.Editor’s Picks

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Best Culture Complex

History San Jose
635 Phelan Ave., San Jose 408.287.2290
Blink too fast and you may think you’ve traveled back to a different time and place. But at History San Jose, that’s the point. Hidden behind Happy Hollow Zoo and Kelley Park’s disc golf course, the city’s past comes to life through restored trolleys, light towers and 32 preserved Victorian-style town homes displaying the histories of Portuguese, Chinese, Vietnamese and LGBTQ residents in the South Bay for visitors exploring the 14-acre park. And alongside offering a great place to stroll, History San Jose is also host to a holiday light show in the park, further illuminating the range of diverse histories on display. -Katie Lauer

Best Band Aid From a Barcade

In pandemic-era San Jose, few venues rose to the occasion more than LVL Up, the humble little barcade located in the old Bo Town Seafood on Second and San Salvador. With a capacious outdoor stage and a wide variety of programming that has included local up-and-comers, hardcore heroes, Bay hip-hop heavyweights and just about everything in between, LVL Up was a vital lifeline to live music in the South Bay these past few years before it closed for construction, its future uncertain. While the LVL Up team has since collaborated with Uproar Brewing for the equally entertaining LVL Uproar, the original San Jose LVL Up made an outsize contribution to the city’s culture in its time here. -Mike Huguenor

music in the park san jose
music in the park san jose

Best Place to Geek Out

Caldwell's Comics
Photo by Erik Chalhoub

Caldwell’s Comics & Cards
7483 Monterey Rd, Gilroy

The posters of superheroes and action movie stars that line the front windows at Caldwell’s Comics & Cards hint at the fantastical worlds inside. Caldwell opened his eponymous store in downtown Gilroy earlier this year, and has gained a strong following of regular customers. Once inside, they are immediately greeted by a colorful wall plastered top to bottom, front to back, with the latest new comic book releases. Even more interesting are the older comic books, including some real treasures. Caldwell also has an impressive collection of sports, Pokemon and other collectible cards in the reserves. -Erik Chalhoub

Best Black-and-White Argument

In Defense of Ska
For years, the simple sight of a checkerboard pattern could send hipsters into a rage about ska music, but the tide has finally turned, and the peppy genre (and reggae precursor) has officially become cool again. Thanks in no small part to Metro contributor Aaron Carnes’s entertaining In Defense of Ska, published this May, the ska revival is currently booming, and much of the genre’s history and histrionics can be found in this book. From tales of Two-Tone heroes to oral histories of underappreciated American third wavers, In Defense of Ska is a thorough (and thoroughly enjoyable) take on this eternal genre. Pick it up, pick it up, pick it up. -Mike Huguenor

Best Music Scene

The 408
For far too long, San Jose’s music has flown under the radar, but in 2021 the entire world tuned in to the sound of San Jose hardcore. Gulch and Drain both sold out shows all around the country, Spy set a new standard for grimy genre aesthetics and Scowl (who also rep Santa Cruz) landed on the cover of Kerrang! magazine. Put them all together with SJHC icons like Maya and Sunami and you get “RBS,” the DIY hardcore show from June that attracted more than 2,000 fans to a parking lot in industrial SJ. Brutal, unpredictable and blisteringly fast, San Jose hardcore is currently unmatched around the globe for its energy, spirit and creativity. Long live the 408. -Mike Huguenor


Best ‘Do for a New You

Kelly the barber
Photo by Greg Ramar

Kelly the Barber
1082 Lincoln Ave, #6, San Jose

Getting a haircut, beard trim or shave doesn’t have to be a nerve-racking endeavor, but that isn’t always the case when a new style may not fit the “norm.” That’s where Kelly the Barber comes in. He is a licensed cosmetologist and barber who specializes in gender-affirming, trans-inclusive and LGBTQIA+ positive appointments. Want to chop your locks? Figuring out beard care for the first time? Need a confidence boost to pull the trigger on hot pink hair dye? Kelly’s single-seat studio in Willow Glen offers a private space for clients to feel comfortable asking questions and trying new things. -Katie Lauer

Best Curated Skincare Collection

241 E Campbell Ave, Suite A, Campbell

A focus on California-grown goods alone is reason enough to praise Redemption and its array of apparel, gift-worthy household goods and artwork. Even more noteworthy is the store’s selection of body care products, sourced from small producers working in the Golden State. Redemption (which also has outlets in Los Gatos and Santa Cruz) is a triumph of curation, with a staff that looks forward to fostering a pleasurable in-store experience. In addition to supporting local brands, Redemption also looks for products with sustainable packaging and organic ingredients. Standout brands include ocean-inspired products from Osea (skin) and Byrd (hair), Salt & Stone’s natural deodorants, CBD-enhanced body oils from Cordial Organics and a good assortment of balms and soaps from Three Sisters Apothecary—including shampoo bars for pooches. And don’t miss By Nieves’ Cloud of Protection. Packaged in glass, this nontoxic room freshener has an old-timey label that promises “defense against illness, bad vibes & stinkiness.” -Sharan Street


