25 Family Fun Things-to-do From San Francisco to San Jose

silicon valley

by Don & Ann Jackson 

When we first learned we had this challenging assignment it soon became clear that we needed to define our boundaries for Silicon Valley. Some folks believe that Silicon Valley is just Santa Clara County. Others think it includes some or all of San Mateo County and some now include San Francisco in the North all the way to Morgan Hill in the South. For this article we will not be including San Francisco as we’ve already written our top 25 of that great city awhile back for this magazine and we came to the conclusion that all of the smaller San Mateo County and most of the larger Santa Clara County should be included.  None of the coastal beach cities will be on the list as favorite California beach towns could be next year’s favorite 25 feature? So let’s start our journey at the most northern location for ‘our’ Silicon Valley and then head south and a little west and some to the east. And along the way we’ll pass along a couple lodging tips when readers visit the center of our world’s computer industry.



1-HIKING HIGHLIGHT – SWEENEY RIDGE is part of the GOLDEN GATE NATIONAL PARKS CONSERVENCY and the hike to the summit is one of our favorite treks in the valley. Starting at the end of San Bruno’s Sneath Lane you have a hilly but doable 50 minute one-way hike on an old paved road. Be sure to pick a clear day. At the 1200 foot crest you’ll have incredible panoramic vistas of the Pacific Ocean and the town of Pacifica to the West, San Francisco and Marin County’s Mount Tamalpais to the North, Mount Diablo and San Francisco Airport to the East and Silicon Valley cities to the South. Don’t forget to look for the stone plaque honoring Portola’s historic expedition to the area. hiddensf.com Speaking of the airport, if you are staying in the SFO area for any reason, we recommend staying at the classy four star Hyatt Regency. hyatthotels.com  

sweeney ridge by Edna Takeda Geller


2-EXQUISITE ESTATE – FILOLI MANSION & FORMAL GARDENS, listed on the National Registry of Historic Places and near the town of Woodside, has excellent tour options. Numerous major movies like Heaven Can Wait and television shows such as Dynasty were filmed here and tours feature the mansion’s outstanding showcase of twentieth century architecture and antique furnishings. Gardening aficionados will be in botany heaven when touring the formal gardens. Entry fees up to $20.  filoli.org 

Filoli-Barbara Braun

3-AWESOME AIRPLANES – HILLER AVIATION M– — USEUM, located at San Carlos Airport, is a Smithsonian Affiliate museum and features over fifty pioneer aircraft from more than a century of aviation history. A wonderful family educational type experience. Fee ranges from free to $14.  hiller.org Our favorite hotel near this museum is the Hotel Sofitel, a delightful French owned property that Francophiles will enjoy. sofitelhotels.com 

aviation museum




4-CLASSY CAMPUS – STANFORD UNIVERSITY has a zip code of its own but this famous and highly regarded institution is really considered part of Palo Alto.  Just strolling the campus to see their state-of-the-art educational and athletic facilities is worth the stop. Be sure to look inside the Memorial Church, considered the campus’s architectural crown jewel and go to the top of their famous Hoover Tower-entry fee up to $4-to view the campus in its’ entirety. Stanford Shopping Center, owned by the university and on university property, is one of Northern California’s finest shopaholic meccas. Free campus walking tours available with full details on their website. stanford.edu 

iStock_Stanford Oval Flowers_000009205570Medium

5-SIGNIFICANT SCULPTURES – CANTOR ARTS CENTER, although on the Stanford campus, this world-class museum really deserves a separate slot on our list. The Cantor has one of the largest collections of Rodin bronze sculptures-nearly 200-this side of France. This iconic artist’s stunning works-of-art grace several indoor galleries and a large outdoor sculpture garden which includes two of his most famous: The Thinker and Gates of Hell. Admission is free and the garden is open 24 hours a day. museum.stanford.edu  If staying in the Palo Alto area we recommend checking into The Westin within walking distance to all the superb downtown restaurants and the campus as well. starwoodhotels.com/westin 

Cantor Arts Center Lobby - with two guys - by Stephen Gladfelter, Visual Art Services

