Districts of San Jose
San Jose is made up of many sections. What is determined to be downtown
depends on whom you ask. For those in the Willow Glen area, downtown is
Lincoln Avenue. For those living in Cambrian/Almaden Valley, downtown is
Almaden Boulevard. And, for those living in North San Jose, downtown may
be the intersection of Winchester and El Camino Real (home of Valley
Fair Shopping Center). Still it is universally agreed, that although San
Jose is spread out over many, many miles, the "official"
downtown is the area of South First Street. But it doesn't stop there.
Many residents who reside in the outlying cities refer to their home as
San Jose, even if they live in Los Gatos or Campbell (West San Jose),
Sunnyvale or Santa Clara (North San Jose). San Jose has become a synonym
for the entire Silicon Valley, unique for its all-inclusive boundaries,
diverse population and liberal attitudes.
Downtown San Jose
Here, one can find many Silicon Valley businesses, government offices,
five-star hotels, museums, cultural centers, night clubs and fine
dining. A resurgence has occurred in the downtown area over the last
five years or so and, although not San Francisco, is alive and
energetic. However, the locals note that downtown San Jose
"sleeps," meaning it is not a place to party until the wee
hours of the morning. By 1am, the streets are relatively quiet.
Downtown is very safe during the daylight hours, although I wouldn't
walk alone at night on some of the side streets or alleys. Some of the
surrounding bedroom communities are home to the service industry and can
be risky after dark. Although there is not a lot of crime in the
downtown area, its not safe to wander into uncharted territories.
Downtown is not all restaurants, clubs and hotels, a lot of other kinds
of business is conducted here (Adobe Systems claims an entire city
block). You will see suits along the streets, especially during lunch
hours, with hustle and bustle in almost every dining establishment.
While there are a few boutiques for shopping, they are spread out across
the downtown area, making it a bit difficult to hit them all at once.
But downtown is also easy to walk through, with many plazas and parks
offering benches to sit and take a breather.
The assortment of accommodations is impressive with the beautiful Fairmont
Hotel overlooking Plaza de Cesar Chavez Park. Two blocks away sits the
Hotel De Anza, one of the oldest boutique hotels in the area and quite
impressive inside. The Hyatt St. Claire, which sits above the Il Fornaio
restaurant, is older and offers a truly antique feel. You are transported
to another time in the lobby and rooms (though some have views of brick
An old-fashioned trolley runs from all over Silicon Valley to downtown
(its hub). CalTrain (our local train service) can take you from San Jose
to San Francisco. Its a great way to get around. Parking in downtown is
not as congested it is in either San Francisco or New York, although it
is difficult to find on-street parking. Although most downtown hotels
offer valet service, we suggest parking in one of the many structures
(both public and private) located throughout the downtown area. And finally,
downtown is home to San Jose Stadium. This world-class event and sports
center is relatively new and still exhibits a clean, refined appeal. The
stadium itself is large, with high-tech steel architecture. It is quite
impressive and locals are very proud both of it and of the teams that
play there, including the Sharks Hockey Team.
Willow Glen is a great little residential community that has a reputation
for some of the most beautiful homes in all of San Jose. Willow Glen sits
quietly south of downtown San Jose with its own version of downtown called
Lincoln Avenue. Along with some of the beautiful architecture of the homes
including Southwestern, Colonial and Italian bungalows, Willow Glen boasts
a wonderful community feeling. Lincoln Avenue offers the community a one-stop
spot for services ranging from coffee shops (Starbucks, Willow Glen Roasting
Company) to billiards (Willow Glen Billiards) to antique stores to Aquis,
a great California-meets-Mexico restaurant. A walk down Lincoln Avenue
could occupy an entire day. It is fun and offers an assortment of stores
with hometown appeal. The Willow Glen neighborhoods are a place where
you know your neighbors and everyone takes great pride in their homes.
Lawns are green, flowers bloom everywhere and mailboxes are decorated.
Farmers Markets are popular and the site of mothers strolling with their
babies along the streets is common.
The catch: Homes here are very, very expensive and, many would admit,
over-priced. A two-bedroom, 1,100 square foot fixer-upper
Cambrian and the Almaden Valley are situated just southwest of downtown
San Jose. This area is about 10 degrees warmer than downtown and other
valley cities, and offers a more rural community. What was once
considered the country, this area has so quickly become populated that
you can still find a small farmhouse nestled between two monster homes
on the same street. The urban sprawl is apparent here. That being said,
this area offers slightly lower housing rates and the opportunity to own
a bit of land. Most people who live here commute to Santa Clara (North
San Jose) to work, thus the roadways become parking lots during peak
For those visiting San Jose, this valley is particularly nice for a
drive (during off peak hours). If you take Almaden Expressway to McKean
Road, the residential community opens into large pastures sprawled
across golden hills full of horses and cows. (We don't call the hills
brown in California, we call them golden, thank you very much.) Stay on
McKean Road and just drive. You will pass a beautiful reservoir and a
multitude of valleys and county parks. Hicks Road winds around and plops
you back out in Watsonville (Santa Cruz County). See the Tours section
of the City Guide for a more detailed driving tour.
