Planning a vacation to the center of Silicon Valley? San Jose is known for its golden California sun, innovative spirit, and, of course, fabulous tourism opportunities. Truthfully, the longer you can stay in this urban gem, the better: You’ll need as much time as possible to tackle all the best things to do in San Jose, CA.
San Jose is a surprisingly family-friendly destination, with top tourist attractions like the Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose around every corner. It’s perfect for making memories you’ll cherish for a lifetime. That’s not to say that adults can’t find their groove here, too, with plenty of wineries, microbreweries, and restaurants also listed among the city’s must-see destinations.
Having a hard time figuring out what to do on your Northern California vacation? Build a one-of-a-kind itinerary with this complete list of all the best places to visit in San Jose, CA!
Must-see places to visit in San Jose, CA
Winchester Mystery House
Looking to embrace your spooky side? The Winchester Mystery House was once the home of a famous firearms dealer’s wife. Now, this historic mansion is a top San Jose destination for all things wacky, weird, and a little bit scary.
The Winchester Mystery House was named because of its owners penchant for oddities, which is evident in the house’s design. From over 2,000 doors and staircases that lead to nowhere (and, in some cases, would lead you plummeting to the ground) to hidden rooms, this mansion is certainly not your average Victorian home.
If you’re not afraid of ghosts, the “walk with spirits” tour is the mansion’s most popular. Just keep your eyes peeled for the famous “Wheelbarrow Ghost!”
Municipal Rose Garden
If you really want to enjoy your trip to San Jose, it’s important to make time to stop and smell the roses. No, really: The Municipal Rose Garden is one of the city’s most compelling attractions and a must-see for travelers.
Thanks to its 3,500 plants and 189 unique varieties, the Municipal Rose Garden has earned the title of “America’s Best Rose Garden.” Better yet, the garden offers free admission. This destination needs to be seen by any passionate home gardener and anyone with an appreciation for natural beauty.
The Municipal Rose Garden stays open for a half-hour after sunset; if you’re looking for a vacation date night, look no further. Walk hand in hand amidst the lush scenery, illuminated by a golden hour glow and with the scent of roses carrying through a gentle breeze. What could be more romantic than that?
Happy Hollow Park & Zoo
Home to over 150 species, the Happy Hollow Park & Zoo is one of San Jose’s top destinations for families and animal lovers of all ages.
The Happy Hollow Park & Zoo is split into two separate areas. The Zoo on the Hill features anteaters, lemurs, and domestic farm animals. The Zoo in the Hollow, on the other hand, houses exotic animals like jaguars, red pandas, and alligators. You can visit both but be prepared: It’s a bit of a walk between the two sections.
Besides the animal exhibits (which are obviously the main attraction), there’s a ton of other kid-friendly entertainment at the Happy Hollow Park & Zoo to keep the little ones’ attention all day long.
There’s an amusement park area with nine different rides suited to different age groups, as well as a Puppet Castle Theatre where their imaginations will explore the world of classic fairy tales.
Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum
One of San Jose’s greatest specialty museums, the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum gives guests the opportunity to step inside an ancient Egyptian tomb. Whether you grew up reading adventure stories about the pyramids and tomb raiders or find yourself intrigued by ancient civilizations, this museum is sure to be a hit.
From hieroglyphs to sculpture, the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum artifact collection is one the largest on the West Coast. Of course, the highlight for many is the array of mummies. You can even attend a workshop on making papyrus and other objects from it, including reed boats!
Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose
Need a boredom-buster specifically catered to little ones? The Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose is one of the most family-friendly attractions in San Jose, CA, with experiment zones and playscapes designed to nurture their natural sense of curiosity. The museum is best suited to kids ages 4-10, though there’s a handful of activity zones designated for younger toddlers as well.
What can you expect from a day at the Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose? You’ll create giant bubble rings, make your own great discovery in the dinosaur dig pit, and build a giant fort and tunnel system at the imagination playground. And that’s just the start of it.
Don’t forget to keep an eye out for rubber ducks! Find all 20 in the Discovery Duck Scavenger Hunt and receive a special souvenir to bring home.
Visiting on the last day of your San Jose vacation? The Zoom Zone is an airplane-themed playroom designed in collaboration with the local airport to foster excitement about aviation and expend all that extra energy before boarding your flight home.
