Visitors can explore the city on a budget, with many area museums offering free admission year-round or on select free days. Apple technology fans can check out the Apple Park and Visitor Center, while nature lovers can choose from a variety of nearby city parks and recreation areas to explore. For lower-cost transportation, visitors can ride the city's VTA public transit system, which offers bus and light rail services throughout the city's neighborhoods.
1.The San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art
© The San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art
The San José Institute of Contemporary Art is a free-admission contemporary arts gallery in San José's downtown district that presents up to 12 rotating exhibitions each year, open to the public Tuesdays through Sundays. The gallery was established in 1980 and moved into its current 7,500-square-foot space in 2007, attracting 20,000 annual visitors. Exhibitions showcase the innovative, cutting-edge works of emerging and mid-career artists, with more than 300 regional artists serving on its member board. In addition to its standard exhibitions, the museum also showcases the Sandbox Series, which presents unique site-specific major installations, and facilitates public programming such as film screenings, lectures, and gallery crawl-related events.
560 S 1st St, San José, CA 95113, Phone: 408-283-8155
© History San Jose
History Park is a living history park and museum located at the southern edge of San José's Kelley Park, showcasing 32 preserved and replica buildings, businesses, and landmarks that detail the 19th and 20th-century history of the Santa Clara Valley. The park is open Mondays through Fridays year-round between 8:00am and 5:00pm, offering free admission to walk its grounds and meander through historical exhibits and demonstrations, including reconstructed doctor's and dentist's offices, a fire house, a blacksmith shed, a print shop, and several preserved houses and hotels. Photography and artifacts related to the region's agricultural history are showcased at the complex's fruit barn, while rotating art exhibits are showcased at both the Leonard and David McKay Gallery and the Arbuckle Gallery. Visitors can also stop in at the restored O'Brien's Ice Cream Parlor and Candy Shop and purchase turn-of-the-century sweets and milkshakes.
1650 Senter Rd, San José, CA 95112, Phone: 408-287-2290
© Rosicrucian Park
Rosicrucian Park is a five-acre public park and museum complex that serves as the headquarters for the American branch of the Ancient Mystical Order Rosae Crucis, a philanthropic and cultural organization similar to Freemasonry. The park was established in 1927 and has grown to encompass an entire city block, home to the organization's English Grand Lodge for the Americas, as well as the world-famous Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum, which presents the West Coast's most spectacular collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts. Other attractions within the park include the Akhenaton Shrine, the Rosicrucian Planetarium, and the organization's research library. Visitors can explore the park's grounds for free daily during daylight hours, including its beautiful Peace Garden, which is constructed according to Egyptian tradition and showcases plants that can be used for food and medicinal purposes. Visitors should note that while the park and peace garden are free to explore, other attractions may require a ticketed upcharge.
1342 Naglee Ave, San José, CA 95126, Phone: 408-947-3635
4.The Triton Museum of Art
© The Triton Museum of Art
The Triton Museum of Art is a free-admission museum that showcases rotating exhibits of classical and contemporary works of art, open to the public Tuesdays through Sundays during the morning and afternoon hours. The museum was originally established in 1965 by W. Robert Morgan and is Santa Clara's oldest museum not housed on a university campus. For more than half a decade, the museum has presented rotating exhibits with a focus on the works of artists throughout the Greater Bay Area. More than 40,000 visitors attend the museum annually. Community programming and satellite exhibitions are also offered by the museum, though some events require a ticketed admission fee.
1505 Warburton Ave, Santa Clara, CA 95050, Phone: 408-247-2438
5.The Rosicrucian Planetarium
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The Rosicrucian Planetarium is a free-admission planetarium facility within San José's Rosicrucian Park, a five-acre public museum park that is operated by the American branch of the Ancient Mystical Order Rosae Crucis. The planetarium was constructed in 1936 as the fifth planetarium opened in the United States, housed within a Moorish-style building that was constructed to honor the scientific contributions of Arabic astronomers. Daily showings of the planetarium's Journey to the Stars presentation, which is narrated by actor Whoopi Goldberg, feature stunning telescope images and physics-based simulations. Additional showings on Saturday afternoons include the planetarium's Cosmic Collisions program, narrated by actor Robert Redford, and the 3D Sun presentation, narrated by presenter Al Roker. Presentations are not recommended for guests under the age of six.
