Given the number of towns and communities annexed by San Jose in the 1950s, to say nothing of the many neighboring cities considered part of the San Jose metropolitan area (and not even considering the larger sphere of Silicon Valley), exact definitions of the city's neighborhoods are almost impossible. San Jose residents will argue amongst themselves about where one community ends and another begins. What can be said with certainty is that the whole metropolis is a fascinating, dynamic and almost infinitely varied mosaic.
Downtown San Jose
An extensive 1980s face-lift gave formerly downtrodden downtown San Jose a spate of five-star hotels and museums, a convention center, and an arena on par with any in America. All that was needed was a bit of refinement in the go-go '90s to give it the cosmopolitan air of a world-class city. Thriving, sophisticated, and unquestionably moneyed, downtown feels like the Capital of Silicon Valley. Looking out over the Plaza de Cesar Chavez Park, The Fairmont Hotel reigns over a bevy of beautiful luxury hotels; nearby is the stately Hotel De Anza . The great number of popular bars and restaurants present a challenge to the visitor, while the galleries, coffeehouses and theaters of the SoFA (South of First Street) District give downtown a bit of SoMa/SoHo urban chic.
Among the civic and architectural profile of San Jose's downtown are the HP Pavilion (home rink of the NHL's San Jose Sharks ), the massive San Jose McEnery Convention Center , the Tech Museum of Innovation , Children's Discovery Museum , the San Jose Museum of Art , San Jose Center for Performing Arts , and San Jose Repertory Theater . In addition to being a cultural and entertainment magnet, San Jose is a working downtown: software giant Adobe occupies Adobe Towers, which covers a highly conspicuous block of valuable real estate; the nearby Park Center Plaza is home to a number of financial and technical enterprises.
Downtown San Jose's parks add leisure and beauty to the somewhat forbidding technopolis. The Plaza de Cesar Chavez Park is the original plaza of the first Spanish pueblo and is now the site of outdoor music festivals and numerous other cultural and community events. Spacious Guadalupe River Park and Gardens is an attractive area giving breathing space to an increasingly congested city center.
Willow Glen is a small and attractive residential community with a reputation for some of San Jose's most beautiful homes, built mostly in the 1930s in the Southwestern, Colonial and Italian style. The community displays an undeniable civic pride with manicured lawns, well-tended flowers, and precious mailboxes. Willow Glen sits just southwest of downtown San Jose, yet has an engaging downtown of its own along Lincoln Avenue. One can stroll Lincoln Avenue for everything from coffee to billiards to a fair share of restaurants and attractive boutiques. Willow Glen is particularly noted for its antiques (the inimitable Adopt-A-Doll being one of the most popular shops).
The historic center of Santa Clara Valley is Mission Santa Clara de Asis, founded in 1777 by Father Junipero Serra. The makeup of the population has changed, of course, as has almost everything else about this densely-packed city. Its southern half is residential and largely middle-class. To the north are industrial parks which house some of the real giants of the technology industry: 3Com, Intel , Yahoo!, National Semiconductor, Applied Materials, and Synoptics. The Mission is still there, however (the present building, dating from 1928, is the latest in a series of churches destroyed by floods, earthquakes, and fires), on the grounds of the University of Santa Clara .
San Jose West
Known by some as the West Valley. Not actually part of San Jose, the Santa Clara County communities of Saratoga, Campbell, and Cupertino all incorporated in the 1950s to escape annexation. Los Gatos had incorporated over a half century earlier. Saratoga and Los Gatos carefully maintain rusticated images, Saratoga as a genteel community of vineyards and gentlemen, and Los Gatos as a quaint, slightly raffish outpost of the maverick billionaires.
Campbell and Cupertino are nestled between the borders of San Jose, Los Gatos and Saratoga. Each has a distinct downtown commercial district, but remain mostly residential communities. People who move here tend to have children: the Cupertino School District is one of the best in the county. Cupertino is famous as the world headquarters of Apple Computer.
San Jose North
Sunnyvale is Silicon Valley's second largest city. Here you can find attractive parks well-used by bicyclists, runners and inline skaters. Retail stores and service outlets along El Camino Real and in its two main shopping outlets (the Town and Country Shopping Center) take care of the basic necessities in this work-oriented community. The northern part of town is given over to the "campuses" of high-technology businesses, including Sunnyvale's primary employers: Advanced Micro Devices, and Lockheed Martin Missiles and Space.
