which is very sad because they made fresh tofu by hand daily). If you ever watched "Parts Unknown"hosted by some guy named Anthony Bourdain, then you probably saw the episode he stopped and ate at Japantown's own Minato. Also, every July come celebrate the "Obon Festival", which offers homemade imagawayaki, gyoza, tempura, teriyaki and more Japanese delicacies. There is also a weekly farmer's market held every Sunday.
Order the full rack of baby back ribs. (Photo by Digital Nomad Foodie)
19. Eat BBQ ribs at Henry's World Famous Hi-Life
Another San Jose restaurant that was on television (Travel Channel's "Man vs. Food" in 2009) is Henry's World Famous Hi-Life. If you love BBQ, you should eat a meal here. It can get very packed, especially during San Jose Shark home games because it's walking distance to the arena. I've picked up food to-go, but I highly-recommend eating there instead.
South First Arts (SoFA) located downtown San Jose. (Photo by Digital Nomad Foodie)
20. Check out arts, pop-ups and events at SoFA Market
The South First Arts (SoFA) Market, is in the heart of a rapidly growing arts district. It's a small venue mixed with various eateries and is a good place to meet up with a group of close friends. In addition, every first Friday is a self-guided art walk called, South First Fridays where you can explore galleries, museums and other special performances. Keep your ear to the ground on this growing area!
21. Eat at Falafel's Drive-In
Another San Jose restaurant that reached T.V. show stardom is Falafel's Drive-In. Host Guy Fieri of the Food Network television show, "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives" was getting his falafel fix on in that episode!
The best breakfast in town is at Bill's Cafe. (Photos by Digital Nomad Foodie)
22. Breakfast at Bill's Cafe
If you are looking for the best breakfast in town make sure you visit one of Bill's Cafe locations. My personal favorite location and the one where I've taken countless family and friends whenever they are visiting San Jose is the Willow Glen location. Be prepared for a little wait, but it's all worth it. If you are celebrating a birthday, please let the energetic staff know for your surprise! Also, make sure you grab a mimosa and a bottle of the, "Original California Style Hot Pepper Sauce" by The Pepper Plant.
My two silver medals and bronze medal for finishing in the KPMG "U.S. Military & Veterans" 5K Race Challenge at the Applied Materials Silicon Valley Turkey Trot in previous years. (Photo by Digital Nomad Foodie)
23. Run a 5K or 10K race at the annual Applied Materials Silicon Valley Turkey Trot during Thanksgiving
If you enjoy running, jogging or walking and want to earn your calories on Thanksgiving, then you should participate in the annual Applied Materials Silicon Valley Turkey Trot. Championed by Mr. Carl Guardino of the Silicon Valley Leadership Group and sponsored by Applied Materials, the annual 5K/10K races have been a huge success since 2005. The 5K/10K courses zig-zag around downtown San Jose and it's nearby neighborhoods. It's a great way to participate (either by volunteering or running) in the community on America's favorite day to eat.
24. Go ice skating indoors or outdoors
Ice skating is available indoors and outdoors in San Jose. Solar4America is the largest indoor ice skating rink west of the Mississippi. It is one of seven United States rinks that has four NHL-sized ice rinks for good measure because it's also the official practice facility for the San Jose Sharks. You can rent ice skates here if you don't have your own pair and there is even a place to grab drinks at Stanley's Sports Bar.
The Kristi Yamaguchi Downtown Ice is a seasonal (normally mid-November to mid-January) outdoor ice skating rink in the heart of downtown San Jose. You can bring your family, rent ice skates and have fun until midnight! By the way in case you don't know who Kristi Yamaguchi is, she is the 1992 Olympic women's champion for figure skating.
25. Spend a night or more at the legendary Fairmont Hotel
Spend a night of luxury or more in the posh Fairmont Hotel in San Jose. This particular location (San Jose) of the international chain of luxury hotels based out of San Francisco was recently sold for $223.5 million!
26. Take your kids to the Children's Discovery Museum
Located right off the 87 highway in downtown is the perfect place to take your kid's to which is, the Children's Discovery Museum of San Jose. Their mission is to "inspire creativity, curiosity and lifelong learning".
The Tuesday special at Georgio's Italian Food & Pizzeria is cioppino. (Photo by Digital Nomad Foodie)
27. Grab Italian at Original Joe's or Georgio's Italian Food & Pizzeria
San Jose has a couple of excellent Italian restaurants that have been around for decades. The older of the two is Original Joe's, which was established in 1956 and is located downtown. If you are tired of the lack of customer service in many of today's restaurants, you won't be disappointed when you dine here. The staff here are dressed to the nines, which also translates to the service you experience. Don't forget to order the, Joe's Special!
Georgio's Italian Food & Pizzeria was established in 1959. They have delicious specials Monday to Friday. I highly recommend coming on Tuesday for their cioppino. You get a generous portion of Italian seafood!
28. Explore downtown San Jose and enjoy free, fast WiFi
Downtown San Jose has a mixed reputation over the years, but things are slowly changing for the better. There is a brand-new city hall building and high-rise residential units being built. It's finally starting to look like a downtown worthy of the 10th largest city in the United States. If need to connect with your friends and to share your photos of awesome San Jose to your social media platforms, you are in luck. Since being offered in 2013, is "Wickedly Fast WiFi", which provides speeds 3 to 4 times faster than conventional public WiFi networks.