North San Jose (Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Los Altos, Palo Alto)
North San Jose is what we locals refer to as the northern border of San
Jose and the adjoining cities of Sunnyvale, Mountain View, Santa Clara,
Los Altos and Palo Alto). These communities feed the Silicon Valley with
the talent needed to make it the number one computer industry area in
the world. Although these cities have their own claims to fame, they are
still considered part of the Santa Clara County.
Sunnyvale (pop 125,600) is mostly moderate homes and service industries
that support the residents who live here. Sunnyvale sits just north of
San Jose. El Camino Real (which runs from South San Francisco all the
way to South San Jose) is the thoroughfare where most of the action in
Sunnyvale thrives. Sunnyvale was formerly orchards of cherry and apricot
trees. Nothing more. Now, it is a sprawling city and home to many
Silicon Valley employees. But you can still see an occasional city block
with nothing but tree stumps.
Mountain View (pop 67,460) is a bit further north from San Jose. It has
a downtown on Castro Street. This area has some of the best and largest
variety of eating establishments on one block anywhere in the Bay Area.
Find great sushi, fantastic Thai, New York-style pizza, and great Indian
fare. Its all here. The homes within Mountain View are a bit older and
tend to be more pricey than in its sister city of Sunnyvale. Mountain
View is home to Silicon Graphics (SGI) and Sun Microsystems, among many
other high tech firms.
Los Altos is a neighboring city to Mountain View and Sunnyvale. It fits
snugly on the edge of both (along the west side of the valley). The
homes here and in neighboring Los Altos Hills are quite expensive. It is
possible to spend over $2,000,000 on a home in an upscale neighborhood.
The rule is: the closer you live to the mountain, the more expensive
your home will be. There are some businesses here, but Los Altos and Los
Altos Hills are mainly homes and services.
Palo Alto is not part of Santa Clara County, but worth mentioning due
to its close proximity to the South Bay, Stanford University, and fabulous
University Avenue and the Stanford Shopping Center. This area is posh,
upscale, pricey (to ridiculous degrees), and a great place to shop. Palo
Alto is part college-town and part old money/new money. Its a mix of all
three and somehow, the mix works. This area is ritzy. Homes here are out
of this world, regardless of its condition. If its in the area code of
Palo Alto West, its expensive.
West San Jose (Los Gatos, Saratoga, Campbell, Cupertino)
West San Jose is much like north San Jose in that while still within the
Santa Clara County, the cities here are independent. Los Gatos (pop
27,357) and Saratoga (pop 28,061) are small cities that feel more like
small towns. They sit at the base of the Santa Cruz Mountains. A quick
45-minute drive over Highway 17 will drop you off at the breathtaking
Pacific Ocean and the town of Santa Cruz. Los Gatos and Saratoga both
offer hometown appeal while boasting a "rich
hippie" attitude with lots of new money and even more old money.
The streets and driveways are lined with imported Italian, German and
British cars. The money of Silicon Valley sleeps here. The homes in Los
Gatos and Saratoga are rivaled only by the homes in Palo Alto. They are
mostly new, or newly renovated in all kinds of architectural styles.
Because (land) is worth so much money, everyone seems to take immaculate
care of their homes. The downtown areas are filled with boutiques and
storefronts that are perfect for window shopping. The downtown of both
Saratoga and neighboring Los Gatos consist of more touristy shops
including day spas, cheese and wine shops, antique stores and boutiques.
Campbell (pop 30,048) and Cupertino (pop 40,263) are the middle
children; nestled between the borders of San Jose, Los Gatos and
Saratoga. Each has a definite downtown, but remain mostly residential,
bedroom communities. Most people who decide to move here do so with
children because the Cupertino School District is one of the best in the
county. Cupertinos claim to fame includes the world headquarters of both
Apple Computer and Hewlett Packard.
Although within the Santa Clara County (pop 1,637,477), Silicon Valley
is not a city at all. Silicon Valley refers to the Santa Clara Valley,
where most of the high-tech, computer-related industries thrive. A lions
share of the big names are here including Cisco Systems, Fujitsu,
Hitachi, Canon, NetScape, and Sony. This area is essentially one part
residential community (much like Sunnyvale) and one part business park.
Large roadways twist through the flat Santa Clara Valley with mile after
mile of corporate high-tech buildings lining the streets. You just can't
help but feel the excitement of cutting-edge technology being developed
here, creating a new high-tech world.