Front window of The Art Butiki

Party at the Art Butiki, San José

What is Art Butiki you might ask? A Comic book store, a T-shirt printing business, and an all age music venue, in short a cool place to hang out.

A display case with comic books inside Art ButikiWe visited during comic store hours, Monday – Friday 11am to 4pm. With an interesting selection of comic books and t-shirts, the store also has some seats and two sofas to let you chill. Behind the counter the owner Dan Vado explained the uphill battle of running a cult classic store and music venue, and let us peek in the back at the event space. 

Mural of a Tiki holding a flameWhile Covid closed the place down, he found a workaround by recording local artists. The resulting videos can still be watched on YouTube or the Art Butiki website. Offering local musicians a stage for an all age audience is a tough business. Ticket prices for the shows are only around $20. The 300 person venue looks cozy and iconic, decorated with a lot of tiki figures.

The skull marks the entrance to the bar to order food and drinksI came across Art Butiki while I researched my list for 50 Free Things to do in San José. They have some events that are free, like a Drink ‘n Draw, open mic, and jazz jam. While I usually only note things in my 50 lists that I have been to, I include these because I still want to check out events at Art Butiki. I hope you’ll visit this independently owned venue and support local artists.

Art Butiki is located at 44 Race Street in San Jose’s The Alameda neighborhood. Parking might be a challenge; if you have to park in the neighborhood be mindful.


50 Free Things to do in San Jose!

Check out 50 Free Things to do in San José

Have you spent a lot of money on gifts? Here is my gift to you: 50 free things to do in San José! This is the latest in my series of 50 things to do. I hope you’ll enjoy them. I had fun compiling the list. 


I’ll try to offer these also as a YouTube video, but it will take me a little while to do so. 

What is your favorite of these tips? What are you looking for in general? More things to do with the kids? Hikes with your dogs? Or are you into museums and art? I’d love to hear from you! 

If you would like to sponsor me you can now buy me a coffee


Happy Holidays and an exciting New Year 2024!

Yellow lit MIDTOWN sign from the Midtown Safeway in San José

Chase Down the Neon Signs of San José

A tour of San José’s neon signs has been on my to-do list for a very long time now. I found a list compiled by Josh Marcotte ( Unfortunately, this list was written a long time ago and some of the signs are now gone

Western Appliance neon signOnly a few of the signs from the original list remain in Midtown, and even fewer are lit up at night. The most iconic one is the Western Appliances sign on 1976 W San Carlos St. Built in 1962, it has a great history. When it was first lit, the flashy lights on top caused two accidents on highway 17! Western Appliance closed its doors in 2020 and the sign went dark. Nearby is the former Time Deli – which got its name from the neon sign it inherited and is now a shoe store. Time neon sign

Burbank theaterA few of the signs are in dire need of rescue, like the Y Not sign over a sex toy shop across from the Time Deli.  The Burbank theater further down on South Bascom Ave could use some help as well. Equally, the neighborhood Midtown, itself, is in need of a renaissance. Hence I would like to caution you not to go by yourself. I think this is not the most inviting neighborhood for strolling around at night. 

O. C. McDonald's neon signThere are a few lit signs,  e.g.,  the Bears Cocktail Lounge. The Midtown Safeway celebrates neon with its large yellow Midtown sign. O. C. Mc Donald, a mechanical contractor, does a wordplay, Oh See!, on its name, and it still lights up. The Falafel’s Drive-In is not only interesting because of the pointy sign but was visited by Guy Fieri from Diners, Driveins and Dives. The West Side Billiards is currently closed and therefore the sign which is one of the coolest on the list is not illuminated.

West Side Billiards neon signMidtown has the highest concentration of these historic lightning features, but the most iconic signs found a good home at History Park. These are the Dancing Pig and the Orchard Hardware sign. The OSH sign is with some more artifacts from the store and the Dancing Pig is near the Vietnamese Museum.

