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Despite its starring role as the nexus of Silicon Valley, San Jose improbably retains the friendly, casual touch of a much smaller town. But it still has big-city excitement and amenities in abundance.

With a population at just over one million, San Jose ranks as America’s 10th largest city, but you’d never guess that from its look and feel. Its family-friendly suburbs are still quiet and low key, while downtown is vibrant without feeling frenetic. The convenient proximity of Mineta San Jose International Airport puts downtown squarely in the descent path of arriving flights, which rules out the dense clusters of lofty spires common to other big cities. San Jose’s easily walkable downtown is centered around Plaza de Cesar Chavez. While the horizontal rather than vertical growth has made it more a city of cozy neighborhoods with sun-filled, tree-lined streets, the vibrant cultural, dining and entertainment scenes befit a hub catering to the needs of a creative, cosmopolitan and highly educated population drawn here from all over the world.

Creative, educated people demand a vibrant cultural life, and they’ve stimulated the local emergence of all the pieces that requires. The San Jose Museum of Art boasts an eye-catching collection of contemporary art. Opera San Jose consistently showcases some of the nation’s finest young singers on its stage, while San Jose Stage and City Lights Theatre Company bring theatrical drama to life. In the way of museums, The Tech Museum of Innovation and the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum span the gamut between our latest technology and one of the world’s oldest civilizations, while the beautiful and bizarre Winchester Mystery House remains a perennially popular attraction.

In the way of dining, San Jose’s diverse population has led to a remarkable collection of cosmopolitan restaurants. And since the city’s climate is so often gentle, meals enjoyed al fresco at sidewalk tables provide a special charm. Downtown San Jose’s liveliest dining and entertainment hot spot is San Pedro Square Market, with more than 20 food vendors and a good choice of drinking options as well as outdoor seating. But you’ll find a tempting range of diverse restaurants along virtually every downtown street—with strong showing of Vietnamese and Mexican—and more options yet in Willow Glen neighborhood as well as trendy Santana Row, a trendy European-inspired shopping and dining destination just minutes from downtown.

More recently, San Jose has become a mecca for beer lovers, with a string of microbreweries running south from downtown offering fine ways to sip a cold one. In the evenings, check out the South First Area, downtown, where cocktail lounges and nightclubs pulse with energy.

For local spectator sports, fans come out in droves to enjoy the San Jose Sharks National Hockey League games at the SAP Center (you’ll know it by the dominance of teal throughout the city), and soccer frenzy is alive and well when the Major League San Jose Earthquakes play at the Avaya Stadium—a relatively new stadium with “the largest outdoor bar in North America.” Cozy Municipal Park is home to Class A minor league games of the perennially pennant-winning San Jose Giants.

And no matter what time of year you visit, there’s a good chance you’ll be lucky enough to experience one of the city’s many special festivals.