1342 Naglee Ave, San José, CA 95126, Phone: 408-947-3635
6.Japantown Walking Tours
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Japantown Walking Tours explore one of the United States' final three surviving Japantown urban neighborhoods and the only neighborhood of its kind to remain in its original location. Experienced tour docents lead private groups around the neighborhood's historic sites, including its Issei Memorial Building, which originally served as a Japanese hospital, and its Buddhist Church, which operated as a shelter following the release of Japanese-Americans held in internment camps during World War II. Other attractions showcased include Japanese-American and Hawaiian restaurants and the nine-foot Japantown identifying sculpture, designed by Eugene Daub and Lou Quaintance. Visitors can contact the Japanese American History Museum directly to schedule free private tours for small groups and organizations.
535 North Fifth Street, San José, California, 95112, Phone: 9408-294-3138
7.Alum Rock Park
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Alum Rock Park is the oldest municipal park in California, originally established in 1872 within San José's Alum Rock district. The 720-acre park showcases the beauty and splendor of the Alum Rock Canyon and the foothills of the nearby Diablo Range, offering ample opportunity for outdoor recreational activities. Visitors can view remains from the turn-of-the-century period of time when the park was a nationally-renowned health spa and mineral springs, which was connected to the city's downtown via the Alum Rock Steam Railroad. 13 miles of nature trails offer opportunities for hiking, cycling, and horseback riding, while day-use picnic sites offer barbecue grills and public restrooms. The nonprofit Youth Science Institute Science and Nature Center offers after-school activities and a public museum, while guided nature walks of the park are offered by the Santa Clara County Open Space Authority. Free parking is available at the park's Eagle Rock and Rustic Lands parking lots.
15350 Penitencia Creek Rd, San José, CA 95127, Phone: 408-794-7275
8.Almaden Lake Park
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Almaden Lake Park is a beautiful 32-acre lake and surrounding 65-acre recreational area that is open to the public daily between 8:30am and sunset, with the exception of major winter holidays. Visitors can fish at the park's lake with valid California fishing permits and can rent seasonal pedal boats from the park between Memorial Day and Labor Day, though personal watercrafts are currently not permitted at the lake due to drought conditions and mussel infestation concerns. The 3.9-mile Los Alamitos Creek Trail connects the park to nearby Santa Teresa County Park, offering a fitness course for public use. Visitors should note that parking at the park requires an upcharge, though additional street parking can be found nearby.
6099 Winfield Blvd, San José, CA 95120, Phone: 408-277-5130
9.Guadalupe River Park
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Guadalupe River Park is a quaint San José city park that offers a wide variety of outdoor recreational opportunities, including 2.6 miles of visitor walking and cycling trails. Large open spaces create urban oases and allow for the region's natural ecology to flourish, including the expansive Discovery Meadow, the Arena Green, and Confluence East. More than 3,700 varieties of beautiful roses are showcased at the park's Heritage Rose Garden, while drought-tolerant landscaping is displayed at the Courtyard Garden. The park is also home to the world's largest Monopoly game board, allowing groups to rent tokens and play communal Monopoly games within the park.
438 Coleman Ave, San José, CA 95110, Phone: 408-298-7657
10.Emma Prusch Farm Park
© Emma Prusch Farm Park
Emma Prusch Farm Park spans 43.5 acres throughout East San José, originally opened to the public in 1962 following land donations by area resident Emma Prusch. Today, the park preserves Prusch's former farm and showcases the region's agricultural history, including the city's largest preserved barn, which is utilized by the area's 4-H groups and the Future Farmers of America organization for urban livestock populations. A rare fruit orchard is maintained in cooperation with the California Rare Fruit Growers Association, highlighting more than 125 rare tree species. Other attractions include the Veggielution community farm, which strives to create sustainable urban agricultural solutions for the San José region. In October, visitors can attend the park's annual Harvest Festival, which features multicultural dance presentations, hay wagon rides, and a 4-H animal exposition.
