If you had one year in the San Jose area, what would you do?
September 7, 2015 12:10 PM   Subscribe

There are lots of good "what to do if you have one day/one week in San Jose/San Francisco" questions, but what if you have one year?

My SO and I are out-of-towners living in Sunnyvale. We would like to get out of the house a lot more.

Some things that we've done/places we've visited and enjoyed:
  • Alcatraz island
  • Downtown Palo Alto (seeing what's there and shopping in Rocket Fizz)
  • The Computer History Museum
  • The Santa Cruz Pier (with the sea lions) and beach
  • Half Moon Bay
  • San Gregorio Beach
  • Ocean Beach
  • Ocean Beach in the middle of the night in the middle of winter (We grew up in Colorado and Missouri; beaches are a novelty!)
  • Pier 39/Ghirardelli square/environs
  • The Golden Gate Bridge
  • The Rocky Horror Picture Show
  • Visiting the rescue animals at Andy's Pet Shop
Some things that are already on the list:
  • Kayaking
  • Snorkeling or scuba diving
  • Glass Beach
  • See the elephant seals at Point Reyes
  • The Capitol Drive-In in San Jose
  • Alcatraz at night with a camera
  • Twin Peaks
Some things we probably won't do:
  • The Winchester Mystery House (seems overpriced and is apparently mostly BS)
  • The Hearst Castle (basically, just not worth a 6 hour round trip)
  • The San Francisco Zoo (zoos tend to depress us)
  • Visit the Google/Apple/Facebook/etc campus (we really don't understand the appeal)
Special snowflaking:
  • Things that are unique to the bay area are preferred, but this is not a requirement.
  • Things that only happen seasonally or once a year (e.g., Bay to Breakers) are totally OK.
  • Day trips are OK, though being out of the house for more than 12 hours at a time requires extra planning. We have high-maintenance pets.
  • We have a reliable gas-powered car.
  • We're not into super-long hikes or really strenuous physical activity, but something like walking up and down a beach for a few hours or spending a day wandering around a city on foot is fine.
  • We are both night people, so stuff that we can do between 10:00pm and 3:00am is great.
  • Neither of us drink.
  • We are not OK with being around people who are smoking.
  • We are both introverts: something like improv classes would be out.
  • We like trying to take pretty pictures.
  • It's much easier for us to do things on weekends than mid-week, but we can swing mid-week for special occasions.
  • We're not 1%ers, but money isn't usually a problem.
posted by reventlov to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (33 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
Exploratorium (science museum) in San Francisco
posted by ellerhodes at 12:17 PM on September 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

Throwback to feeling like a kid on a field trip: the Bay Model Visitor Center. A huge model of the waterways that flow into the bay. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built it awhile back to test out different "what would happen if [earthquake/drought]" scenarios, I believe.

I also recommend geocaching in general, to get you to squillions of "I never knew this was here" types of places.
posted by TheClonusHorror at 12:18 PM on September 7, 2015 [4 favorites]

Yosemite is the national park for you! There's plenty of non-strenuous sights to see and photos to take.
posted by aniola at 12:25 PM on September 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Musee Mecanique - imo the only reason to go near fisherman's wharf

Spirit Rock meditation centerfor a daylong or shorter or longer. This is a real benefit to living in the bay area.

Since you've seen the movie, how about the play? Rocky Horror Show presented by Ray of Light theatre. They're also doing a musical about Lizzie Borden and they seriously have never disappointed me.
posted by janey47 at 12:36 PM on September 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Seconding Yosemite, although it's not a day trip. Muir Woods is beautiful.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 12:41 PM on September 7, 2015

Rancho San Antonio's Wildcat Loop Trail - it's a hike, but not an exceptionally strenuous one, and the view is incredible.

In the vein of Rocky Horror, you'd probably like a sing along at the Castro. They do The Sound of Music around Christmas, and it looks like there's one for Frozen in a couple of weeks.

Seconding Muir Woods.

South of Santa Cruz, Aptos and Monterey also have lovely beaches.

Consider going north up the coast - I'm thinking of the Mendocino / Fort Bragg area, though that's a better weekend trip than day trip.
posted by orangejenny at 12:58 PM on September 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Visit the Rodin sculpture garden and Papua New Guinea sculpture garden at Stanford in the middle of the night.
posted by asphericalcow at 1:03 PM on September 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Jelly Belly Factory in Fairfield is something we take all our visitors to.

Santa Rosa, north of the City, has the Charlie Brown Museum (and an ice skating rink).

