Don't spend your next layover at SJC hanging out in the airport lounge or in an uncomfortable plastic chair. Learn about ten ways you can spend your layover in San Jose, California with this guide to cheap and family friendly destinations and activities.
I wrote in a previous post about the struggles of working remotely while I was in Sweden: bad wi-fi, no wi-fi, time differences, balancing work with pleasure, etc. Today, I am going to bitch about working remotely and trains.
I love traveling on trains. By far, they are my favorite way to travel. While less flexible than driving, trains allow me to kick back, relax, and watch the scenery go by. They are more comfortable than planes, and buses give me motion sickness, except those amazing sleeper buses in Vietnam. Why, oh why, do we not have sleeper buses here?
What do you do when you think you're coming down with a cold? Rest in bed, put on Netflix, get a bowl of chicken soup? Maybe. Do you know what I do? I get my boyfriend out of bed at 7:30 am and tell him we're going on a hike even though my throat is sore and that soreness is working its way into my ears. Body aches? Check. Tickle in the throat? Check. But the sun is shining and I want nature.
I thought Henry W. Coe was beautiful in the fall with rolling hills and the foliage, but this late winter/early spring border time the rain creates hills with a neon Crayola spring green velvet fuzz. Grass is not just a well trimmed lawn. It's flowing green sprinkled with the silver locks of an aging death metal singer. Trampled with mud and soggy with run off from the impromptu creeks. Scratchy stiff stalks buzzing with bees.
Oh, the bees. As much as I value those black and yellow deliverers of honey and beeswax, they mildly terrify me when they are anywhere above the knee, which is why I screamed when my hand grabbed one from my hair. I will probably never live that moment down nor the later one when I requested my boyfriend remove a bee from my sleeve and had to look away when he did so.
The rain brought many surprises: washouts, bees, and seven salamander friends. In the redwood forest, I normally count banana slugs as a hiking ritual but Henry W. Coe is not their habitat; however, it is the home of salamanders. Initial salamander, we thought, must have been a rogue. Kicked out of the creek side congress, it sought higher and dryer ground away from the rain swollen torrents. But no, this was a community exodus. First among seven sighted salamanders, it was a leader guiding its compatriots to comfortably moist freedom.
The trail leaves the creek side and salamanders as you progress back toward headquarters. Meandering away and from the California black oak and ponderosa pine studded hillsides, run off cross-hatches the trail making what would be a rather mediocre dry weather trail into something fun and muddy.
As you may have read from previous posts on this blog, I am continually trying to find things in San Jose that make the extravagant cost of rent worth it. Yes, there is the relative proximity to the city an hour's train ride away, and there is also the closeness to the already arrived awesomeness of Oakland, the sunny beaches and cool redwood forests of Santa Cruz, and the quaint coastal beach towns of the San Mateo coast, but what is in San Jose itself? I regularly lament the lack of cool spots in this flat farm sprawl of single family homes turned tech hub. Is it important for a city to be hip and cool? Am I just not looking in the right places, or is the biggest city in the San Francisco Bay dull compared to the hip, shiny products that come out of it? Okay, maybe I'm just feeling a little bitter about my rent. *end rant*
One bright light in this sea of mediocrity and tech mono-culture is San Pedro Square. A great group spot for parties, coffee meet ups, and first dates. Need a place to take your out of town business associate? San Pedro Square is the perfect place in San Jose. With almost twenty different options for food ranging from pizza to pho, there are affordable options for almost everyone. My favorites? Phonomenal Noodle House, Konjoe Burger Bar, and B2 Coffee.
While car-less me can just walk the two miles from my house, those burdened with vehicles can find parking in the multi-level garage across street and validation from a number of businesses inside. I love the long communal wood tables, the outdoor space, and the number of choices available for food. One positive for San Jose: a wide variety of cuisines are available in its innumerable strip malls.
In a rather failed attempt to convince myself that San Jose is not a complete and utter crap hole, I try to find places of interest or beauty. One of these places is the Japanese Friendship Garden. Located in the Kelley Park complex near my favorite disc golf course, this garden features koi ponds, a building for Japanese tea ceremonies, and a public park free of homeless people sleeping in bushes. Overall, it's peaceful and beautiful, except the cost of parking which is $6.
