After five plus years of staying way too often at this particular complex, I decided to put down some notes for fellow travelers who find themselves booked into this boring behemoth or nearby locations, situated in the middle of gorgeous suburban Santa Clara, home of office parks and strip malls. Believe it or not, there is culture here, but you need to know where to look to find it.
The Santa Clara Convention Center and adjoining Hyatt Regency Hotel (formerly the Westin Santa Clara) are not far at all from the San Jose airport. If you don’t have a lot of luggage, the VTA light rail is a reasonable way to get there. During rush hour, it may even be faster than taking a cab or renting a car; and it’s certainly cheaper. A free bus from the airport will take you to the nearest light rail station. Take the trolley going to Alum Rock (not Santa Teresa), then change at Baypointe for the Mountain View train. Get off at the Great America stop. This puts you directly in front of the convention center. The hotel is around the corner to the left of the convention center.
Airport car rental is not too expensive, though; and a car is very useful for getting around the Valley if you ever plan to leave the Hotel/Convention Center complex. Reservations are recommended, but I don’t ever recall needing them. Cars generally seem to be available if you’ve forgotten to make a reservation. The worst case scenario is that you’ll end up with a slightly larger/more expensive car than you wanted.
When you arrive at the Hyatt Regency, ask for a room on a higher floor in the front of the building. The view isn’t great, but it’s worth having.
The Hyatt Regency has wired and wireless Internet access in the rooms and some (but not all) public areas in the hotel for $10 a day. This is provided by T-Mobil, and is roughly the same as what you’ll find at Starbucks. If you already have a T-Mobil monthly wireless account, you don’t have to pay extra here. The convention center has a different wireless network, though it can get overloaded and slow down when everyone’s trying to connect. There may be a maximum number of users who can connect simultaneously.
Prices seem to have come down a little since the boom years when they ran about $200 a night. Now $169 a night is typical, tax not included. There’s a Hilton across the street with similar prices that’s marginally less convenient. It’s a reasonable place to stay if the Hyatt Regency sells out. However, for any length of time longer than a couple of nights, you can save quite a bit of money by renting a car and staying further away. There’s a Holiday Inn down the street that goes for about $129 a night. A little further away I’m told the Travelodge on El Camino Real is $59 a night and provides more amenities than a standard Hyatt Regency room. However, if you stay here, be sure to allow enough time to get to your first session in the morning. Even post-crash, Silicon Valley traffic can be hideous during rush hour.
Driving tip for those staying at the Travelodge: if you’re on El Camino Real looking for Great America Parkway, you won’t find it. Between 101 and El Camino, it’s called Bowers. On the other side of El Camino, it’s called Kiely Blvd. Streets in Santa Clara have an annoying habit of changing their names for no apparent reason. Another problematic one: Scott and Arques are the same street.
If you use Priceline to book your hotel, the convention center is in the Sunnyvale/Santa Clara region. There are plenty of hotels here. A few are within easy walking distance or have light rail access to the convention center, but most aren’t. You’ll probably need a car. If you’re only staying for a night or two, and just shuttling back and forth to your hotel in the morning or evening, cabs are an option. However, if you’re staying more than a couple of days, renting a car is probably cheaper.
Tresca, the Hyatt Regency restaurant, is a typical hotel restaurant. That is to say: it’s priced like a four star restaurant and has a menu that sounds like a four star restaurant, but the food quality is more like a one-star chain. Avoid it if possible. It’s adequate and edible if you really don’t want to leave the hotel, but you can do a lot better for a lot less money not very far away. (The Hilton’s restaurant across the street is a definite improvement, and there are many excellent places within reasonable driving distance.) The breakfast buffet is overpriced, and as typical for American hotels, only has scrambled eggs. If you detest scrambled eggs like I do, you’ll have to order a la carte. There’s an International House of Pancakes a few blocks down Great America Parkway toward 101 that offers roughly equivalent food to the hotel restaurant (filling, adequate, but nothing to write home about) for a lot less money. There’s also a Thai restaurant and a sushi place in a strip mall across Mission College Blvd. from the IHOP that I haven’t tried.
In a different direction, if you walk west down Tasman, past the convention center and the golf course, you’ll encounter a Carl’s Jr. and an Indian restaurant in a strip mall. Some of the strip mall restaurants in the area are excellent. Sadly, this isn’t one of them. The main offering is a cheap, all-you-can-eat buffet that substitutes quantity for quality.
For a restaurant that goes beyond mere sustenance, you’ll have to go further afield. You can take the light rail into San Jose on one end or Mountain View on the other, both of which have a wide variety of interesting eateries. If you have a car, you can do worse than wandering around aimlessly until you happen across a taqueria in a strip mall. They range from good to fabulous, and they’re all different. Not all of them speak English, but even sans Spanish I’ve always been able get by with a lot of pointing at the menu. Warning: stay away from Taco Bell/El Torrito’s/Chi Chi’s etc. These chains serve food that’s as bland and boring as they do in the rest of the country; and nothing makes that quite so clear as trying the food at the small family run taquerias.
