We fondly recall Dionne Warwick’s 1968 chart-topping hit, “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?”, but even back then we thought the lyrics reflected more of a nostalgia for an earlier time than an up-to-date picture of the city. The real narrative of San Jose in 1968, and subsequently we thought, was of rapid growth and suburban sprawl consuming productive orchards and fertile fields–ironically, kind of a Bay Area version of L.A.’s San Fernando Valley. Consequently, ever since, we’ve regarded San Jose as a place we drive through on our way somewhere else.
But we have changed our minds. Recently immersed in this city for a weekend, we discovered plenty of reasons to go to San Jose on purpose–and stay awhile. Our commodious accommodations at the Fairmont, San Jose–the kind of upscale, chain hotel we rarely indulge in–put us smack-dab in the center of downtown.
Museum of Art and Tech Museum's thermal image of Janet and Stu
We walked next door to San Jose Museum of Art, featuring modern and contemporary art. Here we viewed a contemporary exhibit called “Around the Table: food, creativity, community” in spacious, well-lit galleries. Punctuating this eclectic display was an unexpectedly moving photo exhibit by Jitish Kallat, titled “Epilogue.” It’s an homage to the artist’s father expressed through images of progressively eaten roti (flatbread) symbolizing the faces of the moon over the 22,500 evenings of his father’s 62-year life. Across Market Street, with its broad, welcoming center park strip called Plaza de Cesar Chavez, we explored The Tech Museum of Innovation, a place perfectly designed to provoke the giddy and inquisitive child in all of us.
Slightly longer, but still comfortable walks took us to our evening entertainment. One night it was about four blocks to San Jose Stage Company to see their very professional and original, but dark and frankly raunchy production of “The Three Penny Opera.” The next evening, a walk of about six blocks brought us to San Pedro Market where we scarfed artisinal pizza, tacos and beer before hoofing maybe six blocks more to catch a Sharks–Capitals NHL game at a packed and raucous SAP Arena.
The Sharks game and downtown San Jose
One afternoon a leisurely four-block stroll brought us to San Jose State University’s leafy campus where Janet’s memory banks worked overtime retrieving recollections of a semester spent here a few decades ago. About six blocks from The Fairmont, the Kaleid Gallery is a store-front space dedicated to showcasing the local art scene where visitors can enjoy a broad range of art media and styles and perhaps find an original piece to take home.
While downtown San Jose offers an extensive collection of museums, galleries, performance venues, nightclubs, restaurants and bars, a shoppers’ paradise it’s not. If you wish to shop in San Jose–like many places these days–you head for a shopping center, and there are plenty of the familiar variety.
Kaleid Gallery and Santana Row
But we headed for Santana Row, across Stevens Creek Blvd, from Valley Fair Mall, yet offering a decidedly different experience. It reminded us of an early 20th century shopping district in a mid-sized city, or perhaps a present day European one–leafy streets lined with mid-rise, multi-use buildings, swarms of pedestrians, small plazas, outdoor entertainment; and no vast surface parking lots. Though the shops may trend upscale, we savored lunch at Pluto’s, a reasonably priced counter-service restaurant with fresh, original, made-to-order salads and sandwiches. We think this may be San Jose’s new retail center, and we hope it portends more developments like it in other places.
So, now we have a whole new view of San Jose–one that makes us glad we know the way.
For More Information:
Fairmont Hotel www.fairmont.com/SanJose
Convention and Visitors Bureau www.SanJose.org