There are so many things to do in San Jose to appeal to the tech-minded culture that has developed in the city. Technology companies like IBM, Apple, and Google set up their headquarters in the area, earning the San Jose area its current ‘Silicon Valley’ moniker. From historical landmarks to unique activities in beautiful outdoor areas, there’s plenty to discover in and around this northern California city.

    The origins of modern-day San Jose can be traced to the west coast Gold Rush. The city became the first incorporated city in the new state of California. Over time, the area developed from farmland to sprawling residential development. It’s because of this rich history that there are so many unique things to do in modern-day San Jose.

    What are the best things to do in San Jose?


    Winchester Mystery House

    ‘Mystery’ doesn’t even begin to describe it

    • History
    • Photo
    • Unusual

    The Winchester Mystery House is a sprawling 7-storey mansion with a fascinating history. It was originally owned by Sarah Winchester, heiress to the Winchester gun fortune. She supposedly received a message from her deceased husband instructing her to build a place where the dead could find peace.

    Because there was a lack of planning and blueprints, the house is full of twists and turns and bizarre features. Some of the hallways, stairways, and even doors lead only to a dead end. There are even windows between rooms when new wings were simply added to exterior walls. The overall atmosphere is very eerie, and many guests and employees have reported strange events in the house. In fact, the house frequently appears on lists of the most haunted places in the world.

    Location: 525 S Winchester Blvd, San Jose, CA 95128, USA

    Open: Daily from 9 am to 5 pm


    San Jose Flea Market

    It’s more than just a market

    • Families
    • Shoppers
    • Budget
    • Couples
    • Food

    The San Jose Flea Market is not just a place to find vintage treasures, it’s also a great place to spend a full, family day out. It’s the largest open-air market in California and currently takes up more than 120 acres of former farmland.

    Within the flea market, you’ll find multiple restaurants along with food stalls selling snacks to the hungry shoppers. There’s an old-fashioned carousel, a Ferris wheel, an arcade, and a play area with bouncy castles for kids. One major draw here is the huge farmer's market with its organic produce stands that line the street for over a quarter of a mile.

    The market is open on Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from dawn till dusk. The most popular day is Sunday when there can be up to 1500 vendors throughout the area.

    Location: 1590 Berryessa Road in San Jose, CA, USA

    Open: Wednesday, Friday–Sunday from 6 am to 6 pm

    Phone: +1 408-453-1110


    photo by Mistoffeles (CC BY-SA 4.0) modified


    The Tech Interactive

    Step into the world of Silicon Valley innovators

    • Families

    Formerly known as The Tech Museum of Innovation, The Tech Interactive is a science and technology museum located in downtown San Jose. It’s a cool place for visitors to get hands-on experience with modern technology. The Tech Interactive reflects the buzzing atmosphere of innovation created by the local tech companies in Silicon Valley.

    Some of the main highlights in the museum are exhibits on energy, exploration, and genetics. Visitors also have the opportunity to design social robots at an interactive exhibit. The museum recently launched Body Worlds Decoded, an augmented reality experience with the notorious Body Worlds plasticised anatomical figures.

    Location: 201 S. Market Street, San Jose, CA 95113-2008, USA

    Open: 10 am to 5 pm

    Phone: +1 408-294-8324


    photo by SparkFun Electronics (CC BY 2.0) modified


    Half Moon Bay

    Northern California coast at its finest

    • Families
    • Photo
    • Adventure

    If you’re interested in getting out into the countryside surrounding San Jose, head to Half Moon Bay – a beautiful stretch of California coastline. The area is full of hiking trails, small towns, and sweeping ocean views. In northern California, you can find redwood and pine forests that stretch right down to the coast. This makes for some breathtaking hikes where you can wander from forest to beach all in one afternoon.

    The best hikes in Half Moon Bay are the Purisima Creek Trail and the Half Moon Bay Coastside Trail. The Purisima Creek Trail winds through ancient redwoods and overlooks Half Moon Bay from above. The redwood trees in this area can reach heights of up to 110 metres (360 feet) and some are estimated to be over 2,200 years old. The Half Moon Bay Coastside Trail is a great option if you’re craving more beach time.

    Location: Half Moon Bay Visitor Center: 235 Main St., Half Moon Bay, CA, 94019, USA

    Open: Monday–Friday from 9 am to 5 pm, Saturday–Sunday from 10 am to 3 pm

    Phone: +1 650-726-8380


    photo by Christopher Michel (CC BY 2.0) modified


    Santana Row

    The picturesque city within a city

    • Families
    • Shoppers
    • Couples
    • Food
    • Nightlife

    Santana Row is a mixed retail and residential complex that seems like a city within a city. Within the one-mile radius of the complex, there’s a population of 24,196 people. Santana Row is a great place to spend the day shopping, dining, or just hanging out. The area features tree-lined streets, world-class restaurants, luxury brand shopping, as well as small boutiques.

