The roar of the crowd in Levi’s Stadium will soon be a fading memory, the streets of San Jose back to a low buzz following the hoopla of Super Bowl 50. By then a leisurely stroll around downtown and nearby neighborhoods will reveal the city’s quiet pleasures for art and history lovers on romantic weekend getaways.
In the heart of the city, surrounded by museums, theaters and historic districts, Plaza de Cesar Chavez Park is the site of many cultural celebrations and the San Jose Jazz Festival in the summertime.
A few steps from the plaza, the 1877 Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph soars into the cityscape with double bell towers, a columned façade and a whopping dome encircled with saints and topped with 39 dazzling blue stained-glass windows. Just down the block, the San Jose Museum of Art specializes in the ultra-contemporary works of West Coast artists in a flamboyant Romanesque-style former post office built in 1892.
A few blocks away, the Peralta Adobe-Fallon House Historic Site is comprised of a 1797 adobe, the oldest structure in San Jose, and an elaborately furnished 1858 Victorian mansion. Both are open for tours. Next door at San Pedro Square Market, diners settle in under the trees for libations, live music and food from vendors reflecting the city’s multi-ethnic population, which includes a quarter-million Latinos and nearly as many Asians. Vietnamese pho is on offer at Phonomenal Noodle House, Colombian cuisine at Arepa & Más and Mediterranean wraps at Robee’s Falafel.
The Tech Museum of Innovation, a glowing mango-and-gold edifice spanning one side of Plaza de Cesar Chavez Park, is a temple to 21st century inventiveness, with 132,000 square feet of hands-on science and technology exhibits, robots, astronauts and an IMAX theater
The city’s queen of architecture is the Winchester Mystery House, a Queen Anne Victorian spectacle of turrets, towers, cupolas, cornices and balconies. Guilt-stricken by the thought of people killed by the Winchester rifle, which had been manufactured by her husband’s company since the 1800s, Sarah Winchester kept workmen busy for years building stairways and doors leading nowhere, windows open to walls, twisting, tilting hallways and secret passageways. Gold-plated chandeliers, Tiffany art glass windows, weird bathtubs and rare wood parquet floors are just a few of the oddities on view. Stay with your tour guide to avoid getting lost.
Across the street from all that mystery, Santana Row boasts more than 70 shops and nearly 20 restaurants lining a garden plaza where cultural events happen all year –– Caribbean bands, mariachis, Latin dance troupes, a Day of the Dead fest.
Historic San Jose
Just north of downtown, the flowering of architecture of the Victorian and Gold Rush eras lives on in the Hensley Historic District, where streets are lined with mansions and homes, particularly on Third Street.
Along Jackson Street is the 125-year-old neighborhood of Japantown, the site of Japanese Obon and the Nikkei Matsuri festivals. Walking tour maps are available at the Japanese American Museum of San Jose, where more than a century of Japanese-American history is featured, from early immigration to WWII incarceration and beyond. Also in Japantown are the ornate San Jose Buddhist Church Betsuin and San Jose Tofu Company, where tofu has been handmade since 1946 for restaurants and markets.
Stepping into History Park at Kelley Park, southeast of the city center, is like walking back in time. Dozens of antique buildings were brought together here, including an impressive replica of the 1881 Electric Light Tower, an 1888 Chinese temple and the Pacific Hotel. The Trolley Restoration Barn refurbishes old trolley cars to operate on San Jose’s light-rail line; on weekends you can ride a trolley along Kelley Park’s own short line.