Top 12 Parks in San Jose

Last Updated on February 20, 2024 by Emily Johnson

Known as the capital of Silicon Valley, San Jose is the largest city in Northern California. Beyond the innovation and technology that built this city, San Jose holds natural treasures with over 50 parks spanning thousands of acres of open space.

Park NameUnique Aspects and Attractions
Alum Rock ParkTrails, native plants, geological formations, hot springs
Happy Hollow Park & ZooZoo, puppet-themed splash park, play structures
Overfelt Gardens ParkSpecialty gardens, meditation points, community center
Almaden Lake ParkHiking, biking, playgrounds, volleyball and tennis courts
Guadalupe River ParkDeveloped trails, wildlife sightings, foot bridges
Emma Prusch Farm ParkAgricultural heritage, barnyard animals, orchards
Kelley ParkTree varieties, golf course, historic exhibits
Sanborn County ParkHiking, camping, redwood groves, astronomy center
Santa Teresa County ParkTrails, scenic vistas, wildlife observation, picnic sites
Hellyer County ParkTrails, archery, dog park, skate park, velodrome
Vasona ParkBoating, disc golf, jogging path, playgrounds
Communication HillHiking, 360-degree views, ecological significance

From scenic city escapes to nature preserves brimming with wildlife, San Jose’s parks offer plenty of recreation, sights and fresh air. Here is a guide to the top 12 parks in San Jose and the surrounding south bay area.

Alum Rock Park

Name and Location: Alum Rock Park is a 740+ acre urban park located on the northeast edge of San Jose, bordered by Alum Rock Avenue.

History and Significance: Founded in 1872, Alum Rock Park is California’s oldest municipal park. It is home to scenic Penitencia Creek and derives its name from the neighboring mineral springs along the creek bed.

What to Expect: Visitors enjoy 15 miles of trails for hiking, running and mountain biking with panoramic valley views. Picnics under shade trees, barbeques, children’s play area and visitor center also available.

Visitor Information: Open 8am-dusk daily. Parking and entry free. Entry kiosks provide maps. Visitor center open weekends.

Nestled on the forested foothills of the Diablo Mountain range, Alum Rock Park serves as a gateway to nature within city limits. It was established in 1872 as California’s first municipal park. Today, the 739-acre landscape has 13 miles of trails immersing you among native plants, unique geological formations, and spectacular valley views. Picnic areas dot the grounds, while facilities also include a visitor center, youth science institute, volleyball courts and a playground. Don’t miss the iconic Peninsula Hot Springs if you visit Alum Rock Park.

Happy Hollow Park & Zoo

Name and Location: Happy Hollow Park & Zoo is a 16-acre recreation area specializing in rides, puppet shows and animal habitats located at 1300 Senter Road inside Kelley Park in San Jose.

History and Significance: Originally built in 1961, Happy Hollow has been a cherished child-friendly destination for generations where education, nature appreciation, adventure and entertainment meet.

What to Expect: Kids explore puppet shows, rides like the Daniel Tiger Trolley and Logger’s Revenge Rollercoaster plus goat/lemur petting areas and an eclectic zoo housing mammals, birds and reptiles from around the world.

Visitor Information: Open daily 10am-5pm. Entry fees $8-12. Parking $6. Season passes available. Picnic tables on grounds and café onsite.

Happy Hollow Park & Zoo spans 16 acres providing a safe, contained setting for kids to play and learn about animals. Children can ride the miniature Park Train express around the grounds or cool off on hot days at the puppet-themed splash park. Happy Hollow is part zoo, showcasing animals from leopards to lemurs in natural enclosures as well as an animal discovery barn housing domestic creatures. Beyond animal encounters, the park has puppet shows, a maze, and play structures like the three-story “Lookout Tower.”

Overfelt Gardens Park

Name and Location: Overfelt Gardens Park is a lush 33 acre botanical park located at 2145 White Road in the East San Jose foothills.

History and Significance: Gifted to the city of San Jose in 1959 by the Overfelt siblings, today the park is renowned for its rose garden, exotic plant species, sculptures, fountains and sweeping views of the city and hills.

What to Expect: Visitors stroll winding pathways admiring diverse plant collections, flowers, water features like a koi pond and lotus fountain, alongside picnic benches, shade trees and hilltop views amid a serene setting popular for photos and events.