Best Desert Island

Arizona Cactus Garden
415 Broadway, Stanford

Do you ever get the urge to be one with the desert? To feel like you’re in Palm Springs, but within a 30-minute drive’s reach? Encounter the prickly botanical views of the southwestern United States at the Arizona Garden on Stanford University’s campus, featuring a collection of approximately 500 native and exotic cacti and succulents in 58 beds, alongside aloe and jade plants. This intricate landscape was crafted by noted 19th-century landscape gardener and architect Rudolph Ulrich, initially intended to be a feature of Leland and Jane Stanford’s mansion. Now free and open to the public (aside from occasional parking fees), this hidden alcove of walkable paths provides a perfect destination for dates, photo shoots and casual excursions. -Katie Lauer

Best Two-Wheeled Conveyance

Vintage Electric Bikes
1725 De La Cruz Blvd, Suite 4, Santa Clara

A Vintage electric bicycle first captures your attention because it looks so cool. Designed to resemble board-track motorcycles from the 1920s, these E-bikes from a Santa Clara company headed by a Los Gatos High School alum are the coolest looking two-wheelers on the road. Get in the saddle and the good looks become a secondary feature. Thanks to their big batteries (which kinda resemble an engine), these bikes fly—they’re the fastest electric bicycles manufactured in the United States. Pump the pedals as you would on a moderate Saturday cruise and you will feel the hair lifted off the back of your neck and your breath taken away. They’re a little spendy, but if you care about style or speed you may find these bikes priceless. -Eric Johnson

Best Retail Experience for Early Adopters

333 Santana Row, San Jose
375 University Ave, Palo Alto

Everyone takes automobiles out for a test drive. Why not apply that practice to other big-ticket consumer goods? At b8ta, a “retail as a service” company that debuted in Palo Alto in 2015, curious consumers can examine motorized skateboards, video surveillance cameras, wall video systems, drones, digital cameras and other high-tech gadgets. Stop by the store to browse, or make an appointment with one of the “b8ta testers” for a more in-depth experience. Too busy to shop in person? Ask questions online about a particular item or get product recommendations. The company’s website and social media have video demonstrations that recently featured such items as an easy-to-push stroller wagon that seats four kids, rechargeable hearing aids, an ultra-slim 360-degree camera and a tooth-brushing robot. -Sharan Street

Best Two-Fisted Entertainment

420 S. First St., San Jose
The Guildhouse isn’t an arcade, a bar or a computer lab. Rather, this gamer lounge is an immaculate combination of the three, offering a communal place for video game enthusiasts to gather and battle. Folks who prefer to watch the action are also welcome to grab a seat in the massive 18,000-foot space filled with PCs, video consoles and board games. Paired with a craft beer and cocktail bar, the Guildhouse draws quite a buzz, especially during popular weekly Smash Ultimate 1v1 tournaments. And the menu of comfort foods-notably their gourmet pizza, chicken and brisket flavored hot pockets-is perfect for snacking with one hand, controller in the other. -Katie Lauer


Best Place to Find Cool Toys for Cool Kids

Photo by Greg Ramar

100 N Santa Cruz Ave, Suite B, Los Gatos

Will anything good come out of the culture wars? Probably not, but at the very least, maybe we’ll learn to stop making assumptions about what kinds of toys boys and girls will-or even worse, should-like. Personally, my daughter never had any use for doll shops; she always felt more at home at Automobuild, which is focused on cars and trucks and things that go. (Although they honestly have quite a range of toys, and more than once we went in for a car toy and came out with two car toys and a cute stuffie.) As they age up, there’s no end of games, science kits… and track. So much track that after a while you may say to yourself, “Am I raising a NASCAR driver or a city planner? ‘Cause it’s definitely one of the two.” -Steve Palopoli

