music in the park san jose

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music in the park san jose

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Best Venue Glow-Up

Playback Studios

1813 S 10th St, Unit A, San Jose | 408.766.4604

Though San Jose has long had many options for jazz, international and adult contemporary musicians, its DIY and underground scenes have often had to fend for themselves. In recent years, local practice space Playback Studios began holding shows in their lobby to help keep live music active in the local underground. This year, the venue space received a notable upgrade, moving from the lobby to a dedicated live room upstairs with plenty of space for actual showgoers and a slew of important young bands coming through. San Jose has always had the scene; now it’s finally getting a little more space. —Mike Huguenor

Best Salon

Center for Literary Arts

San Jose State University

The Center for Literary Arts offers the South Bay’s thriving literary arts scene a writerly hub with top-notch monthly programming. Part of the College of Humanities and Arts at San Jose State University, the CLA launched in 1989 and has since brought a breathtaking roster of authors to the area, counting five Nobel Prize winners and 29 Pulitzer Prize winners among its Major Authors Series speakers. While free public readings by such luminaries as novelist Amy Tan, playwright Tony Kushner, sci-fi legend Ursula K. Le Guin and poet Ocean Vuong are inspiring, the center also offers more intimate programming. The CLA Book Club, the Craft Lecture Series and the Friday Writers Group—which have taken place in a mixture of in-person and online formats since 2020—are for readers and writers alike. True to the organization’s mission of spreading “the influence of, and interest in, literature throughout the South Bay,” they provide compelling engagement with and reflection on the craft of writing.

Now in its 36th year, CLA draws some of the most celebrated writers in the country to San Jose. Highlighting just one of those coming in the near future, director Selena Anderson says she’s excited to present Hanif Abdurraqib on Feb. 23 at the Hammer Black Box Theater. “His book They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us is described as a collection of death-defying protest songs, a bellwether for our times,” Anderson says. “In these essays, Abdurraqib reflects on everything from Chance The Rapper and Nina Simone to Allen Iverson and Serena Williams, from summer crushes to the thrill of common joys in children. I love this book—and you will too!” —Addie Mahmassani

Kaleid Gallery. Photo Credit: Greg Ramar

Best Kaleidoscopic Views

Kaleid Gallery

320 S 1st St, San Jose

408.947.1785 |

Beloved by local artists and art enthusiasts alike, Kaleid Gallery embodies the dream of accessible, dynamic art for the whole community. Over 90 diverse artists maintain individual exhibitions in the 6,000-square-foot space, offering their work for free viewing and, for those interested in collecting, very reasonable sale prices. Myriad genres and mediums are represented, with surrealism, realism, illustration, sculpture, wearable art and much more gracing the walls and shelves. In fact, many feel it is the breadth of the gallery that makes it so special. Local artist Matty Heimgartner vouches: “Kaleid is my absolute favorite gallery because it is overstimulating in the best way. When I step into the creative space, all different trains of thought inside my mind are fed and entertained.” One of the most unique aspects of Kaleid is its monthly Two Buck Tuesday event, with mini-paintings, small pieces of jewelry and other petite treasures available for just $2. Amid a celebratory atmosphere, the artists come together on this night for music, live demos, workshops and more. As Heimgartner summarizes, “Kaleid is much more than a gallery; it is an experience.” And as its name implies, this multicolored space echoes San Jose’s variegated charm. —Addie Mahmassani


Best Kids’ Program Comeback

Willow Glen Children’s Theater

2175 Lincoln Ave, Willow Glen

408.448.6400 |

The city of San Jose’s unique Willow Glen Children’s Theater program, which produces original plays for the young actors (ages 7 and up) in each new session, returned from Covid this year. Founded by Gavin Coffing in 1988 and now directed by Jordan Kilpatric—who herself acted in many WGCT productions in her pre-teen and teenage years—the program grows kids’ confidence and acting skills while finding parts (and great lines) for them in wildly creative original productions. Considering that very few stage opportunities exist for local kids outside of musical theater, this is a true gem that we’re lucky to have in Silicon Valley. The next session begins on Feb. 4, and registration is now open. —Steve Palopoli

Best New Place to Play

Campbell Park Playground

E Campbell and Gilman avenues, Campbell | 408.866.2145

Campbell Park is more than just a gateway to the magnificent Los Gatos Creek Trail. The park is always bustling with runners, hoopers and fitness boot-campers, but for many years it had been failing one of its biggest user groups: kids and their families. You know you’re in trouble when one of your premier playground features is “Look, this slide is built into the side of a weird hill!” But no more. After a few months of fencing off the play area with an impenetrable wrap that made the whole thing very mysterious, the new playground has been unveiled, and it’s a fun combination of forward-looking features and smart organic design with a natural look. A few of us might miss the death-trap merry-go-round and child-launching swing designs of old, but this place is like some kind of Swiss Family Robinson adventure set. If I were 6, I’d refuse to be rescued. —Steve Palopoli


