Exploring San Jose

A quick drive from San Francisco is San Jose, a beautiful town with fun and quirky things to check out.

After visiting San Jose on a three-day trip, I fell in love—not that it was a challenge.

Downtown San Jose is easy to travel by car or foot, and its notable destinations are very close to each other. Very impressive to someone like me who gets lost travelling! San Jose is a great base for visiting the area, including its big neighbour San Francisco. In fact, I’d argue it’s more economical to make San Francisco a one-day trip and stay mainly in San Jose. Hotels in San Jose are often cheaper, and—if you time it right and avoid rush-hour peak times—you can drive to San Francisco in just over an hour. But whether or not you choose San Jose for a long-term stay or just a quick trip, here are the can’t-miss sites in this charming Cali town.

San Jose Arena Hotel

The hotel may be showing its age, but any disdain for the overall appearance will disappear once the deliciously smelling (and complimentary) chocolate chip cookies and coffee welcome you in the lobby.

The Arena Hotel is a historic, quaint 89-room hotel. I was taken with the jacuzzis, the coin-operated laundry center, free wifi and kitchenette.

The complimentary food train just kept on going, with a free continental breakfast, and then a complimentary dinner—something I wasn’t accustomed to, that’s for sure. The dinner wasn’t gourmet, but certainly good enough to fill our stomachs.

We had spaghetti and salad one night and Chinese food the next. Overall, it’s an incredible bargain, with rates that start at US$79 a night.

San Jose Rose Garden

Several blocks from the Arena Hotel is the beautiful Historic San Jose Municipal Rose Garden. Operated by volunteers, the garden is filled with an estimated 4,000 roses—depending on when you visit.

When I explored the garden in May, most of the roses weren’t yet in bloom. We did, however, enjoy the graduation ceremonies that we saw by chance that day. A gorgeous fountain makes up the centerpiece for the gardens. Admission and parking is free.

Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum

You can’t miss the exteriors of the museum—white with blue patterns and numerous huge columns in the front. If you can’t make it to Egypt itself, this museum is your best bet.

Rosicrucian has the most Egyptian artifacts in the entire Western hemisphere. The museum even houses a recreated burial chamber beneath it.

We were actually too afraid to travel down into the dark, cold room, so on the advice of our guide, we snuck a peek at the burial entrance to see the gold coffin. Admission is US$9 per adult with senior and children discounts.

Winchester Mystery Mansion

Consider this colourful 160-room Victorian mansion San Jose’s piece de resistance. Though it doesn’t look so mysterious from the outside, the inside brings an entirely different story. In 1862, Heiress Sarah Winchester, after losing her husband and baby daughter to different illnesses, sought counsel with a fortuneteller who told her the spirits of those killed by her family’s Winchester rifle throughout history were haunting her.

Sarah then moved west to California and built her famed mansion, filled with puzzling architecture likely created to ward away spirits. For the next 38 years of her life, there was constant building and rebuilding 24 hours a day at her request to get the spirits even more confused.

Visitors to the mansion have a choice of three tours, each ranging in theme, price (from $25 to $33 for adults), and length. Our tour, the basic one-hour-long tour, was actually a quick run-through of the house.

Amusing features we saw included a peekaboo window in Sarah’s séance room so that she could eavesdrop on her cooks in the kitchen below—or the fact that all of the bathroom doors were of glass so that nobody (or no ghost) could hide from Sarah. But before we got too freaked, our jovial tour guide would often break into hearty laughter. It helped me forgot how haunted this mansion could possibly be!

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