6-MAGNIFICENT MAINFRAMES THE COMPUTER HISTORY M– — USEUM in Mountain View is the world’s largest and most significant computer-age museum and truly preserves and presents the computer revolution and its dramatic impact on our lives, education and business. The claim that it’s a “massive graphics factory turned fun house” rings true. Be sure to check out the live model of Google’s self-driving car. Admission categories range from free to $40 for the Total Geek Experience. Special tip: As you leave the museum drive two blocks down the road to see the Googleplex with Google employees tooling around on their Google bikes painted in Big G’s signature colors. No tours unless you know an employee but definitely worth a peek! computerhistory.org 

computer history museum #2 by Edna Takeda Geller

7-EXCITING EXPERIENCES – NASA AMES EXPLORATION CENTER, located at the famous Moffett Field in Mountain View and Sunnyvale, has been involved in many pivotal spacecraft missions that have redefined our view of our planetary neighbors and beyond. Models of previous and recent spacecraft missions from NASA Ames, a genuine Moon rock retrieved by Apollo 15’s crew, a Shuttle Cockpit Simulator and the Mercury Redstone Capsule are all on display for viewing. In addition, a high-resolution Immersive Theater with a 14-foot tall and 36-foot wide screen shows high-definition videos of Mars missions in detail, simulated flights through the Milky Way Galaxy and much more! And guess what? It’s all free. You might also want to visit the nearby Moffett Field Museum as well. moffettfieldmuseum.org. Although not open for interior touring and now leased to Google, check out the huge historic Dirigible Air Ship hangers nearby and considered three of the largest freestanding structures in the world. nasa.gov/centers/ames/home/exploration.html


8-TERRIFIC THEME PARK – CALIFORNIA’S GREAT AMERICA in Santa Clara is Northern California’s premier amusement park for family entertainment and adventure from “mild to wild”. Whether your family members are into thrill rides, a state-of-the-art water park, slower kid’s rides, live entertainment or Snoopy, Charlie Brown and other Peanut’s characters, you’ll find C.G.A. a very fun experience and worth the drive. You advanced thrill seekers must check out the Gold Striker, the tallest and fastest wooden roller coaster in Northern California. WHEW! For up-to-date prices and seasonal hours:  cagreatamerica.com.  


9-SPECTACULAR SPORTS STADIUM – The SAN FRANCISCO FORTY NINERS LEVI’S STADIUM, the NFL’s newest facility, is located in suburban Santa Clara. It offers pro football fans one of our country’s most advanced live game stadium experiences and our favorite team museum we’ve ever toured. The 49er’s Sports Museum presented by Sony is super cool with life-size statues of all the most famous 49er players, coaches, and other team icons as well as stunning displays of historic 49er memorabilia. There is also an amazing array of insider’s tour choices of the stadium and museum. To really experience this magnificent venue we recommend attending a 49er game or one of the many other sports or entertainment events that are scheduled throughout the year. For an up-to-date list of tours, events and prices check out both of these websites: levisstadium.com; 49ers.com If you have the time be sure to dine at Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steak & Pub, one of our favorite Silicon Valley restaurants, attached to the sportsplex but open 7 days a week even when no game or event is scheduled. michaelmina.net

49 Levi's Stadium

10-CLASSIC CHURCH- MISSION SANTA CLARA de ASIS is one of the most beautiful of California’s 21 missions and the current structure is a tasteful modern interpretation of the mission’s fifth church re-constructed in 1825 which was completely destroyed by a devastating fire. One of the mission bells still in use was donated by King Carlos the 4th of Spain in 1799 and a tall historic cross, erected in 1777, is now in a protective casing standing across from the church entrance. This was the eighth mission built by Father Junipero Serra and a portion of the original adobe walls have been preserved. This appealing site is also home to the beautiful campus of Santa Clara University and the only university ever built on the grounds of a California mission.  Strolling the attractive landscaped campus and a visit to the school’s de Saisset Museum are both recommended. missionscalifornia.com; scu.edu  


11-MAJOR MICROCHIP  MARVEL THE  INTEL M– — USEUM, also in Santa Clara, gives techies and even those of us who are a little lame a surprisingly enthralling and educational computer experience. INTEL is really the heart and soul of Silicon Valley’s beginnings and one of the founders, Robert Noyce was a co-inventor of the microchip and hailed as the unofficial Mayor of Silicon Valley. Very personable well-trained tour guides really put on a show for attendees. And it’s free. intel.com When visiting any attractions in Santa Clara we personally recommend staying at the Hyatt Regency. hyatt.com


12-HOCKEY HEAVEN –  SAN JOSE SHARKS at the SAP CENTER in San Jose has quite surprisingly become one of the most popular National Hockey League teams in the country and the local fan base is astounding with sell-out crowds expected at most games. Even if you’re not a hockey fan, attending a Sharks game will introduce you to an amazing energy level not found in other sports. Hockey, in our eyes, remains one of the few sports that is much better to view in person than on TV. SAP Center is also home to the national champions San Jose Saber Cats of the Arena Football League, The San Jose Sports Hall of Fame, many concerts and special events. Unfortunately they stopped insider venue tours a few years ago. sapcenter.com; sharks.nhl.com 

