Things to do in Milpitas and North San Jose

categories: Northern California

When I was approached by the newly reopened Sonesta Hotel in Milpitas about coming and staying with them for a night, I hesitated. Was there really anything to write about in Milpitas? Imagine my surprise to find a new favorite local winery and a new favorite hike… in an area that I thought I already knew.

Ed R. Levin County Park

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Milpitas, California

Milpitas is a bedroom community for Silicon Valley with lots of tract housing and office parks that sits up against the Diablo Range of California’s coastal mountains. I have worked there twice since moving to Silicon Valley in 1984. For me, to be honest, Milpitas has never been the answer to the question “where do you want to go today”. But sometimes a place needs a deeper look.

Getting Outdoors Near Milpitas

As I write this in the middle of a pandemic, there is a great desire to find places to get outside and hike, walk, or just not be in the house. As it turns out, near Milpitas I found some greats spots.

Alviso Marina County Park

Bike into the Bay at Alviso Marina County Park

In nearby Alvisa, at the southern edge of the San Francisco Bay, is an unusual county park. The first thing you should know about San Francisco Bay is that the southern end of the bay is very shallow. If you went out in a rowboat in the bay midway between the San Francisco airport and the Oakland airport, you could get out of the boat and stand up. There are a few channels where you can bring a boat into the south bay. By San Jose, it is pretty much just Milpitas. The Guadalupe River cuts a channel into the bay at its mouth in Milpitas.

The other thing you should know about the south part of San Francisco Bay is that for years this area was miles and miles of salt ponds surrounded by levees. Those ponds are still there but these days they are used as a nesting area for sea birds. The levees are still there and you can access them from Alviso Marina County Park. Here you can walk or bike miles into the bay. If you bike to the northern end of these levees you can see some of the last surviving buildings of the ghost town Drawbridge, California. If you want to go that far I suggest a bike as the long loop around the levees is something like 9 miles. These can be long walks but they are completely flat and easy.

Slip Away to Coyote Creek Trail

The last time I worked in Milpitas I would get up early to beat the traffic and get to work before anyone else. Since I did not really need to be there yet I would slip out the back of the parking lot of our building on McCarthy Blvd and right there at the edge of the property was Coyote Creek Trail.  Coyote Creek runs from south to north on the west side of Highway 880 until it empties into the San Francisco Bay. Coyote Creek Trail runs all the way down past San Jose to Morgan Hill. 9 miles of the trail are in Milpitas. It’s not the prettiest trail in the area (stay tuned) but it is easily the most convenient. It is, as it turns out, only a block from the Sonesta Hotel where we stayed.

Paragliders at Ed R. Levin County Park

Watch Paragliders at Ed R. Levin County Park

In the hills above Milpitas are a number of parks. The first one you will get to as you leave town on Calaveras Rd is Ed R. Levin County Park. Ed R. Levin County Park has a golf course and a dog park. It has a small lake and over 20 miles of trails including trails that connect up with longer trails. The Ridge Trail that climbs to the top of the commanding Mission Peak is for the seriously ambitious. It is a 9-mile climb there and back. As you can see from the photos and video, most of the Diablo Range is not shaded, so bring a hat, sunscreen, and plenty of water.

One of the most memorable things about the Ed R. Levin County Park is that it is popular with paragliders. Paragliders need a permit to access the road that leads up the hill to a launching spot, but you will also see them packing up their shute into a backpack and schlepping their gear up the hill. Even from the parking lot up the hill, some will climb further up for a longer ride down. In the park, you will also see hawks and vultures catching the same air currents down the hill.

Another interesting spot near Ed R. Levin County Park is the Dragon Mountain (Thien Long Son) stairs. This is a cultural park and a private monastery built by a local businessman. It is intended to be an inter-faith place of prayer for Buddhism and Catholicism but many people just like the hike and the view. It is currently closed because of COVID-19.

There are also equestrian trails in the park and a surprising number of nearby stables.

View from Sierra Vista Open Space Preserve

See Silicon Valley from Sierra Vista Open Space Preserve

As we were looking at the hills from Ed R. Levin County Park, I wondered if it might be possible to drive up the hills to someplace with a great view. The answer is yes. The drive up to Sierra Vista Open Space Preserve is a bit of a white knuckle drive. The road goes up steeply from the valley. You will probably get stuck behind someone driving an underpowered Kia Soul (if the plates say CHRIS2x, then wave because it is me). Even if you are not a hiker, if you are willing to take that drive the views are great. But… I strongly encourage you to park your car at the small parking lot at Sierra Vista Point and do a bit of hiking.

From the parking lot, you can see hikers hiking down to a small hill nicknamed “The Spur” which is getting in the way of your view of Silicon Valley. The hike is a bit over a mile from the parking lot, mostly down on the way there and up on the way back. You are far enough up in the hills that a breeze can bring the temperatures down by 10 degrees from whatever they are in Milpitas and San Jose.

