San Jose, CA- It’s not just high tech!


Hotel Valencia at Santana Row

Hotel Valencia at Santana Row

Exciting Silicon Valley 

By: Charlene S. Mixa

Sunshine 300 days a year, the San Jose skyline surrounded by mountains, steep hillside vineyards, tree-lined streets, sidewalk cafes, sports venues, and quaint yet bustling small towns are all found in Silicon Valley. San Jose, the tenth largest city in the nation is exciting and trendy while still having a small town charm. The city in this wide valley creates a warm welcome.

As we cross the Santa Cruz Mountains from the west, my husband, Richard and I are greeted with the magnificent view of San Jose and the scenic Silicon Valley. The vista is miles of forested hills with San Jose’s cityscape and small towns such as Los Gatos and Saratoga Springs dotting the landscape. I am looking forward to visiting this unique city and area, having a college classmate who always “raved” about San Jose.

It’s a bright clear Sunday afternoon as we arrive at Santana Row just outside San Jose. An upscale shopping district, Santana Row is bustling as shoppers stroll along the majestic palm lined sidewalks or have a bite to eat or drink at a sidewalk café or relax in one of the pocket parks by a trickling fountain. Santana Row is a true urban village, a town-within-a-town, creating a feeling of being in the south of France. It blends a distinctive mix of dining, shopping and living experiences. With 70 retail shops and boutiques, two dozen acclaimed restaurants and eateries, nine spas and salons, a six screen movie theatre and the boutique Hotel Valencia all within a few blocks we look forward to exploring Santana Row.

At the Hotel Valencia, the only hotel in Santana Row, we are directed to the 3rd floor, the hotel’s main lobby. The Hotel Valencia is a luxury chic contemporary hotel where old world European style meets sleek elegant modern design creating a cosmopolitan sophistication. A large courtyard with fire pits, potted palms, lush plants and water fountains is the backdrop for the registration desk. In our room, subtle details create a unique hotel experience with the architectural style of the arched foyer and the sleek ebony desk-top running the length of a wall. A huge wood framed mirror leans behind a comfy leather chair and hassock that entices weary travelers to relax. French doors open to a balcony overlooking one of Santana Row’s lush squares surrounded by boutique shops. Crisp plush white linens on the king size bed add to the luxuriousness of this world-class hotel. A special touch is the slim opaque window over the tub between the bedroom and the bathroom. Extra touches at the Hotel Valencia are the complimentary wireless Internet in guest rooms and a deluxe continental breakfast served daily.

With passes to the San Jose Sharks Hockey game, we head to the HP Pavilion. The arena is packed for this game against the Colorado Avalanche. We have fun watching fans and the game as the Sharks handily beat their opponents. Checking out the activity in this impressive arena, we locate a bar and eatery with multiple TV screens where we finish watching the game and celebrate the Shark’s win over cocktails.

We freshen up before walking to dinner at Thea Mediterranean only a block from the Hotel Valencia. Entering the restaurant, we are impressed with its sophistication and style. Named for the Greek goddess and mother of Helios, the restaurant offers an Eastern Mediterranean culinary adventure. A quiet evening, we relax and delight in this dining experience. Our waiter’s recommendations are truly scrumptious. I thoroughly love the Rainbow trout featuring a whole grilled fish with rainbow chard and lemon potatoes. Richard, savors his Rex sole, a pan seared filet with tomato caper stew, baby artichokes and Ladolmeno dressing over the sole. The wait staff and service is excellent!

After dinner, we window shop and people-watch as we walk along Santana Row. The night is clear and cool, perfect for the many outsider dining venues. We stop awhile and enjoy the outdoor entertainment in a wisteria covered square by a wine bar. At our hotel, behind the dramatic metal-beaded curtains is the Vbar, an ultra-modern lounge with a jet-black bar and red mood lighting. This Sunday night the Vbar is packed!

A full day is scheduled Monday, so we are up early for our complimentary breakfast at the Hotel Valencia’s Citrus Room. An excellent variety of cereals, sweet rolls, bagels, breads, and fresh local fruits provide the perfect start to our busy day.

Winchester Mystery House Museum

Winchester Mystery House Museum

Just across from Santana Row is the infamous Winchester Mystery House Museum where we are scheduled for the 9:00 AM tour. Laurel, our guide, greets us in the garden to begin the tour of this 160 room Victorian mansion. Sarah Winchester, the heiress of the Winchester Rifle, comes to life as Laurel shares stories of Sarah, her servants and her passion for continuing to build rooms in this bizarre mansion. On our tour of a 110 of the 160 room home, Laurel points out the architectural oddities of a stairway to nowhere, windows opening onto walls, doors opening onto vast spaces or directly onto a wall all to “confuse” the spirits of rifle victims. She points out the crafted stained glass windows from Tiffany of New York. Enthralled, we feel a connection to this lady with her unique obsession. While Sarah seemed fanatical in continually building and rebuilding rooms in her home, Laurel explains she was a very astute business woman highly regarded for her business acumen. Our question is, if she was so obsessed or felt guilty of those killed by the Winchester Rifle, why did she stay active in the rifle business. Why not just sell it? Everything about this suspected “haunted” mansion and its former owner is fascinating. The self guided garden tour is gorgeous with the perfectly manicured grounds and buildings outside the mansion. In the firearms museum, we learn the history of the Winchester Rifles and see the largest collections of Winchester Rifles on the West Coast.

