Things to do in San Jose

Unveiling Hidden Places in San Jose

Let’s take a look at the hidden places in San Jose that are often overlooked by lists of things to do in the city.

When planning things to do in San Jose, it’s vital not to miss out on the city’s hidden places, which often offer overlooked adventures.

Join us on a journey to uncover the lesser-known treasures of San Jose. Tucked-away parks and districts pulsing with life make this city a captivating destination.

Outdoor Adventures

Looking for outdoor activities in San Jose? How about a journey through the trails of Almaden Quicksilver County Park? If hiking isn’t your thing, you might prefer the peace and tranquillity of the Japanese Friendship Garden. Either way, soak up some California sunshine in a beautiful setting.

1. Almaden Quicksilver County Park

Welcome to Almaden Quicksilver County Park, a sprawling 4,163-acre expanse in the southern reaches of San Jose. This hidden gem has a storied past. It served as a bustling mining site for over 135 years.

During early spring, the park bursts into color with a breathtaking wildflower display. It offers visitors a glimpse into the region's natural ecosystem alongside remnants of its mining heritage. Whether you're arriving via the Mockingbird Hill, Hacienda, or Wood Road entrance, each pathway has a scenic journey into the heart of the park.

Once inside, adventurers can explore over 37 miles of hiking trails, 30 miles of equestrian trails, and 16.6 miles of biking trails. Picturesque picnic spots are scattered throughout the landscape.

Eager to delve into the park's history? The New Almaden Quicksilver Mining Museum awaits. It offers insights into the area's mercury mining legacy and the communities it once supported. Participate in guided nature walks, history tours, or educational programs tailored to enrich your experience.

Fishing is another tempting pastime available at this park, but note the catch-and-release policy! Historical mercury contamination in the reservoirs has sadly made the fish unsafe to eat.

2. Uvas Canyon County Park

Welcome to Uvas Canyon County Park, which spans 1,147 acres in the eastern Santa Cruz Mountains. This mountain retreat beckons outdoor enthusiasts with hiking, camping, and picnicking all year. Located in upper Uvas Canyon, this lush woodland promises an unforgettable escape into nature.

The park is open 7 days a week, including weekends and holidays. Note that parking reservations are required but can be conveniently made online. Once confirmed, visitors can follow the winding roads to the park's sole entrance on Croy Road to ensure a smooth journey to this woodland haven.

Within the park, you’ll discover seven miles of hiking trails, including the scenic Waterfall Loop along Swanson Creek. Picnic sites are scattered for impromptu snack breaks. Larger groups can reserve the picturesque Black Oak Group Picnic Area.

If you fancy an overnight stay, the campground offers 25 individual campsites equipped with showers and flush toilets. With these basic amenities, you can enjoy a comfortable wilderness retreat under the stars.

Photographer: Vinu T

3. Japanese Friendship Garden

As you can tell from the narratives of some of our shows, we love to celebrate friendship. That’s why the Japanese Friendship Garden is one of our favorite hidden gems in San Jose. Crafted in 1965, this beautiful garden is a living testament to the enduring bond between San Jose and Okayama, Japan.

From graceful Japanese bridges to tranquil ponds teeming with golden koi fish, every corner mirrors the beauty of the renowned Korakuen Garden in Okayama. Visitors can explore the gardens at their own pace, following a self-guided walking map available in English and Spanish.

As the seasons shift, so do the garden's hours, offering different glimpses of its splendor throughout the year. Whether you're seeking a stroll or a moment of quiet reflection, the Japanese Friendship Garden welcomes all.

Photographer: stux

4. Guadalupe Oak Grove Park

Guadalupe Oak Grove Park Guadalupe Oak Grove Park is a little slice of paradise tucked away in the suburbs of south-central San Jose. This hidden place presents an irresistible opportunity to take a relaxing break in the middle of a busy day.

From 8 a.m. until evening, when sunset colors the sky, the park is yours to explore. Speaking of birds, be sure to listen for the sounds of woodpeckers hammering away in the trees. The eagle-eyed among you may spot the bright blue feathers of the California scrub jays that call this park home.

Feel the crunch of leaves beneath your feet as you wander through 62.7 acres of pure bliss. Picnic spots are waiting for you to claim them, and no reservations are needed. Take a breather in the shade of towering trees, or enjoy a walk through the greenery. And fear not, when nature calls, restrooms are here to save the day.

