Why San Jose Is Even Cooler Than You Think

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To borrow a phrase from comedian Rodney Dangerfield, the South Bay just “doesn’t get no respect.” As a native San Josean, I’ve heard every possible complaint about my city, from "It’s a place with no soul" to "The only good thing about downtown are the freeways exits to help you get out."

It’s easy to give into the 408 hate and feel like San Jose has nothing to offer aside from somewhat “cheaper” rent (still ridiculous compared to much of the rest of the nation). Maybe the area once known as the Valley of Heart’s Delight will never be one of the world’s great destinations, but there’s certainly enough here to disprove the “vast, cultural wasteland” trash-talk.

Here are just a few things I love about my city:

The Quirks

DC heroes vs. villains at BIG WOW! Comicfest 2014. Photo: RyC - Behind The Lens, Flickr
DC heroes vs. villains at BIG WOW! Comicfest 2014. Photo: RyC - Behind The Lens, Flickr

Just because San Jose is the “capital of Silicon Valley” doesn’t mean that we aren’t still part of the great counter-cultural traditions of the Bay Area. SJSU, for instance, recently hosted a Grateful Dead Symposium and the university has long celebrated activists trying to change the world. Beyond SJSU, people are often surprised to discover the quirky aspects of San Jose, such as our spot in the Guinness Book of World Records for the world’s largest permanent board game. From First Friday Art Walks and the SubZERO Festival to fabulous art parties and Big WOW Comicfest, there’s plenty of inspiration for artists in the South Bay.

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The Hidden Gems

Photo: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library
View from the Dr. King Library. Photo: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library

A lot of people—residents, included— are slow to discover some of the best that San Jose has to offer. Take that amazing view from the top floors of the Dr. King Main Library, for example, or the local opera that consistently brings in great talent. People are always pleasantly surprised when visiting that jazz club on South First Street or that cozy speakeasy on San Salvador. And that's just scratching the surface! What’s great about these hidden gems is that, because they're off the beaten path, there's rarely a long wait to get in.

The Outdoors

Upper Falls, Uvas Canyon Park. Photo: the_tahoe_guy, Flickr
Upper Falls, Uvas Canyon Park. Photo: the_tahoe_guy, Flickr

San Jose is a great spot for hikers. Within the city itself, there are more than 53 miles of trails, from the easy walks over at Lake Almaden to the breath-taking views offered at Alum Rock and to the historic paths at Quicksilver County Park. More than that, San Jose offers easy access to other beloved local trails, like Mission Peak in Fremont and my personal favorite, Uvas Canyon County Park in neighboring Morgan Hill.

The Holidays

Photo: Wikipedia
Christmas in the Park. Photo: Wikipedia

If there’s something that San Jose does really well, it’s celebrating the holidays. What other big city devotes nearly two acres of park downtown to displaying local children’s holiday décor on hundreds of Christmas trees?  From the goofy nostalgic decorations and carnival rides to the outdoor ice rink and artisan booths, Christmas in the Park is one of my favorite parts of San Jose. It’s hard not to get into the holiday spirit as you sip a hot cocoa and get misted with “snow” from special lampposts. It’s as close to a White Christmas as the Bay Area can get.

The Community

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But most of all, I love San Jose because, even though it’s the 10th largest city in the United States, you’re never just an anonymous face on the street. Not a week goes by that I don’t run into an old friend, neighbor, or classmate somewhere in San Jose and have a happy reunion. It’s a big city with a warm, small town heart. So what are you waiting for? Get down there!

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