San Jose is Ground Zero for the Silicon Valley, so there’s an almost unimaginable amount of wealth in the area. But there are also fun things to do while waiting for the stock options to pay off. Among them:
Mission San Jose — Actually in Fremont, Mission San Jose was founded in 1797 and is the 14th of the 21 missions in California. You can enter the church and walk around the grounds for free (Mass is said on weekdays at 8:00 am); if you want to enter the museum for a self-guided tour, admission is $3. In addition, the Mission holds many concerts presented by community groups, often with little or no admission fee. It is also part of Fremont’s free pre-Christmas celebration, Las Posadas, that includes nightly entertainment and refreshments.
Alviso — San Jose’s Alviso neighborhood is at the northern end of the city. Until its annexation in 1968, it was one of the oldest cities in the area. It is on the National Register of Historic Places, and tight zoning keeps the neighborhood looking like the old Central Valley farming town that it once was. Because it is at the south end of the San Francisco Bay, there’s waterfront; bikers and hikers can explore the bay, its wetlands, and the salt marshes through the miles of trails running through the area.
San Jose Sharks family nights — Hockey is a lot of fun to watch, with its weird mix of grace and brute strength. If you want to check out the Sharks, there are four family pack dates this season: For $128, you’ll receive four tickets, four hot dogs, four bags of chips, and four soft drinks.
Lick Observatory — The Lick Observatory is a research facility for the University of California. Although it’s designed for scientific research, it has a free visitor center and museum so anyone can learn about the activities there. The observatory also has public events, including viewings from the telescopes and concerts in the summer. The drive up Mt. Hamilton is incredible — and winding — making the trip an adventure in and of itself.
Los Gatos Creek Trail — The entire San Jose area is filled with great trails for hikers, and one of the most popular is the Los Gatos Creek Trail. The ten-mile trail between San Jose and the town of Los Gatos is a great walk or bike ride; it’s amazing that such gorgeous scenery is so close to the center of technology. EveryTrail has a list of other great trails, if you want to explore the area some more.
Japantown — San Jose was home to a large Japanese-American population before World War II, and many people returned to the area after they were freed from the internment camps. In addition, many Japanese people have come to the Silicon Valley to work for technology companies, and they appreciate having a taste of home. Japantown is a great place to walk around, explore, and have lunch.
Opera San Jose — The San Jose opera puts on four productions a year. Although it’s not the cheapest activity out there, Opera San Jose offers a 20% discount to AAA cardholders and $11 student tickets.
San Jose State University Theatre Arts — San Jose State has a robust arts program, including radio, television, film, and theatre. Every year, students perform plays and opera, hold storytelling events, and organize film festivals. Some are free, others are inexpensive.
San Jose Jazz — This non-profit organization puts on the San Jose Jazz Summerfest every summer and a smaller Winterfest every winter. But that’s not all! On the first and third Wednesday of each month, its musicians put on concerts at the Hedley Club in the Hotel De Anza, with free admission. On Friday nights, its musicians perform at San Pedro Square. The San Jose Jazz website has the full list of all upcoming events, and there are some good ones.
Starlight Cinemas — In the summer months, the San Jose Downtown Association shows free outdoor movies. Some are serious, some are fun, and all are free.