The Ultimate Guide to Downtown San Jose

|April 6, 2018

Did you know San Jose predates the state of California? This Silicon Valley city, founded in 1777, was the first civilian settlement in what was then known as Nueva California. Later, when the state was founded in 1850, San Jose became the first capital and the site of that first capital was Plaza de Cesar Chavez in the heart of Downtown San Jose.

Today, we’re traveling south for a historic, delicious and eventful day trip. Headquartered in one of the city’s most bustling neighborhoods, which is home to the iconic San Pedro Square Market Bar and the always popular SoFa District, you can start out with coffee, explore the foodie hotspots, learn at a local museum and even sip a local libation. So next time you find yourself spending a day in downtown SJ, there’s no need to fret and there’s definitely no need to worry about having a fun-filled adventure. We’ve got you covered! 

Neighborhood Coffee Shops

Chromatic Cafe

17 N 2nd St | Facebook

Chromatic Cafe Downtown San Jose California

Photo courtesy of Amanda Halbakken via Chromatic Cafe

Thrillist once asked industry experts to provide input on the definitive top 11 Bay Area coffee roasters and at the top of that list, with 11 points total, you’ll find Chromatic. Though the roastery is located in Midtown, you can stop by the Downtown café to get a taste of the best alongside pastries and snacks from other local shops.

Social Policy

200 S 1st St | Facebook

Social Policy is an art-filled, cafe serving freshly roasted coffee and outstanding eats from the kitchen. Stop in the airy, modern space next time you need a crafted espresso drink and you’ll get a true feel for San Jose culture.

Academic Coffee

499 S 2nd St | Facebook

This quirky spot in the SoFa District serves meticulously crafted coffee from award-winning roasters paired with seasonal pastries and baked goods from local artisans.

Caffe Frascati

315 S 1st St | Facebook

This hip coffee shop offers specialty espresso drinks, cafe fare and wine along with a lineup of weekly live music. With Rome, the Umbrian countryside and other Italian cultures serving as inspiration, you’ll get a true taste of Italy in Downtown SJ.

The Essential Eateries

San Pedro Square Market Bar

87 N San Pedro St | Facebook

San Pedro Square is the oldest district in San Jose and the market has become the neighborhood hangout for foodies, music lovers, locals, coffee connoisseurs, history seekers, old-time barbershop patrons, social media gurus, wine aficionados and craft beer drinkers. Amidst the famous open-air plaza and sidewalk cafe and three unique interior spaces inside, you’ll find 20 unique vendors selling everything from sushi to tapas to home goods. It’s a destination for eating, but it’s also the perfect place to shop, dance, play trivia and do so much more!

SoFa Market

387 S 1st St | Facebook

Before 2011, this neighborhood market had stood vacant for several years. Now, with the help of local merchants and regulars, it has become one of the most popular markets, and the district itself has become one of the most thriving spots in all of San Jose. Inside the hall, you’ll find Vero’s Coffee Bar, Milk & Wood, Pizzetta 408, Vietnoms and The Fountainhead, an urban bar with architecturally themed cocktails made from high-end, small-batch spirits and locally sourced ingredients. See all the eateries and drink destinations inside SoFa Market here.

SP2 Communal Bar + Restaurant

72 Almaden Avenue | Facebook

Adjacent to the San Pedro Square Market, SP2 offers delicious, locally sourced, American bistro cuisine and house-made, hand-crafted cocktails. With one of the region’s best patios and one of the most beautiful dining rooms in Silicon Valley, it’s a must-see and a must-try. Just look at that SP2 Burger!

Mezcal

25 W San Fernando St | Facebook

Tucked inside the warm, exposed-brick dining room or outside on the patio, Mezcal serves traditional Oaxacan cooking and an impressive lineup of mezcal drinks. Order up a Jalapeño Margarita and get ready to taste some of the most flavorful food in town.

Cafe Stritch

374 S 1st St | Facebook

As the premier venue for live jazz in the South Bay, Cafe Stritch boasts a chill, lounge vibe alongside outstanding food and even better cocktails. If you’re having trouble narrowing down the options, the Spicy Cajun Jambalaya and the classic Old Fashioned are good places to start.

Local Libations

Uproar Brewing Company

439 S 1st St | Facebook

This neighborhood brewery has become a favorite amongst San Jose locals and visitors alike. The beer list changes almost daily and includes several barrel-aged brews aged in barrels that are sourced from prominent wineries in Sonoma and Napa. While sipping, you can also enjoy delicious brunch, lunch and dinner dishes.

The Fountainhead

387 S 1st St | Facebook

The landmark bar inside SoFa Market, The Fountainhead is an urban bar with architecturally-themed cocktails made from high-end, small-batch spirits and locally sourced ingredients. For example, the Greene & Greene is made with Kikori Japanese Whisky, King’s Ginger Liqueur, fresh Lime and green tea. Yum!

Paper Plane

72 S 1st St | Facebook

Boasting an easy-going, fun atmosphere, Paper Plane serves thoughtfully constructed, original cocktails, seasonal, handmade and shareable punch bowl cocktails on tap, and an incredible menu of small plates and bar bites!

The Continental Bar Lounge & Patio

349 S 1st St | Facebook

Located adjacent to the California Theatre in the SoFa District, The Continental is a cocktail bar, a beer bar, a sports bar and a music venue all rolled into one. Over the years, they’ve become one of the go-to spots in the neighborhood thanks to their unique atmosphere complete with historic fixtures, reclaimed wood, salvaged metal, classic leather seating and a patio all tucked inside a historic 1917 building.

