San Jose this way

Dublin’s Californian twin is a mix of Asian, Latino and the very entrepreneurial


San Jose is a very rich, quiet, safe city. That’s the good news. The bad? Scorn from San Francisco. San Francisco Chronicle columnist Herb Caen called it “13 turn-offs in search of a destination”.

Not that California’s third-largest city cares. “No, we don’t feel inferior,” says ex-mayor Tom McEnery, co-midwife of its Twin Cities venture with Dublin’s Bertie Ahern. Dublin’s Californian twin is one-third Asian, one-third Latino, entrepreneurial and law-abiding.

McEnery’s revival of San Pedro Market at the heart of the historic city is a welcome island of cafes and restaurants enlivening its centre choked with freeways: highways 280, 87, 101 and 880. By 2017 the Bart subway system will reach it but, meanwhile, they evoke Joni Mitchell’s “paved paradise” line from Big Yellow Taxi .

Nor can San Jose live down Burt Bacharach’s Do You Know The Way To San Jose? A hit Dionne Warwick calls “that dumb song”, though she’s sung it for 45 years.

According to that anthem, San Jose is where you’ll “find peace of mind”. True, San Jose isn’t a party town. Local friends spent St Patrick’s Night in a downtown pub, The Brit. They were home by 9pm, dead sober.

The median family income is more than $80,000 (€62,000) a year and its private sector spends lavishly on the spotless city centre, endowing its art, museums and ambitious Groundwerx clean-up, a brainchild of local businessmen Chuck Hammers of Pizza My Heart and Scott Knies.

Downtown’s high-energy Twin City chairman Cllr Sam Liccardo goes even further: an up-and-comer from an old downtown family, he’s tipped as next mayor.

“Studies show San Joseans live longer and are better looking, less likely to be audited by the IRS (tax men), more likely to find parking, and have better teeth than folks in that smaller city to our north!” In summer, San Jose has air conditioning while San Francisco has fog.

“All of which makes San Joseans happier, creating fits of jealousy among northerly brethren,” smirks Liccardo. He’s done his bit for his native city, barring plastic bags and polystyrene. He’s introduced bikeways, beefed-up transit, and offered solar power at discounts. As co-chair of Envision 2040, he’s fighting sprawl and luring citizens into city centre apartments.

“It’s working,” says long-time Irish resident Ann Webb, who came here in 1978 from Naas, and used to drive her Irish visitors to Monterey. “So with the advent of the HP Pavilion for Sharks hockey games and the Fairmont, we forsook the suburbs for bustling downtown.”

Now Ann and husband Maurice take friends to its restaurants and festivals because they like walking home.

Liccardo puts San Franciscan jealousy down to sour grapes at losing the 49ers football team to Santa Clara’s sunnier, luxurious new stadium. Bolstered by Silicon Valley’s deep pockets, the 49ers new home has been giving “northerly brethren” the giant green foam finger ever since. As capital of Silicon Valley, San Jose needs no boosterism. But it has another side, its immigrants plus a quirky side.

I asked Liccardo to weigh his personal favourites. “Granted we’re no Paris of the west, but we do have great spots.” Liccardo suggests you start your day with an espresso at Cafe Frascati (next to Original Joe’s, 315 South 1st Street) then walk or jog Guadalupe River Park through America’s largest public rose garden, followed by lunch at The Table (at 110 Willow Avenue; try the quail). Then walk it off with a hike among Alum Rock Park hills (oldest city park in the state), dinner at Paesano’s in Little Italy (350 West Julian Street). Cap this with after-dinner pints at O’Flaherty’s on San Pedro Street. Okay, so that’s not romantic, but what if she really likes Irish rugby?

“Next day: repeat!” Another thing can be said for San Jose; it’s paradise for kids. Not only can they play outside all year, but they have great amusement parks: Raging Waters and Great America. There’s the Mystery Spot on Highway 9 (optical illusion) and the Winchester Mystery House. With doors going nowhere and baffling turrets, it testifies to a widow with an urge to build.

