Downtown San Jose
Here, one can find many Silicon Valley businesses, government offices, five-star hotels, museums, cultural centers, night clubs and fine dining. A resurgence has occurred in the downtown area over the last five years or so and, although not San Francisco, is alive and energetic. However, the locals note that downtown San Jose "sleeps," meaning it is not a place to party until the wee hours of the morning. By 1am, the streets are relatively quiet.
Downtown is very safe during the daylight hours, although I wouldn't walk alone at night on some of the side streets or alleys. Some of the surrounding bedroom communities are home to the service industry and can be risky after dark. Although there is not a lot of crime in the downtown area, it's not safe to wander into uncharted territories.
Downtown is not all restaurants, clubs and hotels, a lot of other kinds of business is conducted here (Adobe Systems claims an entire city block). You will see suits along the streets, especially during lunch hours, with hustle and bustle in almost every dining establishment. While there are a few boutiques for shopping, they are spread out across the downtown area, making it a bit difficult to hit them all at once. But downtown is also easy to walk through, with many plazas and parks offering benches to sit and take a breather.
The assortment of accommodations is impressive with the beautiful Fairmont Hotel overlooking Plaza de Cesar Chavez Park. Two blocks away sits the Hotel De Anza, one of the oldest boutique hotels in the area and quite impressive inside. The Hyatt St. Claire, which sits above the Il Fornaio restaurant, is older and offers a truly antique feel. You are transported to another time in the lobby and rooms (though some have views of brick walls).
An old-fashioned trolley runs from all over Silicon Valley to downtown (its hub). CalTrain (our local train service) can take you from San Jose to San Francisco. It's a great way to get around. Parking in downtown is not as congested it is in either San Francisco or New York, although it is difficult to find on-street parking. Although most downtown hotels offer valet service, we suggest parking in one of the many structures (both public and private) located throughout the downtown area. And finally, downtown is home to San Jose Stadium. This world-class event and sports center is relatively new and still exhibits a clean, refined appeal. The stadium itself is large, with high-tech steel architecture. It is quite impressive and locals are very proud both of it and of the teams that play there, including the Sharks Hockey Team.
Willow Glen is a great little residential community that has a reputation for some of the most beautiful homes in all of San Jose. Willow Glen sits quietly south of downtown San Jose with its own version of downtown called Lincoln Avenue. Along with some of the beautiful architecture of the homes including Southwestern, Colonial and Italian bungalows, Willow Glen boasts a wonderful community feeling. Lincoln Avenue offers the community a one-stop spot for services ranging from coffee shops (Starbucks, Willow Glen Roasting Company) to billiards (Willow Glen Billiards) to antique stores to Aqui's, a great California-meets-Mexico restaurant. A walk down Lincoln Avenue could occupy an entire day. It is fun and offers an assortment of stores with hometown appeal. The Willow Glen neighborhoods are a place where you know your neighbors and everyone takes great pride in their homes. Lawns are green, flowers bloom everywhere and mailboxes are decorated. Farmer's Markets are popular and the site of mother's strolling with their babies along the streets is common.
The catch: Homes here are very, very expensive and, many would admit, over-priced. A two-bedroom, 1,100 square foot fixer-upper
Cambrian and the Almaden Valley are situated just southwest of downtown San Jose. This area is about 10 degrees warmer than downtown and other valley cities, and offers a more rural community. What was once considered the country, this area has so quickly become populated that you can still find a small farmhouse nestled between two monster homes on the same street. The urban sprawl is apparent here. That being said, this area offers slightly lower housing rates and the opportunity to own a bit of land. Most people who live here commute to Santa Clara (North San Jose) to work, thus the roadways become parking lots during peak commuter hours.
For those visiting San Jose, this valley is particularly nice for a drive (during off peak hours). If you take Almaden Expressway to McKean Road, the residential community opens into large pastures sprawled across golden hills full of horses and cows. (We don't call the hills brown in California, we call them golden, thank you very much.) Stay on McKean Road and just drive. You will pass a beautiful reservoir and a multitude of valleys and county parks. Hicks Road winds around and plops you back out in Watsonville (Santa Cruz County). See the Tours section of the City Guide for a more detailed driving tour.
North San Jose (Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Palo Alto)
North San Jose is what we locals refer to as the northern border of San Jose and the adjoining cities of Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Santa Clara, Los Altos and Palo Alto). These communities feed the Silicon Valley with the talent needed to make it the number one computer industry area in the world. Although these cities have their own claims to fame, they are still considered part of the Santa Clara County.
Sunnyvale (pop 125,600) is mostly moderate homes and service industries that support the residents who live here. Sunnyvale sits just north of San Jose. El Camino Real (which runs from South San Francisco all the way to South San Jose) is the thoroughfare where most of the action in Sunnyvale thrives. Sunnyvale was formerly orchards of cherry and apricot trees. Nothing more. Now, it is a sprawling city and home to many Silicon Valley employees. But you can still see an occasional city block with nothing but tree stumps.
Mountain View (pop 67,460) is a bit further north from San Jose. It has a downtown on Castro Street. This area has some of the best and largest variety of eating establishments on one block anywhere in the Bay Area. Find great sushi, fantastic Thai, New York-style pizza, and great Indian fare. It's all here. The homes within Mountain View are a bit older and tend to be more pricey than in its sister city of Sunnyvale. Mountain View is home to Silicon Graphics (SGI) and Sun Microsystems, among many other high tech firms.