Things To Do

Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose

180 Woz Way | Facebook

Featured as one of the best children’s museums in the Bay Area, the Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose boasts one of the most welcoming and fun atmospheres amongst the region’s museums. Exhibits include a children’s art gallery for viewing, an art loft for creating, the health-focused Rainbow Market to learn about food, the hands-on Mammoth Discovery, and so much more.

The Studio

396 S 1st St | Facebook

The Studio rock climbing Downtown San Jose California

Photo courtesy of The Studio

This fitness facility brings world-class rock climbing to the heart of downtown San Jose. As San Jose’s premier indoor climbing and fitness facility, they offer a 40-foot lead wall, 11,000 square feet of climbing terrain, 3,000 square feet of bouldering and more than 120 routes.

The Tech Museum of Innovation

201 S Market St | Facebook

The Tech Museum was awarded the National Medal for Museum and Library Service in 2015, the highest honor a museum can achieve. A day spent inside will lead to discoveries of innovations in healthcare, facts and history of the Silicon Valley, robot technology and more! With exhibits covering various biological and technological topics, every age group can find something to learn and enjoy.

San Jose Museum of Art

110 S Market St | Facebook

San Jose Museum of Art Downtown San Jose California

Photo courtesy of Gary Sexton Photography via San Jose Museum of Art

This downtown museum functions as the center for art in the Silicon Valley. Exhibitions cover post-1980 to older 20th-century works and the building also houses a cafe and education center.

San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles

520 S 1st St | Facebook

Founded in 1977, this downtown museum is the first in the United States devoted solely to quilts and textiles as an art form. The museum’s mission is to promote and celebrate the art, creators, craft and history of quilts and textile and they do so through beautiful exhibitions, participatory activities, artist collaborations and more.

San Jose Center for the Performing Arts

255 S Almaden Blvd | Facebook

Originally designed and built in 1972, the San Jose Center for the Performing Arts home to the San Jose Dance Theatre and Broadway San Jose. Together, these companies put together some of the best dance and theater performances in the region!

Must-See Attractions

San Jose State University

1 Washington Sq

San Jose State University Downtown

The founding campus of the now 23-campus California State University system, San Jose State provides a comprehensive university education through eight different colleges. Even if you’re not looking for classes, the campus is worth a visit just to spend time on the landscaped grounds and take in the stunning architecture.

Plaza de Cesar Chavez

1 Paseo De San Antonio

The oldest public open space in California, Plaza de Cesar Chavez was once the site of California’s first state capitol. Covering more than two acres in downtown San Jose, the park has become a beloved place for musical performances and festivals, mid-day strolls, picnic lunches and it even features an open-air theatre!

Little Italy San Jose

323 W St John St

Since opening, this downtown district has been attracting local Italian businesses, eateries and artists to the area. As a result, Little Italy is succeeding in its mission to provide the diverse community of Italian Americans and admirers of the culture a headquarters to celebrate and learn. Be sure to grab a meal at Paesano Ristorante and follow the team on Facebook for event updates!

Cathedral Basilica Of St. Joseph

80 S Market St

Basilica is a title of honor given to a church in recognition of its history, artistic beauty and service to its community. As such, this Downtown parish and landmark has become a beloved destination and is a stunning sight in Downtown. You can also enjoy a free tour to see the beautiful works and architecture throughout the interior!

Can’t-Miss Events

South First Fridays

Year-round

Year-round on the First Friday of the month, South First Fridays comes to the SoFA District to celebrate our community. The free, self-guided evening tour will take you through galleries, museums and independent creative businesses featuring exhibitions and special performances. And during the summer months, you can enjoy corresponding events like SubZERO Festival and street markets that feature even more local makers. Follow the team on Facebook for event updates.

Music in the Park

June – August

This summer concert series takes place each year in Plaza de Cesar Chavez. Since beginning in 1989, it’s become a family-friendly happy hour for the whole community with great live music from big names as well as up-and-coming acts.

Dine Downtown

July

With more than 200 eateries in and around the neighborhood, it’s always possible to dine Downtown. But each July, Restaurant Week comes to San Jose offering special prix fixe menus and chef’s tasting menus.

Downtown Farmers’ Market

May – November  

This seasonal, outdoor market takes place 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on Fridays from May through November. Presented by Kaiser Permanente in partnership with Pacific Coast Farmers’ Market Association, the market brings local fruits, vegetables and locally made foods and goods to the people of Downtown San Jose.

Christmas in the Park

November – December

Christmas in the Park is the Bay Area’s ultimate holiday attraction. Throughout the season, you can participate in events like Santa Run Silicon Valley, Dog Day at the Park, Santa Paws, Habitat for Humanity Playhouse Build and more! Take photos with Santa using your own camera or purchase a professional shot. Then, explore the park and take in all the holiday festivities.

Downtown Ice

November – January

This beloved, seasonal rink is surrounded by a circle of illuminated holiday palm trees so you can really feel the California Christmas spirit each holiday season. Typically, it operates mid-November – mid-January with admission between $10 and $15.

Do You Love San Jose?

For more San Jose attractions, recreation opportunities, history and eateries, check out Visit San Jose. And share your favorite local businesses and attractions in the comments below!

Category Community Guides, Silicon Valley

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McGuire Real Estate

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