Downtowns in Silicon Valley
This section will be updated with photos shortly!
This section will be updated with photos shortly!
On my first visits to the Valley, I knew that some towns had a nice downtown area, yet they seemed hard to find. Was I in the wrong place? What did I expect a downtown should look like? Silicon Valley towns have grown so close together that the town boundaries merge into each other. Some towns have a downtown, others don’t, like many American towns.
If you come from Europe like I do, and you are used to beautiful, historical, pedestrian-friendly downtowns with a center square, street cafes and music, forget all that and start with a fresh slate. There are a couple of “downtowns” in Silicon Valley, but you need to look at them from an American perspective… cities are laid out for driving, not centered around a historical medieval point of interest. At least the weather is guaranteed to be nice here, something you often miss in many European cities!
Check the list for some nice downtowns to stroll, shop or dine in Silicon Valley. If we are missing a great one, let us know so that we add it to the list! We will stick to basic info, you can google further from there - plenty of info on the web once you know where to start….! There is history or a tech link in all these towns!
Los Gatos is a charming community with downtown life in Old Town, on West Main Street and North Santa Cruz Avenue. You will be close to the Los Gatos Trail for hiking opportunities, Vasona County Park and Oak Meadow Park. When driving in, don’t miss a glimpse of the Netflix Headquarters on Winchester Boulevard.
Los Gatos is situated at the Southern end of Silicon Valley, at the foot of the Santa Crus Mountains and just 20 miles away from the coast. Los Gatos downtown is in the National Register of Historic Places and has beautiful Victorian-era homes around it. The New Museum of Los Gatos displays history and art of the area. Stop by the beautiful Los Gatos High School from the 1920s.
Find out more at https://www.losgatosca.gov/515/About-Los-Gatos
Saratoga downtown is charming to walk or drive through, but it can be easy to miss. At the intersection of Saratoga-Sunnyvale Road and Highway 9, make sure you turn onto the bit of Highway 9/ Big Basin Way that takes you into the mountains (not to Los Gatos). You will be right in the downtown area of Saratoga. The road will also lead you to the mountains to vineyards like Mountain Winery, Savannah-Chanelle Vineyards and Cooper-Garrod. Driving further up into the mountains will take you to Castle Rock and Big Basin State Park with stunning redwood trees. On a clear day, you have one of the nicest views onto Silicon Valley if you take a little hike up at Villa Montalvo.
Saratoga was home to Hollywood actors Olivia de Havilland and Joan Fontaine, and Steven Spielberg attended Saratoga Highschool for a short time.
A bit more information on Saratoga online at https://www.saratoga.ca.us/276/Saratoga-Village
East Campbell Avenue is your place to go to stroll in Campbell.
Campbell offers a downtown with a lively going-out culture. Shops, restaurants and cafes to sit inside or outside.
If you are looking for a nearby rural retreat, walk further towards West Campbell Avenue and go down to San Tomas Aquino Creek Trail. Walk right towards Los Gatos or left towards San Jose. Bringing your bike is a great idea for the trail!
Campbell’s tech company is eBay which started here and now has offices in Campbell, San Jose and beyond.
Find the town center on University Ave, between Middlefield Road and Stanford University for a downtown feel of shopping and gastronomy. Hana Haus on University Avenue is a meeting hub for entrepreneurs in downtown. Stanford University is not only beautiful, it takes you to the origins of Silicon Valley’s success story. Visit the original HP garage in Palo Alto, or the replica at Stanford. Going around Palo Alto can be like browsing the web and seeing many familiar company names on buildings. If you enjoy beautiful residential areas, this is the place to go for a stroll as well. Cycling is my preferred way to get around!
Check out more at https://www.destinationpaloalto.com
Find Castro Street and enjoy a downtown feeling. Mountain View brings you to the origins of Silicon Valley’s high tech history, as it was home to Shockley Semiconductor Laboratory in 1956. It also hosted the original Byte Shop Computer Store on 1063 El Camino Real where the first 50 Apple I computers were sold. Today, Google and the Computer History Museum are the biggest tech names in Mountain View, and many more for you to notice!
Everything can be found on the web, here is a good start for exploring downtown Mountain View: http://mountainviewdowntown.com
Find Main Street and stroll along!
Los Altos was home to Steve Jobs during the early beginnings of Apple and the first 50 Apple I computers were built in his garage in Los Altos.
You are likely to drive on Foothill Expressway - this was the railroad line from San Francisco to Los Altos until 1964!
You can google anything and everything, this is only one suggestion to find out more check https://www.downtownlosaltos.org.
A downtown that is not grown historically, but newly planned and designed to serve as a center for the community. In Main Street Cupertino you are very close to Apple offices and their new HQ. Check it out on 19401 Stevens Creek Blvd or http://mainstreetcupertino.com/directory/
Santana Row is officially part of San Jose. I want to make sure you find it even if you don’t search San Jose. It’s right across from Westfield Valley Fair Mall, on Stevens Creek Boulevard.
It’s great for eating out in a downtown style. You can shop for everything from dresses, cars, suits, houses, shoes to furniture and toys on Santana Row, northwest of the intersection of Highways 280 and 880. All the beautiful shopping facades are like a Hollywood movie set. If you peek behind the buildings, you are truly backstage! This is the American dream of upscale shopping and dining right in the middle of a busy industrial area.
You’ll be able to visit one of the first Amazon Stores on Santana Row. Shopping has gone full circle to internet shopping and now back into a brick-and-mortar store. You still get the better deal if you are Amazon Prime member!
Use the opportunity to sit in a Tesla at the local Tesla Store and look at the inside of the engine!
Find out more here: www.santanarow.com
Willow Glen also is officially part of San Jose. It is a charming local downtown with the main areas on Lincoln Avenue between Willow Street and Minnesota Avenue. Check it out!
The biggest of them - thus last, as nobody would miss it anyway! San Jose is the main city in Silicon Valley with even a higher population than San Francisco and the fourth largest in California. It has a nice downtown area and some cultural event sites: The main downtown area is around Plaza de Cesar Chaves with the Tech Museum. This is definitely worth checking out, particularly when you are interested in tech or traveling with kids. Walk around some of the pedestrian areas to check out downtown or make your way two blocks NW to San Pedro Market.
Check out South First Area (SoFA), an upcoming more artistic and eclectic street in walking distance just one block South East from the main Plaza. Check out South First Friday Street Markets or just enjoy a stroll anytime.
If you like it more green, walk along the Guadalupe River Park, which was originally built for flood protection in the 1940s and now serves as a recreational long green strip through the Valley. It’s green, but you will be very close to landing planes of nearby San Jose Airport! With smaller kids, a day in the Children’s Discovery Museum in the park will be fun and educational. Sponsored by Steve Wozniak, the “other” Steve of the Apple Founders, it is located in Woz Way and well worth it for a creative day for little kids!
Check out loads of interesting visiting opportunities here: https://www.sanjose.org/things-to-do