Do you know the way to San Jose?
February 4, 2008 6:18 PM   Subscribe

San Jose California last 3 days of Feb.

About a third to half that time will be blocked off to visit with relatives and see our daughter in her touring show. What else should we do? Head up the bay to SF, or is there cool stuff in town? (We'll be staying perforce in an airport hotel, no help for it-- should we rent a car, or is public trans good?)
posted by nax to Travel & Transportation around San Jose, CA (23 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: First to respond to a Q for my hometown - dreams do come true!

As proud as I am of our dear Silicon Valley, at least a day or two in San Francisco are certainly in order. The peculiarities of your trip perhaps make it even more appealing: you could easily take light rail or a cab to the Tamien Station and hop on the 75 minute ride on Caltrain up to The City (we call it The City). Here's a Bay Area trip planner to make those plans more specific. Once up in the City, getting around isn't totally intuitive, but wandering between neighborhoods is perfectly lovely.

For ideas on what to do up there, cruise the San Francisco tag (there are probably a hundred good leads), but you can start with this post I remember liking the advice in.

Lastly - but not leastly for this hometown boy - some ideas for the South Bay, in case you can't handle the train ride all three days ( I don't think I could):
  • The Tech! Of course! Worth a day in San Jose all by itself. Such a great time.
  • The standard cute-downtown in Los Gatos or the up and coming Campbell, both packed with shops and cafes and bookstores. Palo Alto is 20 miles up the Peninsula, but bigger and fancier than all of them.
  • If you're into Apple, you can't miss The Company Store, the only place to buy Apple Merchandise.
  • Have you had In N Out Burger?
I don't think I can offer out-of-the-way neighborhood restaurants that unequivocally top anyone else's favorites, though I do especially love Andy's BBQ, Jalisco's Mexican Food, and - dear God, I take it all back: don't miss Falafel Drive-In. They all can be found on Yelp!

Paradoxically, I can't see how you'd live without a rental car for your days in San Jose, though mass transit to and within San Francisco shouldn't be a problem at all. We're the tenth largest city, but we spell it S-P-R-A-W-L. Wave hello for me!
posted by coolhappysteve at 6:43 PM on February 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

Weekday bullet service between Tamien & 4th + King is only about 55 minutes.
posted by kcm at 7:08 PM on February 4, 2008

Winchester Mystery House! Tourists like mad, yet still worth seeing.
posted by laughinglikemad at 7:26 PM on February 4, 2008

Definitely yes on the rental car.

Some other random thoughts - it's very pretty around here when it rains. The hills are green and lush.

Get thee to The Lick Observatory in the hills above San Jose. The view and the drive up there is a good way to spend a day.

The Mystery Spot close to Santa Cruz is fun too, especially for kids.

San Jose Sharks games are a blast. Grab some deep dish at Pizza Chicago before the game.
posted by Andrew Brinton at 8:17 PM on February 4, 2008

Unless you plan on staying in the hotel, being dropped off by relatives, or only hitting the touristy places in SF, you will NEED a rental car.

Seconding the Mystery House. It's pricey, but it's pretty cool. Then you can cross the street and hit up Santana Row for some fancy-shmancy shopping.

I don't know how old your daughter is (hmm, I think she may be older... Ohhh well), but if she's younger, the Children's Discovery Museum is absolutely fabulous (although definitely geared toward the under 10 set.) Actually, I am hesitant to suggest the Tech Museum... it's rather outdated. Hm, I guess they're both downtown, so perhaps you *might* be able to take a bus/lightrail from the hotel?

If you'd rather be outside, the Japanese Friendship Garden is very nice for a picnic or a stroll. And just a block or so from that is Sharks Ice, "the official practice facility of the San Jose Sharks," which is good if you're just looking for entertainment by way of open skate hours.

