By Richard Carroll
San Jose in Northern California takes pleasure guiding visitors by the hand to the flip side of the city. As one smiling residents explained, "We are tucked away in the heart of Silicone Valley, sharing space with Apple, Facebook and their 18,000 employees, along with Google's massive campus and an astounding 6,600 tech firms, but there is another compelling side to our city."
The city collectively has enough brain power and creativity to impress Albert Einstein, but beyond the big three tech leaders are layers of fascination built on a pristine sense of community and a history of success and goals accomplished. Centered on tradition from the past yet unafraid of a big reach to the future, San Jose doesn't have the glitz and glamour of some cities, but in their place is a grass-roots cultural diversity, 300 days of sunshine a year and a rewarding downtown.
Cleverly planned to be enjoyed on foot, the Center for the Performing Arts, designed in 1972 by the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation, offers Broadway productions; the spacious San Jose Museum of Art presents up-and-coming photographers before they become world-renowned; and the Children's Discovery Museum has 150 interactive exhibits and also boasts a nationally recognized music theater program.
Nearby, The Tech, a 132,000-square-foot Museum of Innovation, supported by NASA and Stanford University and renowned as one of the nation's premier science and technology museums, is easily a three-hour encounter. San Jose State University, located on 154 acres in downtown, also welcomes visitors. The West's first public university (1857), SJSU has a rich legacy. It is worth noting that Silicon Valley firms employ more alumni from SJSU than of any other college or university in the nation.
Not surprisingly, as more than half of the adults living in Silicon Valley hold a college degree, while San Jose is ranked the third most-educated city in the United States, which possibly accounts for the customer-service robots in the San Jose International Airport.
The place to meet the locals and have great fun at lunch is the earthy San Pedro Square Market on San Pedro Street, with some 15 dining choices, craft beers, California wines, a singing pizza cook and the chance to hear an assortment of 56 various languages. Dining aficionados can check out ADEGA, only the second Portuguese restaurant in the country to be honored with a Michelin star and ranked by Wine Enthusiast among the "100 Best Wine Restaurants."
The city's upscale venue is found at Santana Row, a popular destination for shopping, dining and live entertainment when the sun fades. It is a lovely area of one-way lanes on either side of an attractive landscaped island that includes benches, sculptures, fountains, a chess set and a 19th-century French church facade.
San Jose and the surrounding region have an enormous variety of high-quality wineries. Visitors could spend a month tasting the wines and chatting with the winemakers of the historic vineyards scattered throughout the Santa Lucia Highlands and Santa Cruz Mountain wine region, many only a 20- or 25-minute drive from San Jose.
In the early 1960s Ridge Vineyards accepted the intense challenge of winemaking and today produces Chardonnay and Bordeaux varieties. Tucked away via a two-lane windy road atop the Monte Bello Ridge in the Santa Cruz Mountains, 2,300 feet above Silicon Valley and 15 miles from the Pacific Ocean, Ridge Monte Bello is a gorgeous setting for a sip of wine.
Testarossa Winery in Los Gatos, housed in the historic Novitate Winery built in 1888 by the Jesuits, offers live music; dining in a romantic, candlelit room; and an award-winning Chardonnay to its 4,500 wine club members and non-member guests as well.
Los Gatos, gateway to Testarossa, 13 miles south of San Jose, is a fashionable retirement location and bedroom choice for the Tech's CEO's crowd where flies are repelled at the city's borders and chewing gum on the streets is a no-no. The city is elite and elegant, pedestrian-friendly with parks galore, and in 2015 the estimated median household income was $134,000-plus.
On the "To Discover" list should be dinner at the Mount Hamilton Grand View Restaurant in the East San Jose Foothills, 20 minutes east of downtown. Its amenities include glorious views of the valley and city with patio seating, Italian music from the 1940s, formal service and a large photo of Sophia Loren establishing the ambience. Originally an Italian restaurant established in 1884 and once a stagecoach stop, the menu is now American classic with seasonal and organically grown produce from their adjoining farm enhanced by an Italian wine list.
Farther up to the summit of Mount Hamilton is the famed Lick Observatory, the world's first permanently occupied mountaintop observatory, which has been at the forefront of astronomical research since 1888; admission and tours are free. It's a pleasing cap to a San Jose visit.
WHEN YOU GO
For more information: www.sanjose.com(SET CAPTION) Santana Row in San Jose, California, is an upscale shopping and dining area that includes the facade of a 19th century French church. Photo courtesy of Halina Kubalski. (END CAPTION2
Richard Carroll is a freelance travel writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.