Last Updated on May 19, 2023

Whether on business or for vacation, San Jose has a variety of activities and places to see to make your visit pleasurable. For years, my wife and I used San Jose as a central point of arrival for exploring the greater San Francisco Bay area from Napa Wine Country to the north and Monterey, Carmel and Big Sur to the south. We’ve come to discover that as California’s third-largest city, visiting places in San Jose presents rewards of its own including diverse restaurants, outdoor adventures and unique attractions you can’t find anywhere else in the world.

San Jose Things to Do

Whether visiting places in San Jose alone or with family or friends, you’ll find that it’s impossible to get bored here. From luxurious malls and restaurants to sporting events and museums, there is no shortage of fun and interest to be found in San Jose. Here are our favorites.

The Tech Interactive

As the unofficial ‘capital’ of Silicone Valley, America’s technology epicenter, it makes sense for San Jose to host a technology-based interactive museum. Tech Interactive was first introduced in a temporary exhibit in San Jose’s former convention center in 1990. The museum now resides in an impressive three floor mango and azure-colored building in downtown San Jose.

Inside and out, it showcases technology-based sculptures and artistry. The artwork brilliantly reflects the intertwined relationships between art, technology and natural resources.

The Tech Interactive is an amazing place to visit for the entire family. With a large variety of interactive exhibits about customization, genetics, energy efficiency, exploration and robotics, this museum is wonderful for anyone. Formerly called the Tech Museum of Innovation, ‘The Tech’ as it is now referred to hosts northern California’s only IMAX Dome showing both mainstream and educational films. 

The Unusual Story of Winchester Mystery House

The Winchester Mystery House
The Winchester Mystery House – the house number 525 on Winchester Boulevard in San Jose, California, USA, is now an extravagant tourist attraction. Courtesy of Deposit Photos.

San Jose’s most famous – or infamous – attraction, the massive, rambling Winchester Mystery House is guaranteed to provide a bizarre and unsettling experience. Sarah Winchester, heir to the Winchester rifle fortune, felt haunted by the spirits of all those killed by Winchester guns. Believing a restless spirit would only enter a completed home, she endeavored to keep her Winchester Mansion under construction 24 hours a day, 365 days a year until the day of her death 36-years later.

The resulting Victorian-style mansion is a labyrinthine oddity filled with unique and strange architectural features such as a second-story door that opens onto thin air and stairs and corridors leading to dead ends. Today, 110 of the Mystery House’s 160 rooms are open for exploration. 

Egyptian Rosicrucian Museum

San Jose is home to the museum with the largest collection of Egyptian artifacts on the entire West Coast, with more than 4,000 exhibited items. Here at the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum, you can admire the many mysteries and artistry of this ancient culture without travelling half a world away.

Among the most unusual exhibits here are four human mummies and several mummified cats, baboons, and yes, even sharks. For those fascinated by Egyptian culture and history, this is a must-see venue. Designed as a teaching center, the museum also includes a research library and a planetarium. And how fitting that you can find the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum right next to an Egyptian-themed park.

Municipal Rose Garden

With plenty of sunshine and picture-perfect weather, there’s nothing visiting places in San Jose outdoors like this California rose garden with early and long-blooming colorful rosebushes. San Jose’s Municipal Rose Garden at the intersection of Dana and Naglee Avenues has been honored as ‘America’s Best Rose Garden.’

This gem in the Rose Garden neighborhood is perfect for family and friends and a favorite photo spot for wedding parties and lovers. It’s also a great spot to ‘stop and smell the roses’ with a relaxing picnic and a bottle of wine enjoying the bountiful splashing colors from Mother Nature’s palette.

The Escape Game San Jose

Timeliner Train Through Time at the Escape Game San Jose.
Timeliner Train Through Time at the Escape Game San Jose.

The Escape Game San Jose is located at Westfield Valley Fair, right in the heart of Silicon Valley. The Escape Game is America’s premier provider of uniquely premium escape rooms, with each game having multiple rooms to explore. You and your team will enter an immersive environment where you’ll have 60 minutes to follow clues, solve puzzles, and complete your mission before time runs out.

The Escape Game San Jose features five completely immersive escape rooms, including one of our newest games, The Depths. Each escape room holds up to 8 players, and is the perfect activity for all ages.

Santana Row

An appealing residential and commercial district of West San Jose, Santana Row attracts visitors and locals alike to shop, dine, and enjoy life with its vibrant mix of boutique shops, restaurants, and entertainment venues in a lovely urban setting. The 42-acre ‘village’ developed as a luxury, mixed residential and shopping district has been a smashing success in mixed-use urban development.

Santana Row also hosts a CineArts movie theatre, the lovely boutique Hotel Valencia, spas, salons, live music venues, and even outdoor yoga classes in its outdoor parks and plazas. Dining options range from classic burger and pub hotspots to fine Italian, French or Asian-fusion dining establishments.  The Row’s top stores are too numerous to list but include among Tesla, Nike, lululemon, Kate Spade, and Madewell.

Japanese Friendship Garden

Serene and beautiful, the Japanese Friendship Garden was built in 1965 as a symbol of friendship between San Jose and its sister-city Okayama, Japan. Spanning six acres in Kelly Park, San Jose’s Japanese Friendship Garden is patterned after Okayama’s famous Korakuen Garden. Its tranquil three main ponds sit at different levels and are interconnected by streams.

