The San Francisco Bay Area is so much more than just San Francisco! One region of the Bay Area that’s often overlooked is the South Bay. Ever heard of Silicon Valley? Yeah, this iconic region sits right here in California’s South Bay!
If you can take some time to venture out of San Francisco, there’s a whole world of premier shopping, live music, tech museums, unmissable bars/restaurants, children’s parks, and other fun things to do in the South Bay.
So without further ado, let’s get into the best things to do in the Bay Area California’s South Bay!
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Table of Contents
WHERE IS THE SAN FRANCISCO SOUTH BAY LOCATED?
The South Bay of San Francisco starts at the southern shores of the San Francisco Bay and stretches to the fragrant, garlic fields of Gilroy, with San Jose sitting smack dab in the middle. The South Bay is adjacent to the Pacific Ocean to the left, San Francisco Peninsula to the north, as well as the East Bay to the northeast.
If the South Bay is known for one thing, it’s the fact that this is the home of Silicon Valley, the center of technological innovation. You might hear people talking about Silicon Valley, Santa Clara Valley, or Santa Clara County. These are pretty much different names for the South Bay.
The communities within the San Francisco South Bay include the cities of San Jose, Santa Clara, Milpitas, Cupertino, Sunnyvale as well as many other neighboring towns like Saratoga, Campbell, Los Gatos, and even Morgan Hill and Gilroy.
WHERE TO STAY IN THE SOUTH BAY, CALIFORNIA
If you’re visiting from outside of the Bay Area, chances are you’ll need a hotel to stay at. The most convenient place to stay will likely be San Jose, California.
This is where you’ll find a lot of the major hotels, meaning hotels can’t really charge an arm and a leg compared to smaller towns like Carmel-By-The-Sea or Santa Cruz. Here are some of the best hotels in San Jose, CA:
- Hayes Mansion San Jose, Curio Collection by Hilton ($$$) – this historic hotel offers modern, luxurious accommodations and is just 15 minutes drive from downtown San Jose. Guests can enjoy a variety of on-site dining options, including Silver Creek Dining Room, which offers a casual atmosphere for breakfast and lunch.
- AC Hotel by Marriott San Jose Downtown ($$) – This sleek, modern hotel features a restaurant, outdoor swimming pool, a fitness center and an onsite bar. The hotel also offers a continental or buffet breakfast.
- Aloft San Jose Cupertino ($$) – Just 6 minutes’ drive from luxury shopping at San Jose’s Santana Row, Aloft San Jose Cupertino offers modern, spacious rooms and relaxing facilities including an outdoor heated pool and an on-site restaurant.
43 BEST THINGS TO DO IN THE SAN FRANCISCO SOUTH BAY
Countless museums. Great cuisine. Wonderful nature spots. A mystery house. A thriving nightlife scene. Are you ready for all that the South Bay of Northern California can offer you? Let’s get into it!
1. SAN PEDRO SQUARE
Looking for something to eat while in the South Bay? Look no further than San Jose’s San Pedro Square where you’ll find more than 25 restaurants scattered around a five-block area. From cafes to pubs, fine dining to casual eateries, theater to live music, you’ll find every culinary and arts option represented here.
Not liking what you see on the outside? Head to the San Pedro Square Market (the food hall) for more casual and quick bites! This is one of our absolute favorite things to do whenever we’re in downtown San Jose. We like to get a few items from the food hall and pair it with something from Back-A-Yard, our favorite Caribbean food joint just down the street.
It goes without saying that San Pedro Square–the oldest district in the city–has become the premier dining and nightlife destination downtown.
With more than 300 days of sunshine every year and very little wind, this is where South Bay Area locals go for those fogless, warm summer nights! After dining, head to the theater for one of the Tabard Theater Company shows.
2. CHILDREN’S DISCOVERY MUSEUM
The Children’s Discovery Museum of San Jose is one of the best places to hang out in the South Bay for families with children. The Children’s Discovery Museum has one main mission and that is to inspire creativity, curiosity, and lifelong learning in young children.
There’s seriously so much your young ones can discover at this major attraction, including creating their own artwork, learning about the power of air in an air maze, studying the shape of bubbles, appreciating the natural world in Bill’s Backyard, and much more. It’s really a children’s dream world come true!
Tickets cost $15 for children and adults and reservations can be reserved online here.
3. JAPANTOWN SAN JOSE
San Jose’s Japantown is one of the last three authentic Japantowns in the United States, which makes it 100% well-worth the visit! From yummy Japanese / Hawaiian food joints to cute mom-and-pop shops selling everything from lucky cats to origami papers, Japantown features a ton of fun activities to busy yourself with.
For starters, you can head to the Japanese American Museum to witness the real stories of immigration and Japanese internment during the WWII days.
After exploring the museum, it’s time to grab a bite to eat and peruse gift shops in the area! You can start your day off with coffee at Roy’s Station, if it’s before 9am.
If it’s already 9am, then you need to rush on over to Santo Market for their extremely-limited strawberry mochi (currently only available on Tuesdays and Saturdays). And don’t be surprised to find a line that early in the morning — for locals in the know, this place is a local institution.
