with Christina Pfeiffer
California's third-largest city offers a unique blend of old and new, with Spanish architecture and Victorian oddities sitting side by side with futuristic museums and chic shopping malls.
1. Technology museums Because the area around San Jose has the highest concentration of hi-tech companies in the United States, a visit to a technology museum should be at the top of your list. At the Tech Museum of Innovation (www.thetech.org) you can view the world through webcams or try your hand at virtual arm wrestling. This museum has an Imax Dome cinema and more than 250 interactive exhibits in five themed galleries. The Computer History Museum (www.computerhistory.org) has the world's largest collection of historical computing items. And don't forget the Intel Museum (www.intel.com/museum) for a peep into the microprocessor giant's world of cutting-edge technology and silicon-chip making. Admission is free and audio tour handsets are provided.
2. Blast into space Interested in becoming an astronaut? Ever wanted to touch an original Mercury capsule? Visit the Nasa Ames Research Centre (www.arc.nasa.gov) to find out about the latest innovations in space exploration. One of several Nasa research centres in the US, Nasa Ames focuses on aeronautics, Earth sciences, computational field dynamics and robotics. Learn about Nasa's past and future missions through exhibits, displays, lectures and events. The full-sized reproduction of space laboratory Destiny illustrates the environment in which astronauts live and work. Forthcoming activities and displays are centred on the November 2008 launch of the Kepler Mission, which will search for Earth-like planets around distant stars.
3. Unfinished mansion The Winchester Mystery House is a bizarre 160-room Victorian mansion, which has doors that open into walls and staircases that lead to ceilings. The unconventional heiress to the Winchester rifles fortune, Sarah Winchester, was told by a fortune teller that she would live as long as she continued to build her home. She took this prediction to heart and continually extended her mansion for 38 years. Pop into the Winchester Firearms Museum and the Antique Products Museum to see displays of Winchester guns and family antiques. Guided mansion tours are available daily. See www.winchestermysteryhouse.com.
4. Egyptian wonders Heart scarabs, cartouches, mummies and a re-created underground tomb are some of the wonders on show at the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum and Planetarium (www.egyptianmuseum.org). Founded in the 1920s by the Rosicrucian Order, whose headquarters were in San Jose, the museum houses North America's largest collection of ancient Egyptian artefacts. Set in a quiet tree-lined residential district, it has more than 3,000 objects, including a rare mummy of a girl from the Roman-Egyptian period.
5. Santana Row Shopaholics could go berserk in this chic designer precinct. Santana Row (www.santanarow.com) is lined with upmarket international and North American brand-name stores such as Gucci, Salvatore Ferragamo, Ted Baker and Anthropologie. There's generally a buzz in the air, with plenty of alfresco eateries packed with locals.
6. Technology shopping One of the must-dos when visiting San Jose is to wander through the aisles of a Fry's Electronics warehouse. A techno-geek's heaven, the warehouses are packed with rows of the latest gadgets, electronic equipment, DVDs and software designed by local, Silicon Valley programmers. You'll find an out-of-the-box software program for everything from learning how to play music by ear to designing comic strips. See www.frys.com.
7. Japantown Nibble on sushi, sip green tea at a tea house, take the self-guided historical walking tour or just wander around the shops and soak up the atmosphere. Japantown took root when droves of single Japanese men flocked to California during the early 1900s to find work in fruit orchards. This historic area is one of the last three Japanese-American neighbourhoods in the US (most vanished after the second world war). Sunday morning is a good time to visit because of the farmers' market, which abounds with fresh produce and baked goods. Visit www.japantownsanjose.org.
8. Plaza de Cesar Chavez When the Spanish colonised the Americas, San Jose (founded in 1777) was the first town of the Nueva California colony. Established in 1797, when the city moved from the bank of the Guadalupe River to its current location, Plaza de Cesar Chavez is California's oldest public plaza. It's a small patch of green in the city centre that is often a venue for festivals and live music. On one side of the plaza is the San Jose Museum of Art (below; www.sjmusart.org), one of California's leading visual-arts institutions. Next to it is the five-star Fairmont Hotel (www.fairmont.com/sanjose), a popular wedding venue. Because San Jose attracts technology brains from all over the world, it is not unusual to find multicultural wedding parties across the plaza. At one end of the plaza is the Quetzalcoatl (plumed serpent) statue and nearby is the striking Cathedral Basilica of St Joseph, a landmark listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
9. California Highway One This scenic route hugs the Californian coastline. It's a classic drive, with sweeping ocean views and charming seaside towns. Stop at the Monterey Bay Aquarium (www.mbayaq.org) and brush up on the eco-systems of the area. Permanent exhibits include an eye-catching floor-to-ceiling glass display with tuna, sharks, barracuda, sea turtles and stingrays. There is also a fascinating jellyfish gallery, a three-storey kelp forest and an octopus gallery. Follow the coast along 17-Mile Drive to Carmel-by-the-Sea. Clint Eastwood's old stamping ground (Eastwood was the mayor of Carmel from 1986 to 1988) is filled with art galleries, boutiques and novelty shops.
10. Taste a top drop Meander through the Santa Clara Valley and the Santa Cruz Mountains, and stop at local wineries to sample the produce. Known for its chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, merlot and zinfandel, the area has some of California's oldest vineyards. Wineries such as J. Lohr, Bargetto, Testarossa and Byington lead the list.