San Jose Museum of Art
Art lovers simply cannot visit a new city without finding its best museum. Well, lucky for you, the San Jose Museum of Art is right up there with the city’s top points of interest. Featuring both rotating exhibitions and a permanent collection of 2,500 works, the bright and spacious galleries focus on modern and contemporary styles.
Did hours of contemplating artistic genius work up an appetite? El Cafecito by Mezcal, the museum’s in-house restaurant, is a great place to break for a quick cup of coffee and lunch. Refuel with their fresh selection of soups, salads, and sandwiches. Oh, and be sure to try their Mexican peanut marzipan if you’re in the mood for a sweet treat!
Plaza de Cesar Chavez
Looking for a quick must-see activity to fill out your itinerary? Take a quick jaunt through the Plaza de Cesar Chavez. The unofficial “Central Square” of Downtown San Jose, this historic landmark is located at the site where City Hall once stood. Comprised of green lawns, fountains, palm trees, and some neat outdoor event spaces, the two-acre park is definitely worth a visit on your San Jose vacation.
During the holiday season, the Plaza de Cesar Chavez becomes a fun Christmas market with giant decorations, ice skating, and hot cocoa. During the summer months, the square hosts weekly farmers’ markets and outdoor concerts.
Japanese American Museum of San Jose
Located on Fifth Street in Japantown, the Japanese American Museum of San Jose is a cultural attraction that should be on the top of every socially conscious traveler’s list. With exhibits highlighting the art & history of the local Japanese community, this museum’s purpose is to promote cross-cultural understanding and preserve tradition. The museum first opened its doors in 1987 and has been open from Thursday to Sunday every week since.
The Japanese American Museum of San Jose, also known as JAMsj, showcases a permanent collection featuring the works of artisans held in Japanese internment camps during WWII, a recreation of a family barracks, a celebration of Japanese American sport, and a deep dive into agriculture and the American dream.
The museum also frequently hosts fun events like origami pop-up shops and musical performances. Check out the events calendar to see what’s on during your trip.
On the same 172-acre lot as Happy Hollow Park & Zoo, Kelley Park is a great place to make a pitstop for lunch. There are several playgrounds for kids to blow off some steam, a full-size disc golf course, and ten curated picnic areas with tables, BBQs, and more.
Fun fact: You can make picnic reservations at your favorite spot to take some of the rush and guesswork out of your day. We’d recommend booking picnic tables at the Family Circle, especially if you have a slightly larger group.
Almaden Quicksilver County Park
Once a mining town nestled into the Capitancillos ridge of the Santa Cruz Mountains, Almaden Quicksilver County Park now offers tourists a sliver of Californian gold rush history.
Spanning over 4,000 acres, this natural landmark is also known for having the most spectacular fields of wildflowers in the region; be sure to bring your camera along if you plan to frolic in the spring and late-summer blooms.
If you want to take the history buff’s approach to exploring Almaden Quicksilver County Park, there are a few places you should target. Several mining structures remain throughout the park, but many are closed off to aid in historical preservation. You can, however, view the San Cristobal Mine from a distance and deep dive into the minor’s tales at the New Almaden Quicksilver Mining Museum.
Prefer to walk on the wild side and participate in Almaden Quicksilver County Park’s nature tourism activities? There’s a huge network of hiking trails and equestrian trails to choose from and catch-and-release fishing in the reservoir.
The Tech Interactive
We all know Silicon Valley is a hub for tech innovation, but what exactly does that mean? Well, The Tech Interactive can’t wait to show you. This popular technology museum provides a hands-on look at STEAM subjects and their application across a broad spectrum of fields to improve sustainability, human longevity, and the everyday experience. Especially if you have a rainy day to kill, the Tech Interactive is one of the coolest things to do in San Jose, CA—and it’s guaranteed to keep everyone engaged for hours on end.
No two days at The Tech Interactive will look alike. A few of the most raved-about guest experiences, though, include riding a NASA-inspired jet pack chair, painting a digital art masterpiece, building your own robot, and mixing your own musical backtrack.
You’ll also have access to the world’s first laser dome projector and one of the largest IMAX theatres ever built. The museum is educational in nature, but you’ll definitely forget you’re learning anything because playing your way through these exhibits is a ton of fun!