Neon Signs Location
  • Western Appliances 1976 W San Carlos St., San José
  • Time Deli 349 S Bascom Ave., San José
  • Y Not 1933 W San Carlos St., San José
  • Burbank Theater 552 S Bascom Ave., San José
  • The Bears Cocktail Lounge 1872 W San Carlos St., San José
  • Midtown Safeway 1300 W San Carlos St, San José
  • O.C. McDonald 1150 W San Carlos St., San José
  • West Side Billiards 1050 W San Carlos St., San José
  • Falafel’s Drive-In 2301 Stevens Creek Blvd., San José
  • Orchard Supply Hardware and Stephen’s Meat Market, History Park 635 Phelan Ave, San José


Falafel's Drive-In neon signI made a Google map for the San José Neon Signs and hope to expand this in the future. Please let me know of interesting signs within San José.

For more information check out the San José Sign Project’s Facebook page or order their book on the iconic neon signs! Sarah JL Nguyen of Crossinglightstudio wrote a great blog post: San José’s Neon Signs: Works of Art That Tell Our Story 

Looking Back: Signs of the Times by Ralph Pearce has a great list of neon signs.


Do you have a favorite neon sign?

A sign saying Antiques and Collectables Enter

Steal a Deal, San Jose Antique Row

This post is one of those I-put-off-for-too-long, or more accurately, when-I-don’t-get-to-go-out-and-explore post. 

Antique row storefront in San Jose It turns out that according to the San Jose Spotlight, San Jose’s Antique Row might be a thing of the past soon. The San Jose City Council voted unanimously to annex a portion of the ‘Row’ for new housing, including urgently needed senior housing. A new development there might replace the antique stores currently occupying the space.

Mannequin heads and nick nack Antique Row is on W. San Carlos between Brooklyn Ave and Hester Ave in San Jose, an area known as Burbank. This is a great place to check  if you collect a specific antique, or if you are looking for some pieces not labeled made-in-China. The staff understands that you need time to browse and is very knowledgeable if you have specific questions.

The four most well-known antique stores on Antique Row, Antiques Colony, Burbank Antiques, Briarwood Antiques and Collectibles, and Memory Lane Antiques, are still open. Tony, the owner of Memory Lane Antiques told me he plans to retire next year. I was unable to get anyone else to confirm they were closing in the near future. A collection of hats

I hope when the time comes they can relocate and create a new Antique Row within San Jose. Meanwhile catch them while they are still in this location. 

Antique Row is located on W. San Carlos between Brooklyn Ave and Hester Ave in San Jose. Opening hours vary by store.

Do you enjoy bargain hunting? 

The Winchester Mystery House

Bypass the Winchester Mystery House, San Jose

Model of the Winchester Mystery HouseThe Winchester Mystery House is still on my to-do list, especially when it’s celebrating its centennial, but I’m no fan of horror or ghosts. For those who don’t know San Jose’s biggest attraction and oddity, the Winchester House was the residence of Sarah Winchester, heir of the  firearms magnate William Wirt Winchester. To appease the spirits she kept building additions to her mansion and ended up with 160 rooms, 2,000 doors, 10,000 windows, 9 kitchens, 13 bathrooms, 47 stairways and fireplaces. 

Obviously this is the core idea of a haunted house, with staircases going nowhere and doors open to the outside! Tickets are about $42 for adults. Like I said, all these are reasons I did not bother to visit, yet. 

Entrance to the Product Museum of the Winchester Mystery HouseIf you are looking for a stripped down adventure which bypasses the inside experience, go and visit the free Product Museum and gift shop. The Product Museum is one room inside the gift shop that shows off the Winchester products and history. Did you know that they were known for roller skates? I also liked the model of the Winchester house, it gives you an idea of the quirkiness of it. The gift shop, besides the kitsch, has these old penny machines – test your love, anyone?

