Downtown San Jose is the home of many famous landmarks and attractions, such as the San Jose Museum of Art, the Tech Museum of Innovation, and Children’s Discovery Museum. The area is also known for its restaurants and night life spots.
The downtown area has seen a lot of new development recently, including construction projects like the 66-story 555 East Santa Clara Street Tower (which broke ground late last year), but nothing has quite captured people’s attention like a proposal by entrepreneur Mark MacDonald to build an elephant theme park along Park Avenue. Despite having no experience with elephants or zoos in general, MacDonald apparently knows how to successfully run a business because he plans on charging a $5 entry fee and hopes to make millions off his idea (he could charge more than $5, but he wants to make the park affordable for families).
History of Downtown San Jose
Downtown San Jose is the oldest part of the greater Bay Area outside of San Francisco and has a distinct European feel. The downtown area’s first inhabitants were Spanish missionaries who named it Villa de San Jose, but when Mexico gained independence from Spain in 1821, Anglo settlers began to arrive and built homes along the southern bank of the Guadalupe River.
The next significant wave of immigrants came during World War II, when many African Americans settled in the city and worked at various local industries like International Harvester (International still operates nearby).
In 1956, City Hall Plaza opened to great fanfare as an “urban centerpiece” for downtown and hosted many events over the years including presidential visits by John F Kennedy in 1962 and Richard Nixon in 1974. The surrounding area was the hub of San Jose’s nightlife in its early days, but as more office space opened up downtown—including the construction of many corporate towers in the 1970s and 80s—the plaza went into decline.
The plaza did not fully recover until 2004 when a $15 million renovation project began to restore it to its former glory, and that same year the Children’s Discovery Museum opened just south of City Hall Plaza. In 2010, the San Pedro Market opened next door to the museum, making City Hall an important destination for locals again (it is also a stop on VTA light rail line).
Overview of Downtown San Jose Attractions
Although downtown has always been known for its charming historic buildings dating back to its Spanish and Mexican roots, most of the downtown area is too new for visitors to truly appreciate those roots. Even though downtown has a lot of great shopping, dining, and nightlife opportunities—including many happening nightclubs like Nectar Lounge—the best way to experience it may be during one of several annual events (listed below).
Paseo de San Antonio Festival – Every first Sunday in May brings this arts and crafts street fair that draws more than 50,000 people each year. This free event includes live music stages as well as dance troupes who perform throughout the day.
Downtown Ice – From December through March every year an ice skating rink forms in Plaza de Cesar Chavez next to Hall. The rink is open to the public and employees of nearby businesses often come out to skate during their lunch breaks.
Christmas in the Park – Every December, Plaza de Cesar Chavez hosts this Christmas festival that includes holiday music, ice sculpting demonstrations, snow slides for kids, food vendors, and a visit from Santa Claus himself.