Almaden Lake Park
Looking for some prime waterfront? Almaden Lake Park boasts 65 acres of lakeside trails and a small sandy beach. You may be tempted to wade on in, but unfortunately, this lake is “no humans allowed.” You can, however, take a lovely stroll around its perimeter or eat a picnic lunch at the spot with the most amazing views.
Of course, no family picnic is complete without some fun and games. Dispersed throughout Almaden Lake Park are Bocce ball, volleyball, and horseshoe courts. There’s also a seasonal concession stand for all your snacking needs—no need to waste your precious vacation time packing lunch and prepping sandwiches.
San Jose Flea Market
One of San Joe’s top points of interest, the San Jose Flea Market dates back to 1960. What started as a quaint little parking lot exchange has now grown to include over 600 vendor stalls and sells virtually anything you could dream of. Fresh produce? Check. Artisanal jewelry? Check. Quirky graphic tees, street food, and vinyl bar signs? Check, check, and check.
This is a fun, budget-friendly activity as it’s free to get in and wander around; just don’t blame us if you spend your entire souvenir budget on genuine leather cowboy boots!
Have little ones tagging along? Be sure to visit the Kid’s Zone, where they can get their thrills at the Ferris wheel, bouncy castle, arcade, and selection of pint-sized rides.
Seasonally, Friday nights transform into a “Market After Dark.” Check it out if you want a more atmospheric experience for your market visit.
NOTE: The San Jose Flea Market is slated to close in 2024, and many of its vendors are slowly packing up shop. The flea market grounds will become the future home of the Berryessa BART Urban Village.
Started in 1993 in the owner’s garage, Testarossa Winery is now a gorgeous, sprawling estate known for its famous pinot noir and chardonnay.
These winemakers welcome you into their indoor tasting room and their patio wine bar—charcuterie plate accompaniment, anyone?—from Thursday to Sunday. Be sure to schedule a trip into your weekend itinerary if you don’t want to miss out.
Of course, there are a few ways to take your Testarossa Winery experience to the next level. You could follow your tasting up with a behind-the-scenes tour of the historic vineyard or take a “Testarossa University” class. Just come as you are and leave the next great sommelier.
Turning you into the perfect host for your next dinner party, this class will have you whipping out your pairing knowledge and stunning your guests with tasting notes that only a sophisticated palette can detect.
Strike Brewing Co. & Warehouse Taproom
Strike Brewing Co. & Warehouse Taproom is a craft brewery specializing in IPAs and small-batch, experimental pours. And it might just be San Jose’s greatest. (The locals sure seem to love it!)
Besides being a great place to hang out in the evening, it’s also worth popping by Strike Brewing Co. to grab a six-pack to go. That way, you’ll be all stocked up for happy hours all vacation long.
Looking to make some new buddies and let your competitive spirit out? The Warehouse Taproom hosts a Trivia game every Thursday night starting at 7 pm.
Nothing goes better with good craft beer than quirky games and a bit of cheer. Well, except maybe some good grub! That’s why there’s almost always an ever-rotating selection of the city’s best food trucks parked right outside.
Looking for San Jose’s best coffee shop? Academic Coffee roasts and grinds its own beans on-site. As an added bonus, this zero-emissions cafe cares about the environment as much as they care about getting you your morning java fix.
If you’re thinking of dining in at Academic Coffee, you’ll have your pick of pastries, donuts, and, of course, really good coffee. Beyond the full menu of standard espresso-based beverages, you’ll also find some insanely creative drink options like an espresso elderflower tonic and hojicha roasted green tea.
A word to the wise: Don’t settle for substandard hotel coffee to fuel your day of sightseeing in San Jose. Academic Coffee offers fresh-filled growers and tall-boy cans of their cold brew to-go.
Smoking Pig BBQ Company
When your tummy starts to grumble, there’s no better option than indulging in the city’s tastiest ribs at Smoking Pig BBQ Company. Owned by renowned pitmaster Paul Reddick, this restaurant has been listed in five annual Michelin guides since opening its doors in 2011.
The menu at Smoking Pig BBQ Company is packed with saucy, meaty goodness. Staples like pulled pork, brisket, wings, and chili cheeseburgers are served alongside all your favorite BBQ sides like mac and slaw. (Don’t tell KFC, but this is what finger-lickin’ good is supposed to be!)