It would be easy to assume that the place to be after dark in San Jose is downtown which does have plenty of things to do after sunset, but locals know that another neighborhood worth visiting is Santana Row. Nightlife in Santana Row is not about the clubbing so much as the restaurant and bar scene. It is an area where the lively conversation and good food spills out into the sidewalks and outdoor patios.
Santana Row is a multi-use development where you can live, stay, eat, drink and shop. I had at least one friend who disliked Santana Row as being “artificial” but I think a better word for it is “intentional”. It was designed to be like a European piazza… and it worked. There are public spaces that invite you to take a stroll after your dinner, a passeggiata if you will.
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Restaurants have come and gone from Santana Row over the years, but as of this writing there are 37 different places to eat or drink in Santana Row. On the inexpensive end there are places like Ikes Sandwiches, Dumpling Time and The Counter. There are date restaurants like Yard House, Maggiano’s, Left Bank and Zazil. And for the special occasions there are splurge restaurants like Fogo de Chão and Oveja Negra (at Hotel Valencia, see below).
There are more restaurants across the street at Westfield Valley Fair like Din Tai Fung and Cheesecake Factory.
Most but not all the restaurants are setup for outdoor dining, with Yard House being an exception.
Left Bank Brasserie
One of my longtime favorites in Santana Row is Left Bank which is a French Restaurant. Whether you are ordering French classic dishes like escargot, bouillabaisse, and Beef Bourguignon or a hamburger and pomme frites you will encounter good service and well-prepared food. Upgrade your fries to truffle fries and don’t fill up on the bread as you will want to leave room for dessert.
Maggiano’s is a chain restaurant but does a decent pasta dinner. They have specials that include taking home another serving of pasta for an addition meal for an additional $5 or so.
Best thing on the menu is the great apple pie like dessert an Apple Crostada. Take home half your dinner in a to go box to leave room for one of these. Go with someone worth sharing a dessert with.
The center strip in the southern most block of Santana Row is all about the beverages. At the north end is Blue Bottle Coffee, in the middle is Vintage Wine Bar and at the south end is El Jardin Tequila Bar.
Vintage Wine Bar
Vintage Wine Bar is a great place to stop for a glass of wine, a bottle or a 3 glass flight. The front door looks like an old Italian chapel. Most of the seating is outside. They have 9 different wine flights that you can try.
We enjoyed the Wideworld of Reds which included:
- 2019 San Giusto a Rentennano Chianti Classico
- 2020 Baudry-Dutour Chinon
- 2016 Finca La Capilla Ribera del Duero
They also have an extensive whiskey list if wine is not your thing or a wine club if it is.
The phrase at the bottom of their menu is “Dis moi ce que du bois, je te dirais que tu es!” or in English “Tell me what you drink and I will tell you who you are!”
El Jardin is the largest of the bars in Santana Row. It has expanded across Olsen Dr recently to the block where the new office building is in Santana Row and the CinéArts Santana Row theatre. It offers tequila and other drinks along with $6 street tacos and a selection of other traditional Mexican dishes. I think every time I have walked by El Jardin in the evening there as been a line to get in.
VBar is in Hotel Valencia on the 3rd floor just off the lobby. This is definitely a cool “see and be seen” kind of bar. I think it is safe to say that I have never been cool enough to fit in at this ultra-modern bar with a state-of-the-art sound system. The crowd here is young and upwardly mobile. When it gets too cold outside, this can be your last stop before you go home, or better yet head up to your hotel room.
Checkout the event schedule for Santana Row for the events that they seem to hold every week. Events include craft fairs like the one above, Sip & Stroll events and a weekly kids club. We started out our “evening” at 3pm at check-in time for Hotel Valencia then went out and did some craft shopping before dinner and drinks.
Santana Row has 65 different stores where you can shop. A number of these are upscale fashion stores like H&M, Tommy Bahama, Madewell, and Scotch & Soda (yes it is a clothing store). There is also a Tesla Dealership, Best Buy, Warby Parker,
Crate and Barrel, and a Container Store. As I write this the last bookstore will close this week. Ironically it is an Amazon brick and mortar store which I can only assume was driven out of business by… Amazon.
Some of my favorite stores include Makers Market which has handcrafted products and Paper Source which has handmade papers from around the world.
There are another 200+ stores across the street at Westfield Valley Fair including an Apple Store, Macys, Bloomingdales, and Nordstrom. If you are looking for a San Jose shopping weekend, you have come to the right place.
If you plan on staying at the Hotel Valencia, look into their “Keep It Local Package” which will give you a $25 Santana Row Gift Card with your stay. Granted that won’t go that far in purchasing a Tesla, but every little bit helps.
Santana Row has a 6 screen theatre at CineArts Santana Row. Like the rest of Santana Row this theatre is a bit more upscale compared to my local neighborhood cinema. The seats all have seat heaters, reclining “Luxury Loungers” and reserve seating.
There are also 10 more screens across the road at Valley Fair at the ShowPlace ICON Theatres.
If you are in the area for a weekend stay, the famous Winchester Mystery House is right across Winchester Avenue from Santana Row and is worth a visit.
And don’t dismiss playing a nice game of chess just north of El Jardin.