Things To Do
I don’t play golf, but there’s a golf course next door to the convention center. The hotel can probably set you up to play there. The Great America theme park is across the street from the convention center, though it’s mostly only open in the summer and late spring.
I do bird, and there are some wonderful birding opportunities in Silicon Valley. If you’re on East Coast time and find yourself waking up at 5:00 in the morning, try San Tomas Aquino Creek. Walk out the front door of the Hyatt Regency, turn right, go north past the Techmart. The creek runs under the first bridge, and bicycle and walking trails follow alongside it. Cliff swallows nest under the bridge. If you follow the creek to the left, across Great America Parkway, you’ll hit the south end of the Bay and can follow trails to the West into Baylands Park. This connects up with a large set of trails going for miles around the south end of San Francisco Bay. A recent morning trip in March turned up over thirty species in just a couple of hours including Moorhen, American Coot, Mallard, White Pelican, Bushtit, Song Sparrow, Western Meadowlark, Black-necked Stilt, Red-winged Blackbird, Cinnamon Teal, Great Blue Heron, Pied-billed Grebe, Yellow-rumped Warbler, White-tailed Kite, and Ruddy Duck. If you follow the creek to the right, the path goes for miles, longer than I’ve yet walked. This is also an excellent trail for jogging or bicycling.
If you have a spare day and a car, there are lots of other great birding sites. The best is perhaps Shoreline Park in Mountain View. Take 101N to San Antonio, turn right at the end of the exit ramp and drive a few blocks until you hit the end of the street. During migration you can easily get fifty species here in just a couple of hours. Recent species included American Avocet, Marbled Godwit, Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs, Dunlin, Western and Least Sandpipers, Short-billed Dowitcher, Long-billed Curlew, Red-shouldered Hawk, Barrow’s and Common Goldeneyes, Surf Scoters (closer than I’ve ever seen them before), Ring-billed and California Gulls, Black Phoebe, Cedar Waxwings, Marsh Wren, and Eared, Pied-billed, and Western Grebes.
For land birding you’ll need to go a little further afield. The local Audubon center is in McClellan Ranch Park in Cupertino, which is good for about 30 species in the morning. A recent trip yielded Steller’s and Western Scrub Jays, Bewick’s Wren, Violet-green Swallow, Nutall’s Woodpecker, Black Phoebe, California and Spotted Towhees, Brown Creeper, Anna’s Hummingbird, Hermit Thrush, and Yellow-rumped Warbler. The trail follows Steven’s Creek and is to your left as soon as you enter the parking lot. The ranch is small and the trail can be covered from end to end and then back again (it’s not a loop) in a couple of hours. It’s probably about 20 minutes to get there from the hotel, if you aim to show up at dawn. However, rush hour traffic on the way back can be hazardous to your schedule. Allow at least an hour for the return trip.
If you have a full day off, the local favorite for hiking is probably Big Basin Redwoods State Park. From November through March you can also take a ranger led hike to see the elephant seals at AÃ±o Nuevo State Reserve. This is very popular, space is limited, and reservations are required. Make them early.
If you have a spare Sunday or Saturday, you may be able to take a trip with the Santa Clara Valley Audubon Society. Most field trips do not require reservations unless otherwise stated. Just show up at the appointed location at the appointed time. The group is quite friendly. Membership is not required.
Silicon Valley is not known for its tourist attractions. A lot of the most interesting work goes on behind closed doors at companies like Sun, Apple, and Google; and they don’t give tours. However, there are a few places worth checking out. The Winchester Mystery House is worth a visit, as is the Tech Museum. The recently opened Computer History Museum in Mountain View may also be of interest to those in the industry.
One popular destination for out-of-towners and locals alike is Fry’s Electronics. This is the only store I’ve ever seen where you can buy an oscilloscope off the shelf at eight in the evening. Not just one either. You actually have a selection of oscilloscopes to choose from. They also satisfy more prosaic needs ranging from junk food to computer equipment to pornography. When your TiBook power adapter catches fire (as mine did last year at Software Development 2004), it’s nice to know you can hop in your car and buy a quick replacement. The nearest Fry’s to the convention center is at 1077 East Arques Avenue. Take Great America south. cross 101, and then turn right at the second light onto Scott. Then drive about 1.5 miles till you see it on the right.
What night life there is in Silicon Valley is to be found in downtown San Jose, around South First through Fourth streets. The light rail will take you there from the convention center. There is an AMC 21 Theatre not far from the hotel (but not quite walking distance). Go toward 101 from the hotel on Great America Parkway. Turn right at Mission Blvd just before you get to the freeway. Then left at the first light. From that point just follow the road (it loops a bit), and you can’t miss it.
That’s about it. Unless you’re a birder or a golfer, there’s not a lot to distract you from the convention. Maybe that’s why so many conventions seem to end up here instead of more interesting cities like San Francisco or New York. Still, there’s more here than I thought there was when I arrived at my first convention at this site five years ago. I hope this makes your convention experience a little more pleasant.