by Lisa Ruth, editor, Donne Tempo Magazine
San Jose, California…Nestled in the Santa Clara Valley, surrounded by the soaring Santa Cruz Mountains, lays lush and lovely San Jose, California.
Overshadowed by its more famous northern cousin, San Francisco, San Jose is a worthy destination.
The bustling city boasts a huge variety of unique natural sites, cultural destinations, nightlife and a surprising calming beauty.
From the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum and Planetarium, to diverse wines in quaint tasting rooms, nights swaying to the salsa beat to morning hikes along the Guadeloupe River trail, there is no shortage of active and leisurely activities to chose from.
Flowers, Flowers Everywhere
Wherever you path wanders, you can’t help but be struck by the San Jose’s flowers.
They are everywhere, in every nook and cranny, in every road median and in every yard.
Every color, every shape, every smell.
The best day I had in San Jose was spent walking around downtown, with no particular destination in mind, just marveling at the flowers, trees, and plants.
…it doesn’t get much better than that…
The Plaza de Cesar Chavez, in front of the landmark Fairmont Hotel, is a fairy tale drawing brought to life, its jacaranda trees
dripping with blue flowers frame pathways lined with vibrant red annuals.
Irises, roses, lilies, and a host of flowers I’ve never even heard of, await visitors on every step of their journey throughout the city.
Journey outside the city and fields of wildflowers grace the highway medians, ridges, hillsides, and small patches next to buildings.
It’s hard not to smile; even while slowed in traffic, when graceful flowers dance outside your window and perfume the air.
While it’s easy to wander around the city in a flower-induced haze ala Dorothy’s famous Wizard of Oz poppy overdose you do, eventually, need a place to lay your head.
Luckily San Jose offers a variety of uniquely special places.
The Fairmont, unparalleled for opulence; the Hotel de Anza, a comfortable and chic historic art deco destination; and the Hotel Valencia, a San Jose original offering sleek elegance in the upscale Santana Row shopping district are our top three choices.
The entrance to the Hotel Valencia is located in the middle of the bustling and upscale Santana Row shopping district. Outside activities are instantly calmed stepping into the Asian-flavored lobby where highlights include rich reds and saffron, sleek wood, and classic chic furnishings.
There are additional Eastern touches, such as the five-foot Buddha head, burbling fountains, and single, unadorned orchids, which reinforce the meditative calm of the Hotel Valencia.
As peaceful and welcoming as the interior lobbies are, the jewel of the property is the outside courtyard.
The center of the patio room features a large, lighted sculpture where water cascades off a table-like platform into the pool below.
Smaller fountains and individual fireplaces dot the perimeter of the marble-floored terrace, where guests can enjoy a meal from the Citrus restaurant or just talk and relax in comfortable, clean-lined wood chairs.
And there are flowers. Large bougainvillea, phalaenopsis orchids, and white annuals, all of which finish the sense of natural beauty woven throughout the hotel.
Hungry? Thirsty? Wanna Dance?
Step outside your hotel, and San Jose presents a bevy of restaurants, bars, and nightclubs from which to choose.
The vast culinary choices that San Jose offers includes pretty much everything you can think of. Chinese? Italian? Ethiopian? Persian? Japanese? Mexican?
Yep, they got that covered.
Our number one San Jose restaurant recommendation is Vung Tau Restaurant.
One of the many San Jose facts I did not know before visiting the city is that it houses the largest Vietnamese population in the United States. This has brought some of the best Vietnamese restaurants to the area.
While there are numerous choices, Vung Tau stands out, and we love its story as much as its food.
Vung Tau is one of San Jose’s most popular restaurants, serving southern-style Vietnamese food for more than 20 years; food they describe as an “Asian style of cooking that blends the best of Chinese, French, and Thai influences into a unique style.”
The menu features numerous soups – we had the canh chua ca, a sweet and sour soup – noodle dishes, rice dishes, and grilled meats. We also tried the banh xeo, a crepe flavored with coconut and turmeric, stuffed with bean sprouts, that was absolutely delicious.
Although it is usually crowded, the food and atmosphere are definitely worth the wait.
After dinner, there is no need to travel outside the city for dynamic nightlife. What ever your genre of musical taste, numerous clubs and bars offer live music, from full bands to individual guitarists to “spoken word tours.”
There are also plenty of neighborhood bars that have a, well, neighborhood feel, huge nightclubs with throbbing dance music, and small clubs offering intimate settings.
However if this is your first, or only, visit to San Jose, don’t miss the Salsa clubs. Even if you don’t dance salsa, you will want to watch the sultry swaying.
There are numerous options, but we suggest Club Caribe.
This is a true “Latino” club that plays salsa music every Thursday and while there is often a line to get in, a few minutes engaged in conversation with some really nice people assured us it was definitely worth waiting for.
Nightlife in San Jose runs late, so be prepared to sleep in the next day before hitting the many daytime attractions San Jose has to offer.
Parks, Museums, and Gardens
Daytime San Jose is dominated by those amazing floral displays that never ceased to surprise me.
They greet you as soon as you look out your window, when you walk to the grocery store, or run along shaded paths.
The multi-colored flowers that peek from everywhere brighten the city’s concrete and asphalt.
Some gardens are well cultivated, carefully planned affairs, while others – like the highway medians – are casually planted wildflowers or native gardens.