5. Los Gatos Creek Trail

Get ready to lace up those shoes, pump up those tires, or grab your trusty skateboard because the Los Gatos Creek Trail is calling your name! This scenic pathway isn't just for walkers and joggers. It's a haven for cyclists, skaters, and non-motorized scooters — anyone who loves being surrounded by nature's beauty.

Starting at East Main Street at College Avenue, you'll find yourself on a wide dirt trail leading to Lexington Reservoir or the St. Joseph's Hill Open Space Preserve. Head north to journey through Forbes Mill. Cross the footbridge, and discover the charms of Old Town Los Gatos before continuing to Vasona and beyond.

Just remember, on-street parking is only available here. Looking for more adventure? Swing by Miles Avenue, where a paved trail awaits. Head south to explore Old Town or take a detour to the Lexington Reservoir/Dam trail.

If you feel northward bound, Oak Meadow Park and Vasona County Park are 1.2 miles away. They offer parking, restrooms, playgrounds, picnic areas, and easy trail access.

Cultural and Historical Sites

Love history and culture? We have great news for you. Some of the best Silicon Valley attractions are located right here in San Jose! Travel back to Ancient Egypt or the golden age of mining with San Jose’s fabulous historical museums.

6. History Park

Hey, history buffs! You'll love History Park, a captivating 14-acre site hidden away within Kelley Park in San Jose. Through a unique blend of original and reproduction structures, this park offers a nostalgic journey through Santa Clara Valley's vibrant past. Stroll along paved streets, ride vintage trolleys, and savor treats at O'Brien's Ice Cream.

Immerse yourself in history with guided tours every Wednesday and Friday at 10 a.m. These tours provide insight into how San Jose shaped the region's social and economic landscape from the 1860s to 1970.

Explore how the valley's resources fueled innovation, transforming it into a global center of technology and progress. History San Jose also hosts enriching programs, such as public lectures, workshops, and more.

Admission to History Park is free year-round, excluding special events. It's an accessible and educational destination for all. Don't miss the chance to step back in time and uncover the stories that have shaped San Jose's remarkable heritage.

7. Portuguese Historical Museum

Opened on June 7, 1997, just in time for Portugal Day celebrations, the Portuguese Historical Museum is a tribute to the rich history of Santa Clara Valley. The building is lovingly crafted to resemble the first império built in San Jose in 1915.

Step inside to discover 3,200 sq. ft. of captivating exhibits spread across two levels, telling a story of Portugal's global influence and the journey of Portuguese immigrants to California. From a reconstructed altar to an etched glass map showcasing the Portuguese world, each exhibit invites you to immerse yourself in centuries of history and culture.

Wander through rotating displays that bring to life pivotal events, such as volcanic eruptions in the Azores, the enduring traditions of folklore, and marching bands in Portuguese-American communities.

Through layers of narrative, the museum unfolds the tale of Portugal's discoveries, migrations, and lasting impact on California's Santa Clara Valley.

When you've finished exploring indoors, step into the museum's plaza. Replica bandstands and a breathtaking reproduction of the Rosa dos Ventos, crafted from dazzling Portuguese tile, await. This monument symbolizes the museum's commitment to celebrating and preserving Portuguese heritage.

Supported by individual contributors, the plaza draws visitors from near and far to experience the spirit of Portugal.

8. Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum

Ancient Egypt is a source of inspiration for people all over the world. The Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum hosts the most extensive collection of Egyptian artifacts in western North America.

Open Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, this museum offers the chance to travel back in time to the age of the pharaohs. Learn about Cleopatra, the building of the pyramids, and more.

The Rosicrucian Labyrinth is one of the museum's highlights. Modeled after the Chartres Labyrinth, it’s filled with native California plants and leads into the heart of an ancient oak grove. After you’ve had your fun and games with the maze, head to the Peace Garden to learn about the natural herbs used in Ancient Egypt.

Photographer: cassandracapranica

9. New Almaden Quicksilver Mining Museum

Step into history at Casa Grande, home to the New Almaden Quicksilver Mining Museum in Almaden Quicksilver County Park. Open Fridays and Saturdays from 12 to 4 p.m., this stately manor invites you to uncover the region's legacy of mercury mining and the lives of local mining communities.

Explore exhibits that transport you back in time, with late 19th-century photographs and a diorama showcasing underground mine workings. Discover artifacts reflecting the diversity of miners who once called New Almaden home, from Cornish to Mexican and Chinese mining families.

