Travel story: why you need to visit San Jose

San Jose, located in South Bay just 45 minutes away from San Francisco. A city I called home for our first four years of moving to the USA. Many people visiting the area perhaps don’t realize it, but San Jose has a ton to offer, and single ladies? They don’t call it Man Jose for nothin’!

San Jose is a quick drive away from the experimental playground, the Tech Hub known as Silicon Valley. Where Apple, Google, Facebook, Netflix, eBay, HP — all those companies reside about a 20 minute drive from San Jose. Dude, I saw the home where Steve Jobs grew up! I’m constantly in awe here. Feeling like I’m in a movie, anytime I explore this area. It’s still so surreal to me that I even live here, let alone can explore the area at a moments notice.

A few weeks ago I was invited to attend a FAM trip with 20 other journalists from around the globe, to explore what San Jose has to offer with its tech-hub, wineries, and delicious eats, all thanks to Team San Jose. It was a jam-packed week with a slew of items on our must-see to-do list, which in turn took a while for me to recuperate from! So much (amazing) food, I definitely packed on a few pounds during the 5 day staycation. But, despite the staycation in the city I reside, it’s always nice to come home to comforting surroundings, and your own warm inviting bed. Admittedly those post-vacation blues are real! For real though, I’d love a live-in Michelin Star chef cook me meals every night, or have someone clean up after me (hotel life!). Ha!

I had the pleasure of staying at the lovely Toll House Hotel, located in the elegant and always classy, town of Los Gatos. Psst, if you love coffee you must go to Blvd Coffee in Los Gatos! I found the spot just over 2 years ago, and I’ve been a weekly visitor ever since. I love that they know my order and are preparing it, just as I line-up behind a few folks to pay. Spose you know you’re a regular, when!

So, friends, if you’re planning a trip to Sunny Northern California anytime soon and want some recommendations and a comprehensive guide of what to see/eat/do, then read on as I share my week in San Jose with you.

Wineries
California is beckoned with world-class wineries that isn’t easy to pair down on which to visit. Bare in mind there’s no need to make the trek up to Napa and Sonoma, although both gorgeous locations; we ended up touring two beautiful winery locations in San Jose. You bet I’ll be bringing my Mom to these when she visits!

Testarossa
We had an intimate tour of the winery, given by the owner Rob Jensen, followed by a gorgeous lunch (and table setting!) that happily filled our bellies. The old Novitiate Winery (now known as Testarossa) was originally built in 1888 by the Jesuits from Santa Clara University. I loved touring it simply for the fact of knowing its age, its history and now Rob has transformed it into what it is now – a gorgeous setting for locals and visitors alike.
Location: 300 College Ave A, Los Gatos, CA 95030
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Ridge Vineyards
We made a stop here too during our wine tasting tour. It’s a gorgeous spot and is location right on the San Andres falls. It completely withstood the previous large earthquakes that hit the area in 1989 and 1906. Check out this spot too when you have a chance.
Location: 17100 Montebello Rd, Cupertino, CA 95014
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Santana Row
Santana Row is my go-to place to do some shopping, eating, lounge around, chill out at one of the many coffee shops and peruse the Japanese stationery store, Maido. We ate lunch at Sino, a dim sum location (I’ve never had dim sum before!). Unfortunately a lot of the dim sum had shrimp/other things in it that a pregnant lady can’t have. So I opted for some delicious chicken lettuce wraps.
Location: 377 Santana Row, San Jose, CA 95128
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JapanTown
Japantown San Jose is 1 of the 3 last remaining authentic, historical Japantowns in the USA. I’m quite familiar with the area as a friend used to live right in the heart of it. There’s fantastic restaurants, museums, shops and probably one of my favourite spots in Japantown: Roy’s Station Coffee (which I wrote about 2 years ago!).

San Pedro Square
A perfect meeting spot for lunch, or before a San Jose Sharks NHL Hockey game (which we’ve gone to multiple times, especially when the Canadian team, Ottawa Sentaors played down here!). They have one of the best pizza places I’ve ever had in my life. If you’re a huge pizza fan like I am, visit Pizza Bocca Lupo right in San Pedro Square, I swear you won’t regret one ounce of those bites from that Neapolitan pizza.
Location: 87 N San Pedro St, San Jose, CA 95110
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Lick Observatory
Opened in 1888, the Lick Observatory is an astronomical observatory, owned and operated by the University of California. It’s located right on the summit of Mount Hamilton, in the Diablo Range, and what a drive up the mountain it is. I’ve only personally driven up once (as the driver) and I much prefer to be a passenger as I often fret that I’ll drive the car right off the mountain top due to all the switch-backs and narrow roads, especially at the top. Well worth the view though, and they offer nightly tours and events throughout the year. I know my husband would love to attend one of these, to see that massive telescope in action.
Location: 7281 Mt Hamilton Rd, Mt Hamilton, CA 95140
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San Jose Museum of Art
Originally built as the postal office, turned library now the San Jose Museum of Art, as of 1969. You should tour the exhibitions, and some permanent collections in this gorgeous historic building located in the heart of downtown San Jose.
Location: 110 S Market St, San Jose, CA 95110
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The famous Steve Jobs garage
Visit where Steve Jobs grew up, and view perhaps the most famous garage in the world. We toured his childhood neighbourhood while venturing around all the tech companies in the area. He grew up in a modest sized home, in a regular suburban neighbourhood. His childhood home however, is of course on private property. The Apple garage is clearly visible from the street. But if you’re to take photos – you mustn’t step foot on the property. Apparently his sister now owns the home, but no one lives there.
Location: 2066 Crist Drive, Los Altos, California

