San José

50 Free Things to do in San José

50 Free Things to do in San Jose! San José is the third largest city in California. To just list 50 things to do in San José seemed too easy of a task. I started a list and ended up with over 100 things worth doing! Since I have an interest in frugal sightseeing I wanted to present you with 50 free things to do in San José. That said, some of these places welcome donations and you might have to pay for parking. As always, explore at your own risk. Everything can change, from opening hours to locations, and URLs, please research before you go and please let me know of any changes.

Parks and Gardens

1. Municipal Rose Garden

Fountain in the Municipal Rose Garden in San JoseProbably the most instagrammable place in San José. With 189 varieties of roses there is always something in bloom. (City of San José, Naglee Ave & Dana Ave) [Also see: I promise you two rose gardens]    



2. Heritage Rose Garden

Rose at the Heritage Rose Garden in San JoseIf you are a rose lover you need to see this gem! With a collection of 3,000 plants and a smashing 2,800 varieties you won’t be disappointed. (Heritage Rose Garden, Spring and Taylor St) [Also see: I promise you two rose gardens]    

3. Nola’s Iris Garden

Entrance of Nola's Iris Garden, San Jose.If you are more into irises, consider a drive up to the east foothills of San José in early spring (April/May). Nola’s Iris Garden offers huge varieties for sale in a pleasant setting. (Nola’s Iris Garden, 4195 Sierra Road) [Also see: Admire the Multitude of Irises at Nola‘s Iris Garden]    


4. Japanese Friendship Garden

A red bridge in the Japanese Friendship GardenSix acres of tranquility. The Japanese Friendship Garden symbolizes the bond between San José and its Sister City of Okayama, Japan. Admission is free, but parking is $6. (City of San José, 1300 Senter Road)     

5. Peace Garden at Rosicrucian Park

Signs pointing to the Egyptian Museum, Planetarium, Peace Garden and LabyrinthWhile the Egyptian Museum at Rosicrucian Park is not free, the Peace Garden and the labyrinth are. The Peace Garden is an authentic Eighteenth Dynasty of ancient Egypt educational garden. Another place to find tranquility is by the koi pond, or by walking the labyrinth.(Peace Garden at Rosicrucian Park, 1660 Park Avenue) [Also see: Walk in the Egyptian]    


Places for Kids

6. Emma Prusch Farm

Two chicken looking at each otherRun with chickens, at the Emma Prusch farm. While feeding the chickens is a popular activity, San José’s largest barn has more than just chickens to check out. (City of San José, 647 S. King Rd) [Also see: Feed the Chickens]    

7. Slide at Brigadoon Park

Concrete slide with cardboardThere are three concrete slides at Brigadoon Park. A fun way to spend an afternoon. Cardboards to fasten your ride are usually laying around. But be aware, this is a speedy adventure! (City of San José, Brigadoon Way and Maloney Drive) [Also see: Skid Down the Brigadoon Park Slide]    



8. Rotary PlayGarden

Entrance to the Rotary PlaygardenThe Rotary PlayGarden is an all-inclusive playground. When you enter the PlayGarden the theme is clear, you are ‘swimming’ in an imagined river with fishes. (Rotary PlayGarden, 438 Coleman Avenue) [Also see: Have a Swimmingly Good Time at the Rotary PlayGarden]  

9. Guadalupe River Park Visitor & Education Center

A turtleAcross the street from the Rotary Playgarden is the Guadalupe River Park Visitor & Education Center (notice that they share the same address). They offer sensory experiences and have some local animals on display. Opening hours are Monday to Friday from 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. (Guadalupe River Park Visitor & Education Center, 438 Coleman Avenue) [Also see: Smell, Touch, and See]    


10. Plaza de Cesar Chavez Water Feature

Boy walking in the fountainsIt’s always great fun on hot summer days to see the kids enjoying the fountains at Plaza de Cesar Chavez. By the way, this is the oldest public space in California! (City of San José,  ​​194 S. Market St)  

11. Youth Science Institute

A sign that reads YSI Youth Science Institute The YSI has three centers for science education in the Bay Area. They offer school and summer camp programs. But you can also stop by and see the displays of local wildlife. Check out their events page for exciting learning opportunities. Opening hours are: Friday 12 pm – 4 pm, Saturdays and Sundays 10:30 am – 4:30 pm. (Youth Science Institute 15350 Penitencia Crk Rd.) 


