Team San Jose
Instead of San Francisco, Napa, and Sonoma, venture off the beaten path to San Jose and discover small family-owned wineries and world-class restaurants. San Jose is more than Silicon Valley – it’s the Bay Area’s most underrated vacation destination. Between shopping on Santana Row, Michelin-starred dishes, luxury resorts, and boutique wineries, there’s plenty to please the discerning palate.
Team San Jose
The Santa Cruz Mountains AVA is large and covers more than 400,000 acres in the counties of San Mateo, Santa Clara, and Santa Cruz. Most of the 100+ wineries here are open to the public, though some gems like the Kathryn Kennedy Winery and Mount Eden Vineyards don’t have tasting rooms. To appreciate all that the region has to offer, start with Ridge Vineyards, the largest producer in the Santa Cruz Mountains with roughly 80,000 boxes a year. Ridges Monte Bello from 1971 won the Paris 30th Anniversary repeat tasting. This not only makes it one of the best wines in California – according to experts, it is the best in the world.
Right in front of Ridge’s tasting barn are a few acres of gnarled old vines that were planted in 1949. Head up the hill for some of the best views of San Jose, including the Lick Observatory and Apple’s ring-shaped new headquarters, which from a distance resembles a giant sports arena. Sample rare field blend wines along with crispy Burgundian-style Chardonnay and Bordeaux-style Cabernet. Ridge Zinfandel is excellent too – I remember being blown away by the earthy blackberry fruit paired with wagyu, cauliflower, and bluefoot mushrooms at Sixteen in Chicago.
Besides Ridge, one of my favorite wineries is the Testarossa winery in Los Gatos. The shaded terrace is a great place to enjoy wine and cheese. Thomas Fogarty offers informative walking tours through vineyards, followed by a guided tasting. The dog-friendly Sycamore Creek Vineyards welcome visitors to bring their own picnic and play bocce on one of the eight courts. In spring and summer, they host food truck and wood-fired pizza evenings with live music to pair with their Viognier and Estate Cabernet.
Without a doubt, Manresa is the restaurant in the San Jose area that has gained the most international recognition. It was awarded a third Michelin star in 2016 and is regularly on the list of the 100 best restaurants in the world in San Pellegrino. Some of Chef David Kinch’s trademarks – like the hearty granola and goat cheese cookies – will never change, but new dishes are being created in collaboration with Chef Mitch Lienhard. Highlights of a recent meal were funky red kuri squash and coconut soup with plump Nantucket Bay scallops and squab breast, served with mole and roasted beets.
There’s a page on the wine list devoted to Santa Cruz Mountain’s producers (including plenty of Monte Bello), though the list mainly focuses on French wines. Kinch also explored a few more laid-back concepts in Los Gatos – The Bywater and Manresa Bread, with a New Orleans theme. Before your flight home, grab a loaf of bread and some pastries and ignore the jealous looks as you shred into hearty croissants and Kouign Amann on the plane.
In sleepy Saratoga, Plumed Horse is a must for an elegant yet energetic dining experience. The Michelin-starred restaurant offers both omnivorous and vegetarian tasting menus, but ordering à la carte is also a good option. Just try the typical Parmesan soufflé with Dungeness crab and uni fondue. After dessert, a chocolate cart comes with gorgeous hard candies to choose from, including flavors like Grand Marnier and fresh jalapeño. During the day, candies are available in the brand new Plumed Horse Chocolaterie across the street. Chocolatier Angelica Duarte only makes 200 pieces of chocolate a day and is sometimes sold out before noon. The chocolates are packed in beautiful orange boxes reminiscent of Hermes and Louis Vuitton.
Adega is another Michelin-starred recipient, as authentic Portuguese restaurant as you are likely to find in the country. The couple of David Costa and Jessica Carreira worked together in Lisbon before moving to San Jose, where she originally came from to open her own restaurant. When you see carabinero prawns on the menu, order them. While much of the seafood, including abalone, comes from the region, these ruby red deep-sea shrimp come from Spain. Chef Costa knows exactly how to play his juicy sweet taste, and he’s a wizard with all seafood, including super tender oven-roasted octopus. Each menu item is presented in Portuguese with an English description underneath.
Team San Jose
On the casual side, there are plenty of great dining options across town. In Campbell, behind Trader Joe’s in a modest mall, Orchard City Kitchen serves creative salads, sandwiches, and small plates, many of which use Asian flavors and spices. In downtown San Jose, Good Karma Artisan Ales & Cafe combines vegan cuisine with an eclectic selection of craft brews on tap. The Grand Century Mall in Little Saigon offers a diverse selection of Vietnamese dishes, while the Zona Rosa in Alameda is the local favorite for tacos and Mexican flavors.
Nowhere else in the world does Rosewood have two hotels in the immediate vicinity. Between Rosewood Sand Hill in Menlo Park and Rosewood CordeValle in San Martin, you can’t go wrong. These are the two most luxurious properties in the San Jose area, with Rosewood’s signature understated elegance.
On a clear day from Sand Hill, your second-floor suite overlooks the Santa Cruz Mountains, home to some of the best vineyards in the area. The hotel offers a rare serenity for a business hotel and is packed with Silicon Valley guests Monday through Friday. Every night seems to be a Puma night at the Madera Lounge, which has an excellent champagne list by the glass.
The spa facilities at both hotels are top notch and these are the only spas in America that use EviDenS skin care for facials. The French-Japanese brand’s popularity is a triple collagen complex extracted from Hokkaido salmon and combined with mulberry root extract for a unique brightening and regenerating effect.
Rosewood CordeValle is a true resort with tennis courts and bungalows overlooking an 18-hole golf course. The Clos LaChance winery is located next to the sixth hole. The hotel can bring you wine tastings in a golf cart.
Get there: Mineta San José International Airport is conveniently located downtown, and major airlines are increasingly offering direct flights from major cities. However, if you are from Southern California, I highly recommend flying JetSuiteX from Burbank. These daily semi-private flights are very convenient and save a lot of time. Even if you check a bag, you only have to show up 20 minutes before departure and there are no security breaches.