Mount Hamilton Grandview Restaurant
A historic mountainside destination for classic American cuisine offering beef, veal & seafood dishes; and what a view it was. It’s where we went on our last night with Team San Jose and the journalists. A farm-to-table restaurant, however the farm they source from is literally across the street so it’s incredibly fresh. The staff was unbelievable and took extra good care of me, serving me fancy-pants mocktails and well-done meats. Undoubtedly one of my favourite moments from this trip was the breathtaking views, but I especially enjoyed the live piano man singing old Sinatra classics as we all ate our dinner at sunset, overlooking the mountain views. It was pure bliss, and I will most certainly be back.
Location: 15005 Mt Hamilton Rd, Mt Hamilton in San Jose, CA 95140
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ADEGA — San Jose’s first Michelin Star Restaurant
On one of the evenings with Team San Jose, I attended the media event at ADEGA, San Jose’s first Michelin Star Restaurant which serves authentic Portuguese cuisine. However this night was a bit different, as it was a Michelin All Star Experience with multiple Portuguese chefs flown in from the USA + Portugal to prepare a 7 course meal with 2 desserts. At first I thought I was a little out of my league, being invited to such an event, however I quickly warmed up as it wasn’t at all stuffy feeling. In fact, I laughed so hard I think I cried. Perhaps it’s because there was another Canadian at my table of 4? Us Canadians b’y, can’t keep us away from one another. 7 courses of Portuguese cuisine; you can say I ventured completely out of my comfort zone to try a couple of new things (pigs ears, lamb, and caviar for instance). The atmosphere in ADEGA is divine — a beautifully decorated Michelin restaurant located in the heart of Alum Rock, in a valley in the Diablo Range foothills on the east side of San Jose. Ya gotta book a meal here, for real.
Location: 1614 Alum Rock Ave, San Jose, CA 95116
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Needless to say, you don’t always need a trip up to the well-known city of San Francisco (although I do love to escape the heat of San Jose from time-to-time and explore SF’s coffee shops and get my fill of the ocean).

If you’ve stuck around reading thus far, I must congratulate you — this is a long one, hey! I want to give a huge thanks to Team San Jose for being an exceptional host, hosting me for the week, along with 20 other journalists from around the world to experience this city. It’s all well worth a visit to say the least, and an experience that formed forever-friendships you betcha I won’t soon forget!

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Off-Roading in Oregon with Lexus

Brasada-Ranch

walk-to-supperHow do I even begin to summarize this trip without making it a bajillion words long? The last few days were amazing and I cannot believe I had the chance to go on another trip with LexusHeels and Wheels. Heels and Wheels brings together an all female driving event for writers all across the board, so I was with some pretty influential professionals from well-known magazines, and newspapers to bloggers like myself.

Delsey suitcaseI arrived on Wednesday to Brasada Ranch in the small town of Powell Butte, Oregon just outside of Redmond. I had so much fun and I filmed it all — my first video is below, the second will be on my YouTube channel. Yes! Multiple vlogs. Get excited. I’m excited. 

Brasada-Ranch-viewsBrasada Ranch is a substantial and a gorgeous resort basically plopped in the middle of nowhere. I recall someone saying you’d have to drive to the next town over to purchase groceries if need be. There was horses a plenty, and bunnies hopping freely right in front of us. Perhaps they ate a little too many juniper berries and were getting bold coming up so close to us. I totally wanted to pet them (I didn’t).

Brasada-Ranch-cabinSage bushes were everywhere, it smelled like a spa. Whenever I stepped outside my cabin, I felt the need to whisper, and simply enjoy the mountainous views and high desert scenery and take it in for all its worth. Even more glorious during the evenings. The stars lit up like nothing I’ve seen in ages. There were even families who were staying around us, but not a peep out of any!

suitcase-selfie

roomThe room I stayed in! With my Fossil bag and my Delsey suitcase.

Upon arrival, we were situated away and shuttled to our cabins. Some were paired in larger cabins with multiple house-guests, while I was paired with another Canadian writer. Two Canadian pals hanging out in Oregon together, it was great.

Eco-ChallengeNot only were we there for driving, we were also there to learn about the Lexus Eco-Challenge educational program first hand where we did our own mini-eco challenge.