Explore Casa Grande's antique-furnished rooms for a glimpse into the lifestyle of a mine manager's family. The story of New Almaden's mining legacy traces back to 1845, when Mexican Cavalry Officer Captain Andres Castillero unearthed cinnabar, sparking the region's mercury mining boom.

Designed by architect Francis Meyers in 1854, Casa Grande served as the official residence for mine superintendents and a retreat for wealthy investors. Today, it’s been named a National Historic Site that offers a fascinating journey through California's mining history.

Arts and Entertainment

San Jose is a hotspot for arts and entertainment. Discover the innovative exhibitions at the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art and the eclectic array of artworks showcased at the Art Object Gallery. We guarantee you’ll leave feeling inspired and enthralled.

10. Institute of Contemporary Art San José

At the Institute of Contemporary Art San José, admission is always free. Explore cutting-edge exhibits showcasing innovative works from emerging and established artists, pushing the boundaries of contemporary art.

Whether you're arriving from the San Francisco Peninsula or the Oakland/East Bay region, take the appropriate train to San Jose Diridon station, and hop on the free shuttle (201 Dash) to South 2nd and San Carlos. From there, it's just a short walk down South 1st Street to reach the museum.

On the first Friday of every month, ICA stays open until 9 p.m. There are drinks on sale and a DJ to help bring the art scene to life.

11. SoFA District

Welcome to the SoFA District (South First Area) in Downtown San Jose, right behind the San Jose Convention Center.

Explore charming coffee shops hosting lively poetry readings, or unwind with a frothy brew at one of the craft breweries nearby. Wander through art galleries showcasing local talent, and don't forget to snap a selfie in front of the buildings adorned with the district's original murals.

With a lively bar scene and avant-garde theaters, SoFA offers exciting nightlife and entertainment, including festivals, such as South FIRST FRIDAYS ArtWalk, the SubZERO Festival, and the SoFA street fairs.

Photographer: Jules Marvin Eguilos

12. Art Object Gallery

Step into Japantown in San Jose and discover the Art Object Gallery. For over 15 years, this gallery has been a beacon for artists in South Bay, showcasing the very best in contemporary paintings, prints, sculptures, and mixed media.

It’s one of our favorite hidden places in San Jose, thanks to its groundbreaking exhibitions, with themes ranging from the pleasures of food to the frustrations of commuting.

Unique Dining and Shopping

If you’re looking for unique things to do in San Jose, there are several neighborhoods you should check out. Japantown and Little Italy are two of our favorites, where you can expect to find good food and even better vibes.

13. Japantown San Jose

In Japantown San Jose, culinary delights from Japan, China, Hawaii, Mexico, and more await your taste buds in cozy, unpretentious eateries. But Japantown is more than just food. It's a bustling hub of culture and community.

Explore trendy boutiques, quirky gift shops, and lively karaoke bars, or escape the bustle at the Japanese American Museum or local churches.

14. San Pedro Square Market

From tequila to tacos, there are plenty of treats at San Pedro Square Market to tempt your taste buds. Why not come here for a bite to eat before heading to one of our shows?

Or, perhaps you’d rather spend a whole evening strolling the streets and sampling everything. Sweet gelato, delicious donuts, and crispy, thin-crust pizzas — it’s enough to make your palate sing.

15. Little Italy San Jose

Little Italy San Jose traces its roots back to the 1880s. Initiatives such as the installation of a Gateway Arch and Piazza Piccola Italia adorned with engraved bricks have kept this neighborhood thriving.

It’s full of authentic Italian businesses that serve perfect pizza and pasta and pour glasses of the finest wine. Don’t miss the Little Italy Street Festival in October.

16. Luna Mexican Kitchen

“Eat like an ancestor” is the philosophy at Luna Mexican Kitchen, and we’re here for it! The dishes here contain clean ingredients and are made using ancient methods with no shortcuts. It’s like sitting in your great-great abuelita’s kitchen as she serves you morsels made with love. This restaurant serves up food for the soul as well as the stomach.

Photographer: ROMAN ODINTSOV

Beyond the Beaten Path in San Jose

In our tour of the most interesting hidden places in San Jose, there’s one gem we haven’t mentioned — our shows! Our world-class artists transport audiences to fantasy realms full of wonder and awe.

Combining the thrill of acrobatics, the beauty of dance, and the spectacle of live music, our shows in San Jose promise an unforgettable experience for all. Don’t miss your chance to witness the extraordinary — prepare to be dazzled!

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