12. Fairy Garden

Two little fairy housesWillow Glen is one of the most walkable neighborhoods in San José, with a great main street. The fairy garden is worth scoping out because it’s so cute! Even when you are without children you will be amazed at all the little creatures who moved into the front yard. (Fairy Garden, Celestine and El Rio) [Also see: Spot some Fairies at Fairy Glen]  


13. Bike the Trail Network

Rental bikesCurrently there are about 61 miles of paved trails, which makes it already one of the nation’s largest urban trail networks. The planned 100-mile trails will allow bicyclists to ride all of San José via 35 inter-connected trails. (City of San José) [Also see: Bike by some Irises]  



14. Disc golf 

Disc golf basketSan José has three disc golf courses. You have to bring your own discs. The disc golf course at Kelly Park offers an 18-hole course. It is free to play, but parking is $6. Coyote Creek Disc Golf is great for wind practice. The course at Parque De La Raza is the most challenging. It is closed from November to mid-April. (Kelley Park Disc Golf Course, 743 Phelan Avenue).  (Coyote Creek Disc Golf, 985 Hellyer Ave). (Parque De La Raza, 801 Coyote Rd)  [Also see: Frisbee + being in the woods = Disc golf]

Short Hikes

15. Alum Rock

Stones on top of a way marker for the Inspirational Point loop trail in Alum RockCalifornia’s oldest municipal park founded in 1872, offers about 13 miles of trails. From 1890 to 1932 the park was a nationally known health spa with 27 mineral springs. Some of the stone grottos of the springs are still around. The Mineral Springs Loop Trail is a short hike along some of the remaining grottos. Parking is $6. (City of San José, 15350 Penitencia Creek Rd.) [Also see: History is just a walk in the park


16. Almaden Quicksilver

Vulture sitting on a post with dry grasses underneath at Almaden Quicksilver ParkYou can combine learning about local history with a great hike put together by the Boy Scouts Troop 466. This 5.1 mile hike explores the once second largest Mercury mine in the world. (Almaden Quicksilver Historic Trail *PDF, 21785 Almaden Rd)

17. Overfelt Gardens and Chinese Cultural Garden

Sun Yat-Sen Memorial Hall is in the Chinese Cultural Garden as part of the Overfelt Gardens.Overfelt Gardens is another garden to relax in. This 32-acre facility has three ponds with meandering paths. The giant sculpture of Confucius gives you a sense of peace. There is even a fragrance garden for the visually impaired. (Chinese Cultural Garden 368 Educational Park Drive)  [Also see: Unearth Confucius]



18. Guadalupe Oak Grove Park

Educational sign about the three different oak trees in San JoseSan José’s Guadalupe Oak Grove Park is a hilly park with sparse trees covering about 60 acres. This park celebrates local oak trees and has three varieties (Valley Oak, Blue Oak and the Coast Live Oak). (City of San José, 5982 Thorntree Drive) [Also see: Learn About Local Oak Trees at San José’s Guadalupe Oak Grove Park]

Museums / Galleries / Exhibits

19. South First Fridays

A mural by Lila Gemellos depicting a purple sofa and the word SOFA on it.Every first Friday of the month the SoFA district invites you to stroll around and enjoy the many art venues. This is your chance to see the San José Museum of Quilts & Textiles for free, or pay-what-you-like (South First Fridays)



20. San José Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA)

Outside brick facade of the San Jose Institute of Contemporary ArtThe ICA cultivates contemporary art with their 8 – 12 exhibitions a year,  panel discussions, artist presentations, art demos, performances, and portfolio reviews.  (ICA, 560 South First Street)  [Also see: Get Inspired by Art, the San José Institute of Contemporary Art]

21. Movimiento de Arte y Cultura Latino Americana (MACLA) 

Outside the MACLA galleryThe MACLA is an inclusive contemporary arts space grounded in the Chicano/Latino experience (MACLA, 510 S First St)  [Also see: Get a Sense of Belonging, Pertenecer at MACLA]



22. KALEID Gallery

Entrance of the Kaleid GalleryThe gallery houses over 60 fine artists and designers from the San José area in a 4,000 square foot retail space in the heart of the SoFA District. Every First Friday (except Jan. & July) KALEID features a solo exhibition by a resident artist. (KALEID, 320 S 1st St)  [Also see: Browse Some Art, Kaleid Gallery]

23. Antique Products Museum 

Entrance to the Product Museum of the Winchester Mystery HouseThe Antique Products Museum is a free museum inside the gift shop at the Winchester Mystery House. It displays many vintage Winchester® consumer goods. (Antique Products Museum , 525 S Winchester Blvd)  [Also see: Bypass the Winchester Mystery House]