Brasada-Ranch-treesLexus’ educational partner for the past 10 years, Scholastic, gives middle and high school kids with an interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) the opportunity for scholarships and grants and in those 10 years Lexus has given away over 35 million in scholarships and grants. The Eco-Challenge is a rewarding program, and it’s so important that girls see that they can do the same thing that boys can do in the area of STEM. Some winning teams have made it global, and another successful team presented their work, and met with President Obama at the White House!

Both evenings, we had supper overlooking Brasada Ranch with gorgeous sunsets.

Sunset-Brasada

Supper-menu

Sunset

Brasada-Ranch-supper

The second and final full day of our trip was ‘driving day’. We were to experience the more rugged side of the Lexus brand. Again, a female-focused event and driving Lexus LUVs (Luxury Utility Vehicles) off-road on a dirt course. More specifically the Lexus LX, and GX models.

Since the group was large, there were two driving shifts. I was in the morning one which was an on-road expedition through the scenic highway in Central Oregon, driving through Powell, and along Crooked River. That’s where the RX and NX was taken out.

CanadiansMy Canadian pal Jodi and I teamed up to be driving partners for the full day.

I’ll let some of the photos do a lot of the speaking for me, because isn’t a picture worth a thousand words?Lexus-On-Road

Lexus-RX

Lexus-and-Cows

Guys I can’t contain my excitement. Many of the women there asked me if I ever stopped smiling. I have to say man, I love my life right now. What an incredible experience, and I’m so lucky to have gone. I had a blast.Rachels-pic

The women I met, and re-connected with (from Palm Springs) these ladies last week in Oregon. What an inspiring, kind, and absolutely hilarious group. My cheeks hurt from smiling!Selfie candid

From urban driving to off-road trails, Lexus LUVs will provide you with a luxurious ride and full off-roading capabilities. Best of both worlds, and I was ready for it. An afternoon of off-roading in the Lexus LX 570 and Lexus GX 460.

Lexus-LX-offroadI’d never been off-roading and I didn’t want to Google much of it before attending. I wanted it all to be a bit of a surprise, whether it was on dirt, rocks, or a trail. I had no clue, but I wanted to learn as much as possible about the capabilities of the Lexus vehicles, because for the most part when I’m reviewing cars for a week, I’m going on an adventure with Alfie, and not taking advantage of what the vehicles can do for me. So much technology has gone into these vehicles it’s unreal. From independent axles to the downhill assist (an ABS function) and active traction control.

Rachel-offroadIt’s definitely unnerving when you can’t see where you’re going but that’s where the multi-terrain monitor comes into play. It’s a camera that lets you see what’s in front of you when it’s too steep to see over the hood of the vehicle. My back was tense as I focused on driving and taking in all the information my female driving instructor, Elizabeth was telling me as I was off-roading with her in the passenger seat. Parts of my off-roading adventure momentum was moving us down the hills since my foot was neither on the brake nor the gas pedal. And it’s all due to the ‘crawling control’ feature, which automatically modulates the throttle and brake. I have to tell you, the crawl control feature definitely was an experience in itself due to the noise it was making. Although completely normal, it definitely sounded like something was breaking in the car.

Lexus-LogoSo filthy, so fun!

dirt-shoesThe top of the line LUV is the Lexus LX 570, which is what I had the chance to drive off-road. What I was worried about was bottoming out a lot of the cars. But, to get that ground clearance while off-roading the air suspension can be raised and lowered with the touch of a button. I KNOW! Nuts.

JodiOk. Side note. Notice the mean-lookin’ (I love it) spindle grille on the front of the Lexus vehicles? Lexus’ parent company, Toyota, before they started building automobiles they were in the Loom business (I have a bit of history with working with Looms too, as I loved working with looms and weaving when was enrolled in a 2 year Textile Studies course “back in the day”) and the looms were the inspiration for the spindle grille.

When we came upon uneven trail (such as ditches — shown in my video below) the Lexus owned it! With a combo of multi-terrain select (select from rock, rock & dirt, mogul, loose rock, or mud & sand) and the articulation of the (doesn’t that make me sound fancy?) axles adjusted to get the vehicle over those bumps and deep holes without issue. It almost looked like the tires were going to pop off. It looked so strange, right?!

Brasada Ranch specifically, is an incredible relaxing place to visit considering you can ski during the mornings on the mountains (Olympic ski teams practice on these mountains!) and play a round of golf once the crispness from the air leaves, and the hot hot sun appears during the afternoon, as this part of Oregon is in the high desert. The amenities there are endless, a gorgeous water-park, cycling, horse back rides, golfing, off-roading in the trails, skiing, you name it.

I’ll probably be back to Oregon again while we’re here in the USA, and I especially appreciate that Brasada Ranch is pet friendly. I saw so many awesome pups trotting about with their owners, and I know Alfie would have a time there too.

Bye-BrasadaThank you again to LexusHeels and Wheels for this incredible opportunity. I definitely did not take it for granted. What a cool experience I’ll never forget. 

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