Best Place for an Unusual First Date

Legoland Discovery Center Bay Area
870 Great Mall Dr, Milpitas

All in all, it’s more than just some bricks at the mall. Here is the Northern California HQ for all things Lego, including a Lego synecdoche of the entire Bay Area laid out for study. For those who like to build unfeasibly high with Legos, there’s an earthquake table to torture-test the toy skyscrapers. This attraction is mostly about interactivity, but it also includes spectacle: a 4D theater with practical effects that include snow and wind. There’s a ninja fortress and a pirate ship, and a race track for cars that little makers build on the spot. What’s not as well known is the fact that Legoloand occasionally schedules adults-only nights-perfect for those who want to do some serious Lego building with a new friend, without children shattering their concentration. -Richard von Busack


Best Place to Say Graze

state street
Photo by Greg Ramar

State Street Market
170 State St, Los Altos
Foodies who have gazed enviously up San Francisco’s Ferry Building can now find a place to graze closer to home thanks to Anne Wojcicki, cofounder and CEO of 23andMe. The billionaire entrepreneur is a principal of Los Altos Community Investment, which has turned a former Purity Stores site into the State Street Market, a collection of eateries that will appeal to that hunter-gatherer DNA. Choice is at the heart of the State Street experience. Sample flatbread from Banks & Braes or cheese and charcuterie from Murdoch’s while adding a salad from Grains & Greens, and top it off with dessert from Tin Pot Creamery. Want a drink with that? Grab a beer, order wine by the glass or carafe, or sip on cocktails-including non-alcoholic options. The dining experience can be customized as well: chow down in the outdoor seating areas, take it to go, or get it delivered. Coming soonish: El Alto, to be helmed by acclaimed chef Traci Des Jardins, and a Teaching Kitchen, which will feature workshops, demonstrations and chef’s dinners. -Sharan Street

Best Karaoke With a Side of Home Fries

Effie’s Restaurant and Bar
331 Hacienda Ave., Campbell

Effie’s Restaurant and Bar has kept Campbell locals and out-of-towners fed and entertained for more than three decades. Despite a remodel, the Winchester Boulevard space still offers an old-fashioned mom-and-pop feel-down to the bar booths and adjacent dining room with 1960s and 1970s era decor. The extensive all-day breakfast, lunch and dinner menus offer up cuisine as American as it comes: a variety of omelets, eggs Benedict, skillets, sandwiches, burgers, home fries, country chicken fried steak and prime rib. Oh, and be on the lookout for Bill, who helps bring the house down six nights a week during karaoke at Effie’s. -Katie Lauer

Best Two-Wheeled Deal

Park Station Hashery
1701 Park Ave, San Jose
At the busy intersection of Park and Naglee avenues, it’s easy to miss this eatery with a cozy neighborhood feel that serves creative bites and pick-me-up drinks in San Jose’s Rose Garden. Park Station Hashery satisfies cravings around the clock, from breakfast staples like huevos rancheros and salmon scramble to dinner classics as simple as a double-decker turkey club with fries and homemade ketchup or all-out meals of pork ribs, braised lamb and orecchiette pasta. The large selection of colorful craft beers and ciders satisfies any taste preferences-and to top it off, any bike riders who trek down on Tuesdays get a 2-for-1 draft deal for using their wheels. -Katie Lauer

Best Foodie Find to Impress Your New York Friends

Xiaoman Rice Burrito
1614 Pomeroy Ave, Santa Clara, CA 95051

There are only two ways to deal with friends visiting Silicon Valley from NYC. You know the ones I’m talking about-the kind who respond to everything you try to show them that’s great in the South Bay with “Oh, yeah, we have that in New York… only better.” The first way is to not make friends with anyone who lives in New York. (J/k, Summer and Graham, this is definitely not about you!) The second way is to take them to the kind of places that will both blow their minds and play off their secretly deep and vast insecurities about living in New York. I’d recommend Xiaoman Rice Burrito, known to locals as “the Taiwanese breakfast burrito place.” (I don’t know why we call it that, since the burritos are really for any time of day.) First of all, it shows off one of the things I love about living in San Jose, which is that the best food adventures you can have are often at hidden-away, hole-in-the-wall locales, as if they were some kind of treasure waiting to be discovered. (Seriously, Xiaoman is both hidden away in an alley, and a literal hole in the wall-there’s no dine-in, there’s just an open door where you pick up your bag of burritos, usually with an entire fleet of identical bags lined up behind it, waiting to be picked up.) They’re called rice burritos because the “tortilla” is made of sticky sushi rice, and they’re filled with soy-sauce-braised egg, pickled radish and more. “Original” has pork floss, “crunchy” is vegetarian with crispy onion, nori and soybean. Those New York friends will be wowed, and their extra dose of humility at knowing there is now a whole new category of Mexican food for their city to underwhelm in should shut them up for a while. -Steve Palopoli