    The complex hosts many special events throughout the month such as open-air yoga and Parent-Toddler type activities. One of their most popular events is the monthly Makers’ Market. This unique event is an outdoor craft fair focusing on locally-made sustainable goods complete with live music, food, and drink.

    Location: Santana Row, San Jose, CA 95128, USA


    photo by Payton Chung (CC BY 2.0) modified


    California’s Great America

    Adrenaline-fuelled fun for the whole family

    • Families

    California’s Great America is a large amusement park, full of high-speed roller coasters and other family-friendly activities. Great America is one of the best things to do in San Jose if you’re looking for an adrenaline fix or even just spend a fun day out with the family.

    Visitors can experience over 40 rides in the park in themed sections like Planet Snoopy, Celebration Plaza, and the Action Zone. During October, the park transforms itself for the Halloween Haunt season. Park visitors can wander through haunted mazes and scare zones and dodge more than 500 ‘monsters’ lurking throughout the park.

    Location: 4701 Great America Pkwy, Santa Clara, CA 95054, USA


    photo by Oleg Alexandrov (CC BY-SA 4.0) modified


    Japanese Friendship Garden

    An oasis in the middle of downtown San Jose

    • Families
    • Budget
    • Photo
    • Group

    For a peaceful afternoon, head to the Japanese Friendship Garden, a walled area within Kelley Park in San Jose. The garden was built in the 1960s to commemorate the friendship between San Jose and its Japanese sister city, Okayama. In fact, the entire area is modelled after the Korakuen Garden in Okayama, and the original koi ponds were stocked with fish that were shipped from Japan. 

    Locals love it because it is a quiet escape from the bustle of the city. Spend the afternoon exploring the Japanese garden features like the tea houses, koi ponds, and bridges spanning the water features.

    Location: 1300 Senter Rd, San Jose, CA 95112, USA

    Open: Daily from 10 am to 7 pm


    photo by Maya Visvanathan (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified


    Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum

    A world-famous collection of ancient Egyptian artefacts

    • Families
    • History
    • Photo

    If you want to see the largest collection of Egyptian artefacts in the Western United States, head to The Egyptian Museum in San Jose. The museum was founded by the order of the Rosicrucians, a group which continues to support it to this day. The founder of the order, Harvey Spencer Lewis, was an avid Egyptian artefact collector and funded several excavation digs around Egypt. 

    Lewis eventually opened the museum to display his collection to the public, and the museum has continued to expand over the years. One of the most popular activities at the museum is their scavenger hunt. A series of riddles will take visitors on an educational journey through the exhibits. The museum also organizes a Junior Archaeologist program which even includes an opportunity to spend the night in the museum amid the ancient artefacts.

    Location: 1660 Park Avenue, San Jose, CA 95126, USA

    Open: Wednesday–Friday from 9 am to 5 pm, Saturday–Sunday from 10 am to 6 pm

    Phone: +1 408-947-3635


    History Park

    Experience everyday life in the Old West

    • Families
    • History
    • Photo

    History Park in San Jose is an indoor and outdoor museum that educates visitors about Santa Clara county’s history. The park has a collection of over 30 old-west buildings which serve to represent a Californian town in the early 1900s.

    The mini city is complete with a working trolley and old-fashioned shops that are modelled after real businesses from the turn of the century. For example, O’Brien’s Ice Cream Parlor is a recreation of an ice cream shop founded in 1878, which was the first place to sell ice cream and soda west of Detroit.

    History Park is located within Kelley Park and takes up 14-acres. It’s open to visitors and is a popular setting for photo shoots and has served as a set for many Old West movies.

    Location: 1650 Senter Rd, San Jose, CA 95112, USA

    Phone: +1 408-287-2290


    photo by HarshLight (CC BY 2.0) modified


    San Jose Sharks

    Partake in the local sports culture

    • Families
    • Couples

    The San Jose Sharks are the local hockey team and watching a game is a great way to spend an afternoon while in town. The stadium is called the SAP Center but is known locally as the Shark Tank. Before each game, the stadium dims the lights and a huge shark head is lowered from the ceiling onto the ice below. As the excitement builds, the shark mouth starts to fog and the eyes glow red. Eventually, the team emerges from the mouth, skating onto the ice to Metallica music.

    The shark-themed antics don’t stop there. For example, any time the players enter a power play, the familiar Jaws theme song blasts throughout the arena and the fans start the famous Sharks chomp with their arms. The passion is contagious and the atmosphere is well worth experiencing while visiting the city.

    Location: 525 W Santa Clara St, San Jose, CA 95113, USA

    Phone: +1 408-287-7070


    photo by Guy Kawasaki (CC BY-SA 4.0) modified

    Monica Horak | Contributing Writer

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