Monterey is a wonderful day trip, including an aquarium , Cannery Row, and the Seventeen Mile Drive.

Skating in Union Square around Christmas.

Mount Diablo, which can be seen from Oregon and Nevada, is in the East Bay, and can be driven to the top.

I understand the Mormon Temple in Oakland has a beautiful Christmas Lights Display, but I have not seen them personally.

Dim Sum in Chinatown.
posted by China Grover at 1:03 PM on September 7, 2015

Duartes Tavern in Pescadero after San Gregorio Beach. The stage road north from the front of Duartes, up onto La Honda. Redwoods, coastal range meadows, beautiful.
posted by Oyéah at 1:08 PM on September 7, 2015

Filoli garden
posted by notned at 1:34 PM on September 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Reserve spots on a charter boat and go fishing in the bay or ocean! They'll teach you how to fish and provide all the gear and bait. The time of year will determine what types of fish you target. They'll also fillet the fish for you.
posted by spork at 1:43 PM on September 7, 2015

You can also drive to the top of Mt Tam in Marin for some fab views.

Big basin redwoods state park, even if you never leave the picnic area next to the parking lot, is worth the short drive from the south bay.
posted by rockindata at 1:48 PM on September 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Lick Observatory
Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum
Niles Canyon Railway
Alum Rock Park
Mission San Jose
Mission Peak
USS Hornet Museum
Pacific Pinball Museum
Oakland Museum of California
Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge
Alviso Marina (the only practical South Bay kayak put-in)
posted by the Real Dan at 2:07 PM on September 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

You could do this as a day trip (but it's better as a weekend, as it's *just* far enough to make it a very long day): Pinnacles National Park.

There are also elephant seals at Año Nuevo State Park, where you can get pretty close to them, on docent-led walks (you need to make reservations).

Come on up to Hawk Hill in the Marin Headlands, any day it's not foggy, and bring binoculars to see migrating raptors. Peak is from about the last week of September through early October. Hawkwatch teams are there every day, and there are hawk talks on weekends (1 pm, I think?) when one of the banders will show and release a newly banded hawk.
posted by rtha at 2:57 PM on September 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Go for a gondola ride on Lake Merritt in Oakland.
You could spend the morning at the Oakland Museum of California, have a romantic gondola ride, and then get a great dinner, all in the same area.

And seconding making the trip to Pinnacles.
posted by missmary6 at 3:21 PM on September 7, 2015

The Eugene O 'Neill and John Muir houses. The Steinbeck center in Salinas. His house is open to the public certain days and there's a lunch place on the premises, but I wasn't able to go.
posted by brujita at 3:30 PM on September 7, 2015

Shoreline Park is nearby. Take a pair of binoculars if you enjoy birds. If there's wind, stop near the entrance to watch the kites. You can rent a paddleboat and take a leisurely ride around the lake. I don't recall if they have kayaks, but they have small sailboats. There's a bit of a beach, and areas for picnics.
posted by dws at 3:55 PM on September 7, 2015

Alternative Press Expo (soon)
California Academy of Sciences
Mt Lassen Volcanic National Park (you can just drive and hop out and poke around and get back in!)
Glass Beach is fun, but while you're in Fort Bragg/Mendocino, there's a lot more to do.
Pescadero (Arcangeli's, Harley Goat Farms) - Pigeon Point Lighthouse - Half-Moon Bay is nice.

Fremont/Union City has good regional Chinese food, Afghan food, ramen, etc. (see Chowhound for advice). Fremont/Union City (and I assume, some parts of the South Bay as well) have some fun Hong Kong and Taiwan-style cafes, many of which are open till midnight (later on weekends). It's kind of hard to find stuff that's open late in the Bay Area, TBH.

Sunol Regional Wilderness has some good events, such as wildflower hikes, that aren't too intense.

Check out Kinokuniya and Mitsuwa in San Jose, Hankook Market (and Palace AYCE Korean bbq) in Sunnyvale, Japantown in San Jose (I recommend Kaita for homestyle Japanese food), Japantown in SF (easy parking is a plus, but it *is* basically a mall--go during the summer street fair or the spring Cherry Blossom Festival for more things to see).

Seconding Yosemite.