Best Luxe Asian Trip

Photo by Greg Ramar

2855 Stevens Creek Blvd, Santa Clara

The restaurant iChina, which opened in August at the Westfield Valley Fair, is redefining Chinese cuisine for folks with a sophisticated palate. Executive Chef Eddie Lam, formerly of Straits in San Jose and Crystal Jade in SF, prepares spicy Sichuan and more delicate Guangdong flavors with a contemporary California twist. Equal attention has been directed toward the interior design in this opulent two-story space, where even the bathrooms are blinged out. Diners can eat in the main dining room, at the JiuBa Bar, or in the four private dining rooms that can accommodate parties of 12. Those with deep pockets can book the 360 Virtual Reality room, where eight projectors and a sensor-enabled table create a VR dining experience. -Eric Johnson

Best Courtyard

Sourdough Eatery
848 N 1st St, San Jose

Even though it’s been around for nearly 50 years, the Sourdough Eatery doesn’t attract a lot of attention. Located across the street from the County Government Center-a looming, rust-covered skyscraper where the destiny of the 1,300-square-mile Santa Clara County is determined- it’s only open 15 hours during the work week. Barbara Lenhart, a painter, Hollywood model and former Parisian showgirl, displays some of her art and memorabilia around the lobby. This gracious lady rings up the dozen-odd sandwiches served on fresh-baked sourdough (cash only). But the real beauty of the place is in the back, a huge brick-paved plaza with fountains, bric-a-brac, cast-iron tables and very old trees. Stopping by here is a trip from the maddening San Jose of today to the peaceful place it once was. -Richard von Busack

Best Spot to Appreciate Tomato Season

Best of Silicon Valley 2021

Terra Amico Farms
680 California Ave, San Martin

Joe and Lisa Raineri own five acres in San Martin, the majority of which is covered in tomato plants of many varieties. Quite a few make their way onto local restaurant tables and into local food products; others can be procured at Terra Amico’s seasonal farmstand. The property is filled with 2,000 heirloom tomato plants, totaling 60 varieties, as well as zucchini, artichoke, basil, pepper and other plants that make up the edible landscaping. (Fun tidbits: Both Abe Lincoln and Paul Robeson have tomato plants named after them. And Brad’s Atomic Grape are quite possibly the most visually striking tomatoes the world has ever seen.) During the warm months, Terra Amico also offers a series of farm-to-table dinners and cooking demos. To sign up for event updates, visit terraamicofarms.com. -Erik Chalhoub

Best Place for an Oil Change

olive bar
Photo by Greg Ramar

The Olive Bar
232 E Campbell Ave, Campbell

Since 2007, this single-minded shop has attracted chefs with its collection of 100% extra virgin olive oils from Mediterranean climates around the world-including our own state. Cooks can sample oils before they buy, choosing from more than a dozen flavors. And there are twice as many balsamic vinegars to select from-many of which would add a nice edge to a sparkling cocktail. (Speaking of cocktails, check out the gin olives, vermouth olives or spicy cocktail sticks-skewers of pearl onions, olives, chili peppers and gherkins.) Throw in some stuffed olives, wild porcini sea salt, truffle-infused hot sauce and a jar of fig jam to create a foodie’s dream gift basket -Sharan Street


Best Place to Roll In and Out of a Big Weekend

Henry Coe state park
Photo by Greg Ramar

Mountain Bike Camping at Henry W. Coe State Park
9000 E Dunne Ave, Morgan Hill

It may be a surprise that the largest of California’s state parks sits at the southern edge of Silicon Valley. Henry Coe, which stretches from Morgan Hill to Pacheco Pass, encompasses 80,000 acres with more than 250 miles of trails and old ranch roads. Studded with thousands of massive California live oaks, the park features many trails open to mountain bikers and many remote campsites. For those who enjoy strapping a tent, sleeping bag, camp stove and gourmet comestibles onto the back of an MTB and spending a weekend in the wilderness, Henry Coe is, in fact, one of the best places in the state to rock it. -Eric Johnson

Best Place to Travel Back in Time for a Good View of the Future

Alum Rock Park
15350 Penitencia Creek Rd, San Jose

The oldest municipal park in California is still one of the coolest. Bring the family for a camping trip or a barbecue picnic in the woods. Walk along Penitencia Creek and witness some of the gnarliest oak and bay groves you’ll ever see, as well as historic mining infrastructure that dates back to the 1800s. Take a short hike up the South Rim Trail and experience a spectacular view of the capital of Silicon Valley’s growing skyline and the San Francisco Bay. This is California as it once was, and, thanks to the City of San Jose Parks Department, still is. -Eric Johnson


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