Although San Jose has often been lost in the shadow of its much more glamorous northern California neighbor (San Francisco), its location in the heart of the Silicon Valley now regularly draws well-heeled tech executives looking for good places to eat, drink and shop in their spare time.
And with the Super Bowl in nearby Santa Clara next January, the state's third largest city is likely to garner even more attention.
One of the prime gathering spots is Santana Row, a mixed-use complex of retail shops, office, hotel and residential units resembling a European village, with fountains (that have turned off during the drought), parks, gardens, a life-sized chessboard, and lots of opportunities for outdoor dining in the temperate California nights.
The center features sculptures and fountains from French artists that emulate the work of famed Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi. A red wall of lanterns, Tunisian wrought-iron grillwork and mosaic pillars modeled after roofs in Montagnac in southern France give the center a Disney-meets-medieval vibe.
Choices range from the Vintage Wine Bar with a neo-Gothic church facade from a castle near Montpellier, France, in the middle of the center that was filled with young techies the night of our visit, to the posh VBar @ Hotel Valencia.
During a recent northern California trip, we met up with a close friend who wanted to show that San Jose has a lot of offer. We arrived early and checked out the Tesla store, where we lounged in one of the spiffy models and got the latest news on the much buzzed-about electric luxury car (the company's headquarters are a few miles away in neighboring Palo Alto).
Amid the regular trendy retail offerings — think Gucci, Diesel, H&M, Ted Baker, Madewell etc. — we stopped into a couple of new stores that don't yet have Houston outposts. Scotch & Soda sounds like a bar, but it's a Dutch-owned retailer with hip clothes for men and women. Bonobos, which was also founded in nearby Palo Alto, offers men's and women's clothes to try on to get the best fit, but then everything is delivered to your home or office in online-style shopping. It plans to open at River Oaks District in October.
The big draw of the complex is the abundance of restaurants and bars. We met our friend at the Village California Bistro and Wine Bar and immediately asked for an outdoor table to enjoy the fabulous weather that's so different from Houston in the summer. We feasted on crab squash blossom fritters, seafood zaruella (a stew of clams, mussels, prawns, scallops and andouille sausage) and Devil Ranch rabbit in a white-tablecloth setting as the sun set and the complex was transformed into a wonderland of tiny white lights.
There are lots of other choices for dinner or drinks, ranging from the Vintage Wine Bar with a neo-Gothic church facade from a castle near Montpellier, France, in the middle of the center that was filled with young techies the night of our visit, to the posh VBar @ Hotel Valencia, a boutique hotel owned by the same company that owns the Hotel Sorella in Houston. At least 15 restaurants and bars offer a daily happy hour and some establishments offer half-price bottles of wine on certain nights.
A host of other activities make Santana Row an area gathering spot. Outdoor yoga classes draw hundreds, and on the fourth Saturday of each month, an event called Cars & Croissants attracts exotic car owners and enthusiasts. With football season starting, the center also offers round-trip shuttle service to San Francisco 49er games at nearby Levi's Stadium.
Too bad the Texans don't play there this year. Maybe at the Super Bowl in 2016?