Lingo Life and Lore in San Jose

Negotiate this Northern California city like a pro with these insider tips.

GETTING AROUND

Get to know these local places and roads to find your way around San Jose.

  • The Hill. Highway 17 winds its way up over the Santa Cruz mountains and down to the coast -- and Santa Cruz -- on the other side. It’s a picturesque drive through stately redwood forests, with views of the fog-shrouded coast. It’s also a mildly terrifying drive on rainy winter days. Locals refer to this stretch of 17 simply as “the hill.”
  • The City. It’s enough to make San Jose politicos wince, but San Francisco is almost universally referred to as “the City.”
  • The Valley. The big sprawl that is San Jose also happens to be a valley lying between the mountains and the ocean. Back in the day of canneries and orchards, it was known as the Valley of Heart’s Delight. These days it’s Silicon Valley, often shortened to the Valley.
  • The Peninsula. The stretch between San Jose and San Francisco is known as the Peninsula. It’s a reference term that comes up quite frequently, to the confusion of visitors and newcomers.
  • CalTrain or the train. The commuter train that runs between San Jose and San Francisco.
  • Seventeen. 880. 680. 280. 101. Only in LA do the locals refer to their highways and interstates with a “the,” as in “the 405.” In the Bay Area, it’s just 17 or 101. It helps to know that 280 becomes 680 in San Jose.

NATIVE KNOWLEDGE

  • God’s paintbrush. Don’t be surprised when the hills turn green in the winter and brown in the summer. In this relatively arid Mediterranean climate, little rain will fall outside the winter rainy season. So, the hills dry to a golden brown each summer, then transform to a verdant backdrop each winter, which never fails to amaze newcomers.
  • Leave the singing to Dionne. You needn’t live in San Jose very long to grow weary of tired references to the Dionne Warwick classic, “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?” Want to fit in? Hum something from local band Smash Mouth.
  • Duck! If the downtown seems surprisingly bereft of towering skyscrapers, it’s for good reason. Look up. The airport is located just outside downtown, and the FAA restricts building heights.
  • Mellow yellow. The street lights look kind of fuzzy and yellow at night because the city installed low-pressure sodium lamps to combat light pollution. Lick Observatory is situated above the city on Mount Hamilton, and light pollution and serious astronomy don’t mix.
  • Angels and incubators. Tech talk drives the valley. Angels are the venture capitalists who take flyers on the latest innovations; incubators, on the other hand, provide seed capital and support for startups. Speaking of which, you’d better have startup in your lingo, too. San Jose is rife with sleep-deprived techies working at startup companies with dreams of becoming the next Google.
  • Say it right -- sorta. Talking about your new hometown? It’s Sanna Zay.
  • Weather happens. Sunny in San Jose might mean foggy on the coast. Savvy Bay Area residents carry a sweatshirt everywhere they go because temperatures fluctuate wildly depending on your proximity to the Pacific Ocean or San Francisco Bay.
  • Declare your allegiance. Stanford, Cal, Santa Clara and San Jose State universities vie for support. No wishy-washy bandwagon-jumping allowed. The pro teams also divide loyalties, with more SJ residents following the 49ers, who train in nearby Santa Clara, and the San Francisco Giants. Still, a vocal minority supports the Raiders and the A’s. Always an easy bet: Swearing fealty to the much-beloved San Jose Sharks NHL team.
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