San Jose, long the Bay Area's wayward child, has been transformed by the tech boom into a full-fledged, ultra-cool destination. I wanted a getaway with good food, wines and substance. My freeway denizen husband didn't want to drive. The city, the third largest in California, met all our requirements. With plenty to see and distances short — even the Mineta Airport is nearby — we challenged our inner millennial by taking Uber or walking.
The tab: $420 for two nights at the Hotel Valencia, $410 for food and wine, and $40 for Uber.
Hotel Valencia, a boutique hotel on Santana Row, has 215 spacious rooms, rooftop Cielo bar, sun-drenched Terrace bar and lobby Vbar where the hip sip. It was comfortable and welcoming, with an urban Italian feel. The Row's cafes, bars, restaurants and shopping along tree-lined, Euro-style walkways made departing difficult.
Adega, San Jose's first Michelin-starred restaurant, serves Portuguese cuisine. We sampled the tasting menus ($99 a person); the smoky, tender roasted octopus was the most memorable dish. For dessert, the creamy caramel cake inspired thoughts of Halloween. In Japantown neighborhood gem Minato Restaurant served reasonably priced (mains $12-$17) flavorful steamer plates and fiery spicy ahi sushi that reminded me of comfort food during my college stint in Tokyo. At Shuei-Do Manju Shop, owners Tom and Judy Kumamaru have spent 30 years producing sweet adzuki bean delicacies so scrumptious that during Emperor Akihito's 2002 visit, he dispatched an assistant to Sheui-Do for his own. Although manju are an acquired taste for some, I grew up eating them in Hawaii and devoured several of the black bean varieties. We skipped dinner one night in favor of the Vintage Wine Bar's truffle-garnished charcuterie plate ($17) with creamy, pungent cheeses. The combination of Gosset Grand Rosé, the alfresco setting and the imported French stone basilica entryway made for Parisian-worthy people watching.
Japantown, established in the late 1880s to house bachelor migrant workers and farmers, is a charming place to stroll, with wide avenues, public art, shops and restaurants. It's also home to the San Jose Buddhist Church Betsuin, known for its gold-plated altars and intricate carvings imported from Japan. At the nearby Japanese American Museum docents who as young people were confined in concentration camps after the attack on Pearl Harbor shared their sobering experiences. Stop at downtown's majestic Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph to admire its ornately painted interiors, then head next door to the San Jose Museum of Art, which has an impressive 2,500-piece contemporary art collection.
The lesson learned
Don't think of San Jose as only a tech town. It has a modern city vibe and culture to spare, which makes it a pleasurable escape.
If you go
Hotel Valencia, 355 Santana Row; (408) 551-0010, . Wheelchair-accessible rooms.
Adega, 1614 Alum Rock Ave.; (408) 926-9075,
Minato Restaurant, 617 N. 6th St.; (408) 998-9711,
Shuei-Do Manju Shop, 217 E. Jackson St.; (408) 294-4148,
Vintage Wine Bar, 368 Santana Row; (408) 985-9463,
Japanese American Museum, 535 N. 5th St.; (408) 294-3138,
Buddhist Church Betsuin, 640 N. 5th St.; (408) 293-9292,
Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph, 80 Market St.; (408) 283-8100,