San Jose may be one of the most expensive cities to live in the Silicon Valley but there are plenty of free and cheap things to do! From beautiful parks to an old-fashioned drive-in and lots of hiking trails, there is something free and cheap for everyone! Here is a list of 15 of my favorite free and cheap things to do in San Jose!
Ideas for Free or Cheap Activities in San Jose
1. Japanese Friendship Garden
The Japanese Friendship Garden in San Jose is a serene and enchanting oasis that celebrates the bond between San Jose and its sister city, Okayama, Japan. This beautiful 6-acre garden is a living work of art, designed to embody the essence of traditional Japanese gardens, featuring carefully manicured landscapes, tranquil ponds, and charming bridges.
The Japanese Friendship Garden is a pretty and free garden in the middle of busy San Jose. Right now only one koi fish pond is operating but it’s a nice spot for a picnic.
Parking at the Japanese Friendship Garden is easily accessible. The garden is part of Kelley Park, which has its designated parking lot available for visitors. Entrance and street parking are free!
2. Capitol Drive-in
The West Wind Capitol Drive-in AKA the San Jose Drive-in is a cheap and fun family activity. The prices are way cheaper than a normal movie theater and you get to sit in the privacy of your own car! The audio connects through the radio station.
Ticket Prices: Drive-in theaters usually charge per person, so for a family of four, you’ll need to purchase four tickets. Ticket prices per person typically range from $7 to $9 for adults and $1 to $5 for children (ages 5-11). Children under 5 years old may be admitted for free.
Snacks and Refreshments: Many drive-in theaters allow visitors to bring their snacks, which can help save on costs. However, if you plan to purchase refreshments from the concession stand, expect to spend around $10 to $15 per person on average.
3. San Jose Municipal Rose Garden
Located at Naglee Avenue and Dana Avenue, the San Jose Municipal Rose Garden spans over 5 acres and features over 3,500 rose bushes, making it a picturesque haven for a leisurely stroll or a peaceful afternoon picnic.
The San Jose Municipal Rose Garden is a free and very peaceful place. Bring a blanket and have a picnic, or bring a book to relax amongst some gorgeous roses. There are also some BBQ grills and public bathrooms available.
For visitors driving to the Municipal Rose Garden, parking is usually available near the entrance on Dana Avenue. The garden is easily accessible by car and offers ample parking spaces to accommodate the influx of visitors, especially during peak bloom season.
4. Mount Umunhum
A windy road up a mountain in the South Bay reveals glorious views on a clear day. There are also restroom facilities (not flush toilets) at the top and if you park at the top you can take the stairs (there are approx 90 stairs) to get to the top.
Be sure to bring plenty of water if you decide to do the hike. Entrance and parking is free however get there early to find a parking spot, they are limited!
5. Martial Cottle Park
Martial Cottle Park in San Jose is a gem of a recreational space that offers a perfect blend of nature and history. Named after the prominent ranching family that once owned the land, the park spans over 287 acres, making it an ideal destination for outdoor enthusiasts of all ages.
The park has historical buildings, barns, and exhibits, offering insights into the region’s agricultural past. Martial Cottle Park truly caters to all interests, with its playgrounds for children, picnic areas for family gatherings, and opportunities for birdwatching and photography.
Martial Cottle Park is a very clean park, with lots of grass with playgrounds and exhibits you can check out. There are water stations along the trail and it’s very dog friendly.
Entrance is free however it is $2 per hour to park.
6. Santana Row
Santana Row is an upscale outdoor shopping space but don’t let that deter you. There is a free play structure for kids and an outdoor grassy area perfect for listening to music or people-watching.
Santana Row often hosts free outdoor events, such as live music performances, art installations, and seasonal celebrations. Check their events calendar for upcoming activities during your visit.
For cheap eats, there are coffee shops and an ice cream stand to snack on while you stroll.
7. Los Gatos Creek Trail
The Los Gatos Creek Trail in San Jose is a delightful recreational pathway that offers a scenic escape for outdoor enthusiasts and active individuals. Stretching approximately 9.7 miles, the trail follows the serene Los Gatos Creek, meandering through picturesque landscapes, making it a perfect destination for walking, running, biking
This is a beautiful trail that winds through the foothills of Los Gatos, a suburb of San Jose. Los Gatos Creek Trail spans 11.2 mi. from Lonus St. to W. San Carlos St. (San Jose) to Meridian Ave. to Lexington Reservoir.
8. Plaza de Cesar Chavez- Lots of Free and Cheap festivals and performances!
Plaza de Cesar Chavez Park, located in the heart of downtown San Jose, is a vibrant and inviting urban park that serves as a popular gathering spot for both locals and visitors. This 2.2-acre oasis offers a mix of green spaces, beautiful landscaping, and cultural attractions, and public art.
