In Northern California’s most populous county, shopping experiences abound. The entire spectrum of the retail experience can be found here.
In addition to Northern California’s larger indoor shopping emporium—the Great Mall in Milpitas—other monuments to consumerism blanket the county: outdoor shopping experiences like Santana Row, and quaint shops in downtown Campbell, Los Gatos and Sunnyvale, or in distinctive neighborhoods like Willow Glen and Japantown. Plus, of course, innumerable strip malls from north to south, which hold some hidden gems of their own.
But in this modest holiday gift guide, we’re focusing on one thing: ideas that will help Santa Clara Valley’s creative community—artists, actors, musicians, craftspeople, culinary geniuses. Spending money locally allows us to share the pleasure we get from independent businesses with our friends and families, while also helping out the local economy and ensuring that we can continue to enjoy our local treasures. Below are just a few ideas. But we know that every denizen of Silicon Valley can come up with a list of their own. And the next step is figuring out a creative way to share these valley delights with loved ones.
A Play’s the Thing
The South Bay is blessed with a vital and active live theater scene. Did you know, for example, that Charles Martinet, voice of Mario in every Mario video game since Super Mario 64, got his start acting in downtown San Jose? With City Lights, Tabard, the Stage and San Jose Playhouse, downtown has a wealth of exciting theater companies offering season passes. Up the peninsula, the Pear in Mountain View, Los Altos Stage Company and Palo Alto Players all offer subscription deals as well. Though it’s one of the more expensive items on this list, with most starting around $115, this gift is many nights out in one. (MH)
A Gift From the Art
At the San Jose Museum of Art things are always changing. In 2022 alone, the palm-flanked downtown gallery has featured exhibits of environmental justice, augmented reality, sound collage and a 23-foot tall bronze depiction of Karma (and right now the museum offers a look at the new film installation from Ho-Chunk Nation artist Sky Hopinka). Memberships are only $50—these days the price of a single meal—meaning new art can be accessible all year round for the art lover in your life at an affordable price. 10 S Market St, San Jose | sjmusart.org (MH)
Whether you’ve got a budding viral TikTok star in your life or just someone who needs to loosen up a bit, a little dancing goes a long way. Music, after all, is the heartbeat of life—and you can’t just whip and nae nae like it’s 2015 forever. One place to start is The Get Down, located in San Jose’s Japantown. The Get Down makes moving to modern rhythms fun and easy with classes for youth and adults of all levels, ranging from popping to salsa, hip hop to waacking. Options available for 1-4 classes per week. They may not go viral, but they’ll have a good time. 198 Jackson St, San Jose | getdowndancestudios.com, (MH)
The Shirts on Our Backs
What could be more local than a shirt emblazoned with the logo of San Jose’s classic Alma Bowl—complete with glow-in-the-dark white highlights? Or, for something more seasonal, VMGC Designs offers a Christmas sweater with Baby Yoda as the central image. Locals Vanessa and Lawrence (pictured on the cover) can be found vending their wares at local markets, including the SJMade Holiday Qmunity District events, First Fridays in downtown San Jose, the Tully Night Market, and the Vendor Village at Music in the Park. Follow them on Instagram (vmgc_designs) or email [email protected]. (SS)
It’s My Gift in a Box!
