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San Jose: Another Side to the City of Tech 

February 7, 2014

As eyes look to Silicon Valley, and its unofficial capital of San Jose, for the most up-to-date technological innovations, the area's cultural aspects are sometimes overlooked. With a population topping that of San Francisco's and a copious amount of world class museums, art galleries, and festivals, the city should be on every traveler's to-do list. Dine at a falafel drive-in, learn about a Winchester rifle heiress and her haunted life, and discover a gold-rush era entrepreneur's astronomy dream and its rocky future. Also, don't forget to support the local arts and catch a movie with your date -- from the comfort of your own vehicle (bench seat preferred).

Falafel’s Drive-In (2301 Stevens Creek Blvd.)
Opened in 1966 by Anton and Zahie Nijmeh, burgers were the first menu item until the falafel was slowly introduced, and the lines got longer and longer. The original falafel recipe is still used today by the family run restaurant with the motto “Feeling awful, have a falafel!” Try the falafel special, which comes with a banana shake and falafel sandwich. The shake is an essential flavor combo with the falafel sandwich spice. Diners, Drive-ins and Dives host Guy Fieri visited the drive-in and now has a place in the colorful mural in the outdoor dining area of the restaurant.

Cine Mexico Theatre (1191 E Santa Clara St.)
Opened in 1949 this theatre changed hands, and names, several times before becoming the Mexico Theatre circa 1980 which played all Spanish language films. Over a decade later it was shut down and so with it the cylindrical Moderne tower with neon rings. Recently a fundraising campaign sprung up to restore the abandoned theatre and create a much needed all-ages music venue, art, film and performance space. More information can be found here: gofundme.com

Looking for live music? Check out the Blank Club at 44 S Almaden Ave.

Lick Observatory (7281 Mt Hamilton Rd., Mt Hamilton)
In the hills just east of San Jose, many wonder ‘what on earth’ the white domes are just visible on the peaks in the distance. These domes are a part of Lick Observatory, an active research astronomy observatory owned and operated by the University of California, and home to the second largest refracting telescope in the world built in 1888. The trek to Mt. Hamilton winds through hills and hairpin turns, alongside bicyclists and motorcycles, to a 4,200 foot summit with spectacular views. Visitors are welcome at the observatory and free tours are lead daily to the Great Lick Refractor, under which gold rush era businessman James Lick is buried.

Many contributions to the field of astronomy have come from this mountaintop in the past 125 years, and astronomers hope to continue this important research despite a recent announcement by the University of California to cut funding to the program as soon as 2018. Astronomers and star gazers alike are encouraged to check out the Save Lick campaign and contact UC leadership to save this celestial research in the Bay Area.

For up-to-date information on visiting hours and Summer programs please check the webpage below. *Note that the observatory is not open to the public during evening hours unless part of an organized event. The astronomers need the darkest possible conditions for observation.

Winchester Mystery House (525 S Winchester Blvd.)
After the untimely death of her only daughter in 1866 and then later her husband William Winchester in 1881, Sarah Winchester became the heir to the Winchester rifle fortune. Tormented by these deaths she was said to have visited a psychic. This clairvoyant told her that she was haunted by the spirits of those killed by Winchester rifles and that the only way to escape this curse was to buy a house and continually build, as directed by the spirits. The 8 room farmhouse that Mrs. Winchester purchased is today a 160-room mansion filled with ornate Tiffany stained glass, doors that lead to nowhere and a maze of hallways and staircases to confuse any visitor or ghost. Did she escape the curse? We may never know. Visit the Winchester Mystery House and make your own conclusions. The basement tour is especially spooky.

West Wind Capitol Drive In (3630 Hillcap Ave.)
Drive in movie theatre by night and public market by day. Six screens feature the latest movies, each a double feature, for only $7.25 per person and special kids pricing (but don’t try to hide anyone in the trunk). The public market, also known as a flea market, carries fresh produce, clothing and many other treasures waiting to be sifted through. Bring your haggling skills.

Written and photographed by Beth LaBerge for the SF Weekly.

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