The shooting galleryAnother way to enjoy the Winchester Mystery House on a budget is to walk the garden; see some old Winchester equipment, like a Winchester lawn mower. Also, the paid entertainment fits the eccentric location: axe throwing and a shooting gallery. Axe throwing for one hour for up to 5 people is $24.99 per person per lane. The shooting gallery with one game for $3 might be the most frugal experience. 

The love testerThe Winchester Mystery House is located at 525 S. Winchester Blvd, San Jose, CA near Santana Row. Parking is complimentary. Opening hours are daily from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm on weekdays and 10:00 am to 7:00 pm on weekends. You can book various tours online. 

Have you been to the Winchester Mystery House?

Entrance of the Kaleid Gallery

Browse Some Art, Kaleid Gallery in San Jose

Inside the Kaleid Gallery in San JoseThe Kaleid Gallery in San Jose’s SoFA district houses over 60 fine artists and designers in their 4,000 square foot retail space. Every First Friday, except in January and July, they feature a solo exhibit by a resident artist. The artist’s reception is from 5 pm – 9 pm.

View inside the Kaleid Gallery in San JoseIf you want some unique gift you should check them out. All art is for sale and you can take it with you at the time of purchase. There are not only paintings, but sculptures, ceramics, and jewelry, to name a few. I also enjoyed meeting some of the artists while I visited.

Space Palette Pro at the Kaleid GalleryThe most curious piece, and a fun thing to play with, is the Space Palette Pro. A visual music instrument that looks like a mix between an old jukebox and a homemade arcade video game console. Pick a theme from the psychedelic sounding menu and start playing sounds with your fingers on the touchscreen. Sample menu themes are: Blue Purple Cartoon Clouds, Kaleidoscopes Forever, and Swimming in Salmon Blue. I don’t think this is for sale, but instructions on how to build your own are given.  

KALEID Gallery is located at 320 S. 1st Street, in downtown San Jose.

Opening hours are Thursdays to Fridays 12 pm – 7 pm, Saturdays 12 pm – 5 pm

And for First Fridays ArtWalk SJ 5 pm – 9 pm.

What’s your favorite art gallery in San Jose?

Description of the exhibit Pertencia: To Belong with views of paintings from Héctor Muñoz-Guzmán

Get a Sense of Belonging, Pertenecer at MACLA, San Jose

Gallery view of the exhibit Pertenecer at MACLAPertenecer: To Belong is the current exhibit at MACLA – Movimiento de Arte y Cultura Latino Americana in San Jose’s SoFA district. Until March 19th, 2023 you can experience the cultural expression of otherness and belonging from six LatinX Bay Area artists: Pilar Agüero-Esparza, Rayos Magos, Kristina Micotti, Héctor Muñoz-Guzmán, Vanessa Wallace-Gonzales, and Jennifer White-Johnson. Gallery view of the exhibit Pertenecer at MACLA

You can feel the struggle to belong without losing yourself and your culture in their works. With interesting choices of materials, like aluminum alloy, leather and burlap, some of the artists play with traditional mediums to make something their own. Others use vibrant colors and imagery to evoke a cultural edge. 

On Saturday January 14th you can attend a special artists talk from noon to 1:30 pm, with Pilar Agüero-Esparza, Rayos Magos, and Héctor Muñoz-Guzmán. This is a free event, but tickets are required. You can sign up for tickets on their website. Outside the MACLA gallery

The gallery at MACLA is always free, but they do have a box for donations. $5 is the suggested donation amount. Gallery hours are Wednesday to Friday 12-7pm, and Saturday and Sunday 12-5pm. 

Have you been to a MACLA exhibit?

While you are in the area I suggest you stop by the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art on the same block.

Large chess pieces

Play Chess in the Park, Santana Row

Large chess figures at Santana RowHave you all watched the Queen’s Gambit yet and were you obsessed with chess for a while? If you are looking for a public place to play chess or watch others scheming their next move, head out to Santana Row in San Jose. There is a large chess game set up on Santana Row’s Chess Plaza across from the Vintage Wine Bar. The chess pieces can be moved easily with two hands, even by tiny ones. The size of the pieces were knee-high for me. And while the board is a bit weathered I’m glad they made a comeback after being stored in quarantine because of COVID. Wooden table with a chess board.