Mountain View abuts Palo Alto to the south. Castro Street, the heart of its downtown district, boasts some of the best restaurants, and in greater variety, than almost anywhere else in Silicon Valley. Fresh sushi, complex Thai food, authentic New York-style pizza, and bounteous Indian buffets can all be found in one block here, along with a fairly lively nightlife. Houses in Mountain View tend to be a bit older than elsewhere in the Valley, and pricier, too, as are the rents in its many apartments and condominiums. Mountain View has great parks, especially the 660-acre open-space preserve of Shoreline Park . Mountain View is home to Silicon Graphics, Netscape Communication, Google, Sun Microsystems, Hewlitt Packard, and Intuit, among others.
Palo Alto must be mentioned in any discussion of Silicon Valley, primarily because of Stanford University. One of the state's premier universities (its perennial arch-rival, Cal, is to the northeast in Berkeley), Stanford is really the cradle of the high-technology industry that grew up into contemporary Silicon Valley. Stanford Research Park, on Page Mill Road, the world's first industrial park, is part of a long, close and successful relationship between the university and the electronics industry. The main Stanford campus is attractive and spacious. Palo Alto today is upmarket, upscale, and expensive, but it's a great place to shop. With the trendiness of the college crowd and the taste of moneyed yuppies, the stores and excellent restaurants of well-scrubbed University Avenue always draw steady stream shoppers late into the evening. Stanford Shopping Center drops any pretense of catering to the college crowd and stocks only the best.
The great number of popular bars and restaurants in downtown San Jose, the hub of the city's nightlife, presents something of a challenge. The visitor must choose from establishments ranging from the trendiest to the cheapest, featuring cuisines from every corner of the globe.
Toon's , South First Billiards , and Agenda Lounge are but a few of San Jose's downtown bars and nightclubs. Sport bar buffs won't miss an inning at the Britannia Arms .
For the most refined and stylish dining in San Jose, regardless of cost, one should try the fusion favorite E & O Trading Company , and Spiedo Ristorante .
You can certainly eat well at other downtown restaurants, without such severe prices. Scott's Seafood , Il Fornaio and Blake's Steakhouse and Bar are all excellent choices for a business lunch or dinner. Robust and reliable American fare can also be had at local favorites Original Joe's and Waves Smokehouse and Saloon .
Eulipia serves imaginative fusion fare at reasonable prices in stylish surroundings. If you are a sushi lover, Kazoo should satisfy with remarkably fresh fish. Thepthai Thai Cuisine and House of Siam are favorites with local Thai food enthusiasts. And if you're not in the mood for Asian cuisine, try Picasso's Restaurant , a charming and traditional Spanish establishment with live flamenco guitar on weekends.
For some inexpensive but satisfying grub, the burrito haven of Muchos should fit the bill. Or head to Peggy Sue's , and to top it all off, O'Brien's Candy Store, an old-fashioned soda fountain inside the San Jose Historical Museum and a favorite, it has been said, of Richard M. Nixon.
South of downtown, Willow Glen (an older neighborhood of San Jose) has lined its main drag, Lincoln Avenue, with some fine dining establishments. Aqui Cal-Mex Grill offers California-Mexican with a grill. Flower Flour is a great one stop bakery and flower shop, specializing in cakes, but with no shortage of other goodies as well as other cafe fare like sandwiches and salads. For something with a little more heat, Sue's Indian Cuisine is a small, hidden gem with great food.
A highlight of Santa Clara (for the most part a land of chain and franchise restaurants) is Birk's Restaurant . Its California cuisine is worth the trip if you're in the area. However, Mexican food seems to be the specialty in Santa Clara, with such restaurants as Pedro's Restaurant and Cantina and Mexicali Grill .
San Jose West
Los Gatos, a town with a carefully preserved image and lots of money, has a small downtown area offering many worthwhile places to drink and dine. The Los Gatos Brewing Company is a local hangout where many go after work for some suds and chow. The Plumed Horse is another popular choice for locals and visitors.
A stroll down Santa Cruz Avenue (Los Gatos' main drag) will take you by a number of night spots where one can dance or listen to music. One can sniff the wealth in the restaurants of nearby Saratoga, as well: Viaggio is an impeccable Italian restaurant and bar. At La Fondue reservations are required up to three months in advance. The primary culinary attraction of Campbell (wedged between San Jose and Los Gatos) is The Pruneyard , a shopping center, where shopping is accompanied with a variety of eateries.
San Jose North
In Palo Alto, the California Cafe offers memorable views to complement the California cuisine and pleasant ambiance. Menara Moroccan Restaurant has been serving up North African cuisine for over 20 years, complete with bellydancers. Aldo , in Los Altos serves up small plates of traditional Italian foods, while Chef Chu's offers up some of the best Chinese food in the area.