Silicon Valley

From the Spur, Santa Clara Valley (aka Silicon Valley) is spread out before you. Bring a camera with a good zoom lens or some small but powerful binoculars. Or better yet bring a pair of binoculars that can connect to your smartphone to take pictures.

Wine Tasting

Big Dog Vineyards

I fell in love with Big Dog Vineyards from the parking lot. It has an amazing view of Silicon Valley, the San Francisco Bay, and Ed R. Levin County Park where we just were. I told my wife, “if their wine is any good I have a new favorite local winery”. The Big Dog tasting room opened in 2009 so I am quite surprised that no one told me about this winery before.

COVID-19: For now tastings are done out on their lawn Friday – Sunday and you do need a reservation:

  • Fridays, 4:00 – 7:00 pm
  • Saturdays, 1:00 – 5:30 pm
  • Sundays, 1:00 – 4:00 pm

They do 4 wines in a tasting and change the tasting menu every few weeks. When last I checked it was:

  • 2018 Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay
  • North Coast Sparkling Rose, NV
  • 2018 Livermore Valley Malbec
  • 2017 Paso Robles Zinfandel

You can get food pairings of sandwiches from Bear Bites or chocolates. Outside food is not currently allowed by the health department.

Big Dog Vineyards tends to do single varietals. They have an estate vineyard at the top of the hill and then also buy grapes from a number of other AVAs. We did enjoy their wines, especially some of the reds, and have already talked to friends about doing a return visit to Big Dog.


Great Mall, Milpitas

Great Mall

For years, especially when my daughter was in middle school, she and I would do our Christmas shopping at the Great Mall in Milpitas. It is a very large mall with over 200 stores and many of them offered the fashions that she loved. It is not an outlet mall but there were a number of outlet stores. From our house, we drove by half a dozen different malls to get to the Great Mall.

COVID-19: As of this writing, the Great Mall has reopened. Masks and social distancing are required.

Where to Stay in Milpitas

Sonesta Silicon Valley

Sonesta Silicon Valley

I mentioned at the start of this article that this trip was instigated by the newly reopened Sonesta Hotel in Milpitas. The Sonesta is located just off Montegue Expressway and Highway 880 so it is easy to get from there to anywhere in the area. For those familiar with the Milpitas Area, you may have had your prom there as it used to be the old Beverly Heritage Hotel and Brandon’s Restaurant & Bar. In addition to their 238 rooms, they have a newly renovated event space but reopened in a year that has not needed a lot of event spaces.

Sonesta Silicon Valley

We stayed in a suite with a separate living room area with a fold-out couch. The room would make a great space for an extended stay business trip or for a couple like my wife and I who are on very different schedules. I was able to get up early and work on a blog post while she slept in.

Sonesta Silicon Valley

There are large flat-screen TVs in both locations complete with Google Chromecast so that you could connect them to your own personal devices if there was nothing on the normal cable channels for you to watch. Some of the apps on my iPad are compatible with Chromecast like Amazon Prime and Netflix.

Sonesta Silicon Valley

COVID-19: Staying in a hotel is a bit weird these days in the middle of a pandemic. The hotel not only needs to take the best precautions they can but also needs to figure out how to communicate to their guests what they are doing. One of the best practices is to clean a room and then let it sit for a while before someone stays in it. Sonesta had an interesting way to communicate that they had done this by putting a seal on the door that the guest breaks when they open the door.

Sonesta Silicon Valley

As will all hotels these days they have social distancing guidelines on the floor including in the elevator. They have hand sanitizer available in the public areas and publish their procedures as a pledge to their guests.

The hotel is serving dinner and breakfast both indoors at 25% capacity, outdoors on their patio or to go. We ate on the patio as we still are not comfortable with indoor dining.

When things get back to normal, Sonesta will fill up with business travelers, but tourists or those just tired of their own 4 walls can take advantage of it now.

Sponsorship Disclosure: As mentioned at the top of the article, we were invited to stay at the Sonesta on their dime. Big Dog Vineyards also paid for our tasting. All opinions expressed are my own.

Things to do in Milpitas and North San Jose #travel #trip #vacation #silicon-valley #santa-clara-valley #san-jose #milpitas #wine #hiking #hike  Things to do in Milpitas and North San Jose #travel #trip #vacation #silicon-valley #santa-clara-valley #san-jose #milpitas #wine #hiking #hike

Chris Christensen

by Chris Christensen

Chris Christensen is the creator of the Amateur Traveler blog and podcast. He has been a travel creator since 2005 and has won numerous awards including being named the "Best Independent Travel Journalist" by Travel+Leisure Magazine. He move to California in 1964.

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