This long-standing market is also home to the best poke in the Bay Area as well as Hawaiian-style lunch plates! It tastes just like Hawaii!
From there, browse through the fun shops in the area, including Classic Loot, Moment JTown, Nikkei Traditions and Gifts Kogura (where you’ll find a plethora of lucky cats on sale).
If you’re looking for a proper meal, you’ll be glad to know that this historic neighborhood is known for its eclectic dining scene, with restaurants serving everything from regional Japanese fare to Chinese, Hawaiian, and even Mexican food. After your meal, don’t forget to get dango / mochi bites at Shuei-Do Manju Shop or shave ice at Pau Hana Shave Ice Co.!
You can even stop by a karaoke bar (any night of the week) and sing your heart out!
4. WINCHESTER MYSTERY HOUSE
If you’re more into oddities and kitschy attractions, take your ride over to Winchester Mystery House and take a guided tour of the property. This mystery house has been featured in popular shows including Mythbusters, Ghost Adventures, and Ghost Brothers.
Quick backstory–when this lady Sarah Winchester’s husband died in 1881, she became one of the wealthiest women in the world. Unfortunately at this point, she somehow became convinced that she was cursed. She moved from Connecticut to San Jose, CA and bought a simple farmhouse that she would go on to transform into what it is today–a 160-room mansion that cannot be explained.
No spoilers on why, but this house, now a historic landmark, is an interesting curiosity that you need to see for yourself (semi-spoiler: there are many doors that lead to nowhere, find out why when you visit)!
5. SANTANA ROW
San Jose’s Santa Row is Silicon Valley’s premier destination for shopping, dining, and feeling fancy. Featuring a vibrant mix of 50+ shops, 30+ restaurants, and even a movie theater, it’s a great way to spend a few hours in the South Bay. We certainly love stopping by on weekends to enjoy the bougie atmosphere under the warm South Bay sun!
Take a stroll through the promenade, enjoying the trees, fountains, and open spaces that surround the shops. In terms of shopping, you can expect to find the likes of H&M, Sephora, Tesla, Amazon Bookstore, Barry’s Bootcamp, Lululemon here.
On top of that, there are so many great cocktail bars, wine bars, and restaurants here, so you can unwind properly after that retail therapy! Friday nights are especially bustling!
Santana Row is free to walk around and complimentary self-parking is available throughout Santana Row.
6. HAPPY HOLLOW PARK & ZOO
Happy Hollow Park and Zoo is a 16-acre family-friendly amusement park and accredited zoo. Here you’ll find many children favorites including a carousel, roller coaster, petting zoo, and even a puppet theater!
Once you pull your kids away from all the amusement rides, check out the many animals! You can expect to see jaguars, red pandas, tortoises, lemurs, meerkats, colorful parrots and more. The kids will definitely love this little gem in the South Bay!
7. THE TECH INTERACTIVE MUSEUM
When people with families ask me what there is to do in San Jose, The Tech Interactive always comes to mind as one of my first recommendations! It’s by far one of the largest attractions that San Jose has to offer!
The Tech Interactive, one of the top museums in the South Bay, is dedicated to showcasing science and technology in a fun, family-friendly manner. The attractions provide innovative experiences with hands-on learning, experiments and challenges that empower people to be creative and think outside the box.
The highlight here is the IMAX Dome Theater, where you and your family can experience the world’s first laser projector in a dome theater. Other noteworthy exhibits include Social Robots, Body Worlds Cyber Detectives, Innovations in Health Care and Tech for Global Good.
8. SAN JOSE MUNICIPAL ROSE GARDEN
Looking to escape the technology, the museums, and the fast-paced city life for just a moment? Head to none other than the San Jose Municipal Rose Garden! This quiet and beautiful garden dates back to 1937 and is located in one of San Jose’s oldest neighborhoods. The rose garden is backdropped by some pretty grand homes dating back to the 1800s.
The best time to visit is from April to November. One of the more popular times to go is in early May when the roses are at their most bloomy and fragrant stage. Don’t forget to bring your camera for this one!
9. ROSICRUCIAN EGYPTIAN MUSEUM
For history buffs who are particularly interested in all things Egyptian, you are in luck because the hidden gem of The Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum is here to make your day! The museum, architecturally inspired by the Temple of Amon at Karnak and filled with over 4,000 artifacts, houses the largest collection of authentic ancient Egyptian artifacts on display in Western North America. From mummies to tombs, the Alchemy Garden to the Planetarium, everything here is well worth your time.
You can even take a tour with a docent to learn all about Egyptian burial practices, the afterlife, and their other ancient beliefs. There is a small admission fee and the museum is open from Wednesdays to Sundays.
10. SAN JOSE MUSEUM OF ART
The South Bay and San Jose, CA have no shortage of museums. For art lovers, there’s the San Jose Museum of Art, specializing in art and artists of the West Coast. Visitors can expect to see a wide assortment of mediums including paintings, sculpture, photography, drawings, and much more.