Not far from the Planned Parenthood picketers and the gentrified Rose Garden neighborhood sits the delightfully whacky Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum. Started by the Rosicrucian Society, a secret society that makes me think of a mash up of Knights of Columbus lenten fish fries, Free Masons, and John Rhys Davies' character from Indiana Jones, the museum holds the largest collection of Egyptian artifacts west of the Mississippi.
The alabaster white exterior designed to look like a tomb is located across the street from the fanciest middle school I've ever set eyes on. The interior, split into two levels, hosts several major exhibits: life, death, alchemy (of course!), and gods and pharaohs.
While I had seen a number of the reproductions at the British Museum, there were several items that truly caught my nerd fancy: a fake mummified baboon, the reproduction of a tomb with underground passageway and a musical instrument using the Pythagorean scale. Why would I like a "fake" baboon? Well, back in the day the priests realized people would pay good money for mummified animals so they started a trade much like the shifty entrepreneurial monks of the middle ages with Jesus' nail clippings and started selling fake mummified animals. So this "fake" was thousands of years old and reminded me that people have always been duplicitous.
The tomb was unexpected and neat, but my favorite item by far, which I did not take a photo of, was the bells using the Pythagorean scale. The notes were just slightly off as to be unnerving, quite appropriate for the alchemy exhibit.
The museum also houses a planetarium and a research library. The research library holds a collection of rare alchemy and religious texts. Outside they've planted papyrus to surround the obelisks and fountain. People were even doing a photo shoot in one of the gardens.
I've known for years that the museum existed, but I'm still surprised such a place exists in the midst of bail bonds businesses and gilded age mansions turned dental offices.
San Jose has a bad rap for being the hum drum suburban back waste of the bay. It's an out of place central valley farm town catapulted into the twenty first century by the tech industry. Every where I look new Archstone style apartment complexes are being built by overseas real estate investors and rents for run down 60s apartments skyrocket. Yes, San Jose is those things and it's not vibrant, hip or young or artsy, edgy, and diverse. Nor is it stately and rich. It's your suburban mom wearing high waisted jeans buying gossip mags in line at Safeway. But that's only part of it.
While strip malls and generic everything appear to us on the surface, what is also there are the numerous east African markets, Vietnamese noodle shops, and the always bound to be delicious taqueria inside or next to a laundry mat.
One of my favorite San Jose spots is located approximately two miles east of my apartment. On the western boundary of East San Jose is Kelley Park. Home to the well preserved and free San Jose Historic Park, Happy Hollow Zoo, and Japanese Friendship Garden, Kelley Park is bustling in the summer months and the 18 hole disc golf course is at its finest in winter. Want to feed koi and relax in the shade of Japanese maple? You can do that. Want to visit a museum displaying the history of the Vietnamese community in San Jose? That's there too.
But really I just go for the disc golf.
Located south of San Jose and west of Morgan Hill, Uvas Canyon County Park nestles into a mountain side sliced by a canyon. The short but moderately strenuous hikes available in Uvas Canyon provide excellent views of the surrounding Santa Cruz mountains, including Loma Prieta, and waterfalls which trickle bucolically by your side. The drive winds up from the south valley floor through rolling green hill sides. California truly is at its most beautiful in the wet winter months. Don't be alarmed when the road takes you through the Swedish enclave of Sveadal (signs posted state private property everywhere); you're on the right route.
It gets surprisingly crowded here and the trails are short, but steep. We got ourselves stuck behind a group of slow hikers discussing the destruction of dark matter for about fifteen minutes, so don't be averse to the crowds, you never know what you're going to over hear.
The park also provides camp sites, picnic benches, and restrooms. Waterfalls are viewable from graded trails near the parking lot for less ambulatory folk looking to get a view.
After a round of disc golf and a sixteen mile bike ride, my friend and I continued to Santa Teresa County Park off Highway 101 in South San Jose. A 1,627 acre getaway from the sprawl of strip malls and congestion, Santa Teresa County Park provides miles of trails for hikers, bikers, and equestrians. We enjoyed a 2.5 mile hike through non-native grasslands and oak, with spectacular views of downtown San Jose and the rolling hills that evolve into Henry Coe State Park. Spring right after a rain is an excellent time to visit with moderate temperatures and wildflower displays.