After viewing 110 rooms, a massage is perfect for tired feet and bodies. Burke Williams Spa is conveniently next door to Hotel Valencia where the receptionist quickly welcomes us and sends us to the comfortable waiting area. While Richard tours the men’s spa, a hostess orients me to this world-class spa with a steam room, sauna, a large whirlpool bath area, changing room and showers. Donning a luxurious bath robe and comfy sandals, I prepare for the 50-minute Signature Massage. Elena, my masseuse, greets me and walks me to a private room where my exceptional massage experience starts. Explaining each step of this custom massage, Elena begins with a spray of their Signature blend of essential oils. Next, warm, moist heat pads are cocooned around my back to relax the muscles. Using textured gloves and Chinese herbs, Elena polishes my skin focusing on the forearms, feet and back. Elena works her magic on my tense muscles with a deep tissue massage. Calm and relaxed the 50 minutes pass quickly. Following the massage, I enjoy the steam room before cleaning up and heading out to meet Richard for lunch. More time is a must to really appreciate the Burke Williams spa experience and all that it offers. Richard loved the sandals so much he got information to order a pair.

Totally relaxed we walk to LB Steak at the Southeast corner of Santana Row. A modern American steakhouse, it is a Santana Row destination dining spot. We admire the chic and sexy décor of the restaurant dining area and the open-air patio. Our waitress gives several recommendations from this sophisticated restaurant’s varied lunch menu. I choose the “Time Savour Lunch,” a half sandwich of a sumptuous New England Lobster Roll on Brioche with a mixed green salad and French fries. Richard selects the delicious seared boat scallops with spring onions, abalone mushrooms and sunchoke puree. The restaurant is quiet this Monday with most patrons having business lunches. Our meals are each terrific as is the service! We easily see why LB Steak has earned a “Most Notable Newcomer” ranking in the 2010 Zagat Survey.

Wine tasting in the Santa Cruz Mountains, home to more than 70 wineries, is a must. Our research shows the area produces Chardonnays, Zinfandels, Cabernet Sauvignons and Pinot Noirs. Driving the winding roads of the Santa Cruz Mountains to Savannah Chanelle Vineyards, we realize the wineries are spread out in this area of California. The 1912 Redwood Tasting Room at Savannah Chanelle was the original winery. The wines are excellent! They are best known for their Pinot Noir wines which are produced from local and estate grapes. The hostess explains the award-winning Zinfandel wines are from Zinfandel vines planted in 1910! Sharing that our next stop is the Ridge Winery, the hostess suggest we head out since it is a difficult drive up the mountain to their tasting room. A gentle rain starts as we take a quick photo of the mountain vineyards and villa at Savannah Chanelle.

The drive to Ridge Vineyards is a winding narrow road that then turns into a one lane road. Clear skies at the lower elevations; give a magnificent view of Silicon Valley. As we reach the mountaintop the rain begins and fog blocks the view from this 2,300 feet elevation. Chris Watkins, Wine Tasting Room Manager, greets us and introduces us to Ridge’s special premium wines of Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and Chardonnay. Explaining that Ridge produces wines in two winery locations in northern California, Chris has a wealth of knowledge on Ridge and the Santa Cruz Mountains wineries. He gives us a superb education on this appellation and its worldwide notability. The wines are wonderful! Purchasing a bottle of Ridge Zinfandel for relatives we head back to Santana Row. As we leave the mountaintop the weather clears and we take in the valley view.

Now it is time to shop! Taking our time we stroll along Santana Rows charming thoroughfare checking out the unique shops and specialty boutiques. It has everything from Gucci, Burberry and Ferragamo to H&M, Crate & Barrel and Anthropologie. We take in Santana Row’s warm ambiance, lush landscaping and the several parks where you can sit awhile and people-watch.

View of Park at Santana Row

View of Park at Santana Row

We end our day with dinner at Hotel Valencia’s Citrus Restaurant. The restaurant offers a classic menu with hearty steaks, fresh seafood and vegetarian plates. Over drinks we recall our exciting time in the San Jose area. Our dining experience begins with the Citrus Signature crab cake and a Hollandaise sauce. I splurge on the mouth-watering 9-ounce lobster with the steamed asparagus and a béarnaise sauce. Richard has the shrimp atop angel hair pasta with shitake mushrooms, basil, asparagus, and sun-dried tomatoes. We top off dinner with a scrumptious desert of berries in a chocolate cup with whip cream for me while Richard enjoys the tiramisu. The food and service are all wonderful creating a perfect ending to our exciting visit to the Silicon Valley area.

San Jose and Silicon Valley exceed our expectations. I now realize why my college classmate always bragged out this area. It is beautiful, warm, welcoming and offers a variety of activities. Leaving town we did make a quick detour to Los Gatos check out this warm vibrant downtown. We realize that we only touched the surface of all this dynamic area offers.

If you go:
San Jose Convention and Visitors Bureau, 408 Almaden Blvd., San Jose, California USA 95110
800-SAN-JOSE or 800-726-5673

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About Charlene Mixa

Seeing new places, learning about cultures and seeing the sights has always been my dream. Growing up I was blessed with parents that enjoyed traveling and thought nothing of taking a family of seven on excursions. My career in Human Resources and later as a consultant for an international Human Resource firm offered some travel, but I knew as my husband and I approached retirement, my goal was to do more traveling and broader trips. The nine years since retirement has been filled with fantastic adventures from short local one day trips to several week excursions. Living in Florida, it is especially enjoyable to be away in the summer to cooler climates. Multi-week driving trips across the good ol' USA, settling in for a month in the mountains to explore the local area, or a combination of both fill much of our summer season. Our travels are predominantly self-orchestrated, bringing the fun and challenge of getting everything to click. It's all about doing and sharing! Experiencing a travel adventure is exciting. Reliving a special travel moment with a friend or family is exhilarating. I feel my heart race and pulse quicken, as I sharing that special moment. Thank you for joining in my travel adventures and allowing me to hear your stories.