647 King Rd, San José, CA 95116, Phone: 408-794-6262
© Courtesy of Melastmohican - Fotolia.com
Kelley Park spans 172 acres on former estate land that once belonged to the daughter of city mayor Judge Lawrence Archer. Today, it has been converted into a beautiful urban park that that is home to attractions like the family-friendly Happy Hollow Park and Zoo. A Japanese friendship garden at the park makes for a great strolling spot, home to tranquil koi-filled ponds, while the free-admission History Park living history museum showcases more than 30 preserved and replica historic homes and civic buildings from the turn of the 20th century. The park is open to the public daily from 8:00am to half an hour following sunset, also offering opportunities for day-use picnics, jogging, and public outdoor gatherings. Visitors should note that parking at the park requires an upcharge, though additional street parking can be found nearby.
1300 Senter Rd, San José, CA 95112, Phone: 408-794-7275
12.SoFA District First Fridays
© Courtesy of Roberto Sorin - Fotolia.com
SoFA District First Fridays are San José's premiere monthly art gallery crawl event, opening up many of the city's most sophisticated and cutting-edge art galleries, studios, and museums to the public for free on the first Friday evening of each month. Beginning at 7:00pm, visitors can explore the district as part of self-guided tours and see specially-curated gallery exhibit openings and live performances at many sites. Many venues offer complimentary wine and refreshments, and many restaurants and bars in the region offer discounts and specials for the evening of the event. Outside, art vendor booths, entertainment stages, and a beer garden are offered for visitors until midnight.
13.San Jose's Municipal Rose Garden
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San José's Municipal Rose Garden spans 5.5 acres throughout the city, originally opened to the public in 1937. What was once a large prune orchard was transformed into a beautiful free-admission civic garden with the aid of the Santa Clara County Rose Society, with many original design features still showcased at the park today. More than 4,000 rose plantings showcase nearly 200 varieties of lovely roses, with a focus on floribundas, grandifloras, and hybrid-tea variants. Visitors can enjoy the park's blooming season between April and November, generally peaking during the month of May. Other design features throughout the park include miniature rose beds, a reflection pool, and a double-tiered fountain.
Dana Ave & Naglee Ave, San José, CA 95112, Phone: 408-794-7274
14.Apple Park Visitor Center
© Apple Park Visitor Center
Apple Park Visitor Center is the official visitor center of the headquarters of renowned technology developer Apple, best known for their iPhone and Mac computer products. The center, which is open to the public for free daily during the morning and afternoon hours, offers a variety of exhibitions that detail the history of the company and its Apple Park headquarters, located in Cupertino, California. Attractions include an augmented reality experience, which allows visitors to virtually explore Apple Park's campus through the use of an iPad. An exclusive Apple Store at the visitor center sells top Apple products, along with a curated selection of Apple Park-branded merchandise. A rooftop terrace is also provided, along with an indoor and outdoor seating cafe.
10600 N Tantau Ave, Cupertino, CA 95014, Phone: 408-961-1560
15.Cesar Chavez Memorial Walkway
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César Chávez Memorial Walkway honors seminal Latino civic leader César E. Chávez, recognized as one of the United States' top civic leaders during the 20th century for his establishment of the nation's first permanent agriculture union. In his honor, San José developed a memorial route throughout the city's downtown and East San José districts connecting sites related to the activist and memorials relating to his life and work. Walkway signs at seven locations detail the sites' significance in relation to the activist and can be explored on foot or by vehicle. Sites include the Plaza de César E. Chávez public park, the Mexican Heritage Plaza, the Mayfair Community Center, and the Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, which was influential in the United Farm Workers' movement. Chávez's former family home is also highlighted, along with the namesake César E. Chávez Elementary School and the Arch of Dignity, Equality, and Justice, a social justice monument designed in 2008 by Judith F. Baca.
