San Jose is synonymous with technology and startups, but it’s much more than an IT hub. While the Californian city is nicknamed Silicon Valley for a reason, it offers unexpected culinary and cultural gems — as well as a fascinating multi-ethnic history — beyond the headquarters of tech giants like Facebook, Cisco, and Apple. And that’s not to mention its all-around affordability, especially compared to neighboring San Francisco (who often, and we think unfairly, steals the spotlight). Here’s how to explore San Jose on less than $75 a day.
What to Do
One of our most surprising discoveries on a recent visit is perhaps that San Jose is home to the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum, the largest collection of Egyptian artifacts in the Western North America. Modeled after the Temple of Amon at Karnak, the museum site also includes a composite replica of an ancient rock-cut tomb visitors can walk through, a stunning planetarium, a thriving garden, and extensive research library.
$9 general; open Wednesday through Sunday; hours vary.
For design hounds and history buffs alike, the Winchester Mystery House is an architectural oddity purportedly haunted by Sarah Winchester and the ghosts of men killed by the infamous Winchester rifle. Enter if you dare — a number of unexplainable phenomenon have been reported here over the years. 65-minute guided Mansion tours take visitors through the sprawling 160-room Victorian home for a look inside the doorless rooms, stairs leading dead ends, secret passages, trap doors, and the undeniably atmospheric Seance Room.
$36 general admission; open daily from 9am.
To get a more comprehensive understanding of the San Jose area, head over to the sprawling History Park, inside the larger Kelley Park, for an adventure in time travel. The park is complete with paved roads, running trolleys, and 32 original and reproduced homes, businesses, and landmarks. There’s also an especially beautiful Chinese American History Museum inside the Temple of the Five Gods — or Ng Shing Gung — and the Trolley Barn is a treasure trove of vintage streetcars and other vehicles used in the early 1900s.
Free except during special events.
Continue your cultural education at the Japanese American Museum, which showcases the San Jose area’s rich Japanese American heritage with a small but fascinating permanent collection. You’ll find early agricultural equipment, a replica of the living quarters inside a WWII internment barrack, and a powerful, in-depth look at the most decorated military unit in American history comprised mostly of Hawaiian Japanese Americans.
$5 general admission; open Thursday through Sunday, 12pm to 4pm; closed during major holidays.
When you’re ready to pick up the pace, the downtown area comes alive with a number of special events and art exhibits on the first Friday of the month for the South First Fridays Art Walk. We suggest making innovative art gallery Anno Domini your first stop. Here, don’t forget to pick up a map for all the participating locations as you enjoy the gallery’s eclectic collection of contemporary and urban art from international artists.
Free entry; food and beverages available for purchase.
What to Eat
In the heart of downtown San Jose, where large hotels take up much of the real estate, Arcadia by celebrity chef Michael Mina is a modern American steakhouse that stands out. Classic dishes get the VIP treatment here with an innovative menu that includes a trio of duck fat fries with seasonal sauces ($8), Maine lobster pot pie (market price), and Angus rib-eye steak served with pinot noir bordelaise ($50).
Craving some ethnic food? The city is home to the second largest Vietnamese American population in America. We especially recommend Vung Tau, which gained popularity in the mid-1980s with the Vietnamese community who missed the authentic flavors of home. The restaurant has since expanded to three locations throughout the Bay Area. The portions are large, so bring a few friends and order multiple dishes for a delicious family-style meal. Customer favorites include the bahn khot, or crispy shrimp and scallion “cupcakes” ($9.50), and com tom cam, or clay pot rice with shrimp, Chinese sausage, chicken, and shiitake mushrooms ($10.95).
Delve further into the Japanese heritage of San Jose with a visit to the bustling Japantown and enjoy authentic Japanese cuisine in any of the local restaurants. Minato Japanese is a longstanding family-run restaurant with fresh sushi and delicious entrees at budget-friendly prices. A large steamer basket with salmon, vegetables, and two dipping sauces that can easily feed at least two people will set you back just $15.99.
If you can’t decide on what you want to eat, head over to San Pedro Square Market, the revamped industrial warehouse that houses a modern food court with more than 25 vendors specializing in international food and drinks. Take your pick of specialty tacos from Loteria Taco Bar (two tacos for $7), a Neapolitan-style margherita pizza from Pizza Bocca Lupo ($9.99), Venezuelan arepas from Arepa Swing (from $4.99 for one), or a heaping falafel plate with all the works from Robee’s Falafel ($8.23). Stop by Vino Vino, a unique wine bar that features 13 wines on tap ($8.50 per glass) and more than 30 bottle varieties from the nearby Santa Cruz mountain wineries and Santa Clara Valley wineries.