Visitor Information: Self-guided tours daily 8am-dusk. Free admission and parking lot onsite. Wheelchair access to some areas provided.

Formerly the site of the Overfelt Botanical Gardens, Overfelt Park still contains 10 acres of specialty gardens within its 33 acres of parkland. Stroll through serene Japanese and Chinese gardens as well as an Italian Renaissance-themed garden. Seasonal flowers always burst with color in the Overfelt Rose Garden or Fountain Garden. With greenhouses, orchards and meditation points, Overfelt Gardens Park remains an unexpected urban oasis. Facilities also include a community center, play structure, picnic sites and bocce ball courts.

Almaden Lake Park

Name and Location: Almaden Lake Park comprising 59 acres surrounds a lake in the southern San Jose neighborhood of Almaden Valley at 1397 Manual Ferrand Dr.

History and Significance: Nestled below Mockingbird Hill and Almaden Hills with views of the Santa Cruz Mountains, tree-lined walking paths encircle this peaceful elm, cypress and willow-shaded urban retreat featuring abundant wildlife.

What to Expect: Visitors jog, pedal boats, fish for rainbow trout, feed ducks, enjoy picnic sites and small waterpark playground along the lakeshore trails taking in beautiful natural backdrops dotted with fountains and garden beds.

Visitor Information: Park open daily from 6am-9pm. Boat rentals, bait vending available in summer. Parking lots onsite. Wheelchair rental offered.

Alamaden Lake Park provides a popular spot for hiking and biking along lush pathways circling the reservoir. As part of the Alamaden Valley’s history as an old mining site, the lake emerged from works to prevent flooding from nearby Guadalupe Creek. Trees and vegetation camouflage most views of downtown, feeling like a sanctuary out of the city. People flock to Almaden Lake Park to jog or walk dogs on the 3.5 mile trail looping the lake. Other amenities include picnic tables, playgrounds, volleyball and tennis courts.

Guadalupe River Park

Name and Location: Guadalupe River Park stretches 3 miles encompassing 452 acres along the downtown reaches of the Guadalupe River in San Jose.

History and Significance: Established in 1962 upon construction of a concrete flood channel, today the park offers active recreation opportunities for urban residents along lush trails following the tree-lined river through the heart of Silicon Valley.

What to Expect: Visitors jog, bike or stroll paved pathways under mature shade trees along the winding watercourse dotted with public art and fountains, while watching native birds and wildlife thrive in restored habitat areas throughout stretches of the park.

Visitor Information: Entry is free. Open 6am-9pm April to October. Trail maps at access points like Discovery Meadow downtown off Woz Way nearby Children’s Discovery Museum.

The Guadalupe River Park hosts over four miles of developed trails following alongside the Guadalupe River and Los Gatos Creek. As you walk or bike ride through the park, keep eyes peeled for great blue herons, bats, squirrels, butterflies and other wildlife drawn to the riparian habitat. The park consists of several segments with the newest addition being the Three Creeks Trail connecting it to Los Gatos Creek Trail. With foot bridges arching over the water and plenty of shade, Guadalupe River Park makes for a relaxing retreat minutes from downtown.

Emma Prusch Farm Park

Name and Location: Emma Prusch Farm Park covers 47 acres at 647 S. King Road, south of downtown San Jose.

History and Significance: As one of California’s last working farms located within city borders, the site preserves the valley’s agricultural history while offering pettable farm animals like goats, sheep and poultry housed in historic red barns and pens.

What to Expect: Families interact with barnyard creatures in designated petting areas and walking pens, tour gardens showcasing vintage equipment/tractors and explore museum exhibits about the region’s orchard beginnings inside restored 1890s buildings.

Visitor Information: Open Tuesdays to Sundays 9am-4:30pm. Entry is free. Picnic tables provided onsite. Outdoor space rentals offered.

Step back in time at Emma Prusch Farm Park, preserving San Jose’s agricultural heritage. Once a working orchard and farm, Emma Prusch Park shows what life was like in the early 20th century on a typical Santa Clara Valley ranch. Tour the original farmhouse to see antique furnishings or check out demonstrations of blacksmithing, woodworking and more old-fashioned skills in the historic shed. Barnyard animals like chickens, goats, donkeys and sheep roam the 47-acre grounds graced by fruit orchards, gardens and wildflowers with barn owls nesting onsite.