24. The Jennifer and Philip DiNapoli exhibit gallery

Entrance of the MLK libraryThe Jennifer and Philip DiNapoli Gallery is on the 2nd floor of the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library and presents thought provoking exhibits by local artists. (DiNapoli Gallery, 150 East San Fernando Street)

25. The Natalie and James Thompson Art Gallery 

Front facade of the art and art history at San Jose State University.The Natalie and James Thompson Art Gallery presents up and coming talent from their students at SJSU. During the academic year the galleries are open Monday – Friday 10 am – 4 pm. Tuesday evenings 6 pm – 7:30 pm.(Thompson Art Gallery , One Washington St) [Also see: Regard the Future of Art]



Historic Places

26. Japantown Walking Tour

Spray painted sign: J-TOWNSan José has one of three remaining Japantowns in California. I highly recommend the Japanese American Museum to learn about the history of this neighborhood and the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. Nevertheless, if you are looking for a free opportunity to learn about the history of the neighborhood you can do so by strolling around and reading the info signs and local statements on the benches. (Japantown, Jackson and 5th) [Also see: Dive into J-town]


27. Downtown History Walk

Signage for San Jose history walk number 25Similar to the walking tour in Japantown, History San José has published a brochure of a self-guided Downtown Historic Walking Tour. There are also information signs along the route.  (Downtown History Walk *PDF)

28. History Park 

A wall reading Welcome to History ParkThrough 32 reproduced and original homes and landmarks History Park with its paved walkways is a walk back in time. The most recognized structure is the electric tower framing the intersection next to the Bank of Italy building. (History Park, 1650 Senter Road) [Also see: Admire a Former Landmark of San Jose]



29. The Peralta Adobe

Adobe house with an outside ovenThe Peralta Adobe is in San José’s San Pedro Square. The next time you meet up with friends check out San José’s oldest building from the Spanish and Mexican Period. (Peralta Adobe, 175 West Saint John Street) 

30. Olympic Black Power Statue 

Victory Salute by artist Rigo 23Stand in solidarity with Tommie Smith and John Carlos. They became famous for their civil rights activism at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico by raising their black-gloved fists in a Black power saluteafter winning the 200 meter track event. (Olympic Black Power Statue, San José State University campus, next to Clark Hall and Tower Hall in Washington Square) [Also see: Stand up with art]


31. Viet Museum

Sign reads The Museum of the Boat People and the Republic of VietnamThe Viet Museum is also known as the Museum of the Boat People & the Republic of Vietnam. Learn about how people fled Vietnam during the war. (Viet Museum, Greenwalt House at History Park at Kelley Parrk)

32. Portuguese Museum

Front of the Portuguese MuseumAlso in the History Park, the Portuguese Museum depicts life in the Santa Clara Valley at the turn of the 20th century and Portuguese history during the age of discovery . (Portuguese Museum, 1650 Senter Road)



33. New Almaden Quicksilver Mining Museum

The New Almaden Quicksilver Mining Museum is an old building with two levels and a balcony areaThe stately 1854 Casa Grande manor hosts the New Almaden Quicksilver Mining Museum. Discover the significance of mining Mercury for the Gold Rush. New Almaden Quicksilver Mining Museum, 21350 Almaden Rd) [Also see: Play piano in the park]

34. César Chávez Memorial Walkway 

A mosaic with Chavez holding a sign that reads Huelga and the symbol for the NFWA. Behind him a woman holding a sign that reads Huelga (which means strike in english)From 1927 till 1993 César Chávez’s family lived in San José. There are  few important historic markers of the life of César Chávez in the city. (César Chávez Memorial Walkway) [Also see: Sí se puede]




35. Thomas Fallon House

A sign in front of a victorian reads Fallon House Historic SiteThis Victorian home was constructed in 1854 and is an example of early Victorian architecture. (Thomas Fallon House, 175 W St John St)

36. Hotel De Anza

Palm trees encircle the tall hotel De Anza Built in 1931 the Hotel de Anza used to be the tallest building in San José. A great example of the zig zag moderne, part of the art deco movement. (Hotel De Anza, 233 W Santa Clara St)



37. Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph

Dome of the Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph
Every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday from 1 to 3 pm you can stop by the cathedral and learn about the history in a docent-led tour. Make sure to look up and admire the beautiful dome. (Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph, 80 S Market St)