Koi fish, lovely Japanese bridges, and soothing waterfalls are the main features of the garden. All these elements contribute to a peaceful sensation and romantic ambience, making this place perfect for a relaxing walk.

The Japanese Friendship Garden is also a popular place for wedding ceremonies.

Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph

The imposing Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph traces its roots back to San Jose de Guadalupe. This was the original church built on site serving as the first non-mission Roman Catholic parish built in California for the benefit of Spanish settlers instead of Native Americans.

Residing in the downtown area of San Jose, this historic church was elevated in 1985 to a cathedral serving the diocese and made a minor basilica by Pope John Paul II in 1997. Today it is listed as a California Historical Landmark and named to the National Register of Historic Places. Admired for its architectural beauty and impressive dome, the cathedral also radiates a peaceful and enchanting atmosphere for thousands of visitors and parishioners alike. 

San Pedro Square Market

A popular downtown hot spot, the San Pedro Square Market is the place to dine and shop. There is an amazing variety of exciting food vendors at the market offering everything from pizza, craft beer, Latin-American food, sushi, fancy fusion hot dogs, oysters, and more. In the Market, much of the fresh food comes directly from local farms. Lots of dog-friendly patio dining is available. Wine and café bars add to the festive atmosphere.

With lots of live entertainment, the market is popular for locals and tourists alike. Its movie venues, live music, book signings, comedy shows, and sports pubs provide a setting that is always lively and cheerful year-round.

SAP Center

Affectionately known as the ‘Shark Tank,’ the SAP Center is the host arena for the National Hockey League’s San Jose Sharks. While the 32-year-old franchise has yet to win a Stanley Cup, the Sharks have no shortage of passionate fans.

You can visit the SAP Center when a game is hosted or when the Sharks are training and enjoy the electric atmosphere generated by its supporters. For those not into hockey, the SAP Center operates 170 event days per year including 60 other sporting competitions and numerous concert, family, and children’s performances in addition to the 41 San Jose Shark home games.

The arena has been consistently ranked in the Top 5 in North America and Top 10 in the World for non-sports attendance and has won several Arena of the Year awards.

San Jose Museum of Art

Located downtown next to the Plaza De Cesar Chavez Park, the San Jose Museum of Art is dedicated to contemporary art exhibits and pieces created by artists from the West Coast. While many of the exhibitions display the works of California artists, the museum is expanding its reflection of Pacific Rim artistry.

Art lovers and cultural enthusiasts can enjoy a wide array of works that include paintings, sculpture, photography, drawings and more. The museum’s 33,000-square-foot historic main wing with its Romanesque architecture, steeple and clock tower, once served as the main city post office and later, as San Jose’s library.

In 1972, the building was named a California Historical Landmark and a year later was added to the National Register of Historic Places. A 45,000-square-foot modern wing was added in 1991 to house its expanding collection.

Children’s Discovery Museum

Similar to Tech Interactive, the Children’s Discovery Museum provides unique experiences and learning opportunities not only for children, but also adults. Learning is fun. Inspiring creativity and curiosity is what this museum is all about. Kids can dig for fossils, make enormous bubbles, play among giant mammoth replicas and splash around in the incredibly popular WaterWays. Its many exhibits are utterly amazing.

This museum is a renowned cultural institution serving children, families, and schools in the Silicon Valley/San Francisco Bay Area and owes a lot to one of its founders, Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple Computer.

How impressive is it? San Jose’s Children’s Discovery Museum has been ranked by Child Magazine as one of the top 10 children’s museums in the United States and ranked by the London Observer as one of the top 5 science centers in the world.

Happy Hollow Park & Zoo

Another of the visiting places in San Jose great for the little ones, this venue combines a small accredited zoo, family rides, a Puppet Theater, play areas, and educational opportunities. While its collection of 140 animals on display is not extensive, it includes a wide variety from endangered lemurs and giant anteaters to pygmy goats. The main attractions of the park include a play area for children, an animal petting zoo, and kiddie rides.

The Happy Hollow Park & Zoo also hosts an education department featuring interactive exhibits where children can learn more about the animals they visit. Year-round classes are offered for children of all ages and adults with special events for all seasons.

Park Monopoly

San Jose takes a much beloved board game to an entirely new level. Within California’s Discovery Meadow sits a huge Monopoly board that measures 900 square feet and is made out of granite. However, this massive game board is not only for the show. You can actually rent it and have fun with your friends for a few hours playing a fully life-sized, real-deal monopoly game.

Castle Rock State Park

For those wanting to escape the city, a 45-minute drive to Castle Park State Park offers expansive panoramic views filled with rocky outcrops, sculpted sandstone features and rich forests along one of the highest ridges of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Park visitors enjoy hiking, backpacking, and horseback riding along 34 miles of rugged trails. Home to many species of California native wildlife, including mountain lions, the park is also known for its California black oaks, knobcone pines, and high-elevation coast redwoods.

Rock climbers come to explore the park’s caverns and rocks, including the namesake Castle Rock. Mountain bikers ride the Skyline Trail (Bay Area Ridge Trail) located on the north side of Highway 35. The park’s trails conveniently connect to an extensive trail system linking the Santa Clara and San Lorenzo valleys to nearby Big Basin Redwoods State Park and open space preserves on the Skyline to the Sea Trail.

Where to Stay in San Jose

As a major metropolitan area, San Jose has all of the hotel options you’d expect. Use the map below to find what’s best for you.