San Jose thinks of itself as more than microchips. On a sunny Friday afternoon, the Downtown Farmer's Market at San Pedro Square is packed. Shaded by sycamore trees and bright red and blue awnings over the stalls, shoppers roam amongst fruit and flower vendors, sampling bites of bright green Mutsu apples and baby bananas. The scent of freshly made crepes wafts throughout.
Later, some move on to the superbly restored California Theatre, passing through a soaring lobby filled with frescoes and glowing chandeliers, for an evening of world-class opera in season. Others walk a few blocks to the
galleries of SoFA
(South of First Area) for the live music of South First Fridays, and many more walk to the
to watch the San Jose Sharks or a headliner concert.
There's a buzz here apart from the
Silicon Valley heritage. With nearly one million people, San Jose is the third largest city in the state and the largest in northern California, yet a small town charm remains.
Only a 45-minute drive south of San Francisco, the capitol of
basking in the sun for 300 days of sunshine annually; for six years in a row, it was crowned the nation's safest big city. The astounding diversity (more than 40 languages are spoken here) is mirrored in the many flavours of its shops, restaurants, and festivals - from the San Jose Jazz Festival to Cinco de Mayo. The census bureau reveals the demographics as: 33% white, 32.1% Hispanic, 28% Asian and 2.8% African-American.
Founded in 1777,
it's the oldest civil settlement in California and the site of the first state capitol. Museums are nationally ranked and the economy supports from opera, symphony and traveling Broadway shows to championship sports teams. CNN.com reported that San Jose was ranked as the 8th best fitness walking city in the nation. It does enjoy a mean temperature of 70 degrees and the cityscape is dotted with colorful paseos and sheltered alleys. You can also walk for miles in the green corridors of the Coyote Creek or Los Gatos Creek trail systems or choose between urban and mountain parks of the 45,000-acre Santa Clara County Parks system.
There's plenty to see here from The Tech Museum to Great America, plus shopping, dining, world-class golfing and festival hopping. Within a short drive, you hike in redwoods or discover gleaming beaches and tasty wineries.
A mariachi band in silver-studded charro outfits serenades shoppers - another of the many surprises at the San Jose Flea Market, which covers 120 acres, the largest open-air flea market in America.
San Jose houses the largest population of Vietnamese-Americans of any U.S. city, evident from the spicy flavours of this culture at some 200 stores in a unique Vietnamese business area along Story Road near Senter Road. Nearby, a new Vietnam Town Mall is emerging near the planned Vietnamese Heritage Gardens.
Three miles from the city center, Santana Row has so much energy and high-end fashion, it has been called "Silicon Valley's answer to Rodeo Drive," attracting a young, hip crowd.
San Jose's dining scene keeps getting hotter; downtown offers everything from the innovative cuisine of Arcadia Modern American Steakhouse, helmed by food legend Michael Mina, to the inexpensive yet excellent comfort food of the Sonoma Chicken Coop and the new, multinational San Pedro Square Bistro & Wine Bar. On a budget? The humble burrito is elevated to an art form at local favourites like La Victoria.
The American Musical Theatre of San Jose offers musical touring shows, as well as original productions. The glittering California Theatre is a symbol of the city's commitment to its history and the arts, home to Opera San José, Ballet San Jose Silicon Valley, Symphony Silicon Valley, Cinequest Film Festival, and many touring companies. Ballet San Jose is the second largest company in the state and puts on four top-notch, lavish main stage productions annually.
In San Jose's History Park, look for the town's newest museum: The Museum of the Boat People, exploring the culture and history of the Vietnamese community. The institution is a tribute to San Jose's Vietnamese population, the largest outside Vietnam.
Downtown, the Tech Museum of Innovation is home to the ultimate movie experience and Northern California's only domed IMAX screen. Its themed galleries explore the fun side of innovation, the Internet, the human body, and exploration - so Silicon Valley!
The giant, purple Children's Discovery Museum of San Jose is ranked by Child Magazine as one of the top ten children's museums in the nation. Rosicrucian Park is home to Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum & Planetarium. The San Jose Museum of Art is open daily except Mondays and showcases a range of the newest frontiers of art.
The South of First Arts Area (SoFA) ripples with nightlife, from the Agenda Lounge, with its multi-level dance floor, to the Elixir Ultralounge in South First Billiards. Just down First Street, vivid colors splash across the walls of galleries like MACLA (Movimiento De Arte Y Cultura Latino Americana).
San Jose boasts successful pro teams: the National Hockey League's San Jose Sharks and the National Lacrosse League's San Jose Stealth who play at the HP Pavilion, which just completed a $16.5 million renovation.
Where downtown meets the
San Jose State University
campus, the soaring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library (another Redevelopment Agency Project) is another site of innovation. A unique city and university partnership, it's the nation's first such co-managed library. 7,500 visitors arrive daily, drawn by assets like the world's largest Steinbeck archive and the Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies.
The largest concentration of technology expertise in the world, with 6,600 technology companies, exists here and San Jose boasts the highest median household income in the nation. More than half of the adults living in Silicon Valley hold a college degree and San Jose leads the nation in patent generation. San Jose State University (SJSU) is Silicon Valley's largest institution of higher learning with 30,000 students and 4,000 employees. More than microchips indeed!
Mary Martin is a graduate of the State University of New York at Buffalo. She is interested in and writes about world travel.
Courtesy of San Jose Convention & Visitors Bureau
If you go
Lat/Lon: 37.4° N 121.9° W
San Jose Convention & Visitors Bureau: http://sanjose.org/
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