Food downtown:
La Vic's (OK, La Victoria) Taqueria. Decent cheap-o burritos/tacos, FAMOUS for the orange sauce. Mmm... orange sauce...
My family also likes House of Genji, which is Japanese food in the style of Beni-Hana-- cooked in front of you. A bit pricey, but delicious. Oh-- if you just order the chicken meal, get it Teriyaki style. Yelp Review

San Jose doesn't have tons to do, so DO take the time visit SF. :) Have fun in my hometown!
posted by samthemander at 8:21 PM on February 4, 2008

Best answer: I don't know what your interests are, but there are gorgeous trails and spectacular hiking all around the Bay Area. If you rent a car, Rancho San Antonio is a beautiful open space preserve about 15-20 minutes up the freeway near Cupertino.

What about the beach? Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay aren't too far. Too cold to swim, but great for walking/painting/meditating.

Mostly, though, I came here to endorse coohappysteve's suggestion of Falafel Drive-In. I miss it so much! Please have a falafel with extra hot sauce and a banana milkshake for me.
posted by Bella Sebastian at 8:22 PM on February 4, 2008

Don't know if tickets are still available, but Cirque du Soleil is in town. Or if that's the touring show you mentioned, can you get me tickets!? Hope you have a great stay!
posted by mshrike at 8:31 PM on February 4, 2008

If you really only have one day to tour and you've never been to San Francisco before, then don't bother with San Jose. Go see the Golden Gate Bridge, etc.

Otherwise, what to see in San Jose greatly depends on what you like. There's not much of an art scene, but there is plenty for the tech geek or the outdoorsy type. And there are a few generally touristy things to do: as other's have mentioned the Winchester Mystery House is right across the street from Santana Row -- you can go tour the house, then have world class food and shopping right there.

Nthing to the infinity Falafel Drive-In for cheap but really good food though. It's a long walk or a short drive from the two places above.
posted by tkolar at 9:14 PM on February 4, 2008

I live in San Jose right now haven't really found all that much fun stuff to do in town apart from eating and Sharks games. The restaurant suggestions are spot on: Jalisco and Falafel's Drive-In are excellent, along with Pizz'a Chicago (although I prefer the location in nearby Santa Clara). I also have a particular fondness for Original Joe's in downtown SJ. It seems stuck in another decade, but the food is great. The only one of those you'd be able to reach via public transit (excluding the bus) from downtown is Original Joe's.

I guess you could go the geek tourism route. The Computer History Museum and the Intel Computer Museum are nearby (and might even have merged... not sure). So are Yahoo!, Google, Xilinx, Intel, eBay, Adobe, Cisco, and countless other tech companies. You might laugh, but I've seen more than one person pose for photos in front of these company's signs.

You should absolutely head up to San Francisco for at least one day. There's a lot more interesting stuff to see. I suggest getting out to the coastal Highway 1 via Route 92. From the highway, you'll see some great views of rocky shore, and it drops you out on the western end of the city.

(Winchester Mystery House? Really? I remember taking the tour as a young lad and being pretty disappointed...)
posted by lalas at 9:39 PM on February 4, 2008

just an FYI: it's Falafel's Drive-In.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:40 PM on February 4, 2008

Having grown up in the South Bay and living for years in Downtown San Jose, I would there's not a whole lot to do, though you can probably be entertained for a couple days. The Tech is cool, SJMOMA can be good, and I like Pizz'a Chicago. There's also great Vietnamese downtown at Vung Tau. Paragon is a new bar with bocce ball courts. The Rosicrucian Museum has a big collection of Egyptian artifacts, and the grounds are cool. Everyone I know was bored at the Winchester House- unless you're into Victorian architecture, I would skip it. Japan Town (San Jose) is not super interesting, but is OK to stroll on farmer's market day (Sunday). Palo Alto is also on the Caltrain Line- there's a little downtown, Stanford University has nice grounds, and I think Stanford Mall is more enjoyable than Santana Row, IMO- at least as far as malls go.

