Santa Clara is a city about an hour south of San Francisco that is the heart of Silicon Valley. The city is also about become the home of the San Francisco 49ers when the team moves there in 2014 to play in a new stadium still under construction. It’s a big move for the team in terms of where they play their games, but the stadium is on the site of their existing corporate offices and practice facilities, so they’re no strangers to the area. I like visiting Santa Clara, it’s a progressive, clean city and although very business-focused, there are still a lot of fun things for a visitor to see and do.
What to do
Santa Clara is the heart of Silicon Valley, so a visit the Intel Museum (2200 Mission College Blvd., Santa Clara) is a perfect way to spend an afternoon. It’s fascinating for kids and adults and illustrates the process by which raw materials are turned into silicon chips, which then power our smart phones, video games and most other products. The museum also traces the history of computers and has a lot of hands-on exhibits. The Intel Museum is open Monday – Friday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free.
For amusement park fun, California’s Great America (4701 Great America Parkway, Santa Clara) provides a mix of classic rides like an enormous wooden roller coaster along with a huge range of today’s looping, hanging and all types of thrill rides. The park closes for the winter, but they do feature an event called Global Winter Wonderland during that time. Opening date is usually the end of March and the park closes for the season at the end of October. Daily tickets start at $45.99 and season passes start at $57.99 per person.
The Triton Museum of Art (1505 Warburton Ave., Santa Clara) is unique in that it presents the work of local artists, along with regional and national artists. The exhibitions change frequently and are free. There is also an emphasis on education with many programs and seminars offered. The museum is closed on Monday and open 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. other days.
North of Santa Clara is the NASA Ames Exploration Center (Moffet Field, off the 101 freeway north of Santa Clara) at the main gate of NASA’s Ames Research Center. It’s a cool place to see how all the computer technology developed in this area lead to actual physical accomplishments, like space travel. There’s a real moon rock, spacecraft displays and other interesting things to see and do. There is no admission charge and the NASA Ames Exploration Center is open Tuesday – Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and noon to 4 p.m. on weekends.
Where to stay
Directly across the street from the new stadium and California’s Great America, the Santa Clara Marriott (2700 Mission College Blvd., Santa Clara) provides a good mix of luxury, convenience and value. The hotel is a good bargain, with rates starting at $109 per night. We had some great meals at Parcel 104, the restaurant in the hotel, which features locally sourced ingredients and really inventive, delicious dishes.
Where to eat
I love the Black Bear Diner in Milpitas (174 West Calaveras Blvd.). Sure it’s filled with hokey bits of kitsch and has a goofy deep woods theme, but it has two things I look for in a restaurant: caring, attentive servers and great food. I eat here every time I’m in Northern California and look for them when I’m traveling in the Northwest, they have 55 locations in nine states. I like their “Little Less Dinner” options, same great food, but smaller portions and smaller prices (most under $10). The tri-tip dinner is amazing, so is the bacon-wrapped stuffed chicken. For a nice big meal, I go with the hot turkey dinner.
Freddy Sherman is a world traveler and editor of the travel blog travel4people.com. You can follow him on Twitter @thefredsherman.
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