San Jose Essentials

Whether you're visiting San Jose or have recently moved, here's the scoop on the best places in town.

Food and Drink

BEST PLACES TO BUY GROCERIES

Cosentino's
2666 S. Bascom Ave. and 5667 Silver Creek Valley Rd.,
A homegrown, two-store chain with terrific fresh produce.

Zanotto's Downtown Market
38 S. 2nd St.
Zanotto's stocks an impressive selection of Italian products. It's also a great place to pick up a tri-tip sandwich for lunch.

BEST ETHNIC FOOD

In a city where more than 50 different languages are spoken, you can satisfy cravings for almost any ethnic cuisine. Japantown, near downtown, offers an array of Japanese restaurants, plus intriguing stores that stock Japanese groceries or sell homemade tofu. Feel like Vietnamese? Try Vung Tau, 535 E. Santa Clara St. With its sleek, soothing decor and fresh takes on Vietnamese cuisine, the restaurant is popular with San Jose's many Vietnamese-Americans. A menu written in Vietnamese and English makes it accessible to non-Vietnamese speakers. Aqui, 1145 Lincoln Ave., marries gourmet cooking with a fast-food concept, all with a Mexican accent. It's always good to check out Aqui's website for daily specials such as winter veggie and lentil enchiladas. Love Chinese? Head north a few miles to the suburb city of Milpitas, with its many Asian-influenced strip malls. In Milpitas Square, the largest Asian-themed shopping center in Northern California, try Darda, 296 Barber Ct., for the clam soup with ginger or the luscious black cod.

BEST PLACE TO GET A BEER

Tied House
65 N. San Pedro St.
Tied House pours its own fine-crafted beers. Want a deal? Check out $2.25 pints "Hoppy Hour" pints at the Mountain View location, 954 Villa St. Walking distance to San Jose Sharks games makes Tied House a hangout on game nights.

BEST PLACE FOR A LATE-NIGHT BITE

Original Joe's
301 S. First St.
A San Jose institution actually imported from San Francisco more than half a century ago. The restaurant serves no-nonsense Italian fare, steaks and the like in a retro atmosphere until 1 a.m.

BEST PLACE FOR AN ESPRESSO

Mission City Coffee Roasting Co.
2221 The Alameda
Custom-roasts its own blends and sells sandwiches and other fare, to boot. It's the kind of place where locals hang out using the free Wi-Fi during the day, then check out local performers at night.

BEST PLACE TO BUY CALIFORNIA FISH

Many Silicon Valley cities host organic farmers' markets. Visit the Pacific Coast Farmers' Market Association Web site for locations. In San Jose, San Pedro Square fills with farmers and their wares every Friday from May through December.

BEST PLACE TO BLOW YOUR DIET

Homegrown doughnut shops are something of a fixation for San Joseans. Get there early on weekend mornings if you want to enjoy a raised glazed from Stan's Donut Shop, 2628 Homestead Rd., Santa Clara.

BEST PLACE TO IMPRESS A DATE

Manresa
320 Village Lane in Los Gatos
Showcases the genius of chef David Kinch. Manresa scores romance points for its tucked-away location on a side street. Perhaps the Silicon Valley restaurant most likely to give San Francisco foodies pause for thought, the establishment has specially grown veggies delivered daily.

Entertainment

BEST FREE THINGS TO DO

Each Labor Day, San Jose hits the streets for a celebration of the arts. The Tapestry Arts Festival features the work of hundreds of artisans, plus plenty of music and people-watching. Another summer alternative: Bring a chair and some popcorn for free summer movie screenings in downtown's San Pedro Square. The movies are vintage fun, such as American Graffiti and Animal House.

BEST PLACE TO MEET NEW PEOPLE

Santana Row
368 Santana Row
Santana Row offers a dash of upscale cosmopolitan living in laidback, geeky Silicon Valley. The Row boasts a European feel with restaurants and shops topped by housing. It's a great place to stroll -- and to people-watch.

BEST THINGS TO DO WITH THE KIDS

The big purple building in downtown San Jose houses the Children's Discovery Museum, 180 Woz Way. The Museum is chockfull of hands-on adventures, including an ambulance and a fire truck to explore. California's Great America, in Santa Clara, offers screamin' coasters and a water park attraction for hot summer days. Best bet is the season pass, a real deal compared with daily ticket prices. The Roaring Camp Railroad, located in the Santa Cruz Mountains in Felton, takes a steam train through the redwood forests or a beach train to nearby Santa Cruz.