The museum costs $10 for adults but is free for young adults, students, and teachers.
11. PALO ALTO, CALIFORNIA
Not only is Palo Alto home to the various students that attend prestigious Stanford University, but even non-students can enjoy what this upscale town has to offer. Start with a tour around the green, airy campus. From there, head to the open-air Stanford Shopping Center for a quick peek at some upscale shops such as Apple, Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdale’s, and Louis Vuitton.
If you’re looking for a fancier dining moment, head to Chef Nobu Matsuhisa’s Palo Alto location of the popular restaurant Nobu.
For a more casual experience, we usually head straight for University Avenue, a popular hub lined with local restaurants and shops. Dining options like Farmhouse Thai or Ramen Nagi never disappoint!
12. CANTOR ARTS CENTER
The Cantor Arts Center on the Stanford campus in Palo Alto, CA is a small but dense art museum featuring some very interesting exhibits. It is known to have one of the world’s most renowned collections of Rodin bronze sculptures (outside of Paris), both inside the museum and outside in the sculpture garden.
On top of that, they have a unique collection that highlights Stanford history, Asian arts, as well as works of art from some highly respected modern artists like Mark Rothko, Richard Serra, and Jackson Pollock. Definitely worth a visit if you’re looking for arts and culture activities to do in the South Bay!
Admission is free but must be reserved in advance online.
13. SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA
Home of the stadium where the San Francisco 49ers play, one of the most iconic things to do in Santa Clara is to obviously catch a game at the Levi’s Stadium! If you love the 49ers like a lot of us Bay Area locals do, head straight for the 49ers Museum, featuring 11 unique galleries and exhibit spaces dedicated to the 49ers past, present and future.
For art lovers, the South Bay’s got another something something for you–The Triton Musem of Art. For those of you looking to take a step back in time, head to the historic Mission Santa Clara de Asis.
For tech-lovers (yes, there are a lot of geeky tech-related opportunities on this list), explore the people and technology that changed our lives forever at the Intel Museum.
14. MOUNTAIN VIEW, CALIFORNIA
Aptly named for its beautiful mountain views, Mountain View, CA is a town that’s worth stopping in for a few hours. The pedestrian-friendly downtown is packed with things to eat! Whenever I’m in town, I’m always sure to save my appetite for all the good food to be had here. In particular, Castro Street is where you’ll find many of the city’s restaurants, cafes, and boutique shops.
If you want more tech-related activities, head to the Googleplex, the Google headquarters campus! Once you park your car, take a quick self-guided tour around the campus, making sure to grab a selfie or two by cool statues and structures around you.
The Mountain View Farmers Market is an award-winning farmers’ market (features over 80 farmers and artisans) that’s also worth a visit if you’re in the area on a Sunday morning. The market takes place at the Mountain View Caltrain Station.
And if you’re lucky enough to be here in the late summer, you can’t miss the annual Mountain View Art and Wine Festival–one of the best festivals in all of the San Francisco South Bay!
15. VISIT THE COMPUTER HISTORY MUSEUM
For those of you who can’t get enough of the techiness of Silicon Valley, the Computer History Museum located in Mountain View is definitely a must-see. The Computer History Museum, established in 1996 in Mountain View, California, is a unique museum dedicated to the history of computers.
This interactive museum allows visitors to explore the evolution of our technological world. To get an idea of some of the things you can do there, you can sit in a self-driving car, experience a live demo on how a 1959 “minicomputer” weighing 1-ton works, try your hand at coding, and discover why computer history is more than 2,000 years old.
16. MONTALVO ARTS CENTER
The Montalvo Arts Center is a 104-year-old landmark backdropped by the Santa Cruz Mountains. The best things to see and do here include the Villa Montalvo and the surrounding gardens, as well as enjoying the miles and miles of hiking trails near the grounds.
After you’re done exploring, lay out your blanket on the massive lawn and enjoy a wonderful afternoon picnic outdoors. The best thing about Montalvo Arts Center? It’s open to the public for free!
Montalvo also hosts a wide range of community festivals, arts classes, literary events and more. They even offer an afternoon tea party event called Mad Hatter’s Tea! Be sure to check out their events calendar before visiting.
17. HAKONE ESTATE AND GARDENS
Hakone Estate and Gardens is a complete hidden gem in the South Bay. It’s one of the oldest Japanese residential gardens in the Western Hemisphere, having been established in 1915. To this day, I’ve met so many Bay Area locals who still have no idea that this wonderful garden lives tucked away in Saratoga, CA! It’s such a serene, tranquil spot to spend an hour or two.
While you’re here, be sure to check out a few cool spots in the garden including the Moon Viewing House, bamboo forest, Koi Pond, Moon Bridge, and Zen Garden House.
Should you be interested in elevating your experience with an on-site activity, they also offer health/art classes including yoga, Taichi, Qigong, meditation, watercolor, gardening, and even a tea ceremony.