13-SUPERIOR SHOPPING – SANTANA ROW in San Jose is our personal favorite upscale outdoor shopping venue in all of Northern California with a wonderful mix of brand name stores and local shops.  When you add in a four-star boutique hotel, The Valencia, twenty really first rate restaurants, a stunning exterior European ambiance and lots of free entertainment activities, it becomes even more special. The nightlife scene at Valencia’s “V” Lounge should really please the younger revelers. santanarow.com;   hotelvalencia-santanarow.com  

14-MARVELOUS MYSTIQUE – WINCHESTER MYSTERY HO– — USE in San Jose, directly across the street from Santana Row, is quite possibly the country’s most bizarre mansion and was built by Sarah Winchester, widow of the founder of Winchester Arms Company and maker of the famous Winchester Rifles. After her husband’s death she purchased the land in 1884 to begin construction 7 days a week 24 hours a day on her Queen Anne Victorian estate that lasted for thirty-eight years until her death in 1922. According to some sources she felt the need to keep construction going 24/7 to keep away evil spirits that came from all the deaths attributed to Winchester weapons.  Tours feature: stairwells, doors and windows to nowhere; columns installed upside down; confusing maze like hallways; and more weird highlights. Cost of tours range from $24 -$44, children 5 and under are free and reservations are suggested. Onsite visits to their Winchester Historic Firearms & Antique Products Museums are free of charge. winchestermysteryhouse.com 


15-PHOTOGENIC PARKKELLEY PARK in San Jose is 156 acres of very diverse offerings for visitors providing something for everyone from age 5 to 95. Within this huge recreational area folks can choose from: Happy Hollow Park & Zoo (the young kid’s favorite); the Japanese Friendship Garden; and the unique indoor/outdoor History Park San Jose that has the appearance of the town in the early 1900’s. History Park features: 29 historic buildings such as an 1890 Queen Anne residence, blacksmith shed, doctor/dentist offices, hotel, gas station, trolley/railroad exhibits PLUS the Portuguese Historical Museum, Vietnam Museum, Greek Heritage Museum, Chinese American Museum, and much more. A great place to spend the day! sanjoseca.gov/facilities 

16-MUMMIFIED MYSTERIES – ROSICRUCIAN EGYPTIAN M– — USEUM was built on its present site in 1966 and houses one of the world’s largest collections of authentic ancient Egyptian artifacts outside of Cairo. A very rare opportunity to view genuine mummies on display and to learn about the mystifying mummification process and to learn about the reasons Egyptians of that historic era had all their possessions buried with them in their elaborate tombs. Although not our personal number one attraction in San Jose, Trip Advisor lists it as their #1 in our country’s 10th largest city. egyptianmuseum.org. If time permits walk across the street to stroll through San Jose’s Memorial Rose Garden, one of California’s most lauded floral layouts.

17-SOCCER SUPERLATIVES – SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES and the new AVAYA STADIUM has the wow factor! Any soccer aficionado should attend a game featuring the popular Earthquakes Major League Soccer franchise and past national champion. AVAYA, the newest MLS state-of-the-art-soccer specific stadium in the United States opened just this year next to San Jose’s International Airport and features the closest field views of any American soccer venue and operates under solar power. It also has the largest outdoor bar in North America. sjearthquakes.com  

18-ATTRACTIVE ART – SAN JOSE ART M– — USEUM, built in 1892 to house the city’s post office, is now a registered National Historic Landmark and the classic architecture attracts us back as much as their permanent collection of West Coast artists of the 20th and 21st centuries. sjmusart.org.  When planning to visit downtown San Jose our recommended hotel to unpack your luggage is the world class Fairmont, practically next door to the museum. fairmont.com


19-FAMILY FUN – TECH M– — USEUM OF  INNOVATION also in San Jose’s center of town offers many permanent creative and educational displays including social robots, an earthquake simulator and a special Google Liquid Galaxy allowing you to fly across the face of the Earth, moon and Mars and explore each with an easy-to-use joy stick. Just make sure your kids fly back home!  The IMAX Theater on site is the West’s largest dome screen eight stories high with 13,000 watts of sound showing current blockbuster films as well as educational documentaries for ultimate film experiences.  thetech.org

20-REGAL RESORT & GRAND GOLFROSEWOOD’S CORDEVALLE RESORT in the little town of San Martin, a few miles south of San Jose, is the most upscale and luxurious resort in Silicon Valley. It’s also home to one of the finest championship golf courses in California and has hosted numerous top level pro events. The prestigious Women’s U.S. Open will be here in 2016. And surprisingly CordeValle remains a rather unknown hidden jewel to the general public and it shouldn’t be. Although limited to 43 deluxe suites, villas and homes, it’s perfect for a romantic or golf getaway, small business meetings or a ladies’ spa weekend.  Their Il Vignette signature restaurant offers creative cuisine and the resort’s 1700-acre foothills offer guests a serene ambience. rosewoodhotels.com

