Anxious, stressed, tired, overloaded? Maybe you need to get away to recharge. Just get a raise or a new significant other, or are things just all-around groovy? Maybe you want to get away to celebrate.
Whichever situation, go ahead – act on the impulse and get out of Dodge. Not for long since summer vacation time is over, just for an extended weekend or so. Take a Thursday and Friday off, hell the next Monday, too, if you can, and make a nice adventure of it. Either by yourself or with someone special, hop on a plane and get far, far away from Chicago.
Far, as in make a left and keep going until you run out of land at the end of the continental United States. All the way to the Pacific Ocean, an 1,800-mile, four-hour flight away; how about, specifically, to the Bay Area of California?
Not the beautiful, bustling, baiting tourist trap known as San Francisco; that’s too obvious. How about cooling out and finding some getaway cachet in the lesser-touted Bay Area cities of San Jose and Oakland?
We appropriately hopped the “Want To Get Away?” airline – Southwest – to both locations recently and found some jewels in each to make your getaway well worth it.
We Know The Way To San Jose
The appeal of San Jose? It’s the cradle of Silicon Valley, home to more than 6,600 tech companies, so things have to be popping there, you’d assume.
The oldest settlement in California, San Jose, founded in 1777, is also the third largest city in California, with a population of about 1.1 million, and the 10th largest in America.
Because Silicon Valley is the largest concentration of technological expertise in the world, its residents come from all over the globe – 40 percent are foreign-born and more than 56 languages are spoken. You’ll see some kind of everybody there.
In addition, more than half of the adults have a college degree, which translates into dollars – San Jose boasts the highest median household income in the nation. So with all that wealth, yeah, the place is jumping.
Perhaps nowhere moreso than on Santana Row in West San Jose, a beautiful Mediterranean-style living, shopping and entertainment district that is considered the Rodeo Drive of Silicon Valley.
Elegance and style are the hallmarks of Santana Row, a 45-acre village within the city, developed right after Y2K. (It’s named after a city planning commissioner, not the guitar dude, btw.) Apartment rentals for one-bed, one-baths in the area start around $3,000, while the same-sized condo can run you over a million bucks.
Lamborghinis, Ferraris and other exotic cars line Santana Row streets outside of such establishments as Gucci, Kate Spade, Anthropologie, H&M, a brick-and-mortar Amazon bookstore, and Tesla’s electric car flagship showroom.
Currently there are about 70 shops, 20 restaurants and an assortment of clubs, spas and salons on the Row, and just one place to stay, Hotel Valencia, a boutique lodging that you will want to make your headquarters for your San Jose getaway. (www.hotelvalencia-santanarow.com)
The more appealing aspects of Hotel Valencia other than proximity – it is steps away from everything on the Row – are its almost foot-thick pillows that make you feel like you’re sleeping on clouds; the fragrant bathroom toiletries that smell like pepper-infused Dreamsickles; and the inner-courtyard that all the rooms overlook, where one can partake of a fabulous free breakfast.
Speaking of food, the Left Bank Brasserie’s late lunch is ideal for alfresco dining and beautiful-people watching. As you eat, notice the feet of the people passing by and you’ll see some truly badass shoes on both the men and women! (www.leftbank.com)
Left Bank Brassiere is maybe 20 yards away from Hotel Valencia and if you want to get Frenched, there’s no better place to have it done. Executive Chef Patricio Mejia’s Parisian cuisine is exquisite.
To accompany a basil mint lemonade with a shot of rum that was perfect for a sunny afternoon, Chef Mejia sent us a crème of mushroom soup topped with a dazzle of truffle oil that was terrific by the standards of even someone who dislikes mushroom soup. It was followed by the most delicate and delicious trout amandine in brown butter covered with roasted almonds and green beans.
After finishing your crème brulee (vanilla bean custard) dessert, walk it off for two blocks as you head over for a haunting visit to the Winchester Mystery Mansion. It’s an extravagant maze of Victorian craftsmanship that stretches for winding miles of twisted hallways through over 160 rooms. (winchestermysteryhouse.com)
The home belonged to Sarah Winchester, the widow of the guy who created the famed rifle of the same name. After William Winchester died, a spiritualist in Boston advised Sarah that she would forever be haunted by the ghosts of all the people who had been killed by Winchester rifles and that she should move west and build a home to appease these spirits.
Sarah did. With the inheritance she received from her husband – about $520 million today – plus half-ownership of the rifle company, Sarah was receiving the equivalent of $25,000 a day in today’s money.
So off she went to San Jose in 1884 and had workers build such a house for the next 38 years until her death. Worked on almost everyday with the direction of no architect save Sarah, the mansion eventually reached seven haphazard stories.