Shawn Parola has been the Queen Bee of San Jose’s All the Buzz gift-basket company for almost 20 years. They make gift baskets for every occasion, but it’s safe to say holidays are their specialty. With almost three dozen holiday packages—from “Snow Season” to “California Treat Box” to “Very Vegan Variety” and on—you can find all the thematic groupings of delectable treats you could possibly need. You can pick up orders at their hive, or have them deliver in Santa Clara County for a fee. 4605 San Felipe Road, San Jose | 408.504.3703. allthebuzzgifts.com. (SP)
Put Your Money Where Your Mouth’s Been
The valley’s most resourceful restaurateurs made it through the pandemic. Now they’re getting hit with another one-two punch: rising costs for raw materials and crippling labor shortages. Purchasing a gift certificate from a favorite eatery not only helps out a hard-working business owner—it also gives recipients something they truly need: not only sustenance but also a night out on the town, with no sticker shock at the end of the meal. (SS)
Why stop at feeding just one couple? A dinner party for one’s closest friends is a gift not only for the guests but also for the host, who gets to feast not only on the food but also on the gratitude of the assembled masses. What to order? Again, look to those local restaurants who kept the lights on during the pandemic. Take, for instance, the team at Scott’s Seafood. The Bay Area restaurateurs had to be flexible during the pandemic, serving food outdoors and via delivery services—such as its Pick-Up Parties. Hosts can preorder meals up to just a day before their gathering. For those who have many friends, there’s also the Scott’s Food Truck, serving chowders, crab and lobster rolls, salmon BLT grilled cheese and more. Learn more at ScottsChowderHouse.com. (SS)
Start Spreading the Brews
San Jose has no shortage of great roasters and esteemed purveyors of The Bean. A bag of the good stuff from any of these places would make a great gift, but the subscription service offered by downtown cafe Academic Coffee, however, presents an ideal option for a recurring one. The highly customizable subscriptions (starting at $14) allow for monthly or bimonthly pickup of a variety of well-loved roasts in various sizes, all to perfectly suit the needs of the bean fiend in your life. 499 S Second St, San Jose 95113 | academiccoffee.com. (MH)
I Get High Tea With a Little Help From My Friends
Palo Alto’s Tea Time—long one of the top spots in Silicon Valley for quality, affordable loose-leaf tea—really stepped up their tea-service game this year, and you can either get a gift certificate to give your loved ones an afternoon tea experience along the gorgeous parklet-friendly stretch of Ramona Street in Palo Alto, or just take them yourself! Along with pots of your favorite teas, you’ll get a selection of tea sandwiches, savory tartlets, scones, mini-desserts and more. 542 Ramona St, Palo Alto | 650.328.2877 | tea-time.com. (SP)
Looking for something more festive and kid-friendly? Two words: Holy Cannoli! Indeed, chef Jamie Whitmire’s catering business serves up cannoli in a palate-pleasing variety of flavors. Grand Mariner, Kahlua with espresso bean, Nutella—and at least a dozen others, as well as a cannoli kit for ambitious party planners who want to make a dozen at home.
But there’s much more than the namesake Italian pastry. Menus cover Italian and American fare, BBQ, salads and snacks. But most ingenious is the Kids menu, with culinary creations to tickle the pickiest child: chicken nuggets, sliders, tater tots, mini burgers, corn dog bites, fish sticks—plus some veggies to stifle parental guilt. 138 E Santa Clara St, San Jose | 408.561.2223 | holycannolisj.com. (SS)
Laughs on Track
The many lives of Whose Line Is It Anyway? have each had their high points and stars. The rapid-fire improv comedy show began on BBC Radio 4 in 1988 before making waves on British television. In the late ’90s, it came to American homes via ABC, where its quick wit and congenial performers made it a perennial comedy favorite. Now a traveling improv troupe featuring half the ABC era performers, Whose Live Anyway? comes to the San Jose CPA on Feb. 17. The gift of a ticket ($39+) is sure to entertain the family comedian. (MH)
Take Back the Big Screen
Remember movies? Leaving the house to share a cinematic experience with other people? Laughing or weeping with the crowd while inhaling buttered popcorn? In addition to its many multiplexes, Silicon Valley has locally owned movie houses that will happily sell gift cards to entice cinephiles away from their streaming services—at least for a night. The Pruneyard in Campbell, which offers both dinner and a movie, sells gift cards online—and they can be either delivered virtually via email or physically mailed to the recipient. And locally owned chain Cinelux Entertainment—with theaters in Campbell, Gilroy, Los Gatos, Morgan Hill and San Jose—offers gift cards in $5 increments from $10 to $100 that are valid at the box office, concession stand and for food and drinks. (SS)
The Gifting of the Heart’s Delight
One of Santa Clara County’s last remaining urban farms has a number of ways to help you go farm-to-gift-list this year. J&P Cosentino Family Farm’s holiday crates ($55-$85) are back, packed to bursting with a variety of fresh fruit like apples, pears and citrus, as well as their homemade farm kitchen items like chocolate-dipped apricots, farm honey, apple butter and more. They also have gift packs ($40) of their many pickled treats (pickled carrots and fresno chili, pickled fennel and orange, pickled radish, etc.). And if you really want to get in the holiday spirit, they’re doing a pop-up on Nov. 26, that will feature real roasted chestnuts. 4977 Carter Ave, San Jose | cosentinofamilyfarm.com. (SP)
Who Needs Napa?It’s no secret that Santa Clara Valley is wine country—a bona fide American Viticultural Area. Dozens of wineries stretch from the Peninsula to South County’s foothills. Many of these small producers offer wine club memberships—but which ones to choose? The gift of a Wine Trail Pass ($90) provides the recipient with one-time tastings at 30 different wineries (most are in South County, and the pass is good for a year). This gift provides some taste sensations and is also a way to leave the urban jungle and appreciate the region’s agricultural roots. (SS) santaclarawines.com