Best South County Night Crawl

Flatbread from Tempo, in downtown Gilroy

Monterey Street

Downtown Gilroy

Though it might not have downtown San Jose’s urban bustle, Santa Clara County’s southernmost metropolis has its own nightlife—and it’s getting livelier soon. On the same historic stretch where the old city hall sits—home of a restaurant called, unironically, Old City Hall (7400 Monterey St; 408.842-3454)—there are enough establishments to stage a bona fide bar crawl. The historic Milias Restaurant (7397 Monterey Hwy; 408.337.5100) has a legendary whiskey selection and Promised Land Brewing Co. (7419 Monterey St; 408.337.5444) kicked off a craft brew juggernaut. Bartenders Union (7421 Monterey St; 408.337.5886) offers 20 constantly changing craft brews on tap, plus music and pool. The District Theater (7430 Monterey St; 408.767.2775) books live bands, DJs and comedians. Adding food to the mix is upscale newcomer Tempo Kitchen & Bar (7560 Monterey St; 408.855.1111), serving up Gilroy Garlic Flatbread and more to accompany melodically named cocktails like Smoke on the Water and Purple Haze. Monterey Street is set to get more crowded with the arrival of more than five new breweries and taprooms. Settle Down Beer (7515 Monterey St) is close to opening in one one of the many buildings along the corridor that has undergone seismic retrofits. And though its opening date is still fluid, Pour Me Taproom (7499 Monterey Rd; 408.440.6481) is already posting regularly on social media and soon will be introducing Gilroyans to “the best locally sourced beers from some of the most amazing craft breweries you might have never heard of.” These brewing developments should help to draw locals and tourists alike to Gilroy’s Gourmet Alley, which stretches from Third to Seventh streets. —Sharan Street

Best Place to Impress a Vegan Date


855 El Camino Real, Palo Alto

408.781.0112 |

When it comes to cuisine, why can’t vegans around here have nice things? There’s no denying that up ’til now, the best outposts for vegan eating in Silicon Valley have been cool hole-in-the-wall spots—which is all well and good, except that vegans like fine dining, too. Thankfully, after three years of success in San Francisco, the people behind Wildseed opened a restaurant in March at Palo Alto’s Town and Country Village shopping center (in the space previously occupied by Mayfield Bakery and Café). Everything from the flatbreads to the burgers to the meatballs (er, neatballs) is 100% plant-based, and the menu is a mix of delicious, complex flavors from around the world. Whether it’s the mushroom-subbing ceviche, the savory albondigas, or the mezze plate featuring a collection of mouth-watering Mediterranean delights, Wildseed is a sublime dining experience whether you’re vegan or not. —Steve Palopoli

Best Place to Break Bread (Not the Bank)

Manresa Bread

Manresa Bread

Locations in Los Gatos, Los Altos, Campbell, Palo Alto and Santa Cruz.

As of Dec. 31, celebrated chef David Kinch will no longer be at the helm of Manresa—perhaps a moot point for those average Janes who can’t throw down black cards at his triple Michelin-starred Los Gatos restaurant. But Kinch’s empire is very much alive, including the far more affordable Manresa Bread, which he operates with head baker Avery Ruzicka. Founded in 2015, the bakery has expanded its footprint this year, opening in June at Palo Alto’s Town & Country Village and a new and larger location in Los Gatos on Oct. 27. Located at 40 N. Santa Cruz Ave, the 1,400-square-foot flagship is an all-day café with indoor and outdoor seating, In addition to Ruzicka’s house-milled sourdough breads and laminated pastries, Manresa serves up epic lunch fare: pretzel ham and cheese croissant, salmon toast (topped by a mountain of curly frisee) and the obligatory avocado toast (similarly heaped with greens). And outside of Silicon Valley, its baked goods can be ordered nationwide through Locale, a Los Gatos–based food-delivery service. —Sharan Street