BEST PLACE TO SEE A MOVIE

Historic California Theatre
345 S. First St.
A grand old dame, dating to 1927. Come early enough to enjoy the classic Wurlitzer organ before each feature.

BEST PLACE TO DANCE

The me-too wave generated by Dancing With the Stars hasn't bypassed San Jose. San Jose State University's Ballroom Dance Club offers lessons and open dancing most Friday nights on campus -- and you don't need to be a student to participate. The club meets in SPX 89, near the 7th Street Parking Garage. Pricey? Rates of $3 a session, or $25 a semester, seem to say that boogying is recessionproof.

BEST PLACES FOR YOUNG COUPLES

Anno Domini
366 S. First Street
Anno Domini is loosely defined as an art gallery. Well, sorta. "Art music performance life" is how this warehouse/gallery characterizes itself online. Open Tuesday through Saturday, Anno Domini has an eclectic, surprising feel that gives San Jose a bit of hip. In 2009, the gallery will exhibit artists from Spain, Brazil, Germany -- and Brooklyn, reflecting the global-is-local feel of San Jose. Want something a little less edgy? Take a romantic nighttime stroll in the Rodin Sculpture Garden on the Stanford campus in Palo Alto.

BEST PLACE FOR A CONCERT

The ivy-covered stone of the former Paul Masson winery provides the backdrop for intimate outdoor concerts at the Mountain Winery, in Saratoga.

BEST PLACE TO MEET A GEEK

Fry's Electronics Stores
Fry's Electronic Stores have spread to a number of states, but these meccas of geekdom are a cultural phenomenon in Silicon Valley. The parking lots are packed on the weekends with guys looking for motherboards, external hard drives and things the rest of us can't quite wrap our heads around. With its Mayan temple-themed exterior, the Fry's at 550 E. Brokaw Rd. in San Jose is particularly worth a visit.

BEST PLACE TO FIND A DEAL

The legendary San Jose Flea Market
1590 Berryessa Rd.
Offers an exhausting eight miles of "alleys" laden with one man's junk, another man's treasure

BEST FUNKY LOCAL BUSINESS

23 Skidoo
342 E. Campbell Ave.
Sells vintage and retro clothing from the 1940s to the 1980s. It's worth checking out the back of the store for vintage kitchen items.

BEST PLACE TO SHOP LIKE A WORLD TRAVELER

Pacific Blue Traders
150 S. Montgomery St.
Pacific Blue Traders looks more like a museum than a store. Stop by and you might find a Filipino jitney or a Javanese armoire. Sign up for the mailing list to get the best stuff. The owner makes shopping expeditions to Asia several times a year.

The Great Outdoors

BEST PLACE TO TAKE A JOG

The Los Gatos Creek Trail winds 14 miles, from Lexington Reservoir off Highway 17, through several Silicon Valley cities. It's scenic and well-populated with joggers, walkers and even moms and dads pushing strollers on some stretches.

BEST PLACE TO STOP AND (LITERALLY) SMELL THE ROSES

The San Jose Municipal Rose Garden
Dazzles with 4,000 rosebushes. Early May is the best time to visit this popular wedding site.

BEST PLACE TO TAKE FIDO

The Coyote Hellyer County Park dog enclosure
985 Hellyer Ave.
Offers shade, plenty of grass for running and romping and benches for human companions.

BEST PLACE TO BIRD-WATCH

Don Edwards San Francisco Bay National Wildlife Refuge
Alviso and Fremont
Strikes a stark contrast to nearby urban areas. The 30,000-acre refuge, with its bay, salt pond, salt marsh and other wetlands, attracts 280 species of birds each year during migration along the Pacific Flyway.

BEST PLACES TO TAKE IN THE VIEW

Lick Observatory, atop 4,200-foot Mount Hamilton, offers jaw-dropping views of the Bay Area. Don't feel like trekking 20 or so miles up winding Mt. Hamilton Road? How about something completely different? The 110-foot Rotunda at City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St., has become a popular spot for weddings and other events as well as with tourists. With its terrazzo floor and ever-moving sunlight and shadows, the City Hall Rotunda is the best view inside San Jose.

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