Not only is this a common place to hold private events, but they also have a few not-to-be-missed annual cultural events open to the public. The Spring Festival (Matsuri) takes place in May (Matsuri), Autumn Opera in September, and Autumn grand tea gathering (Daicha Kai) in October.
Pro Tip: Admission costs $10 for adults. To get here, you’ll have to drive uphill on a pretty steep cliff. Come with a car that can handle the elevation!
18. CALIFORNIA’S GREAT AMERICA THEME PARK
Thrill-seekers and adrenaline junkies, this one is for you. At California’s Great America, you can fill your day with thrilling roller coasters, live shows, fireworks, and wait for it…. the best amusement park food in the San Francisco Bay Area!
Santa Clara’s Great America has rides and attractions for people of all ages, so no matter if you’re an adult or a kid, you’re sure to have a fun day out. On hot summer days, you can even enjoy the water park on the property. Be sure to get your walking shoes ready!
The amusement park is usually open March-December.
19. SAN JOSE BERRYESSA FLEA MARKET
The San Jose Berryessa Flea Market is an unmissable San Jose institution where one person’s junk is another person’s treasure. With over 120 acres of shopping, activities, and food vendors, there’s bound to be something for everyone here.
Even if you don’t leave with anything, to say you’ve seen the San Jose Berryessa Flea Market means you’re one step closer to being like a local! Be sure to bring a hat on sunny days, as the venue is mostly unshaded and it can get quite hot here.
The market is currently open on Wednesdays and Fridays to Sundays, from 8am-5pm. Walk-in admission is $2-3 depending on which day you go.
Don’t feel like driving there? The San Jose Berryessa Flea Market is steps from the Berryessa/North San Jose BART station.
20. GET BANH MI AT DUC HUONG
While there are a lot of Vietnamese sandwich joints in San Jose, Duc Huong tops them all. This is by far my favorite banh mi spot in all of the Bay Area!
And it’s not just me who thinks so! Duc Huong usually gets pretty busy during lunchtime, especially on the weekends. Despite the line, it does move fast! Stand in line, order your sandwiches, and wait till your number is called.
If you’re stuck on what to order, get the Special Pork Combination (#1). Want to elevate your banh mi that much more? Order that baby on garlic bread (it only costs a few cents extra). You will thank me later!
21. PINNACLES NATIONAL PARK
Not too far from the South Bay of San Francisco lies a world of caves, canyons, condors, and camping waiting to be discovered. All the best C’s rolled up into one!
Pinnacles National Park, officially established as a national park in 2013, was the result of an ancient volcanic eruption. As soon as you pull up in the parking lot, you’re going to notice a lot of impressive rocks jutting out of the ground and reaching for the sky. That’s what this park is best known for!
In order to see the best that Pinnacles has to offer, do the Condor Gulch Trail to High Peaks Trail, a 5.5-mile loop hike. You don’t need a ton of time to dedicate to exploring Pinnacles, but in my opinion, people are really sleeping on the natural beauty that Pinnacles National Park has to offer!
Looking for a relatively short road trip that you can easily fit into a weekend? This one passes through Pinnacles National Park onto Paso Robles, San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay!
22. SPEND A FEW DAYS IN SAN FRANCISCO
If you’ve got a few more days to spare for exploring, head to San Francisco for a bit more culture and fun. Ride the cable cars, explore Chinatown and North Beach (you may do it on a walking guided tour), take a food tour, or spend some time in the great outdoors!
Have a picnic or a jog at the expansive Golden Gate Park. Did you know that the Golden Gate Park is 20% larger than New York’s Central Park? You can rent bikes and ride around the park, or simply stroll on one of the many walking trails. The park also features various museums, gardens, an arboretum, and a carousel.
23. GILROY, CALIFORNIA
Why is this on the list? Because of the robust amount of family-friendly activities, garlic shops, massive premium outlets, and side-of-the-road fruit stands! If you’re into any of these things, consider working Gilroy into your South Bay itinerary somehow.
Gilroy is known as the Garlic Capital of the World, and visitors can explore the city’s love (or rather obsession) of garlic at the annual Gilroy Garlic Festival, which features food, drinks, and entertainment inspired by the pungent bulb. You can also visit the local Garlic Shoppe to purchase garlic-themed gifts and souvenirs.
Don’t be surprised if you smell the garlic as you travel through the city. The Gilroy Foods processing plant never fails to fill the air with the fragrance of garlic! If you love garlic, then linger here longer and breathe it all in.
Then there’s the Gilroy Gardens Family Theme Park, a family-friendly theme park features over 40 rides, attractions, and gardens that are perfect for all ages. From roller coasters to water rides (and even photo ops with garlic characters!), there’s something for the whole fam to enjoy at Gilroy Gardens.
For the adults specifically, might we recommend some wine tasting? Gilroy is home to several award-winning wineries that offer wine-tasting tours and events. You can visit the Fortino Winery, the Solis Winery, or the Clos LaChance Winery to taste some of the region’s best wines and learn about the winemaking process!
