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Connections: San Jose Secrets

By Jennifer Ward, 07/24/23, 8:45PM EDT


Your insider’s guide to visiting Speed City, host of California’s fastest half.


JUL 24, 2023

This article is presented by United Airlines

Home to giants such as Cisco, eBay, Adobe, PayPal, Samsun, and Zoom, San Jose is the heart of Silicon Valley and a bastion of the entrepreneurial spirit. But look a bit closer and you’ll find something more than just big tech: a city that loves running.   

Nicknamed “Speed City,” the Rock ‘n’ Roll Running Series San Jose course is revered on the half marathon circuit for delivering consistent world and state record times. What does this mean for average runners? We’re talking PRs and a beginner-friendly race experience.  

But this Northern California city has so much more to offer than just smokin’-fast times. If you’re heading to San Jose for this classic fall race or eyeing it for next year’s race schedule, read on for our favorite eats, treats, attractions and more.   

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San Pedro Square Market is home to a variety of enticing food vendors.

Urban charms 

As soon as you hop off your United flight at San José Mineta International Airport and find your accommodation, you’ll find all kinds of attractions within the city limits that will help you fill the hours between packet pickup and those post-race brews. 

You can't leave San Jose without an afternoon browsing Santana Row. This cultural and luxury retail hub of the city offers a mix of unique shops and inventive restaurants. Catch live music and outdoor yoga in its many parks and plazas. More of a bargain shopper? On Wednesdays, Fridays and weekends, the San Jose Flea Market boasts colorful aisles dominated by shopping stalls, food vendors, and an arcade and vintage carousel for the kids. 

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The Winchester Mystery House boasts 160 rooms and draws visitors from around the world.

Just around the corner you’ll find the Winchester Mystery house, the beautiful but bizarre mansion built by Sarah Pardee Winchester, widow of William Wirt Winchester, whose family created the Winchester rifle. Construction began in 1884, and didn’t stop for 38 years until her death in 1922. Tormented by the guilt of victims lost to her family’s invention, Mrs. Winchester built the dizzying Victorian-style structure with doors that open to walls, stairways that lead to the ceiling, and many more oddities in the massive 160-room mansion. The House offers daily guided tours of the estate where guests can explore the mystery and unlock the secrets to the world-famous home.  

If your architectural interest is piqued by the crazy mansion, leave time for a stop at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph, a registered California Historic Landmark. For fine art lovers, there’s nothing better than an afternoon spent browsing the San Jose Museum of Art. 

The Children’s Discovery Museum is a classic for keeping the kids entertained while you head to the race expo. Located downtown on Woz Way, (the street is named after Steve Wozniak, co-founder of Apple), the museum is easily accessible via the transit stop named after it. The CDM builds and displays interactive exhibits following the principles of early childhood education. Its exhibits, programs and initiatives have received local, regional and national attention. Among its exhibits are two life-size Columbian mammoth replicas, authentic explorable vehicles including a fire engine and a Wells Fargo stagecoach, and five visual and performing arts spaces. A particular favorite is the Waterways exhibition, where children engage in water play and observe physics principles by interacting with a water vortex, observing laminar flow in action, and experiencing fluid pressure and flow.  

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The Raging Waters water park is a perfect cool-down destination for the whole family.

Family time 

In addition to the Children’s Museum, there are countless other ways to keep the kiddos happy while you’re doing your pre-race stretching. LEGOLAND Discovery Bay Center is a two to three-hour play experience featuring 10-plus interactive play zones including Miniland, Imagination Express, and the LEGO 4D Cinema designed for families with kids ages 3-10. 

On a hot day, you can’t go wrong with Raging Waters, the largest water park in Northern California! This Lake Cunningham destination is the perfect getaway for families of all age groups, with water rides that promise everything from exhilarating slides to a Lazy River where you can soak up the warm California sunshine. 

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California's Great America theme park has plenty to offer for thrill-seekers.

Fill your day with roller coasters, live shows, concerts, fireworks, amusement park food favorites and even a water park at the iconic California's Great America. New rides and attractions are introduced every year and special events like the nightmarish Halloween Haunt are popular as well.  

If an outdoors-themed park is more up the family’s alley, head to Mount Hermon Adventures, an adventure park that offers world-famous aerial adventure courses, intentional Team Building programs, and provide Mount Hermon overnight guests with mountain biking, surfing, sea kayaking, target sports, aquatic facilities, paint ball, skate park and more. Guests experience Mt. Hermon's core values of quality, authenticity and inspiration with the final goal of living a transformed life. 

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Towering Redwoods can be seen at California's oldest state park, Big Basin.

Off the beaten sidewalk 

Nestled in a valley surrounded by picturesque mountains, San Jose offers opportunities to spend time outdoors and see beautiful vistas from the endless trails and parks. San Jose is crossed by several regional trails, most notably the Guadalupe River Trail, Los Gatos Creek Trail, and Coyote Creek Trail. These trails extend from near downtown San Jose for dozens of miles to the north and south. Stick to the urban trails or trek the dirt paths and venture upward for panoramic views of the city. 

