Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Experiencing San Jose

Several months ago I was contacted by fellow blogger Kendra Thornton, of Chicago, IL,  who asked me to collaborate with her on a piece featuring several travel bloggers nationwide, each highlighting their own home cities.  Here is my portion of the piece, followed by Kendra's portion about Chicago.  Enjoy the beginnings of my first group effort!

Experiencing San Jose

San Jose is a fast paced and culturally diverse Northern California city, famous for its transformation from an agricultural center to a hub of high tech innovation.  San Jose spreads over 180 square miles and is home to nearly one million residents, making it the 3rd largest city in the state of California and the 10th largest in the United States.  It can take nearly 25 minutes to cross the city end to end while driving on the freeway, and that’s without traffic!

Where am I??—There are many lovely neighborhoods within San Jose itself, such as Almaden Valley, Evergreen, Cambrian, and Willow Glen, but these areas don’t offer much in the way of accommodations.  If you are looking more for a bed and breakfast atmosphere with a quaint downtown area, head to the nearby towns of Los Gatos and Saratoga, and check out the Hotel Los Gatos or The Inn at Saratoga .  Chances are, however, if you are staying anywhere in San Jose, you are staying downtown.  Websites such as hotels.com and Travelocity.com can steer you to any type of accommodation to suit your needs.  Two of my downtown favorites?  The Hotel De Anza and the Hotel Montgomery….

Now that we’re settled, let’s eat—Whatever kind of food you want you can get in San Jose.  All budgets and tastes can be satisfied.  Of course, San Jose has all the chain restaurants and they are on every corner—but steer clear and eat
Santana Row by night
somewhere only San Jose can offer .  Two hubs of gastronomic selection are Santana Row and San Pedro Square.  Santana Row is a busy collection of upscale shops and trendy restaurants, such as Straits, Left Bank Brasserie, Sino Restaurant and Lounge, and Lark Creek Blue.  If you’re after a more casual atmosphere, try The Yard House or The Counter.  San Pedro Square is downtown and has grown into a center of a wide variety of San Jose food and nightlife.  If the urge to dine while there should strike you, try Bray Butcher Block and BistroOrchestria Palm Court or Vino Vino.
One of my faves, however, is the San Jose landmark Original Falafel's Drive-In. Plastic trays, outdoor picnic tables, and great falafel!  This restaurant was featured on Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-In’s and Dives a while back.

Now that we’re settled, let’s drink—It is a common mistake of visitors to the Bay Area to head solely to Napa Valley to enjoy California wines.  The fact of the matter is that there is excellent wine tasting right in San Jose’s backyard.  The Santa Cruz Mountains Winegrower's Association is replete with wineries
Testarossa Vineyards
making primarily Pinot Noir, but Zinfandel, Syrah, Chardonnay, and other varietals as well.  Close to the beaten path in downtown Los Gatos on the site of a former monastery is Testarossa Vineyards,  Savannah-Chanelle Vineyards on Highway 9 has music every Friday and Saturday night during the spring and summer months.  Another fine spot is Mountain Winery , which hosts a long line of summer concerts featuring headliners such as Foreigner, the B-52's and Gypsy Kings.


Now that we’re settled, let’s shop—the San Jose environs has several areas of downtown type boutique shopping, including Willow Glen, the previously mentioned Santana Row, downtown Los Gatos, and downtown Saratoga.  If the mall is more your speed, Oakridge Mall and Valley Fair Mall are extensive!  There is outlet shopping available too, a few minutes north in Milpitas at Great Mall, and 30 minutes south at the Gilroy Premium Outlets.