Kelley Park

Name and Location: Kelley Park encompasses over 300 acres spanning several facilities at 700 Senter Road in south San Jose, including Happy Hollow Park & Zoo plus multiple sports fields and complexes.

History and Significance: Deeded to the city in 1941 by the Kelley family, over decades the expansive space has been developed into a dynamic public venue hosting events and active recreation amid its many amenities and dedicated activity areas.

What to Expect: Alongside Happy Hollow’s rides and zoo, visitors enjoy volleyball courts, bowling greens, seven baseball/softball fields, Kellie Field skate park, Levy Family Playground and wide lawns for picnics or free play throughout the grounds.

Visitor Information: Individual activity area hours, fees vary. Free parking lots onsite. More info at www.kpsj.org

Few parks offer as many activity options as Kelley Park spanning over 300 acres. Nature lovers appreciate the peaceful Happy Hollow Tree Walk showcasing more than 100 tree varieties within the park. Kelley Park contains several recreation facilities including a municipal golf course, tennis courts, softball fields, soccer fields, running tracks and cycling velodrome. Kids go wild exploring History Park where hands-on exhibits and historic buildings bring San Jose’s past alive including rides aboard Ardenwood Railroad.

Sanborn County Park

Name and Location: Sanborn County Park encompasses over 3,400 acres of rugged chaparral and forested foothills along Sanborn Road west of Saratoga, offering unparalleled skyline views stretching to Monterey Bay.

History and Significance: Established in the 1950s upon land gifted by Dr. John Sanborn, today these wilder parklands provide a remote sanctuary with 20 miles of multi-use trails traversing valleys and ridgelines across eastern Santa Cruz Mountain terrain.

What to Expect: Hikers and mountain bikers navigate wooded single-track challenge trails that meander past springs and historic sites, with optional steep climbs to hilltops revealing sweeping coastal overlooks from unique vantage points.

Visitor Information: Park entrance fee – $6 parking. Open daily 8am-sunset. Maps at ranger kiosk. Geocaching, orienteering and astronomy activities offered.

Sanborn County Park encompasses over 1,400 acres in the Santa Cruz Mountains offering hiking, camping and an easily accessible nature escape from the city. The park caters to many interests with tennis courts, barbecue pits, a disc golf course and an astronomy center with telescopes. But many come to Sanborn to walk among the towering redwood groves including the sixth largest redwood in California with a circumference of 35 feet. Trails vary in difficulty from the 3-mile Cherry Springs hike to the grueling 21-mile ascension up Black Mountain.

Santa Teresa County Park

Name and Location: Santa Teresa County Park occupies over 1,400 acres in the Santa Teresa Hills of south San Jose, with entry points located off Bernal and Santa Teresa Roads.

History and Significance: Historic sites like the 1855 Stile Ranch stone structure dot this former 19th century cattle ranch property surrounding Upper Calero Reservoir, that today serves as a wildlife sanctuary offering respite from Silicon Valley with scenic oak woodlands and serpentine rock outcroppings throughout the park’s open spaces.

What to Expect: Outdoor enthusiasts hike 12+ miles of trails of varying difficulty navigating the park’s steep topography, taking in lake views, birdwatching for hawks or wild turkeys, or studying didactic panels on miner/ranch history while navigating scenic park terrain.

Visitor Information: Park open daily from 8 am until sunset. Entry fee – $6 per vehicle. Trail map brochure available at entrance kiosk.

At nearly 1,700 acres, Santa Teresa County Park south of San Jose packs trails that lead hikers, mountain bikers and horseback riders deep into the countryside. Shorter loops cater to beginners while more advanced single-track trails challenge experienced outdoorsmen. Scenic vistas from atop Rocky Ridge or Fortini Ridge display the southern end of the Santa Clara Valley. After observing raptors, mule deer, or coyotes within the park you can cool off at nearby Bernal Pool or set up a meal at one of their group picnic sites.

Hellyer County Park

Name and Location: Hellyer County Park comprises 225 gently sloping acres located at 985 Hellyer Avenue in southeastern San Jose.