I thought the Winchester Mystery House was interesting, but I enjoy looking at odd Victorian stuff. If you do too, you should go, but wait till tourist season is over.
posted by wintersweet at 4:28 PM on September 7, 2015

The Hearst Castle (basically, just not worth a 6 hour round trip)

Yes, but the 6 hour round trip is worth itself. As in it's through Big Sur, one of the most amazing stretches of coastline in the world. Hearst Castle is a nice bonus on top of it. The tours are okay, but just wandering the gardens after the tour is what we liked best (you can stay as long as you want). However it's probably best as part of an overnight trip which may be out of the question due to your pets.

A day trip which may me more doable is going down to Point Lobos, just south of Carmel and Monterey. Extremely dramatic coastline and great insights into intertidal marine life (you can scramble on the rocks if the tide is out).
posted by zsazsa at 4:43 PM on September 7, 2015 [2 favorites]

Seconding the Alternative Press Expo.

Also it's on the same weekend unfortunately but Hardly Strictly Bluegrass is announcing their 2015 lineup right now. It's free and a fantastic way to see those musicians in the park if any of the music is your kind of thing.

The Pacific Pinball Museum mentioned upthread is great and they host a New Year's Eve party that is fun. Since there are kids around there is not a big emphasis on alcoholic beverages.
posted by oneear at 4:47 PM on September 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

(Oh, Mt Lassen and Glass Beach/Ft Bragg/Mendocino are both 3-day trips at a minimum, since driving will take up all of one day. Yosemite, I'd say 4 days at a minimum, especially if you don't stay in the park. Everything else on my list is local.)
posted by wintersweet at 4:48 PM on September 7, 2015

Depending on your level of electronics and crafts knowledge, you might enjoy browsing some of the Bay's reuse stores. I visit all of these at least once a month: Urban Ore, Halted, WeirdStuff and SCRAP.
posted by perihare at 5:32 PM on September 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

you might enjoy browsing some of the Bay's reuse stores

Ohhh yes - the one thing I really miss from when I lived there.

Monterey Bay aquarium is really good.

I found that places like Yosemite were jammed on public holidays. If you can swing it, see if you can work on a public holiday & go places when it's less crowded.

Castle Air Museum is worth a visit if you like that sort of thing.
posted by HiroProtagonist at 7:17 PM on September 7, 2015

What are your interests? You've listed SCUBA - there are lots of bay area dive clubs. Monterey bay and Point Lobos are well known SCUBA locations. Are you cyclists or have an interest in cycling? The Amgen Tour of California features world class competitors and always has stages in the bay area. You might find it entertaining to see either a stage start or finish. There are two bicycle museums nearby for you; Davis and Marin.
You indicate an interest in photography - how about night shots of the bridge from Yerba Buena Island?
Here's my list of shouldn't be missed things:
John Muir home - the birthplace of the environmental movement. It's really not much to see but historically significant.
The state capitol and the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento (your 12 hour time limit may preclude these).
The De Young museum
Ride each of the ferry routes. Go from one port to another for lunch or dinner near each landing.
There are a lot more things and places to see. You're welcome to email me if I can help with more information or ideas. We have some familiarity with the Bay area. My son and his family live in Martinez, he works in the city. I lived and worked in San Jose and also in Sacramento.
posted by X4ster at 7:40 PM on September 7, 2015

Broadway San Jose puts on some really good shows.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:19 PM on September 7, 2015

I live in Sunnyvale and sympathetic to your constraints. Came to add a few things to the already great ideas that would meet your time constraints.
Lighthouses like Pt Reyes, Point Bonita, Pidgeon Point. You can watch for whales from Point Reyes cliffs in January and February
Hakone Gardens/ downtown Saratoga/Sanborn Park
Angel Island/Tiburon
Caňada Road on Sundays when it's closed to cars and is taken over by bikes, pedestrians, skateboarders
Japan Center in San Francisco, including the New People Building and a movie at the Kabuki theater
The Gilroy Garlic Festival
Sunnyvale Art and Wine Festival and Greek Food Festival during the first weekend in June
Tech Museum of Innovation
The Exploratorium
Golden Gate Park - Buffalo, Academy of Art and Sciences
Northern California Renaissance Pleasure Faire
Downtown Campbell
Downtown Los Gatos
Downtown Willow Glenn (in San Jose)
Christmas in the Park ( San Jose with ice skating under the Palm trees)
Ice skating at the Winter Lodge in Palo Alto
Downtown Mountain View, esp. next weekend when they have their art and wine festival
Whale watching trips from Monterey
Monarch butterflies in Pacific Grove

Welcome to the area!
posted by rw at 9:39 PM on September 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Flint Center at De Anza College in Cupertino hosts a celebrity speaker series and other talks and performances. In checking, I noticed that the December 8th Mythbusters show at De Anza may the last chance to see Adam and Jamie together.
posted by dws at 10:23 PM on September 7, 2015 [1 favorite]

Go down to Moss Landing asap and go on a whale watching expedition. The marine trench right offshore is absolutely roiling with whales right now, it is bananas. This is also where you'd go to go kayaking on Elkhorn Slough, which is also pleasant, but nothing like as amazing as the whales.