21-PLENTIFUL POSSIBILITIESMontalvo Arts Center in Saratoga has so many diverse activities and events it’s very difficult to categorize. But this historic estate built in 1912 by California’s first elected senator, James Phelan and known as Villa Montalvo, offers visitors a plethora of options for their 200,000 guests each year. Consider these: three performing arts venues; beautiful hiking trails; bountiful cultural events; resident artist programs; estate and garden tours; art exhibitions; and classes, workshops and camps. Montalvo is truly one of California’s classic treasures. montalvoarts.org

22-RUGGED REDWOODS – BIG BASIN REDWOODS STATE PARK, California’s oldest state park, is just a few miles west of Saratoga on curvy but scenic Highway 9 and is one of the state’s finest stands of old growth redwoods. Eighty miles of hiking trails, a surprising number of waterfalls and camping sites are hallmarks. parks.ca.gov/bigbasin 

big basin 2

23-VERITABLE VENUE – The MOUNTAIN WINERY high in the hills of Saratoga overlooking most of Silicon Valley is our favorite place to attend any type of live entertainment in all of California. This former site of Paul Masson’s estate, vineyards and winery has been upgraded over the years to the point that the seating and sound system are first rate and dining options are special. Their Chateau Deck offers upscale cuisine with panoramic vistas and the Backstage Brasserie and the Mountain Creperie provide two other popular dining options. We also recommend readers consider taking a picnic dinner as picnic tables are available near the parking lot with similar incredible views of the valley as the dining terrace. mountainwinery.com

24-VIRTUOSO VINEYARDS – TESTAROSA WINERY in the hills overlooking downtown Los Gatos is housed in the historic Novitiate Winery founded in 1888 by the Jesuit order to help fund their on site seminary college. Old stone cellars and beautiful grounds are as big an attraction to us as their chardonnays and pinot noirs. testarossa.com. Our favorite lodging recommendation in town is the charming Hotel Los Gatos and Spa. hotellosgatos.com

t winery

25-VIVID VISTAS MOUNT HAMILTON, at 4,216 feet, overlooks all of Silicon Valley and is the site of University of California’s Lick Observatory. On really clear days you can see as far north as Marin County’s Mount Tamalpais and west to Monterey Bay and even Yosemite National Park to the east providing visitors unbelievable panoramic views even better than Sweeney Ridge mentioned earlier. A curvy 19-mile drive to the top on Mt. Hamilton Road (part of State Route 130) is also very popular with bikers but not hikers. mthamilton.ucolick.org. Most folks take the trip for the views but having dinner, an appetizer or a drink at the dramatically upgraded Grandview Restaurant about one-fourth of the way to the top is a local’s fave outing. grandviewsanjose.com

CLOSE CALLS BUT NO CIGAR! St. Joseph Cathedral and Basilica in San Jose may have a more beautiful interior than the Mission in Santa Clara or the Church at Stanford but the downtown San Jose setting, in our eyes, is just not as picturesque as the campus locations of the other two. Curiodyssey at Coyote Point in San Mateo is an interesting and educational wildlife and science center and the Children’s Discovery Museum in San Jose are both excellent kid’s venues but, in our minds, San Jose’s Tech Museum of Innovation (#19 above) outshines them both. curiodyssey.org; cdm.org. Hakone Japanese Gardens in Saratoga is a wonderful outing yet not as complete a family outing as Kelly Park and their Japanese Friendship Garden and Kelly’s many other park attractions. San Jose Flea Market claims to be the largest open-air flea market in the country with over 2000 vendors and over four million visitors each year but not something we enjoy personally; San Jose’s Opera, Symphony and Ballet Companies are considered by many as world class but just did not quite make our list. San Jose theaters like the Montgomery, California, City National Civic, and Center for the Performing Arts are all first rate venues yet not quite as memorable as the Mountain Winery. sanjosetheaters.org. We originally thought we’d include one of the smaller valley downtowns where we enjoy walking, shopping and dining but just couldn’t narrow the 25 or more down to one. So here are our top eight Saratoga, Los Gatos, Los Altos, Palo Alto, Menlo Park, San Carlos, Burlingame and Woodside. If interested in visiting any of these towns for dining or to attend the many free concerts and food and wine festivals offered by most of them just Google one or all to find out what events might be scheduled. An Apple addict? Apple headquarters offers no tours but their Cupertino headquarters does have a gift shop open to the public for the latest gear. For more information on all things Silicon Valley check out these three informative websites:  smccvb.com; sanjose.org. santaclara.org.