IN my old-fashioned thinking the major cities of California have been San Francisco (No. 1 for tourists), Los Angeles (the biggest) and San Diego (for sub-tropical climate and the Navy).
San Joses Tech Museum
is worth a visit
Now San Jose is nudging into the list.
Its downtown skyline is unimpressive but its population is counted as bigger than that of San Francisco, 50 miles to the north.
It is the unofficial capital of Silicon Valley, the booming high-tech center of Western America.
Its newspaper, the San Jose Mercury News, is rated sixth best in the nation by USA Today founder Al Neuharth. He put it right behind the leading papers of New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Chicago and Washington, D.C., on a Top 10 list, with both San Francisco papers omitted.
One thing San Jose has lacked, but now is pushing for, is strong tourist attractions.
Its downtown hotel count is small compared to other major cities. Waikiki dwarfs it. The key four in San Jose's pleasantly open downtown are Hilton, Hyatt, Crowne Plaza and Fairmount. More are likely to rise under the glide path of planes sweeping in to land at San Jose airport.
The city's newest draw -- and it's worth at least half a day of your time, particularly if the kids are along -- is the Tech Museum of Innovation, an eye-popping best-in-America introduction to the wonders wrought by the silicon chips of Silicon Valley.
It opened in mid-town San Jose last November, close by the San Jose Convention Center and the four hotels I mentioned.
Hands-on demonstrations are supposed to be within the mental reach of today's 9-year-olds but stretch the minds of anyone:
Make a micro-chip. Enlarge it. Shrink it. Pilot a robotic submarine. Simulate space travel. Enter the information explosion. Create a multimedia video. Ride a roller coaster you design.
Make your 3-D portrait. Ride an Olympic bobsled. See your bones by ultrasound. Check out the latest DNA research. Go to the IMAX theater, currently featuring the "The Living Sea," which enables the viewer to feel like a participant in a swim with whales, surfing in Hawaii or a Coast Guard rescue.
San Jose's official visitor guide tends to give equal billing to the Tech, which is the latest in adobe design, and the city's oldest adobe structure, the tiny Peralta Adobe, built 200 years ago and touted as a legacy of San Jose's Spanish influence.
The Peralta adobe has limited visiting hours and is unlikely to be worth much time. Give that time to the Tech, or an assortment of other museums and attractions.
Ninety miles south of San Jose is the Monterey-Carmel area, twinned with San Francisco as one of California's two top visitor destinations for the charm of the one-square-mile artists' colony at Carmel-by-the-Sea, the 17-mile drive by Pebble Beach golf course and residences, and the fishing community and world-famous aquarium at Monterey.
Silicon Valley and San Jose lead all of California in high-tech business vitality. With its wealth San Jose now is nudging into the tourist picture. A public-private partnership raised $96 million to build The Tech and will spend $11 million a year to operate it.
A.A. Smyser is the contributing editor
and former editor of the the Star-Bulletin
His column runs Tuesday and Thursday.