24. SANTA CRUZ, CALIFORNIA
Santa Cruz is a half sleepy beach town, half college town. The laid-back surf culture is so strong here. If you choose to stop here, check out the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk (home to one of the oldest roller coasters in the USA) and take a stroll among this boardwalk’s old-school Americana vibes. Entrance to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk is free and you pay per ride.
From there, head on over to a more modern part of town, downtown Santa Cruz. This is Pacific Avenue to be exact, and here you will find a variety of vintage shops as well as modern apparel and gift stores, eateries, bars, and coffee shops.
For the coffee lovers–the local coffee roaster in Santa Cruz is Verve, so stop by Verve Coffee and bring some beans home for yourself or as a souvenir gift for others. On your way out of Santa Cruz, check out The Mystery Spot, a kitschy roadside attraction that hosts a collection of strange phenomena from the last 70 years.
25. MONTEREY, CALIFORNIA
Just an hour from Santa Cruz, you’ll find Monterey Bay. This seaside town is even more sleepy than the last, but that might just be due to the overcast skies that frequent the area. Don’t fret because they’re actually a lot to do here!
Highlights include the Monterey Bay Aquarium (often considered as one of the best aquariums in the world), Point Lobos State Natural Reserve, and Old Fisherman’s Wharf. When in Monterey, you definitely cannot miss walking down Cannery Row, the setting of two John Steinbeck novels. You’ll notice many warehouses that used to be sardine canneries now serve as home to popular restaurants, shops, and hotels.
Whale watching, sailing, kayaking, golfing, and biking are also popular activities to do here. We love Monterey so much that we dedicated a whole Monterey, CA travel guide to showcase some of the best things to do in town!
Check out the best tours of Monterey
- 🚲 Admire stunning seaside views on this 17-Mile Drive Guided E-Bike Tour
- 🐳 Learn more about local wildlife and learn more educational and interesting information about it with this Whale Watching Tour with guide
- 🍝 Immerse yourself in a culinary world of Monterey: Guided Walking Food Tour with Tastings
26. YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK
If you’re a nature lover and you’re willing to venture a bit further east, you can’t miss a side trip to Northern California’s crown jewel, Yosemite National Park.
Yes, you’ve probably heard of Yosemite, known for its majestic rushing waterfalls, giant sequoia trees, and granite cliffs more massive than one could imagine. California is so lucky to be the home of this iconic National Park!
On average, about four to five million people visit Yosemite each year, and most of them spend the majority of their time in Yosemite Valley. It’s a no-brainer why this is. Yosemite holds many natural wonders such as Yosemite Falls, Vernal Fall, Half Dome, and El Capitan.
With even just one day at Yosemite, you can take a hike among ancient sequoia trees, ride bikes with incredible rock formations as your backdrop, soak in the Merced River, and even catch glimpses of baby bear cubs. I’ve been to Yosemite seven times now and I keep going back, so I know you’re going to have a wonderful time here!
27. NAPA VALLEY, CALIFORNIA
For those of you who haven’t heard, Napa Valley is the ultimate destination for wining and dining. The region is a popular day trip from the San Francisco Bay Area, and for good reason. About one hour away is a world of amazing gastronomy, unforgettable wine experiences, and raw outdoor adventure.
Despite the fact that Napa Valley is a world-class wine region, there are actually a ton of other things to do here other than wine taste.
I’m not a huge wine drinker myself, yet I still love coming to Napa Valley whenever I get the chance. The sunny weather, bike trails alongside winery properties, the relaxed atmosphere, the foodie culture, and the extremely friendly people keep me coming back multiple times a year.
Aside from the hundreds of wineries within the Napa Valley, you can expect to find charming towns, top-notch quality restaurants, and a huge variety of B&B’s to lay your head for a night or two.
Some of the valley’s quaint towns not to be missed include Napa, Yountville, St. Helena, and Calistoga. You could literally spend an entire day just strolling and eating through these towns!
28. RAGING WATERS WATER PARK
Raging Waters is a premier water park located in San Jose, California, and is in fact one of the largest water parks in the state!
Raging Waters is home to over 20 thrilling water rides, including the Dragon’s Den, the Barracuda Blaster, and the Bombs Away — all of which offer thrillseekers something different from high-speed drops to twists and turns, and are sure to get your adrenaline pumping.
In addition to the thrill rides, Raging Waters offers several family-friendly attractions, such as the Wave Pool, the Endless River, and the Kid’s Kingdom. These attractions are perfect for families with children and offer a fun and safe way to cool off on a hot day.
From time to time, they also offer fun one-off events perfect for the whole family such as live music, movie nights, and other special themed events!
29. GO HIKING AT CASTLE ROCK STATE PARK
Castle Rock State Park is such a cool place nestled deep in the South Bay Area. Should you choose to visit, I’d highly recommend the crown jewel hike of this park–the Saratoga Gap and Ridge Trail Loop!
This trail is a moderate and ever-so-slightly challenging hike that takes you through dense forests, over rocky outcroppings, and along narrow ridges. The trail is approximately 4.8 miles long and is a loop, making it easy to follow and navigate back to your car.
