Words by Johanna Harlow
So you’re neck-deep in December—and drowning in the demands of the holidays. Whether you’re decking the halls or getting ready for eight crazy nights of Hanukkah, it’s easy to feel more frantic than festive. Here’s a way to get it done and de-stress: a holiday staycation.
Consider Santana Row, San Jose’s luxury shopping and dining destination. It’s impossible to hold onto a grinch mindset while wandering this magical “village within a city” of twinkling lights, lamps festooned in garlands, upscale restaurants, high-end boutiques… and is that a prehistoric-sized reindeer?
Cover Photo: Courtesy of Collette Navarrette / Photo: Johanna Harlow
Knock out your seasonal shopping in one sweep with Santana Row’s more than 50 apparel, home and specialty stores. We suggest warming up with an exploratory lap to get a lay of the land. Admire the Row’s elaborate window displays, daydream yourself into the cute apartments perched above its shops and count the Bugattis and Lamborghinis revving up and down its main drag.
At Makers Market, you’ll find gifts for anyone who appreciates one-of-a-kind craftsmanship. Among its offerings: handmade leather bags, knives inlaid with fossilized mammoth teeth and engraved wooden journals. For your fashion-forward family members and friends, drop by shops like Vuori, Scotch & Soda, Paige, Boutique Harajuku and Marine Layer.
For the make-it-yourself crew, fuel their creativity with DIY supplies from Paper Source. Beyond the rubber stamps, washi tape and scrapbook supplies, the store also stocks quirky items. Think adult picture books like I Will Not Die Alone and Sad Animal Facts, therapeutic coloring books and funky calendars (including a literary/cat-themed one with illustrations of Meowby Dick and The Great Catsby).
On behalf of the outdoorsman (or woman), make the trek to Yeti for all things camping, hunting and fishing. And don’t forget the stocking stuffers! Maido offers an eclectic selection of manatee tea infusers, kitty chopsticks and adorable plushies (smiling avocados, dinos and mermaid cats, oh my).
When you and your credit card need to catch your breath, visit the Santana Row Park deck. Settle into a wicker patio chair and listen to live music under a hulking oak festooned in lights.
Photo: Johanna Harlow
After all that shopping, you’ll have worked up an appetite. Fortunately, just about everywhere you turn, you’ll find restaurants (30 of them) with ample indoor seating and lamp-heated European-style patios.
For sushi in a sophisticated setting, Ozumo serves all the traditional classics and an array of innovative entrees to satisfy both Grandma and the Gen Z crowd. With its dedication to quality ingredients (meaning snow crab rather than imitation filler in even the California rolls) as well as some playful wrestling-titled items on the menu, Ozumo pins down a win in the sushi scene.
You might also nibble your way through Meso Modern Mediterranean’s fluffy pita and flatbreads or Zazil’s sizzling fajitas and carnitas. Or sink your teeth into L.B Steak’s boneless ribeye, tomahawk, porterhouse and Wagyu in a swanky space swathed in red with cheeky cowhide chairs. For more casual (but still satisfying) venues, dine at Dumpling Time or Pizza Antica.
Photo: Johanna Harlow
Afterward, enter El Jardin, an enchanting al fresco bar overflowing with live music, plants and trellises. For wines buttery to bold (or 180 kinds of whisky curated by an in-house whisky sommelier), head for Vintage Wine Bar. (You can’t miss it: Look for the building resembling a medieval limestone church.) Here, you’ll have plenty of savory, sweet and salty bites to tease your tastebuds with pairings so explore how the tang of roasted tomatoes, the smokiness of the meat pâté and the earthiness of the truffle chips dialogue with your palate.
Got room for dessert? Stop by Smitten Ice Cream for exploratory scoops with flavors like Cinnamon Toast or Earl Grey with chocolate chips. Or swing by Cocola, a longstanding French-style patisserie, for macarons and a mocha.
And to All a Good Night
After a full day, it’s time to retire to Hotel Valencia at the heart of the Row. Each room has an enchanting Mediterranean design illuminated with cozy lamps. Upgrade to a room with a bougainvillea-entwined balcony facing the patio and you’ll gain a front-row seat to live Latin/flamenco acoustic guitar music (performed most nights).
Photo: of Hotel Valencia Santana Row
You’ll also want to check out the hotel’s diverse in-house eating/drinking services. Settle down with a nightcap at Vbar (an intimate, low-lit venue) or soak in panoramic night views of the Santa Cruz Mountains at Cielo Rooftop Bar. If you’re growing peckish again, savor late-night tapas at Oveja Negra. Be sure to try the patatas bravas seasoned with earthy paprika and a creamy roasted garlic aioli as well as the braised beef cheeks served in a hearty red wine reduction.
Let It Glow
In the morning, make your way next-door to Burke Williams Day Spa for a revitalizing acupressure facial or massage (shiatsu, Thai, Swedish, deep tissue, take your pick). Before your appointment, arrive early to unwind those tense muscles with a soak in the whirlpool, a session in the sauna and a serene moment with a cup of house-made vanilla lemongrass tea in the pillow-strewn lounge.
Be sure to check out their holiday-themed packages, which range from Merry Moments (with a Pure Relaxation Massage and choice of hot stones, detox or aromatherapy enhancements), Let It Glow (which adds a spa-style facial to the equation) to the comprehensive Our Favorite Things (which combines multiple massages and facials with a scented bath and three-day spa pass).
Photo: Courtesy of Burke Williams Day Spa
Even Santa makes time in his insane schedule to stop in San Jose. Snag pics with St. Nick and join in other festive fun during Spirit of the Row, hosted every Tuesday December evening from 6-8PM. Heat your hands with a hot cider while watching Nutcracker ballerinas plié and pirouette, then venture to Park Valencia for snow showers and holiday tunes on the half-hour. Look for snow flurries in the forecast every Saturday evening as well. As you head back home, you’ll be glowing with the joy of the season.