You may know San Jose as the global center for high tech, but probably not much else. And who could blame you? With huge attractions nearby, like San Francisco, Napa Valley, Yosemite, and Santa Cruz, San Jose is easily overshadowed by all the amazing things that surround it. Of course, San Jose is no San Francisco or Los Angeles, but as the capital of Silicon Valley and the largest city in Northern California, the city definitely has no shortage of things to see, do, and eat.
What’s the best time to visit San Jose?
With 257 sunny days per year and a Mediterranean climate, the weather is never terrible in San Jose. But the most comfortable time to visit is in September and October when the temperature high averages low 80s to high 70s. Summer is mostly nice too, averaging in the high 80s, but it is not uncommon for temps to pass 100 at least a couple of times each summer, so be careful if you hate heat. Always bring a sweater for evenings (even in summer!), and avoid visiting in winter months. It can get chilly then, with highs averaging in the 60s and lows reaching high 40s.
San Jose is not a major tourist destination, like nearby San Francisco, so you won’t notice tourist crowds, even in summer. But if you plan to use the city as a base for beach trips, the freeways leading to the beaches will be very crowded all summer long. Local kids are out of school (summer vacation in the United States is from June to August!), so hit the roads early in summer to beat the rush.
A few facts about San Jose
With over one million residents, San Jose is the 10th largest city in the United States. After Los Angeles and San Diego, it’s the third largest city in California. San Jose is known for being one of the most expensive places in the country, and it was actually the first capital of California, before that got moved to Sacramento further up north.
San Jose is located in a valley with mountains on both sides, hence the name Silicon Valley. This provides some beautiful views, comfortable weather, and also influences the local culture. People from San Jose love outdoor activities and like to take advantage of the mountains and hills around them to enjoy hiking.
San Jose is also very diverse. Many people from all over the world and even all over the country move here for the tech industry and warm weather, so you can find authentic ethnic foods of all kinds with no problem. Even though San Jose is a large city with diverse people and a strong economy, the downtown area does not play a huge role in the city’s vibe, and so San Jose feels rather suburban. This leaves many visitors a little unsure about how to plan a trip to San Jose. But you’re in luck because you’re getting the inside scoop. Keep reading for the perfect one day in San Jose itinerary!
One Day in San Jose Itinerary
Follow this guide and make the best of your trip even if you’re short on time. These are the top sights and things to do on your one day in San Jose.
Start your morning in glitzy Santana Row. This is the place to see and be seen in San Jose. Dress to impress and take a stroll along the European-styled streets. Snap some pics in front of the luxury cars parked outside, and find a cute restaurant or cafe to sit outside and have some brunch while you people watch. There are tons of posh boutique shops here, but if you want to get some serious shopping done, cross the street over to Valley Fair Mall. It’s filled with top designers and affordable staples alike. It also has a huge food court with tons of trendy Bay Area favorites like KoJa Kitchen, Sushirito, and boba milk tea shops.
Explore the Mystery
Next, it’s time to get cultured. Head to nearby Winchester Mystery House, which is a historical landmark of San Jose. This architectural wonder once belonged to an heiress widow, who moved west from the east coast to San Jose after losing her husband and baby daughter. Over 150 years later, you can tour her legendary mansion, known for ghost rumors, secret rooms, and mysterious psychics. Even if you don’t enter, consider driving by and simply looking from the outside.
Time to Head Downtown
Not a fan of touring mansions? That’s fine, as there’s plenty to do at your next stop: Downtown San Jose. Take your pick from the Tech Interactive Museum, San Jose Museum of Art, or the other museums downtown. If you’re visiting in winter, be sure to take a stroll around Christmas in the Park (free!) and ice skate at the outdoor rink by the large Christmas tree.
Enjoy Dinner with the Locals
Afterward, swing by the Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph, one of the prettier buildings downtown. Then walk over to San Pedro Square Market for an early dinner. Here, in one of San Jose’s oldest neighborhoods, you’ll find a variety of creative food options, indoor and outdoor seating, and a great atmosphere full of locals. Check the website before your visit to see if there are any cool events or live music going on. San Pedro Square Market is also a great location to watch a sporting event, especially if you are visiting in late spring and the Golden State Warriors are in the NBA playoffs.