If want to try your hand with lady luck, check out the brand-new Bay 101 Casino in San Jose. (Photo by Digital Nomad Foodie)
29. Go play some poker, pai gow or baccarat at two San Jose casinos
If you like to gamble, then you are in luck. San Jose has two casinos, both of which have built brand-new casinos within a few yards from each other. The Casino M8trix (pronounced Matrix) and the Bay 101 Casino are walking distance from each other. They both offer plenty of table games to include poker, pai gow and baccarat. In addition, they both serve food and have bars.
Enjoy an ice cold pint at Santa Clara Valley Brewing in San Jose. (Photo by Digital Nomad Foodie)
30. If you like craft beer, then go visit a brewery
The craft beer movement is in full effect in San Jose. The Gordon Biersch Brewing Company is probably the most well-known brewery. You can schedule a private one-hour tour at their brewery or in case you are reading this at the San Jose Mineta International Airport, you can eat at their restaurant in Terminal A, near Gate 11. Don't forget to eat their legendary garlic fries!
The other craft breweries to check-out in San Jose are: Uproar Brewing Company, Hermitage Brewing Company, Hapa's Brewing Company, Strike Brewing Co., Clandestine Brewing, Santa Clara Valley Brewing, Floodcraft Brewing (formerly known as Mission Creek Brewery) and the newly opened Camino Brewing Company.
RELATED POST: The Local Guide to the San Jose Craft Beer Scene
If you love cider, make sure you stop by The Cider Junction in San Jose. (Photo by Digital Nomad Foodie)
31. Check out Silicon Valley's first craft cider bistro
Ever heard of craft cider before? If you haven't, you should pay a visit to The Cider Junction Bistro & Bottle Shop. They have over 25 taps and over 60 cans and bottles of cider. They also rotate guest cider companies who showcase their products for you to try. Their Charcuterie Board is perfect with the cider flights!
32. Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum
The Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum showcases the biggest collection of Egyptian artifacts west of the Mississippi River! Seriously, we are lucky to have such a rare specimen in San Jose. They even have an app on the App Store that you can download.
33. The Tech Museum of Innovation
The Tech Museum of Innovation located on South Market Street in downtown features an IMAX movie theatre, the famous Body Worlds exhibit which displays plastic-like human bodies and various other exhibits.
34. Kelley Park, the Japanese Friendship Garden and History Park
If you grew up in San Jose I can almost guarantee that you and your family have been to all of these co-located parks. Please bring your family here for a picnic or even a family reunion.
Stay busy feeding the koi at the Japanese Friendship Garden, which symbolizes the relationship with our "Sister City", Okayama, Japan
Enjoy the Viet Museum, which celebrates the proud "Boat People" of the Republic of Vietnam
Get lucky and eat delicious food at the annual, Taco Festival of Innovation
35. Almaden Quicksilver County Park: Learn about the secret ingredient that fueled the Gold Rush in the mid 1840's, then have a picnic
Almaden Quicksilver County Park which consists over 4,000 acres is home to an ore called cinnabar. This bright red ore contains mercury, which was the key to the Gold Rush. This park was also the residence of over 1,800 miners and their families . You can also enjoy a relaxing day picnicking among beautiful wildflowers if you visit in the spring. I have many great memories of family gatherings, church activities, moments with my beloved dogs and even running a 5K race here.
36. San Jose Municipal Rose Garden and Guadalupe River Park
The San Jose Municipal Rose Garden features over 180 types of roses on over 5 acres of land. This former prune orchard is also a very nice place to take a walk or even a picnic. Only steps away is the Guadalupe River Park, which is a great place to walk your dog or to go on a quick mid-day run.
37. Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge Environmental Education Center
Are you interested in birds, salt marshes and other wildlife? Founded in 1974 the Don Edwards San Francisco National Wildlife Refuge is an official United States Wildlife Refuge. The visitor center happens to be located in the northern-most corner of San Jose, close to Alviso. The refuge ranges from northern Santa Clara County, up to San Mateo and across the bay in Fremont. As a kid growing up, I used to love walking all the trails and exploring the marshes, so I recommend checking it out on a weekend.
38. Catch Christmas in the Park, the San Jose Jazz Festival and other events at Plaza de César Chávez
The Plaza de César Chávez located in downtown showcases many events throughout the year. Christmas in the Park open in December to early January and the San Jose Jazz Festival usually a weekend in August are probably two of the most well-known events held here. Check them out!
39. Dust off your bicycle and participate in the San Jose Bike Party
The San Jose Bike Party is a monthly community 15 to 30 mile bike ride through various routes in the South Bay. I've participated in a handful of rides over the years and they are an excellent way to meet new people, explore new areas, exercise and be part of a giant rolling party. Be creative by adding glowing spoke lights, wearing a costume or attaching a speaker system to your bike!
40. Speaking of bikes, test out Northern California's only velodrome
What's a velodrome? It's an an arena for track cycling. If you live in the Bay Area then you know that a lot of people love wearing skin tight bike gear and riding all over the place. If that's you, then did you know about the Hellyer Velodrome in south San Jose?
41. Ride electric scooters around downtown San Jose
We are lucky to enjoy three different electric scooter companies in downtown San Jose: Lime, Bird and Skip. Just download their apps, then find the nearest electric scooter and start your ride for just $1.00. It's 15 cents per minute thereafter. If you want to compare Lime and Bird, I wrote about which is better here. I also wrote up about Skip, which is the newest of the electric scooter companies here. Have fun riding around downtown San Jose!
This list of things to do in San Jose is a living document and will be constantly updated with your suggestions in case we forget something. Have fun in San Jose.