As you hike the Saratoga Gap and Ridge Trail Loop, you’ll be rewarded with stunning panoramic views of the surrounding valleys and hillsides. Be sure to pack a picnic so you can enjoy some longer moments on one of the many sitting rocks that face the expansive basin. The views are STELLAR.
Along the way, you may also spot the occasional snake or lizard basking in the sun amidst the rocks along the trail!
30. EXPLORE THE WILLOW GLEN NEIGHBORHOOD
Willow Glen is a charming neighborhood located in San Jose, California, that offers a unique blend of small-town charm and urban amenities. This vibrant and walkable community is known for its tree-lined streets, historic homes, and lively downtown area. The neighborhood is home to several parks and green spaces, including the beautiful Guadalupe River Park, which offers comforting green views of the surrounding area.
Willow Glen is also known for its excellent restaurants and shops so be sure to spend some time strolling through the area with no agenda! I recommend brunching at The Table, which offers farm-to-table cuisine in a cozy and intimate atmosphere. From there, stop by The Giving Pie for yummy little pie bites!
31. EXPLORE THE LITTLE SAIGON NEIGHBORHOOD
We mentioned getting banh mi’s above, but there’s actually SO much more to San Jose than just one amazing banh mi joint. Enter Little Saigon, the place everyone in the Bay Area ends up if they’re looking for good Vietnamese food.
Little Saigon is a vibrant ethnic neighborhood located in San Jose, California, that is home to a thriving Vietnamese community. This bustling neighborhood offers a unique blend of Vietnamese culture, food, and shopping that is sure to excite visitors — especially those less familiar with all things Vietnamese.
The streets are jam-packed with colorful storefronts, Vietnamese restaurants, and boba joints, offering a feast for the senses (but mostly the tastebuds).
When you’re here, almost everything will be good. Some of my recommendations are CA Bakehouse for green (pandan coconut) waffles, Marco Polo for amazingly thick gelato with even more amazing Asian-inspired flavors, Banh Cuon Bun Moc Ong Ta for banh cuon, and Bun Bo Hue An Nam which specializes in the spicy and flavorful Hue-style noodle soup.
32. EXPLORE THE ALAMEDA NEIGHBORHOOD
The Alameda is a historic residential corridor that’s gone through an urban revival – these days, it’s a really cool place for visitors to stop, explore and enjoy food and drink.
This historic area is home to a variety of local businesses, including boutique shops, restaurants, and galleries. If you’re looking for an aimless stroll, come here! It’s a pedestrian-friendly neighborhood with tree-lined streets, making it a pleasant place to walk and explore.
In terms of dining in The Alameda, I recommend Zona Rosa, known for their delicious Mexican cuisine including some award winning tacos!
33. GO SHOPPING AT WESTFIELD VALLEY FAIR
To get the best of the best retail therapy that you could possibly get in the entire Bay Area, head to Westfield Valley Fair (located just across from Santana Row).
The mall has recently undergone a major renovation, with dozens of new restaurants and shops popping up, making it a truly exciting place to visit. The mall is home to tons of luxury brands, including Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Christian Louboutin, and Prada, as well as popular department stores like Nordstrom and Macy’s.
Millenials and yuppies will also love the shops featuring popular brands like Lululemon, Anthropologie, Byredo, and Apple.
But enough about the shopping. The food here is actually something to write home about too!
Some of the new restaurants and snack joints that have recently opened at Westfield Valley Fair include Eataly, iChina, Shake Shack, Ramen Nagi, Din Tai Fung, Shilin Street Snacks, Somi Somi, Uncle Tetsu, Lady M Cake Boutique, and a bunch of other trendy eateries. Need to get yourself a boba fix? There are practically 10 boba shops within this mall alone!
Because Eataly is new to the Bay Area, it gets an honorable mention all its own!
Eataly is a unique and exciting dining experience located inside Westfield Valley Fair in San Jose, California. If you’re a foodie that especially loves authentic Italian food, you won’t want to miss this one-of-a-kind marketplace that offers a wide range of Italian options.
From fresh handmade pasta to artisanal cheese, wines imported straight from Italia to the freshest pesto you can buy, Eataly has something to delight even the most picky tastebuds!
As you enter Eataly, you’ll be greeted by the bright and colorful displays of gelato, pastries, fresh produce, meats, and cheeses. You’ll be able to watch chefs prepare fresh pasta and pizza in front of you, and you’ll be able to sample a wide range of Italian wines and cocktails.
The marketplace offers several dining options, including a pizza counter, a seafood restaurant, and a rooftop bar that offers stunning views of the surrounding area.
35. WATCH A COMEDY SHOW AT SAN JOSE IMPROV
San Jose Improv is a premier comedy club located in the heart of downtown San Jose, California. If you’re looking for a night of laughter and entertainment, you won’t want to miss this popular venue.
A night at San Jose Improv means you’ll get to see some of the best of the best in comedy –they feature some of the best comedians from around the country and continue to do so today. You can expect to experience a night of hilarious stand-up comedy that will leave you in stitches.