However they are all beautiful.
Strolling through San Jose visit their parks, from small neighborhood rest stop to regional activity centers, they are all brimming with flowers and trees.
Situated along the banks of the Guadalupe River, the Guadalupe River Park and Gardens quickly became a favorite destination.
Guadalupe Gardens, adjacent to the park, currently includes the Courtyard Garden, the Taylor Street Rock Garden and the 3,700 antique and modern roses found in the Heritage Rose Garden.
The Guadalupe River Trail, eleven miles of winding, shaded trail that runs along the river as it weaves through downtown San Jose.
The natural beauty of the plants and trees, the rocks along the river, and the sounds of the water rolling over the stones invite quiet introspection.
Visiting San Jose’s museums, the exterior gardens are often as amazing as the interior making it hard to leave the outside for the inside.
That said, fabulous journeys await inside.
The Rosicrucian Park, surrounding the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum, is a five-acre botanical wonderland.
Museum buildings in Moorish and Egyptian architectural compete with the beauty of the fantastic gardens, the peace garden, an extensive rose garden, papyrus, water lilies, fountains, and broad lawns that invite visitors to literally stop and smell the roses.
The Egyptian museum, established by the Rosicrucian Order, AMROC (Ancient and Mystical Order Rosae Crucis) includes the largest selection of Egyptian, Babylonian, and Assyrian artifacts on display anywhere in the Western Hemisphere.
At the entrance, an impressive statue of Taweret, the goddess of pregnant women and childbirth, greets visitors, foreshadowing the scale and detail of the interior.
The museum has four galleries: the afterlife, daily life and trade, kingship and religion, and shrines.
We particularly enjoyed the life-size replica of an Egyptian tomb, two rooms at two different levels. The first room is an offering chamber, with carvings depicting different elements of ancient Egyptian life. Visitors descend to the second room, the burial chamber, where the walls are covered with paintings of life and afterlife, gods and goddesses.
The human and animals mummies on display were amazing.
What could possibly compare to climbing through a re-creation of an Egyptian tomb?
Why, touring the puzzling home and gardens of an eccentric heiress.
The Winchester Mystery House is a 160 room Victorian house built by Sarah Winchester, the heiress to the Winchester rifle fortune.
The home is extensive and impressive in itself, but it is best known for its “oddities.”
Ms. Winchester directed the construction and design of the house, and included architectural features such as stairs that lead directly to the ceiling, doors that open to brick walls, upside down posts, and cabinets that open into several rooms.
Although no one knows the true reason for her architectural choices, many observers believe a psychic convinced her she had to appease the spirits by continuing construction for her entire life.
Another story says the psychic told her the spirits were angry about all the people killed by the Winchester rifle, so she had to confuse them with a maze inside her house to keep them at bay.
Although it is eccentric, the house is also beautiful, with tiffany stained glass, ornate wood floors, and other incredible details.
I have to admit, I abandoned the interior tour half way through to spend more time strolling the tremendous grounds. The interior tour is long — be prepared for around three hours.
Or, take my version and stay outside beneath San Jose’s glorious blue sky.
The Winchester House four-and-a-half acre gardens are, in my opinion, the primary reason to visit the house.
Vast, lush lawns, sculptured topiaries, and amazing flowers surround the mansion. The Victorian gardens are immaculately groomed and reflect Ms. Winchester’s interest in the supernatural.
For example, she included multiple mythological statues in the garden, and she planted everything for a reason. In keeping with her belief in the supernatural, the number 13 is evident throughout.
There is every variety and color of cultivated flower, flowering vine, and flowering tree in the yard, and the design of the plantings is relaxing and gorgeous.
San Jose also boasts a number of other museums, including San Jose Museum of Art, The Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose, and the Tech Museum of Innovation.
And if the museum gift shops don’t meet your need for shopping, San Jose offers the full spectrum of shopping experiences.
And There’s More…
You literally can’t run out of things to do in San Jose. There are more than two-dozen wineries in San Jose and the surrounding Santa Cruz Mountains that offer tastings, including Storrs, Pelican Ranch Winery, and J. Lohrs.
Tastings are offered in quaint tasting rooms, hosted by knowledgeable vintners.
There are sports stadiums, special events and festivals, art strolls, colleges, and just about anything and everything else you can think of.
And if you need a change of pace, you can drive over the mountain to funky, fascinating Santa Cruz, where you can sit on the beach, walk the boardwalk, or people watch to your hearts content.
With 300 days a year of sunshine and annual temperatures between 50 and 70 degrees every day, San Jose is hard to resist.
Throw in the plethora of events and destinations, nightlife and restaurants, and you may never leave.
Add the flowers that blanket the city and, well, you’re in heaven.
As the song goes, “…if you can find your way to San Jose…”
Make sure you peruse the San Jose Dining Guide for an excellent overview of dining suggestions in the area.
Visit San Jose Parks for city parks information.
Hotel Valencia Santana Row
355 Santana Row
San Jose, CA 95128
Hotel De Anza
233 West Santa Clara Street,
San Jose, California 95113
Rosicrucian Eqyptian Museum
1664 Park Ave
San Jose CA 95191
The Winchester Mystery House
525 South Winchester Boulevard
San Jose, CA 95128
1001 S. 1st Street
San Jose, CA, 95110