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CITY PROFILE: SAN JOSE

 

San Jose feels less like one of America's biggest cities than an unusually large small town. Nonetheless, touch base with the Chamber of Commerce and they'll quickly remind you that San Jose is the de facto capital of world-famous Silicon Valley and, with more than one million residents, the nation's 10th largest city.

So why doesn't it look more like, well, a major metropolis like Chicago or even a smaller one like Boston or Atlanta? Well, looks can be deceiving. San Jose's "bigness" is disguised by the fact that it's a city of cozy neighborhoods with names like Willow Glen, Berryessa, Rose Garden, Evergreen, Naglee Park and Almaden Valley, clustered around a central core with a comfortably low-profile skyline. The downtown's location precisely underneath the final descent path to nearby Mineta San Jose International Airport has mandated strictly restricted building height limitations. So there are no concrete canyons here, but instead you'll find a laid-back, highly livable city of sun-filled, tree-lined streets with a more human scale.

San Jose hasn't been a major city for all that long. True, its establishment by the Spanish in 1777 makes San Jose the oldest civil settlement in California. It even served as the state's first capital city. But, unlike other long-established California cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco, San Jose didn't really start growing to its present 174 square miles and packing in its million-plus residents until after World War II. That makes it a veritable teenager as big cities go, which you'll see can be a good thing.

For starters, San Jose is still an unpretentious, friendly place where, partly because so many of its inhabitants are relative newcomers, everyone is welcomed. There's no Brahmin class here, no coterie of old families passing judgment on the new. You want to make a name for yourself? Then go for it. It doesn't matter if you're native-born or just off the plane from Asia, Europe, Africa, the rest of the Americas or wherever else. There's no majority ethnic population in San Jose. We're all passengers together in this new high-speed boat.

San Joseans are highly educated for the most part, with college degrees either from local schools like San Jose State University, the state's oldest public institution of higher learning, and other nearby Universities such as Stanford, Berkeley and Santa Clara, or from more exotic academia attended by the myriad of people drawn to Silicon Valley from the far corners of the world. All that brainpower applied to high-tech innovation has underpinned an economy that gives San Jose one of the nation's highest per capita incomes.

Creative, educated people demand a vibrant cultural life, and in recent years they've stimulated the local emergence of all the pieces that requires. The San Jose Museum of Art may be only slightly over 40 years old, for example, but it 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.

As for dining? San Jose's diverse population has led to a remarkable collection of cosmopolitan restaurants, serving cuisine from Afghanistan to Zanzibar and virtually all points between. 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. But you’ll find a tempting range of restaurants along virtually every downtown street, and also in the South First Area and Willow Glen neighborhood. Plus, check out trendy Santana Row, a European-inspired shopping and dining destination just minutes from downtown.

And spectator sports? We get out to enjoy the San Jose Sharks National Hockey League games indoors at SAP Center; the San Francisco 49ers playing home games at the state-of-the-art Levi's Stadium just north in Santa Clara; as well as the Class A minor league games of the perennially pennant-winning San Jose Giants, played at cozy Municipal Park.

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.