Things to do in San Jose, California

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Are you looking for fun things to do in San Jose, California? While the city may be known as the capital of Silicon Valley, it has more than enough attractions to keep you busy for a few days. I recently travelled down with my wife and daughter and had a blast. While the costs in San Jose aren’t much different from other major cities in California, there are various attractions to keep you entertained. Here are the top things to do in San Jose, California.

Winchester Mystery House

Due to its architecture and history, the Winchester Mystery House is one of the best things to do in San Jose, California. The building was built by Sarah Lockwood Pardee Winchester, who saw much tragedy as her infant daughter and husband passed away within a few years of each other. Her husband was William Wirt Winchester, who made Sarah the heir to the  Winchester Repeating Arms fortune. Legend says Sarah visited a psychic to ask about her bad luck. She was told that spirits were after her and the only way to avoid them was to keep building or moving so they couldn’t find her. As a result, the Winchester Mystery House has stairs that lead to nowhere, mismatched steps, and many more secrets. 

Mansion tours are $41.99 for adults, $19.99 for children, and $34.99 for seniors.

Fun things to do in San Jose, California

Santana Row

Without a doubt, Santana Row is one of the fun things to do in San Jose, California, that you can’t miss. This shopping, dining, and entertainment street is suitable for all ages. You’ll find a mix of restaurants, bars and lounges at night. You’ll also come across bubble tea and a bakery. Regardless of what type of cuisine you’re into, you’ll find it here. My family and I dined at Oveja Negra, a Spanish tapas restaurant located in the Hotel Valencia. After eating beef cheeks and paella, we strolled Santa Row and checked out Mai Do, a stationary and gift store. Towards the south end of the street, there’s a Cinemark CinéArts that opens early, so you can catch movies at any time.

Westfield Valley Fair

Right across the street from Santana Row is Westfield Valley Fair, the largest mall in Northern California. A recent renovation saw the retail space increase, and some major brands moved in, including Eataly, Ramen Nagi, Salt & Straw, Shake Shack, Marugame Udon, and more. Most people will come here to eat, but it’s also a nice place to window shop. During the weekends, you’ll find performers outside, which keeps guests entertained. Parking here can get crazy on the weekends. You might be better off parking at Santana Row and walking over.

Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum

Anyone interested in Egyptian culture should check out the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum. The museum hosts the largest collection of Egyptian artifacts in Western North America, but many of the items are replicas. With thousands of artifacts on display, spending a few hours here is not hard. As you walk through the museum, you’ll learn about Egyptian culture, including how mummification works. In addition, regular workshops are held where you can learn more about ancient Egypt, such as symbols, myths, and ecology.

Admission is just US$10 for adults 18-64 or $8 for children, students, and seniors.

Things to do in San Jose California

Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose

If you’re travelling to San Jose with children, stop at the Children’s Discovery Museum is a must. This interactive museum allows kids to explore different play areas, including cooking/grocery shopping, emergency services, building, and excavation. Outside, there’s a massive garden with a playground, treehouse and bubbles. Admittedly, parents will be rather bored, but it’s an easy way to kill time if you have little ones. This museum is good for all ages as the second floor has an area exclusive to those aged five and under. In addition, the museum has rotating exhibitions that you can participate in. 

Admission is US$18 for those aged 1 to 59 or $16 if you’re 60+. 

The Tech Interactive

Although The Tech Interactive may seem like just another museum, it’s actually a great place for children and adults to get inspired. This building focuses on hands-on exhibits that relate to science and technology. For example, my daughter took part in a short workshop where a Stanford genetics student taught the group how hunters and gatherers evolved with tools. She was also able to “build” animals with Duplo blocks which were brought to life after a scan. Some other exhibits include how cities can change based on the resources available and body motion challenges. The Tech Interactive also has an IMAX theatre that shows IMAX classics and summer blockbusters. 

Admission is US$34 for adults, $28 for children, students, and seniors.

Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph

Most people are shocked to learn that the Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph is located in downtown San Jose. Interestingly enough, the cathedral has a lot of history. It was originally built as a church in 1803. However, in 1835, a local businessman donated land and money to create a new church. An earthquake damaged that church, so a third church was built. Oddly enough, a fire damaged that one, so a fourth temporary church was built. What you see now was completed in 1884 and is one of the oldest churches in the area. You won’t spend much time here, but it’s free to enter, and the architecture is stunning.

San Jose Museum of Art 

You won’t find Van Gogh or Rembrandt at the San Jose Museum of Art. Instead, you’ll find an extensive collection of modern and contemporary art. Most of the art featured here is from West Coast artists based in the Pacific Rim. You’ll find sculptures, prints, digital media, paintings and more. This museum is special because information about each exhibit is translated into English, Spanish, Vietnamese, and Tagalog. That allows visitors from all over the world to learn more in their native language. In addition, the art museum is active in the community and often hosts cultural celebrations such as Lunar New Year. 

Check out an event at the SAP Center

Located in downtown San Jose, the SAP Center is the most popular venue for concerts and sports. If you’re a hockey fan, this is home to the San Jose Sharks. Tickets are much cheaper and easier to get compared to other hockey cities. Other events hosted here include Disney on Ice, UFC, live concerts, Jurassic World Live, and more.

Happy Hollow Park & Zoo

Another one of the best things to do in San Jose, California, is Happy Hollow Park & Zoo. It’s essentially 60% rides and 40% zoo. The rides are more family-friendly, so it’s aimed more at parents with small children as opposed to thrill seekers. Besides the rides and animals, Happy Hollow also has puppet shows and seasonal performances. Danny the Dragon, Happy Hollow’s mascot, also regularly appears throughout the park. 

General admission is US$18 for children and adults. Seniors pay $15.

Japanese Friendship Garden

Located right beside Happy Hollow Park & Zoo, the Japanese Friendship Garden is one of the fun things to do in San Jose, California. It’s not particularly large, but the koi ponds are a popular place for locals to take a break and reflect. It’s also common to see wedding photos being taken here among the tea house, bridges, and waterfalls. The park was built to symbolize the friendship between San Jose and its sister city of Okayama, Japan. There’s no admission fee to enter the park.

Top San Jose attractions

California’s Great America

For those interested in a proper theme park, California’s Great America is located in Santa Clara, about a 35-minute drive from downtown San Jose. Admittedly, this theme park is not that impressive compared to the major ones you’ll find in other cities. That said, it does have a few roller coasters and a decent children’s area in Planet Snoopy. However, due to a shortage of staff, wait times can be long. If you’re visiting in the summer, South Bay Shores, the attached waterpark, is more appealing as it’s an easy way to cool off. 

If you purchase tickets online in advance, admission starts at US$49.99. Note that parking is an additional $25. 

About Barry Choi

Barry Choi is a Toronto-based personal finance and travel expert who frequently makes media appearances. His blog Money We Have is one of Canada’s most trusted sources when it comes to money and travel. You can find him on Twitter:@barrychoi

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