Public transit is OK- you can definitely get from the airport (via shuttle) to light rail to Downtown. You can walk a few blocks from Downtown to the Caltrain Station, and get to the City. You'll be able to have more adventures further afield with a car, but for just 3 days I think you could get by with the train to the City (no parking hassle), Palo Alto perhaps, and light rail in San Jose. There are also buses, but I don't know the routes these days- however I used to take the bus to Falafel's Drive-in quite a lot.
posted by oneirodynia at 10:06 PM on February 4, 2008

Su's Mongolian BBQ. Crappy decor but oh-so-good old-school make-your-own "mongolian" bowls. If I were leaving the area that's the last place I'd eat here.

Lawrence Hall of Science above the UCB campus. Fun attractions inside for kids & the view of the bay from there is beyond fantastic.

After that, drive over the Bay Bridge and head into the city! My favorite city places are Japan Town, Golden Gate Park & the bridge itself.
posted by panamax at 10:40 PM on February 4, 2008

btw, if you're interested in optimal use of your short time here DO NOT attempt to use the public transit. It sucks in so many ways [having lived in Tokyo for 8 years I know what proper public transit is supposed to be like].
posted by panamax at 10:41 PM on February 4, 2008

Winchester Mystery House is a tourist trap. Read the description and move on - an actual visit would bore you to tears. Taking a vacation to visit Santana Row is my vision of hell.

Parking in SF is going to be much tougher than waiting a few minutes for MUNI. Take Caltrain to 4th and King, then the N to the Haight, Cole Valley, or wherever you'd like to go. Want a tour of the city? Transfer to the 22 line and take it end to end - you'll see every segment of SF from the Marina frat scene, down through the mansions of Pac Heights, into the Fillmore and Western Addition neighborhoods (they are, how you say, "depressed up and comers"? ready for gentrification?), down through the Haight and Castro under Hayes Valley, through the Mission, and into Bernal Heights for a quick stop at Goat Hill Pizza. The MUNI experience is worth it in itself - don't buy your crack directly from the driver, since the bums in the back have better prices and better quality rock.

If you do drive up, I'd stick to the north-left corner (Richmond/Sunset) after finding some restaurants on Yelp a priori - Pizzetta 211 is a good example of a small, charming neighborhood eatery. There's plenty of parking out that way as long as you have some destination to aim for. Skip Union Square and anything south of Market. Go see the Gap at Haight and Ashbury!

Don't dismiss the east bay, either. The Berkeley campus is wonderful and the city itself (near campus!) can be interesting to wander through. Again, easy enough to take BART from SF if you're sans automobile. See the wonders of an underfunded monorail on steroids.

There's also Mt. Tam - hiking, biking, etc. - if you're driving up through the city. You'd drive the GGB that way, too. Go see Muir Woods on your way through to do a quick hit of Sonoma (or Napa, but Napa is terribly bougie) wine tasting.
posted by kcm at 11:49 PM on February 4, 2008

Oh, and if you do drive, take 280 (not 101). 101 is a proving ground for whatever bolt-on parts the Honda Civic racing scene is trying out that day - think Tron meets Mad Max in Detroit. 280 is lovely and while it's a few miles more, it's entirely worth the extra time and distance. Little construction, saner traffic, and great views up through the foothills near Stanford (this is where Steve Jobs, George Lucas, Larry Ellison, et. al. have their multi-multi-million dollar fortresses) all the way to SF.

Do the SF thing one day, driving or not, then see Monterrey and Santa Cruz another. Your daughter and the two of you will likely adore the Monterrey aquarium though it will be packed any day of the week. If you have more time, either drive up through the north bay (Sausalito/Tiburon/Mt. Tam/Muir woods/wine country) or see the lower half of the peninsula: lots of bedroom communities as mentioned already, including Palo Alto, Mountain View, Los Gatos, and so on.
posted by kcm at 11:56 PM on February 4, 2008

One more thing - an idea for the peninsula tour is to see the big tech campuses: Google and Yahoo are both interesting and you can at least walk the outside portions without being hassled. The Stanford campus has a few museums and a ton of mission-style architecture that's worth seeing once. The campus itself is a vast arid sprawl of open space and palm trees, which in itself is interesting given the dense population surrounding it to all sides. You could hike the dish or rent bikes to do the "Stanford Loop".