San José, California 95116
16.The San Jose Public Library
© The San José Public Library
The San José Public Library is San José's official public library system, offering 23 branches throughout the city's metropolitan area, including a central library branch used by the San José State University as its official library. The system was named as America's Library of the Year in 2004 by the Library Journal and circulates more than two million volumes to area residents and visitors. Its Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Library was constructed in 2003 and is the nation's only joint-use public library, spanning 475,000 square feet across eight floors. Public computer workstations are available for free use, with special art, literature, and history collections housed on its fifth floor. Public art within the building includes pieces by Mel Chin within the Recolecciones series and a unique real-time LED display that showcases information about current library loans throughout the system.
150 E San Fernando St, San José, CA 95112, Phone: 408-808-2000
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17.The Lick Observatory
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The Lick Observatory is the official astronomical observatory of the University of California, located at the summit of Mount Hamilton within the Diablo Range near San José. As the first permanently-occupied mountaintop observatory in the world, the unique Classical Revival-style observatory was constructed in 1887 and is open to the public Thursdays through Sundays, though visitors should note that the observatory's access road can be a moderately strenuous drive and may not be accessible in all weather conditions. A free-admission visitor center showcases exhibits related to science and astronomy and also offers a public gift shop. Free public astronomy talks are offered throughout the day, allowing visitors to look through the observatory's 36-inch telescope dome.
7281 Mt Hamilton Rd, Mt Hamilton, CA 95140, Phone: 408-274-5061
18.Downtown San Jose Farmers’ Market
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Downtown San José Farmers’ Market is San José's premiere public farmers' market, open to the public for free each Friday between May and November. The market brings area producers, farmers, and specialty food vendors to the city's San Pedro Square, encouraging area residents to eat healthy and shop local. Each market begins at 10:00am and continues until 2:00pm or sellout time, with food trucks and hot food vendors available on site for visitor refreshments. Artisan and craft vendors also sell at the market, and live music performances can be seen periodically. Visitors can take the city's VTA public transit system to the market and present their transit passes in exchange for a dollar to spend at the market.
W. St. John St., San José, CA 95110, Phone: 408-279-1775
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19.CityDance San Jose
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CityDance San José is a lively downtown music and open-air dancing event in the city's Plaza de Cesar Chavez, offered each Thursday evening between August and October. The free-admission event is presented by the City of San José Office of Cultural Affairs and brings live bands performing in a variety of world genres, including swing and Latin music groups. Professional dance instructors lead attendees in guided dance sessions beginning at 6:00pm, with open dance and socialization time continuing until 9:00pm as band sets play. Visitors should note that the park's main parking lot is a paid lot, though street parking can be found around the area for a lesser fee or free parking during off-meter times.
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19 Best Free Things to Do in San Jose, CA Year Round
- The San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art, Photo: The San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art
- History Park, Photo: History San Jose
- Rosicrucian Park, Photo: Rosicrucian Park
- The Triton Museum of Art, Photo: The Triton Museum of Art
- The Rosicrucian Planetarium, Photo: Courtesy of Tryfonov - Fotolia.com
- Japantown Walking Tours, Photo: Courtesy of Hideyuki - Fotolia.com
- Alum Rock Park, Photo: Courtesy of schankz - Fotolia.com
- Almaden Lake Park, Photo: Courtesy of Harris Shiffman - Fotolia.com
- Guadalupe River Park, Photo: Courtesy of Andrei - Fotolia.com
- Emma Prusch Farm Park, Photo: Emma Prusch Farm Park
- Kelley Park, Photo: Courtesy of Melastmohican - Fotolia.com
- SoFA District First Fridays, Photo: Courtesy of Roberto Sorin - Fotolia.com
- San Jose's Municipal Rose Garden, Photo: Courtesy of Fotolia.com
- Apple Park Visitor Center, Photo: Apple Park Visitor Center
- Cesar Chavez Memorial Walkway, Photo: Courtesy of irabublikova - Fotolia.com
- The San Jose Public Library, Photo: The San José Public Library
- The Lick Observatory, Photo: Courtesy of Panu - Fotolia.com
- Downtown San Jose Farmers’ Market, Photo: Courtesy of ungvar - Fotolia.com
- CityDance San Jose, Photo: Courtesy of oriol - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of Jeff Sprague - Fotolia.com