Los Altos is a neighboring city to Mountain View and Sunnyvale. It fits snugly on the edge of both (along the west side of the valley). The homes here and in neighboring Los Altos Hills are quite expensive. It is possible to spend over $2,000,000 on a home in an upscale neighborhood. The rule is: the closer you live to the mountain, the more expensive your home will be. There are some businesses here, but Los Altos and Los Altos Hills are mainly homes and services.
Palo Alto is not part of Santa Clara County, but worth mentioning due to its close proximity to the South Bay, Stanford University, and fabulous University Avenue and the Stanford Shopping Center. This area is posh, upscale, pricey (to ridiculous degrees), and a great place to shop. Palo Alto is part college-town and part old money/new money. It's a mix of all three and somehow, the mix works. This area is ritzy. Homes here are out of this world, regardless of its condition. If its in the area code of Palo Alto West, it's expensive.
West San Jose (Los Gatos, Saratoga, Campbell, Cupertino)
West San Jose is much like north San Jose in that while still within the Santa Clara County, the cities here are independent. Los Gatos (pop 27,357) and Saratoga (pop 28,061) are small cities that feel more like small towns. They sit at the base of the Santa Cruz Mountains. A quick 45-minute drive over Highway 17 will drop you off at
the breathtaking Pacific Ocean and the town of Santa Cruz. Los Gatos and Saratoga both offer hometown appeal while boasting a "rich
Campbell (pop 30,048) and Cupertino (pop 40,263) are the middle children; nestled between the borders of San Jose, Los Gatos and Saratoga. Each has a definite downtown, but remain mostly residential, bedroom communities. Most people who decide to move here do so with children because the Cupertino School District is one of the best in the county. Cupertino's claim to fame includes the world headquarters of both Apple Computer and Hewlett Packard.
Although within the Santa Clara County (pop 1,637,477), Silicon Valley is not a city at all. Silicon Valley refers to the Santa Clara Valley, where most of the high-tech, computer-related industries thrive. A lion's share of the big names are here including Cisco Systems, Fujitsu, Hitachi, Canon, NetScape, and Sony. This area is essentially one part residential community (much like Sunnyvale) and one part business park. Large roadways twist through the flat Santa Clara Valley with mile after mile of corporate high-tech buildings lining the streets. You just can't help but feel the excitement of cutting-edge technology being developed here, creating a new high-tech world.
History of San JoseThe city of San Jose, seat since 1850 of Santa Clara County, is located in west-central California. It lies in the Santa Clara Valley along the Coyote and Guadalupe Rivers, 50 miles (80 km) southeast of San Francisco. The first civic settlement in California, it was founded by José Joaquin Moraga in 1777 as a Spanish military-supply base named Pueblo de San José de Guadalupe. During the Spanish Colonial and Mexican periods it supplied wheat, vegetables, and cattle to the military garrisons at Monterey and San Francisco. After the American occupation of California in 1846, San Jose briefly became the new territory's first capital and the first territorial legislative assembly convened here in December 1849. The state capital was moved to Vallejo and then Sacramento where it remains today.
In 1850 San Jose became the first chartered city in California, by which time it had become a bustling trade depot for the gold fields. In 1864 the coming of the railroad from San Francisco gave San Jose improved trade connections and enabled the produce of its nearby farms to be readily shipped to San Francisco. The Santa Clara Valley thus soon developed into a fruit-growing region specializing in plums and apricots. A few of those fruit trees can be seen even today in many an empty lot.
Until 1940 most of the city's industries were concerned with dried-fruit processing and the manufacture of orchard supplies and agricultural equipment. During and after World War II, however, there was a meteoric growth in its manufactur of such durable goods as electrical machinery, aircraft parts and motor vehicles. Large aerospace and business-equipment firms located plants in the area and the rise of the computer industry in an area now known as Silicon Valley farther north in the Santa Clara Valley meant a spectacular burst of growth for San Jose. Even with all of its history, San Jose is best known for its high-tech contributions to the computer hardware and software industry.
The city annexed land at a rapid rate and during the period from 1960 to 1980 and its population more than tripled. The city is still a processing and distribution center for a rich agricultural area producing fruit and wine, while also producing extremely diverse products such as computers and aerospace components, auto parts, food-processing machinery and a variety of household and consumer goods. The city continues to reflect the urban growth of the San Francisco Bay area.
With this growth came a surge of multicultural influences that contribute to the diversity of the city--San Jose's melting pot community. With the many cultures and ethnic groups converging in one place, the city takes on an international appeal. The assortment of ethnic restaurants and cultural events leave little to want. The assortment of food at local eateries is incredible. You can travel to Thailand, China, Japan, Middle East, Mexico, France, Italy by simply entering the doors of popular restaurants. And the food is not only authentic, but also absolutely fabulous! Many a visitor to our city has been delightfully surprised by the variety and quality of the cuisine available.
Locals enjoy the proximity of San Jose to Lake Tahoe (3 hours east) for skiing, and of the Pacific coastline (Santa Cruz, 45 minutes south) for the great surfing. Since the average temperature is ideal at 65-75 degrees, locals enjoy outdoor activities year round including mountain and street bicycling, running, swimming, tennis, rock climbing, roller blading, horseback riding, fishing, rowing, and motorcycling. However, don't be fooled by the air temperature-the ocean is cold and not even the bravest souls should enter without a thick wetsuit. Anyone who loves the outdoors will quickly become a fan of San Jose.
Visiting here any time of year is a great idea. Among the city's many cultural attractions are the Municipal Rose Garden, the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum, and the Alum Rock Park municipal recreation area. The University of Santa Clara and Stanford University (Palo Alto) are also nearby. San Jose State University was established in 1857 and San Jose City (junior) College in 1921.
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