Splash in the fountains on a hot day or stroll through Christmas in the Park which is held throughout the month of December. The park’s location also offers easy access to nearby museums, including the Tech Museum of Innovation and the San Jose Museum of Art.
Parking around Plaza de Cesar Chavez Park is generally convenient, with several nearby parking garages and lots available for visitors.
Entrance is free however street parking is metered.
9. San Jose History Museum
The History Museum is an outdoor park that offers free entrance and free parking. There’s a total of 32 buildings which include not just old houses but also vintage cars, a church, a school, a firehouse, a gas station, doctor’s office, a dental office, a print shop, and a bank.
The hotel has a restroom in it and on the weekends the candy shop and ice cream shop are open! History Park is located at the corner of Senter Road and Phelan Avenue, accessible by VTA line 73. Parking is available in the City of San José parking lot at the end of Phelan Avenue for $6.
Entrance is free and dogs on leashes are allowed.
10. Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum
The Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum of the largest collection of Egyptian artifacts including mummies. There’s also a planetarium where they present a show. It’s a nice place for kids too with gardens to walk around in.
Entrance and parking are free!
11. Emma Prusch Farm
Emma Prusch is a beautiful park and one of the best free and cheap things to do in San Jose! Emma Prusch Farm Park in San Jose is a charming agricultural working farm that offers an escape from the hustle and bustle of San Jose life.
This 43-acre park is a living testament to the region’s agricultural heritage, featuring a variety of farm animals, fruit orchards, and beautifully landscaped gardens. Named after Emma Prusch, a local horticulturist and community leader, the park provides visitors with a unique opportunity to experience farm life right in the heart of the city.
There is a large grassy area, a play structure for the kids, several picnic/bbq areas plus farm animals! The park has a dedicated parking lot near the entrance, ensuring you can find a spot for your vehicle without any hassle.
Entrance and parking are free but visitors can reserve a private tour for $8 per person.
12. Berryessa Flea Market
The Berryessa Flea Market in San Jose is a bustling and vibrant marketplace that draws locals and tourists alike for a unique shopping experience. With over 120 acres of space, the flea market offers a vast array of vendors selling everything from clothing and accessories to electronics, home goods, fresh produce, and much more.
When it comes to parking, visitors to the Berryessa Flea Market have multiple options. The market provides ample parking spaces on-site, making it convenient for shoppers to park their vehicles and start their shopping adventures. However, as with any popular marketplace, it can get crowded during peak hours, so arriving early is a good idea to secure a parking spot closer to the entrance.
Parking fees on Sunday are $15 and Saturday is $10 or less. No fees if you just walk in.
13. Almaden Lake Park
Almaden Lake Park has a playground for children and a walking path around the Lake. Visitors can enjoy activities that include hiking, jogging, and cycling along 30 acres of lake and 65 acres of land. The park’s centerpiece, Almaden Lake, provides opportunities for boating and fishing, making it a popular spot for outdoor enthusiasts.
Families can enjoy picnics under the shade of mature trees, while children can play in well-equipped playgrounds. The park also features volleyball courts, basketball courts, and open spaces for sports and group activities, ensuring there’s something for everyone to enjoy.
Parking is $6 per car.
14. Lick Observatory
Lick Observatory is owned by the University of California and is located at the summit of Mount Hamilton east of San Jose. At 4,200 feet, Mount Hamilton offers the best views of the Bay Area.
One of the highlights of Lick Observatory is the opportunity to experience stargazing like never before. On public viewing nights, powerful telescopes unveil the wonders of the night sky.
While the journey to Lick Observatory may involve navigating winding mountain roads, it is well worth the effort. The observatory’s parking lot is available near the main building; however, due to its popularity, spaces can fill up quickly. Arriving early is recommended, especially for evening programs and stargazing events. Should the main lot be full, attendants will guide visitors to nearby additional parking areas.
The entrance to Lick Observatory is free!
15. Alum Rock Park
Nestled in the foothills of the Diablo Range, the Alum Rock Park is a 720-acre park is a cherished destination for hikers, nature enthusiasts, and families seeking outdoor adventures. The park boasts a diverse landscape with picturesque hiking trails, babbling creeks, and breathtaking vistas, making it a perfect retreat for anyone looking to immerse themselves in the beauty of the great outdoors.
Parking at Alum Rock Park is readily available and well-organized. The park features several parking lots strategically located near various trailheads and picnic areas, making it convenient for visitors to start their exploration.
Alum Rock Park offers picnic areas, playgrounds, and barbecue spots, making it an excellent spot for a fun-filled day with family and friends.