Hike in higher altitudes at Castle Rock State Park, home to 34mi (55km) of hiking trails, towering sandstone structures and trees including coast redwoods, Douglas firs and flowering madrones. Explore the salt flats at Alviso Marina County Park or bike alongside native wildflowers at Sierra Vista Open Space Preserve. Take a trip to see the Redwoods at Henry Cowell State Park or Big Basin, or hike the Los Gatos Creek Trail for a scenic, shady getaway. 

If you’re up for a pre- or post-race hike to stretch out the legs, here are our recommendations for easy, moderate, and more advanced treks: 

Easy: Coyote Creek Trail, Hellyer County Park 
Approx. time: 2.5 hours | Length: 6 miles | Elevation gain: 101ft | Dog-friendly 

The smooth out-and-back trail is perfect for all skill levels to enjoy a day in the sun. This trail is popular for walking, biking and running. 

Moderate: Cottle Trail to Calero Reservoir and Lisa Killough Trail 
Approx. time: 4 hours | Length: 8.3 miles | Elevation gain: 744ft 

Mountain bikers love this loop trail in the South San Jose neighborhood. This trail is great for a nature walk with wildflowers blooming along the trail, pelicans near the lake, and cows and deer grazing the range. 

Advanced: New Almaden Trail 
Approx. time: Varies | Length: 14.2 miles | Elevation gain: 2,093ft | Dog-friendly 

This mostly shaded scenic trail is great for more novice hikers. Though this trail is quite long, hikers can always adjust and go at their own pace. Keep an eye out for tiny creatures and furry friends. 

Flower lovers can find swaths of native wildflowers growing at many parks and trails in the springtime, including the best-loved California poppy. Check them out at Santa Teresa Park, Almaden Quicksilver County Park and Calero Reservoir County Park. The San Jose Municipal Rose Garden is a go-to picnic and photo spot filled with beautiful blooming roses of all colors and varieties. Take a peaceful walk at the Japanese Friendship Gardens complete with lush greenery, traditional Japanese architecture and koi fish ponds. 

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Hotel De Anza's vibrant mural is pictured here.

Taste makers 

San Jose is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the U.S. – and it’s reflected in the cuisine. A visit to San Jose makes it easy for runners to indulge in authentic flavors and cooking styles from all over the world. You can even create your own food crawl through cultural neighborhoods to sample Vietnamese, Portuguese, Indian, and Greek food. 

Our top ethnic picks for everything from post-race grub to gourmet are as follows: 

  • World-famous BBQ: Henry’s Hi-Life  
  • Top-notch Japanese: Japantown’s Hukilau (230 Jackson Street) 
  • A Vietnamese dream: Bun Bo Hue An Nam (740 Story Road, Suite 3) 
  • Sure-fire steakhouse: The Grill on the Alley (172 South Market St.) 
  • Good ol’ Gastro Pub: The Farmer’s Union (San Pedro Square) 
  • Pizza perfection: Bibo’s Pizza (1431 Bird Avenue) 
  • Mexican flair: Olla Cocina (17 North San Pedro St.) 
  • For the coffee snobs: Academic Coffee (499 South Second St.) 


Tip one back in the name of wine country to celebrate your race. Visit Alamitos Vineyards, San Jose's only vineyard within city borders, a winery that's fast becoming an industry favorite. Or check our Coterie Winery, known for their natural approach to winemaking and a welcoming neighborhood atmosphere. Award-winning winery J. Lohr Winery calls this city home as well—see if you can find a bottle of one of the wines they’ve sustainably farmed for decades. They specialize in wines from the Monterey, Paso Robles, and Napa Valley areas. Try a bottle of their cool-climate Pinot from Monterey’s Arroya Seco.  

More of a beer person? San Jose’s craft brewing “scene” began when Gordon Biersch Brewing Company opened their first location in 1988 featuring German-style lagers and ales made by co-owner Dan Gordon. The Biersch legacy has been succeeded by many local craft breweries, which continue to explore new brewing methods. Innovation is a staple attribute of Silicon Valley so it’s only fitting that San Jose’s Umunhum Brewing became California’s first co-op brewery—just one of many examples of this region's innovative approach to craft beer. 

The gateway city 

San Jose’s proximity to other top destinations only adds to its allure. Using San Jose as a base, extend your Northern California experience by tacking on a visit to lively San Francisco, beautiful and serene Big Sur, seaside Monterey, and the world-class wine destination of Napa Valley. Your adventure has just begun! 
United Airlines is the Official Airline of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Running Series. Let United join you on your journey toward the finish line and check out the Rock 'n' Roll Running Series website to find out how you can receive exclusive flight discounts.  

Keep an eye on the Rock 'n' Roll San Jose event page for other local discounts in our Runner Perks section.