Check the tide tables for Fitzgerald Marine reserve and go tidepooling when it's low. It's fantastic.

In November, check out the Monarch butterfly migration at Natural Bridges in Santa Cruz.

Point Lobos is a spectacular day hike.

There is a planetarium at De Anza college with different kinds of shows. Buying tickets is a pain, but it's a novel way to spend an hour.
posted by fingersandtoes at 11:24 PM on September 7, 2015

* Kayak rental/tour/camping on Tomales Bay
* Horseback riding on the beach in Bodega Bay
* Mountain Play on Mt. Tamalpais
* The Berkeley Kite Festival
* Rent a bike in San Francisco, ride it to Sausalito and take the ferry back.
* Go to a Giants game
* Go to the Bridge School Benefit
* Do winery tours and food in Napa (you don't have to drink or attend the wine tasting)
* Attend the San Francisco Film Festival
* Take a sunset cruise under the Golden Gate Bridge.
* Take a helicopter ride over the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco.
* Attend the Stern Grove Festival.

I have more if you need them. Feel free to MeMail.
posted by cnc at 12:40 PM on September 8, 2015

I thought the Winchester Mystery House is definitely skippable. The story is interesting, I guess, but they play up the "spooky" angle and naturally I was expecting headless rifle-toting horsemen and ghosts, and there were none. I also thought it would be more like the historic rooms in the Philadelphia Museum of Art with antique furniture etc but practically no original furniture remains in the house.

Can one even actually tour the Google/Apple/Facebook campuses, besides what's outside? I'm not so sure. I did used to live near the FB HQ and saw people taking their picture with the sign EVERY SINGLE DAY.

If you like music, the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival is coming up next month. It's free and in Golden Gate Park. They haven't officially announced the lineup yet but they're teasing via an audio collage.

I've never been to Hearst Castle, but combined with a drive on Highway 1 through Big Sur and beyond, and the Monterey Bay aquarium it would make for a nice getaway.

If you like second hand/vintage type shopping there's a few huge flea market type things in the area which are fun, there's the Treasure Island Flea (the island in the middle of the bay bridge), there's a town-wide garage sale in the Niles section of Fremont, and the Alameda antique flea market on the tarmacs of a Navy (?) base in Alameda.
posted by tremspeed at 1:50 PM on September 8, 2015

O for the love of all that is holy, there is one correct answer to the query re: RELIABLY EPIC DAY TRIP FROM SUNNYVALE?

and that is: BIG SUR.

Or perhaps more accurately, "The Portion of Route 1 South of Monterey". Epic any time of the year. Except maybe when it's thunderstorming, since you don't want your car to slip off the cliffs into the sea. Here is what you do:

1: Throw your favorite grill food things into a cooler, and pack charcoal, lighter, etc.
2: Leave Sunnyvale early in the morning and head for Big Sur. Choose your route such that you can stop by Gayle's in Capitola to grab some awesome pastries and necessary coffee.
3: Proceed, towards Monterey and past it (Monterey / Carmel-by-the-Sea can be a separate day trip, wherein you may enjoy the Aquarium and 17 mile drive and the art galleries and such). Fill up your gas tank, gas in Big Sur is expensive.
4: Stop a bajillion times along the coastline to admire the jawdropping views and achieve your goal of taking pretty pictures. Traipse down to some of the beaches.
5: If fatigued, forage for snacks at Big Sur Bakery. There are some other reportedly solid restaurants like Nepenthe, Deetjen's, etc but I've not been to any, as I preferred to do the following...
6: Arrive at Mill Creek Picnic Area at least an hour, preferably two, before sunset. There are only two picnic tables with a grill each, so cross your fingers that one's open (and that there isn't a drought / fire warning prohibiting you from grilling - check before you go). I've never had a problem snagging one of the tables. If you do, you can double back to a number of other picnic areas.
7: Grill and eat like kings as you watch the sea lapping at the rocky shore not twenty feet in front of your outstretched feet.
8: Drive back carefully, admiring Big Sur at dusk.