Go team!—If sports are your thing, many teams make their home in San Jose, the most notably  the NHL’s San Jose Sharks.  The Sharks play at SAP Arena (formerly HP Pavilion) downtown.  The indoor soccer team, the San Jose Earthquakes is currently building a new stadium near the San Jose airport set to
San Jose Municipal Stadium
open at the beginning of the 2015 season.  They currently play in Santa Clara University’s Buck Shaw stadium.  My favorite however hands down are the San Jose Giants, the single A baseball affiliate of the San Francisco Giants.  They play April through August in San Jose Municipal Stadium.  Many local merchants offer free tickets to SJ Giants games, making a night watching baseball at “Muni” affordable family fun. 
Professional football will make its way to the south bay next fall, as the San Francisco 49ers are making the move to a new stadium in Santa Clara.   These tickets will be hard to procure, and will be anything but affordable!

Mom, I’m bored!---Not in San Jose!  Happy Hollow Park and Zoo has been a San Jose fixture since 1961.  Recent renovations have made this 16 acre playground/zoo/amusement park a must see for children 6 and under. The Children's Discovery Museum downtown will also appeal to the younger set.  The museum has rotating exhibits and is frequented by many a preschool
The Winchester Mystery House
field trip.  Older kids and tweens are more likely to be interested in the Winchester Mystery House,  northern California’s own “haunted mansion.”  If it’s summer and the heat is making your brood cranky, head for the water park, Raging Waters, or “over the hill” to Santa Cruz and the much cooler Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.

Tis the season- If you get lucky enough to be here during the holidays, don’t miss downtown’s Christmas in the Park, a San Jose tradition with an outdoor skating rink, Downtown Ice, as its centerpiece.  Vasona Park’s drive through spectacular, "Fantasy of Lights,"  is a holiday experience you can enjoy in any weather without even leaving your car. A newcomer to the winter scene is Global Winter Wonderland which runs from Thanksgiving until after New Year.  Sorry, no links on those last two.

That's all for my piece on San Jose!  Here's Kendra's piece on Chicago!


Fun Ways to Experience Chicago


 

 If travel is an important part of your life, you’ve probably taken a trip to Chicago at least once. If not, you really should. As a travel enthusiast myself, I love living in a city known for its hospitality. The attractions here can be enjoyed as much by locals as by world travelers. I’d love to help you get acquainted with all Chi Town has to offer.

1. Chi Town Sports

Every sports fan knows about Chicago teams. We have professional teams competing in almost every major sporting event. The city’s popular rival baseball teams both play here in iconic parks. Our basketball and football teams have participated in some of the most spectacular moments in their respective sports. Our hockey team, the Blackhawks, took home the Stanley cup last season, and this year looks promising as well. Whenever you visit, be sure to catch a game with family or friends.

 
2. Chi Town on the Lakefront

You know an attraction is good when locals frequent it. Navy Pier is one of my favorite spots to spend time in my hometown. Shopping and other activities can be found here. Views of Lake Michigan are spectacular from the pier. From the 150-foot-tall Ferris wheel, riders are treated to unparalleled sights of the Chicago skyline.

 
3. Chi Town Hospitality

There’s no shortage of great places to stay in Chicago. One of the great things about visiting here is the opportunity to explore neighborhoods and checkout the city’s infrastructure. Every part of town has its own unique flavor and feel, but the entire city is uniquely Chicago. When planning your trip, use Gogobot to search for places to stay near the attractions and neighborhoods that most interest you. The variety of options available might surprise you.

 
4. Chi Town Chow

The food of Chicago is famous the world over. People everywhere have heard about Chicago dogs and deep-dish pizza. Although eating out in Chicago can get expensive, some of my favorite places are reasonably priced diners. One of my favorites is the historic Lou Mitchell’s. My kids especially like eating here because they always pass out Milk Duds to kids and ladies eating here. I like it because the prices are reasonable and the food is top notch. Besides, who can resist the great history associated with the place where the Chicagoan who invented Milk Duds used to eat?

 
Whatever brings you to Chicago; I hope you have the time to enjoy a few of my favorite places while you’re here. My hometown has a lot to offer people from all walks of life. Come soon, and stay as long as you like.

Hope you have enjoyed our little piece about our own towns! Stay by GoFamilyGo for an upcoming post all about our getaway ski trip to Bend, OR and both snowy and sunny Mount Bachelor!

 

 

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