As you enter San Jose Improv, you’ll be greeted by the lively and energetic atmosphere of the club. The intimate setting allows for a more personal and engaging experience, as you’ll be able to see the comedians up close and personal. The club offers a full bar and menu, so you can enjoy a drink or a bite to eat while you laugh the night away.
Keep an eye out for events on the dates you plan to visit.
36. SAN JOSE MUSEUM OF QUITS AND TEXTILES
The San Jose Museum of Quilts & Textiles is a unique museum located in downtown San Jose, perfect for those who are less interested in art and more interested in aspects of daily life. If you’re interested in textiles and fiber art, you won’t want to miss this museum that features a wide range of quilts, textiles, and other fiber art from around the world!
As you enter the museum, you’ll be greeted by the colorful and intricate displays of all kinds of quilts, tapestries, and other textiles. The museum features several exhibits that highlight different aspects of fiber art, from traditional quilts to contemporary fiber art installations.
You’ll be able to see the intricate details and craftsmanship of each piece, and learn about the cultural significance and history behind them.
37. CAMPBELL, CA
Campbell, CA is a charming and vibrant city located in the heart of Silicon Valley. If you’re looking for a fun place to visit surrounded by lots of greenery, you won’t want to miss this bustling community that offers a wide range of dining, shopping, and entertainment options.
As you explore Campbell, you’ll be able to stroll down the tree-lined streets and enjoy the quaint and charming atmosphere of the city. The downtown area is home to several boutiques, restaurants, and cafes, making it a great place to shop and dine.
Honestly, every time I’m in Downtown Campbell, I feel like there’s something going on. And there is! The downtown area is home to some of the South Bay’s most popular festivities such as Wine Walks, First Fridays, Boogie on the Avenue, Summer Concert Series, Second Saturdays, Oktoberfest, Carol of Lights, and Christmas In Campbell.
You’ll also want to check out The Pruneyard, a popular shopping center that offers a wide range of stores and restaurants. Be sure to stop by for a meal, as The Pruneyard is known for its excellent dining options.
38. MISSION SANTA CLARA DE ASIS
To truly appreciate California’s history, you’ve gotta visit a mission while you’re here! And lucky for you, there’s one right here in the SF South Bay area!
Mission Santa Clara de Asis is a historic landmark located in the heart of the South Bay area in California. This beautiful mission was founded in 1777 and has played an important role in the history of the area. If you’re interested in history and architecture, you won’t want to miss this historical attraction that offers a fascinating glimpse into the past.
As you visit Mission Santa Clara de Asis, you’ll be able to explore the beautiful grounds and see the stunning architecture of the mission. The mission features a beautiful chapel with intricate details and beautiful artwork, as well as a museum that offers an in-depth look at the mission’s significance and how it impacted the surrounding area.
Visiting in the springtime? Don’t miss the 160-year-old Wisteria Arbor! These flowers drench the area in purple every year and continues to permeate the campus with its fragrant floral scent!
Whether you’re a history buff or simply interested in learning more about the past, Mission Santa Clara de Asis is sure to have you appreciating California’s history that much more.
39. GO WINE TASTING
Believe it or not, wine tasting is actually a popular activity in the South Bay! It’s no Napa Valley, but the region is home to several world-class wineries that offer some of the best wines in the country. If you’re a wine lover, you won’t want to miss the opportunity to visit some of these incredible wineries and taste their delicious offerings!
Some of the top wineries in the South Bay area include House Family Vineyards, Mountain Winery, Savannah Chanelle Vineyard, Villa del Monte Winery, Byington Vineyard & Winery, Pichetti Winery, and Testarossa Winery.
Each of these wineries offers a unique and memorable wine-tasting experience, with beautiful settings, knowledgeable staff, and delicious wines. As you visit these wineries, you’ll be able to taste a wide range of regional wines, including reds, whites, and rosés!
40. APPLE PARK VISITOR CENTER
For people who are absolutely obsessed with tech — specifically Apple products — one unmissable attraction in the San Francisco South Bay is the Apple Park Visitor Center.
Located on the Apple Park campus in Cupertino, California, this visitor base offers a unique and interactive experience that showcases the latest Apple products and innovations.
As you enter the Apple Park Visitor Center, you’ll be greeted by a stunning and futuristic building that features a large glass roof and floor-to-ceiling windows. Inside, you’ll find a wide range of exhibits that showcase the latest Apple products you know and love. You’ll also be able to learn about the history of Apple and the design philosophy that drives the company’s products.
In addition to the exhibits, the Apple Park Visitor Center also offers workshops and events that allow visitors to learn more about Apple products and design. You can attend a workshop on coding, photography, or music production, or attend a special event featuring a guest speaker or artist.
And, of course, this would not be a visitor center without merch! Don’t miss the chance to shop at the Store, which includes exclusive Apple and Apple Park branded merchandise. There is a cafe here as well.
41. GORDON BIERSCH NIGHT MARKET (SUMMERS)
During the months of May through September, you have the chance to hang out every single Thursday night and grub on yummy food truck eats at the Gordon Biersch Night Market.