Doable within twelve hours for sure. Quintessential CA, don't miss it!
posted by nemutdero at 6:43 PM on September 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

Thanks, everyone! Tons of great suggestions here!
posted by reventlov at 1:05 AM on September 9, 2015

A few more (or variations on above) from a native of Sunnyvale:
* Shuck your own fresh caught oysters and grill up some veggies at an oyster farm in Tomales Bay in North Bay.
* Float down the Russian River north of the Bay Area - we're into summer weather now, so it's a great time to go.
* Big Basin is as good of a redwood forest as Muir Woods, closer to you, and less packed with tourists. Go there! (I often combine it with a day in Santa Cruz, either at the Beach Boardwalk or tidepooling at Natural Bridges State Beach. There's also a monarch butterfly grove there that will be booming in late Oct/Nov/Dec.)
* Go bioluminescent kayaking at night in Point Reyes! The season is coming to an end in the next month or two, so book now for a night when the moon is new.
* Baylands Park in Sunnyvale is a nice little area for an after-work walk around the marsh at sunset. Good birdwatching!
* You can get sailing, SUPing, kayaking, etc. lessons in Mountain View, if you're interested in taking up a water sport.
* There are nice hikes (2 hour to most of the day) to be found in the hills east of Fremont, the hills just south of Pacifica (check the weather to make sure the day is clear for a great view of the ocean and the bay), Mt. Diablo in East Bay, the Peninsula just west of 280, Redwood Regional Park in Oakland, and most of North Bay. Also lots of great road or mountain biking in those areas if you want to go out for a day.
* Downtown Saratoga is cute, has some very nice upscale restaurants, and also has a lovely Japanese garden.
* If you're foodies, the Napa region is amazing, with the French Laundry as the star. You totally have time to snag a reservation there if you're either persistent about trying to call at 10 am, or are flexible enough to grab a last minute table day-of (for example, a four-top was available for a 5 pm seating and an 8:45 pm seating yesterday morning).
* Nthing a weekend trip to Yosemite, which is truly one of the best of the nation's national parks. Go to Yosemite Valley in May or June (depending on the sort of snowpack we get this winter) for the best waterfalls, and to Tuolomne Meadows either now or next June/July once the pass opens up again, if you're still around. Yosemite Valley in the winter after snowfall is also amazing.
* Other weekend or 3-day trips: Tahoe (rent a cabin now and play on the lake, or rent a cabin in the winter and ski if we get good snow), Humboldt County (tallest redwoods in the world - nothing like them in the Bay Area, and amazing coastal views), Sequoia National Park (widest redwoods in the world, and also just beautiful), Death Valley in the winter, Joshua Tree National Park in the late fall/winter/early spring, Devils Postpile on the eastern side of the Sierras, hot springs up in Calistoga, a weekend retreat at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur.
* Rent a bike in SF, bike across the Golden Gate bridge to Sausalito, grab lunch there, and then take the ferry back to SF.
* Ferry Building Farmer's Market in SF on Saturday morning!
* Kiteboarding lessons in Alameda (it's the island just west of Oakland).
* Gilroy Garlic Festival if you're around next July. There's also a lot of outlets there, if that's your thing.
* Try indoor rock climbing at Planet Granite in Sunnyvale (one of the best climbing gyms in the country) or at Touchstone's Studio in downtown San Jose (much smaller, but super cute and friendly). You can take a weeknight or weekend lesson for an hour to learn the basics, and then do it together for another couple of hours (great couple activity). If you really love the experience, you're close to some of the best year-round outdoor climbing in the world.
* Urban ice cream hike in SF! This map is a good starting point, but misses Xanath in the Mission (if you're a vanilla fan), DeLise Cafe in North Beach, and doesn't show the Humphrey Slocombe location in the Ferry Building downtown or the Three Twins location in North Beach. I'd recommend Mitchell's -> Bi-Rite/Xanath -> Three Twins/Smitten -> DeLise/Three Twins (North Beach) -> Humphrey Slocombe (Ferry Building) -> uber or BART back to your car if you're up for a LONG AWESOME DAY (about 7 miles of walking if you straight line it, but around 10 miles if you meander a bit for the best neighborhood sights like so). You'll also explore about six of SF's interesting neighborhoods. SF is a city that is definitely best seen by walking around.
* SF's MOMA will reopen in early 2016 if you're still around.
posted by Jaclyn at 10:17 AM on September 10, 2015 [2 favorites]

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