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Destination Guide


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 walls).

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

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/Almaden Valley

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 commuter hours.

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.

Silicon Valley

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.

Heather Shaw