History and Significance: Known as the Velodrome County Park when opened in 1962 to host world cycling competitions, Hellyer Park has developed into a thriving community space offering accessible amenities like playgrounds, sports fields, a dog park and cottonwood-shaded Coyote Creek trails.

What to Expect: Families with kids enjoy the colorful playgrounds and interactive fountains, wildlife observation along the creek, batting cages, skate park, criterium bike racing course, shaded picnic sites and views of the gentle Diablo foothills framing the park.

Visitor Information: Individual area hours vary. Free entry and parking. Visitor Center open weekends. More info at www.sccgov.org/sites/parks

Hellyer Park provides another Santa Clara County gem tucked away east of the city. Its 960 acres mix open grasslands, cottonwood groves and freshwater marshes that create ideal conditions to spot hawks, herons, woodpeckers and songbirds. Hikers traverse over a dozen miles of dirt trails from the easy 1-mile Peppertree Loop to the 5.2-mile Coyote Peak Loop reaching excellent viewpoints. The park also includes an archery field, dog park, skate park, asphalt track, velodrome track and connections to the Coyote Creek biking and pedestrian greenbelt trail.

Vasona Park

Name and Location: Vasona Park encompasses over 340 acres surrounding the Vasona Reservoir located at 333 Blossom Hill Road, Los Gatos.

History and Significance: Adjacent oak woodlands provided a seasonal food source for Native Americans prior to the 1840s. Today, set against a backdrop of the Santa Cruz Mountains, rolling lawns dotted with heritage oaks, gardens and a lake offer diverse year-round recreation amid natural tranquility.

What to Expect: Visitors pedal boats, fish, view wildlife, play disc golf, explore the Science of Creativity Museum, ride the Billy Jones locomotive around the reservoir or relax amid gently sloping greenery only minutes from bustling Silicon Valley towns.

Visitor Information: Individual site hours vary. Entry fees $8+ for parking. Boat rentals $10-30/hr via Lakeview Park Boathouse.

Vasona Park borders Los Gatos Creek creating a cool, shady space to enjoy a vast county park right in the midst of San Jose suburbs. Amenities fill Vasona Lake County Park satisfying families and friends seeking fun or relaxation. Pedal across the lake by boat, test your aim at Disc Golf Hole #1, stretch your legs on the 1.5-mile jogging path or let the kids burn energy at the Science Challenge Playground. Sheltered picnic tables scattered throughout provide ideal spots for birthday parties or casual snacks and over 330 acres means you’ll always find quiet solitude.

Communication Hill

Name and Location: Communication Hill encompasses 72 acres atop a hill bordering Almaden Expressway and Camden Avenue in south San Jose.

History and Significance: Once home to the KNTV television tower, today Communication Hill serves as a prime scenic vantage point revealing sweeping views of downtown Silicon Valley, South Bay cities, the Santa Cruz Mountains and on clear days, landmarks in San Francisco over 50 miles away.

What to Expect: Visitors follow winding dirt trails through natural, shadeless terrain to one of the windiest peaks in the Bay Area. Reaching the summit rewards sightseers with 360-degree panoramas from an unparalleled elevated perspective. Interpretive exhibits detail visible landmarks.

Visitor Information: Sunrise to sunset daily entry. Dirt lot at trailhead parking along Camden Avenue. Difficulty level is moderately challenging. Water advisable.

Although not a traditional park, San Jose’s iconic Communications Hill has served as a popular hiking spot and point of pride for decades. The hill and its prominent antenna tower are visible from nearly everywhere in the city. A steep hiking trail leads 0.4 miles uphill to the top of Communications Hill delivering worthwhile 360-degree views across San Jose and Silicon Valley. Interpretive signs detail the hill’s history tied to the region’s communication technology as well as its ecological significance marked by native grassland restoration efforts.

Conclusion

San Jose provides access to nature with scenic parks enveloping residents. Miniature zoos, botanical sanctuaries and heritage farms offer family fun while shaded pathways around lakes and rivers provide urban serenity. Foothills on the edge of downtown quickly transport hikers into oak woodlands where they may glimpse hawks or herds of deer. And expansive regional parks with ancient redwood groves and endless ridge line trails promise even more escape into Northern California’s beautiful wilderness as only minutes away. Use this guide to uncover new favorite parks in and around San Jose.

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