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The Way to San Jose

A Weekend Getaway to Downtown San Jose? You bet.


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If your image of San Jose is a sprawl of strip malls, you haven’t seen the biggest city in Northern California lately. The epicenter of the high-tech revolution, San Jose has grown into America’s 10th-largest city. Its revitalized, historic downtown around Plaza de Cesar Chavez is home to top-flight performing arts groups and museums, fashionable hotels and restaurants, and a sleek, new city hall designed by internationally renowned architect Richard Meier. In the city’s other happening hub west of downtown, Santana Row, you can shop for Gucci suits and Ferragamo gowns, then unwind for a drink or a meal at one of many trendy restaurants. It all adds up to a culturally savvy metropolis that deserves a fresh look-see.

To do, to see: The Tech Museum of Innovation has super-cool hands-on exhibits that illuminate complex but intriguing topics. You (or your child) will leave knowing what it’s like to drive an astronaut’s jet pack and steer a one-person submarine in the deepest ocean. Or visit the surface of Mars at the Tech in a new IMAX dome theater presentation of Roving Mars. (Open Tues.–Sun., 408-294-8324, www.thetech.org.) Other downtown museums include The San Jose Museum of Art, The San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles, and the Children’s Discovery Museum.

San Jose’s performing arts scene took off 25 years ago with the premiere of the San Jose Repertory Theatre. The troupe, now one of the Bay Area’s top professional companies, performs in a state-of-the art space and is known for its bold, original programming. Coming March 18–April 16: The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow, an irreverent comedy about a 22-year-old agoraphobic (408-367-7255,www.sjrep.com).

In 2004, the 79-year-old California Theatre, a former movie palace, reopened after a $75 million makeover. It’s now home to two professional arts organizations: Opera San Jose, which performs Don Giovanni April 22–May 7 (408-437-4450, www.operasj.org), and Symphony Silicon Valley, which presents Mozart’s Requiem March 18–19 (408-286-2600, www.symphonysiliconvalley.org).

The theater also serves as the main venue for the annual Cinequest film festival, March 1–12, a cineast’s delight that celebrates new independent and international films (www.cinequest.org). This year it hosts special guest Sir Ben Kingsley.

Where to eat: Downtown restaurants are clustered on and around Plaza de Cesar Chavez and range from Indian and Vietnamese to well-known chains (Il Fornaio, Original Joe’s).

San Francisco chef Michael Minna opened his South Bay outpost, Arcadia, in 2003 in the new Marriott Hotel (408-278-4555, www.sanjosemarriott.com/dining.html).

The Fairmont’s Grill on the Alley is a hot spot for steaks, chops, and seafood (408-294-2244, www.thegrill.com). For a quick bite before a show, the Fairmont also serves a new pre-theater tea for $24 per person that features oxtail consommé, salad, a puff pastry with veal, and sweets.

Two new Santana Row restaurants are making a splash. Thea MediterraneanRestaurant occupies a cathedral-size room awash in Aegean island blues and yellows, and offers trendy presentations of Greek and Turkish favorites, such as hummus, stuffed grape leaves, and grilled fish (408-260-1444, www.thearestaurant.com). At the ultrahip Sino, you can savor fresh dim sum for lunch or contemporary spins on honey-roasted prawns and mu shu pork for dinner. At night, join the beautiful twentysomethings on the bar’s red-leather benches, and sip fruit-infused vodka martinis with names like Passion, Kama, and Sutra (408-247-8880).

Less than 10 miles southwest of San Jose is the town of Los Gatos and Manresa, a regular of “best of” lists compiled by restaurant critics as far away as London. That’s due to chef David Kinch’s creative takes on French- and Catalan-inspired dishes. His passion for fresh, local ingredients and surprising flavor combinations is shown to advantage in his Seasonal and Spontaneous Tasting Menu, priced around $100, which one night featured a delicate marinated bluefin tuna belly fragrant with lemon grass, a “biodynamic” risotto with pine mushrooms, and an
ethereal Meyer lemon soufflé. (408-354-4330, www.manresarestaurant.com)

Where to stay: Where you decide to stay may depend on what you want outside your hotel’s door. From the 805-room Fairmont Hotel, you can walk to all the downtown museums, theaters, and restaurants, and to HP Pavilion, home of the San Jose Sharks hockey team. The grand lobby bustles with museumgoers enjoying afternoon tea and executives sealing deals over martinis. Enjoy a swim in the large outdoor pool or a city view from your guest room. The hotel also welcomes canine companions with a special room service menu that features doggie bakery treats. A new on-site spa is set to open in the fall. (Rooms and suites, $159–$2,000, 408-998-1900, www.fairmont.com/sanjose/)

Like the rest of Santana Row, the stylish, 211-room Hotel Valencia aims for a modern-European-city vibe by mixing contemporary design with Old World grace. Built palazzolike around an open-air courtyard, the hotel’s guest rooms feature beds topped by leather bolsters and faux-mink spreads. Guests can survey street action from the fifth-floor swimming pool terrace or enjoy the sunset from Cielo, the seventh-floor wine terrace. On-site pampering takes place at Ayoma LifeSpa, which features ayurvedic-inspired treatments. (Rooms and suites $179-$1,500, 408-551-0010, www.hotelvalencia.com)

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