Sprawled across the south end of Silicon Valley, San Jose proudly claims the honor of “biggest city in the Bay Area.” It is the beating heart of the Valley’s high-tech industry, and eBay, Intel, Adobe, IBM, and many more call San Jose home.
Long considered a cultural wasteland, San Jose has worked in the last decade to change its image, supporting local art and attracting high-end restaurants. If you want to get a sense of how Silicon Valley residents really live, spend a few days in San Jose.
Travelers heading straight for the Silicon Valley should skip SFO and fly into Mineta San Jose International Airport (1667–2077 Airport Blvd., 408/501-0979, www.sjc.org) if at all possible. This suburban commercial airport has shorter lines, less parking and traffic congestion, and is convenient to downtown San Jose.
Amtrak (www.amtrak.com) trains come into San Jose, and you can catch either the Coast Starlight or the Capitol Express at the San Jose-Diridon Station (65 Cahill St.). See the Amtrak website for information about scheduling and fares.
The San Jose-Diridon station is also a hub for CalTrain (www.caltrain.com, fares $3–11), a commuter train that runs from Gilroy up to San Francisco. If you’d like to spend a day or even two up in the City but base yourself in Silicon Valley, taking CalTrain is an excellent way to go.
At Diridon, you can even catch the VTA Light Rail (www.vta.org, fares $2–4), a streetcar network that services San Jose and some of Silicon Valley up as far as Mountain View. The VTA also operates Silicon Valley buses (same fares as light rail), which can get you almost anywhere you need to go if you’re willing to be patient enough.
As with most of the Bay Area, it’s best to avoid all of San Jose’s major freeways 7–9:30 a.m., and again at 7:30 p.m. Arterial U.S. 101 is a dank, dirty stretch of road that’s convenient to much of the Peninsula. I-280 is much prettier and less convenient, and definitely the easiest (but not the shortest) car route up to San Francisco. Highway 17 is the fast, treacherous route over the hill to the coast and Santa Cruz; it turns into I-880 in the midst of San Jose and runs past the foot of the Bay and then up the east side of the water all the way to Oakland. Highway 87, sometimes called the Guadalupe Parkway, can provide convenient access to downtown San Jose and the airport.
Parking in San Jose isn’t anywhere near as bad as in San Francisco, but you should still be prepared to pay a premium for event parking and closed lots at the fancier hotels.
© Liz Hamill Scott from Moon California, 2nd Edition