If you prefer a smaller scale set you can bring your own pieces and play on the tables lining their larger cousin; of chess sets that is. This way you’ll be able to order a drink while lounging in the wooden chairs pondering your next move.

Fountain across from the large chess set at Santana Row, San Jose.By the way, Santana Row is an experience in itself. An outdoor shopping mall with some high-end stores, copious dining options, and outdoor experiences, like the upcoming Makers Market on October 8th, 2022. An inviting place to stroll and people watch.

Have you ever played chess at Santana Row?

If you like outdoor board games you can also play Senet at the Rosicrucian Museum; or get a group together and play the Guiness Record setting Monopoly.

Chalk art in Japantown, San Jose.

See Chalk Art

A monkey drawn in chalk, its body already fading.To create art is joyful, therapeutic, and a gift for the viewers if it speaks to them. To create chalk art adds a temporary component that I admire and despise at the same time. Hours spent by the artist are washed away within days. I captured the remains of Palo Alto’s Festival of the Arts that happened August 27 & 28, 2022 a few days later. To my surprise Tasso St where a couple of days ago the street artist put down masterpieces was only a faint memory as if the event never happened.

There are of course pictures online. But to see these street artists at work is a real treat. Coming September 17th to San Jose, the Luna Park’s Chalk Art Festival will be back after a hiatus due to COVID. The organizers expect over 3,000 artists, students, vendors, and community members in San José’s Backesto Park. You can see the Madonnari, the Italian word for street painter, at work. Luna Park also encourages you to learn how to draw with chalk. In fact they are a foundation that  provides funds for art school programs and local artists. The festival is free. A chalk art painting from a previous Palo Alto Arts Festival.

Another chalk art event right around the corner is happening in Niles on September 24th, 2022. The Chalk Art in the Park raises money for the Ohlone Humane Society. With a suggested donation you’ll receive a goodie bag with chalks and a square concrete to work on. 

Luna Park’s Chalk Art Festival in Backesto Park, San Jose September 17th, 2022. Admission is free.

Chalk Art in the Park in Niles Town Plaza, Niles September 24th, 2022, from 10am to 3pm.

Have you ever painted in chalk?


A kiln with a globe of fire.

Be Blown Away by BAGI, San Jose

A sign pointing to the public entrance for BAGIBAGI stands for Bay Area Glass Institute, a non-profit partially funded by the City of San Jose’s Office of Cultural Affairs. On my recent visit to the History Park in San Jose I came across a sign inviting me to check out BAGI. Right next to the bee garden not far from the electrical tower there is an entrance to the History Park from the BAGI parking lot.

Glass hearts are for sale at BAGIWhen I stepped in I noticed the cubbies with things ready to be picked up. At a counter I was greeted by a young woman explaining what BAGI is. They give classes and you can sell your glass creations; it is also popular for team-events. She invited me to sit down on the bleachers in the next room where three artists were working. She mentioned that they are used to onlookers. They acknowledged me but fired away. I enjoyed watching the calm art of working with red-glowing glass. Fires burning in the ovens, hot rods being fired up, constant turning of the rods. Back at the counter you’ll be inspired by what people have created. Part of these creations are for show, part are for sale. You’ll see bowls and vases, glass beads, and whole jewelry creations. 

If you don’t feel comfortable just strolling by you can also book a demonstration. For a 1 hour demo, it is $10 per person with a minimum of 25 people or $250 for smaller groups.Kiln for melting glass

To deepen your relationship with melted glass the Bay Area Glass Institute offers classes for beginners thru advanced skill levels.

You can visit the BAGI at 635 Phelan Ave. San Jose, CA

Have you ever blown glass or watched someone doing it?