There are stairs that lead nowhere, doors that open onto nothing, windows with no view, secret passages in the walls. These oddities were included because Sarah wanted to confuse any mischievous ghosts that might be after her.
After touring this crazy mansion for a couple of hours, you can walk a block to the Piazza di Valencia, a Santana Row village park of sorts, where parents and kids play and singles, friends and dates meet up.
The park is framed by restaurants like Magianno’s and Starbucks, as well as ice cream stands and unique boutiques. Nice place to relax for awhile and right behind your Hotel Valencia, so you can order a nice carryout dinner while you’re in the park and take it back to your room for a cozy evening meal with some local TV.
The next day of your getaway weekend, sleep in and enjoy that leisurely free breakfast in the Hotel Valencia courtyard, then leave Santana Row to get more of the flavor of San Jose itself.
Hop on a nearby bus for $2.25 toward the downtown area about 15 minutes away to get a feel for the neighborhoods – despite San Jose hosting Silicon Valley, it’s still not the Seven Cities of Cibola, and it’s refreshing to see regular city folks after being in the richest district in the land.
Passing gas stations touting $3.75 regular unleaded and construction projects that say they hire right on site, your destination is The Tech Museum of Innovation. It’s a large several-storied place offering a unique glimpse of all the innovative stuff that goes on in Silicon Valley since Hewlett Packard open the first tech company in the area in 1939. (thetech.org)
The Tech’s goal is to encourage innovation while demystifying it at the same time, so visitors are encouraged to explore, tinker and design with all the exhibits.
You can see body systems and organs through 3D models, computer images of your own your self in motion through body metrics, and learn how bioengineering and biodesign work.
Go to the NASA-sponsored space exhibits and you’ll find out that if you weigh 200 pounds on Earth, you’re only 35 pounds on the Moon, and while you would be 80 pounds on Mars, you’d be able to jump three times as high if you want to be a basketball standout.
There are fascinating tutorials on how technology uses mobile medical devices to reach even the poorest people in some of the most remote places on Earth – using Cloud technology, for instance, treatment options are now available for preventable eye diseases facing 40 million people around the world whose eyesight can now be saved.
At The Tech, you also can participate in exhibits in cryptology, hacking, cyber detection, 3D printing, building your own robots, creative coding, even earthquake technology. A visit to what seems like a half-hour of curiosity ends up being hours spent in technological fascination.
Afterward, take a fairly long walk or very short cab/Uber ride to a really rocking place – San Pedro Square, one of the oldest districts in the city that is being re-imagined as a trendy dining and entertainment downtown destination. (sanpedrosquare.com)
The joy of the Square is its local appeal – while Santana Row has the high-end brand name establishments found in most richie-rich areas of major cities, San Pedro Square’s businesses are mostly about San Jose. Located mostly side by side, the spots offer something for just about every taste bud and budget, so you can be as casual or formal as you wish.
A not-to-miss restaurant is District, which creatively matches small, shareable plates with a huge variety of wines and whiskies, so you will find to your surprise, for example, how well a couple of sliders taste with a shot of Grand Marnier and a nice Riesling. District is a great place to linger and sample. (www.districtsj.com)
Then walk for a few blocks to catch your bus back to Santana Row through the downtown streets and you’ll find the area to be surprisingly gritty.
A bit rundown – like the downtowns in many cities – you’ll find some funky clothing boutiques, maybe a guy sitting on the curb reading a newspaper, a 40 Thieves Hookah Lounge on one corner, or a Spearmint Rhino Gentlemen’s Club down another street, if those sorts of things catch your fancy.
One place that caught our attention was the Rookies Sports Lodge, which was showing the Cubs playing the St. Louis Cardinals as we passed the window. Too good to pass up, we entered and caught the last couple of innings – the Cubs lost – while downing a nice chilled Stella Artois. Rookies sections off various sized rooms for various sized groups to close themselves in and watch sporting events. Cool place. (rookieslodge.com)
Then it was onto the bus after grabbing a milkshake at the ice cream parlor next to the stop, and back to Santana Row, where the rich partygoers were dressed to kill as they were just beginning to step out on an early and crowded Friday evening.
All in all, San Jose is a great and less touristy place to spend a long weekend without doing too much, far enough and with enough things to do to get away from a Chicago state of mind.
The cherry on top is that San Jose has the best of the best weather in the world – more than 300 days of sunshine, mild temps during the day, not too cool at night. You’ll still be sitting in about 65 degrees even around Thanksgiving.
Highly recommended for a long weekend visit this fall or winter. And now, on to Oakland, about 44 miles down the road. See the Oakland travel story here.
(Special thanks to Frances Wong, Director of Communications at Visit San Jose. For assistance in planning your San Jose getaway, please reach Frances at firstname.lastname@example.org.)