But wait, there’s quirkier. I could never figure out how Rosicrucians moved the Temple of Amon from Karnak, Egypt, into suburban off Highway 101 (1664 Park Avenue). What child could resist four mummies in an authentic Egyptian tomb?

Traditionally San Jose was where to sleep rather than to work or party, with the exceptions of Adobe, Cisco, eBay and the Sharks. When its hinterland became the incubator of world IT, giants like Hewlett Packard and Apple mushroomed near Stanford and Santa Clara and Silicon Valley’s critical mass followed in the 1980s. “Are we San Franciscans mean about your town because we’re jealous?” I asked ex-mayor Tom McEnery.

As Twin Cities co-creator, McEnery was at the birth of the Intel investment in Ireland. “I don’t use the word ‘great’ about San Jose. I use the word ‘good,’ ” says McEnery. Eight years of being mayor makes for tact. “Because of Silicon Valley’s technology boom, we’re really one continuum of economic growth from San Francisco to Monterey. But if I were an aspiring actor, I’d go where Steven Spielberg might show. So if I were a venture capitalist, I’d come here.”

Walk around the high rises off the Guadalupe Parkway at the city’s centre and you’ll soon stumble on the market’s ethnic fare. Try Phonomenal, where Vietnamese spring rolls or pho beef noodles advertise the world’s biggest Vietnamese community outside Vietnam (100,500 souls). The city is home to America’s first Latino supermarket chain, Mi Pueblo: cactus salads, tortillas, chipotle guacamole (235 E Julian Street).

Walk further and you’ll trip over some glorious old-timey breakfast diner like Bill’s on Alameda, or a spaghetti joint like Peggy Sue’s at the market, or Original Joe’s, where it turns out your money will go further. Turn a corner and the dusty pink hulk of the Deco-era Hotel de Anza looms amid the luxury hotels; like the Sainte Claire it offers a genuine whiff of yesteryear.

“The great thing about San Jose and Silicon Valley is how it keeps reinventing itself,” says businessman Leslie Murdock, originally from Termonfeckin.

“Entrepreneurs recycle their success by mentoring and investing in start-ups. When I came over from Dublin in 1982, clunky computer hardware was the rage and this has iterated . . . into today’s always-connected society through smart phones and tablets.”

A portrait of the city’s first American mayor, Irish-born Thomas Fallon, hangs among McEnery family photographs and memorabilia, along with president Truman and several with the Kennedys.

San Jose was where McEnery’s grandfather Patrick settled in 1901. McEnerys have lived in his house ever since.

Across the way are Fallon’s Victorian house and his predecessor Luis Peralta’s humble abode – both testament to San Jose’s earliest years.

McEnery has learned his tactfulness the hard way; as mayor he commissioned a statue of Fallon raising the US flag for $800,000. When he met firm Mexican resistance, the unveiling of Fallon got postponed until this century.

“The important alliance between San Jose and Dublin is because this is the number one location for venture capital investment in the US, with 40 per cent of all investment capital. Los Angeles isn’t number one in venture capital, San Francisco isn’t. This is!”


Higher end

Marriott is at McEnery Convention Center,
301 South Market Street,, from $289 (€222.50)

Hotel Valencia ,
355 Santana Row,, $139–$295

Fairmont Hotel,
170 South Market Street,, from $149

Slightly cheaper

Hotel Montgomery,
211 South First Street,; $109-$199

Hotel De Anza, 233 W Santa Clara Street,; $119-$270

Hyatt Sainte Claire ,
302 S Market Street,, $99-$169

San Pedro Market: affordable ethnic food. There’s one fancy place: Blush, a Martini/sushi bar.

87 North San Pedro Street,

Original Joe’s has homey food with 1950s’ vibe, 301 South 1st Street,

Bill’s Cafe: old-timey joint, famed for brunches, 2089 the Alameda at Newhall;

Santana Row: upscale food and shopping mall


Tech Museum of Innovation,

Museum of Art,

Children’s Discovery Museum,

Opera San Jose,

Raging Waters,

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