Santana Row Hotel – Hotel Valencia
Santana Row has 622 apartments but unless you know a friend there, the only option for staying in the area is the Hotel Valencia. Hotel Valencia also happens to be one of the best hotels in the San Jose area. That isn’t just my opinion.
- 2022 “#1 Hotel in San Jose” – U.S. News & World Report
- 2019 “Readers’ Choice Award” – Conde Nast Traveler
- 2019 “One of the Top 100 Hotels in the World for Business Travelers” – Expedia
Hotel Valencia is a Boutique Hotel with 215 guest rooms, two restaurants (one currently closed for COVID), a very hip bar and a rooftop wine bar in the summer months.
Deluxe King Room
We stayed in a Deluxe King Room comparable in size with our first apartment. This was a sponsored stay (Hotel Valencia paid for it). The hotel starts on the 3rd floor and extends to the 7th floor. We had a 6th floor room with a balcony overlooking Santana Row.
Remember that the reason you came to Santana Row was for the nightlife, so don’t expect things to quiet down outside at 8:30 pm. So plan on staying out late yourself or people watching from your balcony.
The bathroom of the Deluxe King Room is particularly good for people with claustrophobia as you could probably use this room as a racketball court with minimum reconfiguration. It has a large shower and tub as well as a toilet in a separate room. The towels are those nice substantial towels from the life I want to become accustomed to.
Hotel Valencia offers a rooftop pool and hot tub on the 5th floor at the front of the hotel as well as a well equipped fitness center with weight machines, free weights, treadmills and elliptical machines. The fitness center is open 24/7.
The hotel has 4,000 square feet of meeting and event space, mostly located on the 3rd floor near the VBar.
Oveja Negra Restaurant
The newest restaurant at Hotel Valencia is Oveja Negra which opened in 2017. It is Spanish Tapas with attitude. The name of the restaurant translates to “Black Sheep” and the restaurant bills its menu as “unruly tapas.”
The menu for Oveja Negra features “from the land, from the garden and from the sea”. We tried a bit of each:
We started with a Lola Rosa Salad with bay bleu cheese, grapes, candied hazel nuts, and a sherry hazelnut vinaigrette. While we loved everything we ordered, this was our favorite dish.
We continued with the black truffle pasta which was as delicious as that sounds. Yum.
My wife and I headed in different directions for the next dishes. She ordered the Lobster Arancini’s which was lobster balls served with which corn, manchego cheese and pimenton aioli. She thought it was delicious, although she questioned the pairing of lobster and corn.
I had the signature braised beef cheeks with potato puree, seasonal mushrooms and a red wine reduction. This was one of those dishes where the beef was so tender that no knife was needed to eat it.
Hotel Valencia has a popular rooftop bar on the 7th floor which is open in the warmer months. This is the bar that is my scene, but sadly we visited in March and the bar won’t open again until May. But on a summer evening in San Jose, this is a great place to wind down your evening with friends or loved ones. Cielo is smoke-free. It can be rented out for private parties.
During COVID Hotel Valencia closed the 3rd floor Terrace on Santana Row which is a wine bar where you can enjoy al fresco cocktails and small plates. This area was repurposed to add outdoor dining for Oveja Negra. I expect Oveja Negra to move fully indoor again sometime in the future and Terrace to return, but no date is set for that transition.
While there is still a full-breakfast menu and room service available, the other COVID change was that the hotel offers a free grab and go breakfast menu of fresh fruit, oatmeal, yoghurt and pastries. You can take it back to your room or eat it out on the terrace.
Valet Parking is available for Hotel Valencia for $35 a night, but you can also self-park for free in one of Santana Row’s lots or garages. You will need to pick up a parking pass to put on your dash so that you can leave the car there over night.
Santana Row Frequently asked questions
Where is Santana Row located?
Santana Row is west of downtown San Jose just off Highways 280 and 880 at Winchester and Stevens Creek. It is just across the street from the large Westfield Valley Fair shopping mall.
Is there free parking at Santana Row?
Santana Row has a total of 3,516 free parking spaces. It has large parking lots on its east side and two large parking garages on this west (Winchester) side. Valley Fair has recently started charging for parking so many people are parking at Santana Row and walking across the street so it might be easier to find parking further south away from Stevens Creek and Valley Fair.
Are there hotels at Santana Row?
The only hotel at Santana Row is the Hotel Valencia which I reviewed above. The nearest other hotel would be about a mile away.
When was Santana Row built?
The 42 acre site that is Santana Row used to be just another 1950s “shopping village” called Town and Country Village. It was mostly single story buildings with tile roofs. There were other Town and Country Villages in the area including Palo Alto and Sunnyvale
Starting in 2001, the Santana Row developers redeveloped this area as a mixed use luxury focused residential, shopping and dining development. Their goal was to make a “village within a city”. During construction one of the largest buildings caught fire in the largest structure fire in San Jose’s history.
Why is it called Santana Row?
Santana Row and nearby Frank M. Santana Park are both named after Frank M. Santana who was a member of San Jose’s planning commission in the 1950s.
The last time we were at Santana Row, my wife commented that everyone just seemed to be having a lot of fun. My hats off to the developers of Santana Row for creating an intentional community space. The more we go, the more we want to go back. We still have a few of the 37 restaurants yet to explore.