Palo Alto gives you a few options to end that day with the Palo Alto Creamery - excellent milkshakes - and lots of stores for the kid and mom alike.
posted by kcm at 12:11 AM on February 5, 2008

Response by poster: Wow! You guys are fun! Now I want a meet up. Kid is 19. Now I'm all confused about the Mystery House. I've seen video about it and thought it looked really fun, but we don't tend to go in for touristy stuff-- more find the natives and blend kind of travellers. I'm chuckling at the suggestions for Pizzas Chicago. Maybe not. (Check my profile.)
posted by nax at 6:04 AM on February 5, 2008

This brings back a lot of memories :)

I lived in San Jose for most of my life before moving south. I second all of the following:

-Japanese Friendship Garden
-The Tech!
-The Exploratorium
-San Jose Sharks Game
-Winchester Mystery House
-The Mystery Spot

Great times.
posted by Schuby at 8:10 AM on February 5, 2008

Back again with color commentary.

I was just at the Mystery House a year ago with visiting family: it isn't cheap (~$30?) and is not of actual historical significance, but you do get a pretty long tour out of it and even for a native, it's a weird and interesting place. Personally, I avoid anything for tourists like the plague, though; it's your call.

Definitely seems like a rental car is the way to go if you can swing it. Then you can do San Francisco, Palo Alto, the Lawrence Hall of Science (which is fantastic), and even head over to Santa Cruz for sushi at Pink Godzilla and a stop at the (free and teensy) Surfing Museum on Lighthouse Point and watch the Dudes at one of the Coast's great breaks, Steamer's Lane, directly below.

We're radio "Market 4" to your own Market 3, and like Chicagoland, the Bay Area is best appreciated as a large region, so definitely leverage your starting point down South to hit up Santa Cruz's beaches and sun (it's only 30 minutes on Highway 17), but don't miss San Francisco.

And, poking around your previous comments, I'd like to add that I am squarely within your children's generation, FWIW!
posted by coolhappysteve at 8:36 AM on February 5, 2008

Best answer: If you are in Downtown SJ and want some good American food with some good American beer, give The Tied House a try. I love their beer, and I'm usually not big on beer! Their french fries are unbelievable! Burgers are great, and they change the menu fairly often and always have something interesting to try. Just about everything's a winner. Oh man i'm salivating just thinking about their loaves of that marble bread they serve.

Oh and if you aren't from California or the Southwest... you would be foolish not to try some Mexican food while in California. So many good Mexican places! Best burrito is La Bamba in Mountain View, or at least in the top three!
posted by high0nfire at 2:49 PM on February 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Tied House is .. not worth spending your time on. It's a midrange quality brewpub like any other in the country.

If you do want a California-style burrito, La Bamba is one of three in the burrito triangle of Mountain View (along with La Costena and Burrito Real). That's an option I'd definitely go for. La Bamba's meat is great, but La Costena's everything else is better.

Then there's the bacon hot dog cart in SF. We could talk wacky only-in-SF foods forever.
posted by kcm at 4:43 PM on February 5, 2008

Kinda late to the party, but there's the Mystery Spot in Santa Cruz, and some Mystery House in SJ (dunno 'bout that). Maybe that's where the confusion is.
posted by hobbes at 1:26 AM on February 21, 2008

Response by poster: Follow-up. We ended up spending a day in San Francisco, with lunch in Sausalito (now I can take "drive across GGB" off the do this before you die list), did Chinatown and Castro. Drove round the bay through Berkeley and Oakland (disappointing and yuk), so we also got to the Bay Bridge, and in fact managed to get on 3 of the major bridges linking Bay communities.

Falafel Drive In-- thank you!!! Great, and definitely off the beaten track. Rest of the time watching daughter's show multiple times, which was a hoot (Disney Princesses).

Wish we'd had enough time to take in everyone's suggestions. Thanks for this great thread!
posted by nax at 4:41 PM on February 29, 2008

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