Best All-Day Meal Deal

La Victoria Taqueria Orange Sauce. Photo Credit: Greg Ramar

La Victoria Taqueria

Multiple locations

Efforts to crowdsource the perfect South Bay burrito—slightly crunchy on the outside, majorly juicy on the inside, packing a punch of flavor and freshness inside its foil wrapper—often end up with the same answer: La Victoria Taquería. Back in 1998, students at San Jose State knew the chain as La Vic’s. Today, what started as a humble family business targeting undergrads has conquered the city, with five locations in San Jose and one in Hayward (a brand-new, larger venue that opened in April). Online ordering is also an option, but doing so forgoes the all-important experience of choosing a favorite location. Mid-century Mexico City, where mirrored walls, peach hues, high tables and open floorplans? Or a renovated Victorian home? Checkered floor, or soothing wood? These questions matter when discussing one’s connection to this beloved South Bay institution. Of course, the meat of the matter is the food itself. With extremely reasonable prices and hours at most locations stretching from 7am to 3am, it’s feasible to eat breakfast, lunch, dinner and midnight snack there. Every single meal must be drenched in the Famous Orange Sauce, a chipotle sauce with top-secret ingredients that is, perhaps, the ultimate taste of San Jose. —Addie Mahmassani


 Rosicrucian Park transports visitors of all ages to another place and time. Photo Credit: Greg Ramar

Best Magical Mystery Tour

Rosicrucian Park

1660 Park Ave, San Jose

There are five acres of ancient Egypt to explore in the heart of San Jose. Whether one wanders in by the Planetarium off Park Avenue, the Grand Temple off Randol or the Peace Garden on Chapman Street, the Rosicrucian Park—which surrounds the buildings of the famous Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum and the headquarters of the Rosicrucian Order—is sure to stir one’s sense of the mystical. While the museum’s hours are limited to the weekend, the park is free and open daily from 8am until sunset. Variety makes this park special. Deep within, kids can find plenty of themed fun, including a life-size version of an ancient board game called senet. Adults will enjoy the sheer tranquility, with a labyrinth surrounded by Mesopotamian grasses and a central fountain encouraging meditation. Plant lovers delight in just how many species thrive in the park, from star jasmine to papyrus to olives to dwarf pomegranates. Architects, meanwhile, have the rare chance to gaze skyward toward Moorish archways, multicolored columns, elaborate tile-work and dynamic statuary. Near the ornate planetarium, look out for a certain someone whose theorem many of us have locked deep in our psyches. In the spirit of the Sphinx, here’s a hint: He’s holding a triangle. —Addie Mahmassani 

Best Beauty Spot

Municipal Rose Garden

Dana and Naglee avenues, San Jose

408.794.7275 |

A tiered fountain’s waters plume and fall peacefully as a drum circle beats on in the distance. Couples nestle in nooks of pastel blooms. Soothing lines of sunlit rose bushes stretch on and on—for 5.5 acres, to be exact. This is San Jose’s Municipal Rose Garden, a botanical gem and the perfect place to slow down, regroup and—it must be said—stop and smell the roses. The Rose Garden’s official groundbreaking was in 1931. Once a prune orchard, today it specializes in one thing and one thing only. The grassy lawn features more 4,000 bushes and 189 rose varieties, including new hybrids that the All American Rose Selections organization tests at the garden before releasing to the public. At every turn, a new shade steals the show: variegated white and pink, bold red, deep violet, and a yellow that can only be described as that of Belle’s ball gown in Beauty and the Beast. A detailed map provides official names: Gold Struck, Moondance, Pink Flamingo and scores more. Elegant, slightly whimsical and unfurling in majestic waves throughout the year, these roses are creatures to be cherished. What is sweeter than finding in a simple rose all you need to keep going? —Addie Mahmassani


Best Test For a First Date

Recycle Books

1066 The Alameda, San Jose

408.286.6275 |

During these recessionary times, bankrolling a first date can be pricey. And then it’s hard to tell if future investment is warranted. Why not cut straight to the chase and meet up at Recycle Books? Think of this fabled store as an enormous magnifying glass. One visit gives a detailed look at a potential partner’s sensibilities. Once over the threshold , there is no wrong way to go. The store’s wildly eclectic subsections flow seamlessly from Military to Cooking to Unexplained to Australiana.. How one browses these shelves is telling. Does this companion sit on one of the creaky wood chairs, immersed in a photographic mini-guide of Scottish clans and their tartans? Or head straight for the Toxic section in the store’s furthest corner? Will one of the two shop cats, Ender and Emma, curl up nearby, purring of good things to come? No matter what happens, owner Eric Johnson is always bringing in new waves of rare and used books to create endless combinations and permutations. Those who don’t leave with something are either deeply broke (understandable) or deeply disinterested in the world (a sign to move on). —Addie Mahmassani


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music in the park san jose
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