By Chloe Verrey
Aside from four years of college, I have lived in San Jose, CA my entire life. In high school, I didn’t see much value in the place I called home. All I wanted was a place of my own, so I left. After four years living in Eugene, Oregon, I could not wait to get back to San Jose. How could such a short period of time change my mind? And now, years later, San Jose is more my home than it ever has been.
What has changed since I was in high school? A major part of this change of heart was my need to get away. I loved the four years I lived in Oregon, but I grew to recognize San Jose was always my place. San Jose isn’t like most major cities, with a low population density and massive square mileage. I grew listening to my mother and grandparents talking about living in the Valley of Hearts Delight. The orchards of yesteryear are gone, victims of the midcentury land-grab and conversion. Street names and development projects throughout the city allude to the Valley's agricultural roots. Suburban neighborhoods are connected by boulevards and freeways, with a small but mighty downtown smackdab in the middle.
Canned fruit label from Valley of Hearts Delight era orchard.
Within each of these distinct neighborhoods, you can experience things that are unique to San Jose. I grew up on the east side of San Jose, in the Evergreen neighborhood. The sprawling east hills were nearby, and places like Alum Rock Park and Emma Prusch Farm gave me a glimpse of what the valley used to be like. When spending time with my grandparents on the west side, we would go to places like the Rosicrucian Museum and the Falafel’s Drive In, forging memories I will never forget. It was walking the halls of the Rosicrucian Museum that I first recognized a love of history, something that remains with me today.
As I grew older, my family ventured out of our neighborhood with greater frequency. Downtown became a place to go to celebrate, or try something new. The Children’s Discovery Museum instilled a sense of play and wonder in my mind, and I took my first art class at the San Jose Museum of Art. The Tech Museum of Innovation showed me how everyday objects worked to make life simpler. Original Joe’s was the place to celebrate, offering a bit of old world charm in the heart of downtown.
In Japantown, I felt like I walked into a different world. One of the few Japantown’s left in the United States, this neighborhood offers authentic Japanese food, from sushi to shabu-shabu, and small shops offering imports and locally created goods. The Japanese American Museum and San Jose Taiko provide all residents and visitors a window into Japanese culture. Japantown is just north of downtown, and accessible via VTA’s light rail service from many neighborhoods (from the Fairmont San Jose, go to the San Antonio Station at take the 902 Light Rail to the Japantown/Ayer Station).
Now, I find myself creating new memories my family at these tried and true favorites, while continuing to discover new jewels within my hometown. On weekends, we take my toddler son to Kelley Park, in the Spartan Keyes area south of downtown. Kelley Park is home to the Japanese Friendship Garden, History San Jose and Happy Hollow Zoo. Whether its beautiful landscapes, historic buildings or lemurs, there is always something to see at Kelley Park.
Downtown San Jose has grown in a way I never expected. The old standards are still there, but I discover new favorites every time I go out. Some are new to San Jose, but others are simply new to me. The SoFA District, or South First Area, is home to a vibrant arts community. Live, local theater can be found at City Lights Theater Company and San Jose Stage Company. Art work of all kinds can be found at MACLA, San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles or Anno Domini. A quick bite isn’t hard to find, either at the jazz filled Café Stritch (go for the mac & cheese!) or SoFA Market, a food hall with stalls offering burgers, coffee or ramen.
The cast of City Lights Theater Company's production of Monty Python's "SPAMALOT," from Summer 2014.
San Pedro Square has grown into a lively part of downtown in the last few years. Any kind of food you could look for can be found in the Square. Tabard Theatre sits atop the square, offering a full season of performances. Next to San Pedro Square Market sits the Peralta Adobe, as well as the Fallon House, home of Mayor Thomas Fallon, an early mayor of San Jose.
The entrance to San Pedro Square, in downtown San Jose.
The Historic District, bordered by Santa Clara, San Fernando, 1st and 2nd Streets, boasts some of the oldest and most beautiful buildings in downtown. While there, get an ice cream sandwich from CREAM, a craft cocktail at 55 South or Paper Plane, or the triple threat of sausage, duck fat fries and craft beer at Original Gravity. If you need a unique gift to take home (or for yourself), visit Seeing Things Gallery for a zine, or other handmade item.
These are just a fraction of the places that make my hometown unique. The best advice I can give to those visiting San Jose is to try something new, something you couldn’t do at home. Whether that is trying halal for the first time, seeing a fire engine inside a museum or strolling down a pedestrian only street to get a mint mojito iced coffee, just go out and do it.
Visit San Jose during the WMA 2015 Annual Meeting on October 24-27. Register today and join the Western museum community to learn, grow, and push the boundaries of the field.
Chloe Verrey is a life-long resident of San Jose and is the Membership and Outreach Manager for the San Jose Downtown Association. Additionally, she is a proud board member of City Lights Theater Company in San Jose.