Oh, San Jose. You get such a bad rap when compared to the more cosmopolitan and urban bay area cities of San Francisco and Oakland. And let’s be honest, that’s for a reason. San Jose is where people live and work. It’s not a place that people drive an hour or two to spend a day in. It’s not full of easily identifiable tourist spots, trendy restaurants, and cultural activities. Hell, even it’s skyline, due to the airport and its flight path, sucks. So what do you do then if you’re stuck in San Jose on a layover?
An easy canned answer would be to take the CalTrain to San Francisco or the BART to Oakland. However, if you’ve only got six hours this is not the best option, as both of these places are at least an hour drive or multiple hours on public transportation. Plus, the CalTrain is expensive at almost $20 for a day pass to San Francisco. Instead, why not take things at a more relaxed pace and check out the easily accessible downtown San Jose?
Here are the ten best ways to spend a layover in San Jose.
1. The Rosicrucian Museum and Planetarium. The Rosicrucian Museum claims to be the largest collection of Egyptian artifacts on the West coast. Even if this isn’t true, it’s a great little museum only a ten-minute drive from the airport. They not only have numerous artifacts, they have a model crypt set up in the basement. It’s situated on lovely grounds, and there’s also a library of antique Rosicrucian texts. This is a great pick for anyone traveling with children, especially those 5 and under because the museum is free for them.
2. San Pedro Market Square. Hungry? Then head over to San Pedro Market Square a combination indoor and outdoor food market. With diverse food options from pizza to pho to arepas, San Pedro Market Square is sure to please most palates and wallets. They’ve got outdoor seating with local sports games playing on the television and sometimes outdoor entertainment. It’s less than a ten-minute drive from the airport, so taking a taxi or Lyft won’t break your budget.
3. Tech Museum of Innovation. San Jose and the surrounding Silicon Valley is known for being the center of technology in the United States. The Tech Museum of Innovation captures the forward thinking and innovative spirit of the region. A family friendly destination, it’s got plenty of interactive exhibits to keep adults and children engaged including a Biodesign studio, biometrics, and cyber detection. Or you can sit back and relax with an IMAX movie. This landmark destination is only ten minutes from the San Jose airport in downtown.
4. Wander around Japantown (Nihonmachi). Did you know that San Jose is home to one of three remaining authentic and historic Japantowns in the United States? In this nearly 130-year-old neighborhood, you can shop in a number of stores selling items from Japan, eat at homestyle Japanese restaurants (there’s also good sushi here), and check out the Japanese American Museum of San Jose. For more information on what you can find in Japantown check out this website.
5. Explore the Guadalupe River Park and Gardens. Following the Guadalupe River through downtown San Jose, the Guadalupe River Park and Gardens provides a great place to stretch your legs between flights. The park offers more than two miles of trails through a riparian environment, historic fruit orchards, drought tolerant landscaping, and more than three thousand varieties of roses at the heritage rose garden. One of the best parts: this attraction is completely free.
6. Discover Kelly Park. Kelley Park is a 160 plus acre park located near Little Saigon about a fifteen-minute drive from the airport. The park features a beautiful Japanese Friendship Garden, an 18 hole disc golf course, the San Jose Historical Museum, and Happy Hollow Zoo. It’s a peaceful escape to stretch your legs while traveling. Access to the gardens and disc golf course are free, but the zoo charges a general admission fee of $14.25 for ages 2-59.
7. Go back in time at the Peralta Adobe and Fallon House. Built in 1797 by Manuel Gonzelez, second mayor of San Jose, the adobe is the last remaining structure of the El Pueblo de San José de Guadalupe. The building features an outdoor oven and is set up inside for visitors to see what it would have been like to live in San Jose in its early years. Tickets also include admission to the Fallon House, an 1850s Victorian home.
8. Go shopping at Santana Row. A little farther out of the way is the high-end shopping area of Santana Row. Home to upmarket boutiques like Kate Spade, Gucci, and Ted Baker, this is a great spot to stop for clothes horses or people looking to see a lot of Tesla’s parked in one spot. It can also be a great spot to grab a bite to eat ranging from casual eateries to gourmet dining experiences.
9. Delve into San Jose’s Latino heritage at the Mexican Heritage Plaza. Located in East San Jose’s Alum Rock neighborhood is one of California’s largest multipurpose centers dedicated to Latino culture. The plaza, located on lush grounds in the shadow of the Diablo Mountains, contains thematic gardens, a 4,000 square-foot exhibition space, a plaza, and many more event spaces. The plaza regularly hosts cultural events so check out their calendar before heading over.
10. Eat in Little Saigon. With more than 180,000 residents, Little Saigon in San Jose has the largest population of Vietnamese residents of any city outside of Vietnam. Located between Story and Tully, this East San Jose neighborhood is a great place to get authentic Vietnamese food. For the center of Vietnamese-American community in San Jose, head to Vietnam Town or Grand Century Mall on Story Road where you can sample authentic Vietnamese dishes such as pho, banh mi, or the more adventurous bun bo hue at Bun Bo Hue An Nam.