End the Day with a View
To end your day, it’s time to see the city from above. San Jose is in a beautiful location, surrounded by mountains on two sides and water on the other, but you can never fully appreciate that from the city center. So head to the mountains and take your pick of a couple of different options, depending on what day it is and the vibe you want. There’s the Mountain Winery in Saratoga, which often has concerts and events that provide the opportunity to visit late. There’s also House Family Vineyards, which has an awesome outdoor patio but has limited hours, except on Fridays when it closes at 8 pm. Regardless of your choice, unwind while you think back on your one day in San Jose and enjoy the sunset over the city, the mountains, and the water.
If you’re not up for that drive, simply enjoy your night around Downtown Willow Glen or Downtown Campbell, which are a little closer to the city center. Both of these areas have cute tree-lined streets, restaurants, and a relaxed yet social vibe.
Where to stay in San Jose, California?
Fairmont San Jose
Located conveniently in central Downtown San Jose, the Fairmont is an elegant and classic choice for your stay. Here, you’ll enjoy a rooftop pool, six restaurants, a gym, and easy walking distance to everything worth doing in downtown.
Hotel Valencia Santana Row
Hotel Valencia Santana Row is the only hotel on this fancy street and it fits the surroundings perfectly. Beautifully designed in a Spanish style with an outdoor pool and two great restaurants, as well as luxurious rooms and a gym, this place is where you will get the rest you deserve while staying at a fantastic location.
Finding affordable housing is difficult to do in Silicon Valley, but Alura Inn provides all the basics and free WiFi at a reasonable rate. Each room has a microwave and a fridge, and the inn even has an on-site Mexican restaurant.
Day trips from San Jose
San Jose might be the biggest city in the area, but it doesn’t feel very urban at all. If tall buildings, hustle and bustle, and typical city life is what you’re after, a day trip to San Francisco from San Jose will be perfect. You can drive 50 miles there (be sure to avoid Silicon Valley rush hour!) or take Caltrain from downtown San Jose.
Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk
Who comes to California and doesn’t go to the beach? Luckily, the local favorite Santa Cruz is not far from San Jose at all. It has an awesome boardwalk (closed in winter) and is hugely popular with surfers. Be careful to leave San Jose before 8:30 in the morning if you make this drive during summer! Otherwise, plan to sit in some traffic.
Big Basin Redwoods State Park
California is known for the tallest trees in the world. Specifically, they are located right in the mountains behind San Jose, in Big Basin State Park. It has multiple hiking trails of different lengths, full of waterfalls and creeks.
Monterey and Big Sur
Monterey, known for whale sightings, a lively pier, and a world-class aquarium, is about a 1.5 hour drive south of San Jose, making it a great day trip option. Also worth seeing in the Monterey area are Carmel and Big Sur.
Extra tips for visiting San Jose
Rent a Car, or Download an App
San Jose, like most of California, is not a pedestrian-friendly city. Most residents have cars, and they are the best way to travel here, so you will likely be using ride-sharing apps (like Lyft or Uber) to get around. Alternatively, you can rent a car for a day. Driving is very convenient in San Jose, as parking is rarely hard to find and is never too expensive.
Time Your Visit with Big Events
Are you an American football or an ice hockey fan? The San Francisco 49ers and San Jose Sharks both play near downtown San Jose, so time your visit with football or hockey season if you want to catch a game. Similarly, San Jose’s SAP Center also hosts many big-name concerts year-round, so check when your favorite performer is on tour and maybe time your visit with it.
Take Advantage of the Outdoors
Do you love the outdoors? Well, people from San Jose do! San Jose has tons of parks, hiking trails, small lakes, and creeks. Squeeze an easy 3-mile (5 km) hike at Almaden Quicksilver County Park into your morning for some nice views of the city with minimal effort.