Being one of the biggest outdoor summer events in San Jose, you can expect an awesome night of variety — food trucks (with rotating options every week), super tasty beer on-tap, artist/maker vendors, special live music performances, and most importantly, a fun and friendly space to spend your Thursday evenings with the rest of the locals!
The weekly summer event is located in Japantown San Jose outdoors at Gordon Biersch Brewing.
42. SILICON VALLEY SKYDIVE
Are you looking for a super epic skydive opportunity? Not just a regular skydive opportunity, but a super epic one? I introduce to you — Silicon Valley SkyDive!
Located only 25 minutes from downtown San Jose, this skydiving company prides itself on being “The Highest Tandem Skydive in California” — allowing you to jump out of an airplane at 13,000 feet and freefall for up to 60 seconds before your parachute opens.
As you float back down to the ground, you’ll be able to take in the stunning views of the surrounding area, including the San Francisco Bay and the Santa Cruz Mountains.
43. EXPLORE CUPERTINO’S MAIN STREET
The #1 draw of Cupertino for tourists and locals alike is its buzzing Main Street area. This fun complex features a wide range of shops, restaurants, and cafes that’ll appeal to all kinds of senses. From high-end fashion to casual dining, Main Street Cupertino is a great place to spend an afternoon or evening.
After strolling through Main Street, it’s time to eat. I recommend you check out local hotspots like Kura Revolving Sushi Bar or bb.q Chicken (K-drama fans will love this one!).
If you’ve got more time in the area and want to get a hike in, head over to Rancho San Antonio Preserve. This beautiful nature preserve features over 24 miles of hiking trails that wind through oak woodlands, grasslands, and chaparral. Soak in all those expansive views of the surrounding hills and valleys, as well as a variety of wildlife and plant species!
OTHER THINGS TO DO IN THE SAN FRANCISCO SOUTH BAY
- The Museum of American Heritage (Palo Alto, CA)
- Monopoly in the Park (San Jose, CA)
- LEGOLAND® Discovery Center Bay Area (Milpitas, CA)
- Beginner Outdoor Rock Climbing (Castle Rock State Park, Los Gatos, CA)
- Big Sur Monterey California Pacific Coast One Day Tour
- Mount Hermon Adventures Redwood Canopy Tour (Felton, CA)
- Roaring Camp Railroads (Felton, CA)
- Go on a whale-watching tour (Monterey, CA)
- Monterey Bay Aquarium (Monterey, CA)
ESSENTIAL PACKING LIST: BAY AREA, CALIFORNIA
- Smartphone UV Sanitizer and Charger | Our phones gather all the grime and bacteria we touch throughout the day, and then they are stored in warm, dark places like purses and pockets, which make for great breeding grounds for bacteria to grow. They are the third hand we never wash, but should! Using a UV sanitizer such as PhoneSoap on a regular basis will help keep germs and illness at bay.
- First Aid Kit | It’s always good to carry a first aid kit around with you when traveling. Road trips make it easier to do this since all you need to do is toss it in the trunk!
- Comfortable walking shoes | You’re going to be doing quite some walking in the South Bay! My all-time favorite walking shoes for travel these days are the tried and true Ecco Soft 7‘s (they’re stylish, comfortable, and have been raved about for decades since they were first created)! The best part is that they have them for both men and women.
- Puffy Jacket | If you’re traveling in the fall or wintertime, you’re going to need layers in the Bay Area, which tends to get pretty cool nights. You have a lot of options here, but I personally have the North Face Thermoball, and it’s kept me warm throughout my many years of adventuring!
- Daypack | I’m a fan of the Deuter ACT Trail 30 Hiking Backpack. Even when I’m not hiking! It has ample room for all the snacks and water you’ll need, as well as for your camera and the safety essentials for the hike.
- Sunhat | Sun protection is key for any California destination.
- Hand Sanitizer | Hand sanitizer gel or wipes are a must any time you’re going to be in contact with surfaces many other people have touched. Never leave your hotel room without it! And if you do happen to forget it, remember to wash your hands often, especially before eating or touching your face.
- Body Wipes / Feminine Wipes | Feeling a bit gross after a hike or bike ride but don’t have the time to shower right in that instant? Just whip out one of these body wipes for a quick refresher. The feminine wipes I like are infused with cucumber and aloe. Trust me, you will feel and smell so much better. Always good to have a few handy in your travel bag.
- Portable Power Bank | You’re probably going to be out all day, snapping away taking pictures… the last thing you want is to be driving along with no phone battery! A portable power bank is a must-have, and Anker’s ultra-light, ultra-portable power bank is tried and true by so many travelers! I never embark on a day of exploration without it.
- Soft Hydration Flask | Stay hydrated throughout the day with a water bottle that can go anywhere with you—and fold up when not in use. I love the packability of these bottles!
And that concludes this post! We hope that this post has inspired you to try something new! If you have any questions about the destinations or have your own travel tips to share, please don’t hesitate to leave them in the comments below.