Public Art

38. Illumination Downtown

Sensing You And Sensing Water installationSee the city lights, and great installation. There are three official public art installations that demonstrate the city’s commitment to art and technology: Sensing You And Sensing Water, San Carlos Street Lantern Relay, and Show your Stripe. (City of San José) [Also see:See the light throughout the tunnel]



39. Chase the Neon Signs

Falafel's Drive-In neon signLandmarks of a long lost era, neon signs are still an iconic reminder for an ever-changing world. Go on a neon sign photo hunt and be amazed at how many signs still light up the the city. (Neon Signs)  [Also see: Chase Down the Neon Signs of San José]

40. Public Art as Resistance in San José

100 block mural project, San JoseThis self-guided walking tour created by staff and students of  San José State University shows how public art can be an act of resistance. The tour is available as an app or a pdf. (Public Art as Resistance)  [Also see: See 100 Murals]



41. Sonic Runway

The Sonic Runway and San Jose City Hall.Once a burning man installation, this interactive walkway has made a comeback in front of City Hall. The Sonic Runway website states this reactive light installation “converts audio signals into patterns of lights that shoot down a corridor of arches at the speed of sound”. (City of San José)  [Also see: Dance through the tunnel, Sonic Runway]


42. Little free art

A box with the sign Free ArtHere is the only place you can ‘shop’ for free art. There are two little free art places, similar to the little free libraries. Have some art you are willing to part with? Please take some and/or leave some. (Booksin Avenue, Hart Little Free Art and near Reed Elementary School, SJ Flag) [Also see: Search out a Little Free Art Gallery]


43. Buy nothing

In this free event people gift things to each other to lessen the environmental impact. Buy nothing is organized by the Trashpunx who also do community clean-up events. (Trashpunx, Church on the Hill, 500 Sands Drive)

44. Seed share at Martial Cottle Park

Seed Share at Martial Cottle Park, San JoseThe seed share box is at the entrance of the UC Master Gardeners demonstration garden. Seed shares are a great way to acquire free seeds. Again, take some and leave some, and please only take what you need. You might also find seed shares at your local library. (Martial Cottle Park, 5283 Snell Ave) [Also see: Exchange Seeds at a Seed Library]


Nerdy Fun

45. Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies

Woman playing on an Eric Hertz pianoIf you are a fan of Beethoven you will definitely enjoy the Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies. Take a look at first editions, historic keyboards; they even have a lock of Beethoven’s hair! (Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies, San José State University, One Washington Square) [Also see: Be a love detective for Beethoven]

46. Rosicrucian Senet game

The game of Senet set up and a sign: Senet, the game of passing, played for 3000 years in ancient EgyptThis oversized game of senet, one of the earliest known board games, is outside the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum. Every Friday from 2 to 5 pm there are free sessions to learn the game. (Rosicrucian Senet game) (,1660 Park Avenue)


47. Santana Row Chess Plaza

Large chess figures at Santana RowThere is a giant chess set at Santana Row with some small chess tables around. (Santana Row Chess Plaza, 355 Santana Row)  [Also see: Play Chess in the Park, Santana Row]

48. Semaphore

The Adobe building with a semaphore art installationTry to decipher the semaphore, an art installation that visually transmits a hidden message, on top of the Adobe building. The four round lights on top of the Adobe Almaden Tower change every 7.2 seconds and there is some hidden message to solve. (Semaphore, Adobe Almaden Tower) [Also see: Crack the Code – Semaphore]


Must-show-to-visitors places

49. ​​Alviso Marina County Park

One of the facades at AlvisoAlviso is probably the most instagrammable park with its boardwalks and yellow facades over the salt march. (​​Alviso Marina County Park, 1195 Hope St) [Also see: More than just facades]

50. Christmas in the Park

Entrance to Christmas in the Park.San José’s downtown Christmas Market with entertainment, yummy treats, fun rides, and beautiful decorated Christmas trees is a must for those who celebrate. (Christmas in the Park, Plaza de Cesar Chavez) [Also see: Have a Jolly Time at Christmas in the Park]



I welcome your comments and suggestions, either in the comment section below, or you can contact me. Everything can change from URLs to opening hours, please verify before you go and explore at your own risk.

As always no affiliations with the mentioned businesses unless otherwise noted. Dates are for 2023/2024. Please let me know of any changes or mistakes. All images are mine, unless otherwise credited. Please don’t use without permission. Copyright 2023.

*PDF — in order to view a PDF you can download the free PDF reader from Adobe.