Five Free Things to Do in Santa Clara

Historical Mission Santa Clara de Asis

Tooling around Santa Clara on a weekend, you’ll find plenty of free things to do.

Dramatic exterior of the Intel Museum in Santa Clara
Dramatic exterior of the Intel Museum in Santa Clara

In a previous post, I mentioned that I was pleased to be invited to be part of Hampton by Hilton’s Ultimate Seekender Team. You might ask (as I did), “What is a Seekender?”

The answer is simple: Anyone with a zest for travel and new experiences who enjoys weekends to the fullest! With a definition like that, I couldn’t resist. I said count me in!

As empty nesters, we love to explore new locales and learn about the food, history, and culture tied to a place whether here or abroad. So when our adult son recently relocated to the San Francisco Bay area to work in the Silicon Valley (the nickname for the Santa Clara region), we were off to see him soon after.

A Seekender stay at Hampton by Hilton Milpitas (located in the heart of the Silicon Valley) offered us the chance to spend time together exploring this region that is rich in history with our son and to visit many of the free attractions in nearby Santa Clara.

Here are five places we visited over our Seekender weekend—all were conveniently located about twenty minutes from our hotel:

1) Intel Museum

An inspirational larger-than-life graphic at the Intel Museum
An inspirational larger-than-life graphic at the Intel Museum

A stop at the Intel Museum, which showcases the impressive achievements in computer chip technology that have taken place over the years is a must on any visit. This is one of the few technology companies in the Silicon Valley that goes all out for visitors.

Not only is entry free but also there’s no cost for guided tours (you just need to reserve a spot in advance). We would highly recommend you take the informative and educational tour because you learn so much more than if you attempted to visit on your own.

The engaging and visually stunning exhibits are interactive. You can learn about Moore’s Law (a remarkable prediction made by Gordon Moore, a co-founder of Intel); learn how silicon chips are made; and even get to try on a bunny suit, the highly protective gear whose use is synonymous with silicon chip production. A tour of the museum takes about an hour and is great fun for kids of any age. If you are an Intel aficionado, there’s a museum store with branded clothes and merchandise.

2200 Mission College Boulevard, Santa Clara, California; Usual hours 9AM – 6PM Monday-Friday and 10AM- 5PM on Saturdays but call ahead to make sure.

2) Mission Santa Clara de Asis

Historical Mission Santa Clara de Asis
Historical Mission Santa Clara de Asis
Fountain on the gracious grounds of the College
Fountain on the gracious grounds of the University

This mission, a California historical landmark, is located on the beautiful grounds of Santa Clara University. The campus is simply bucolic with fragrant roses, other flowering plants, and impressive trees—still eye-catching even in the throes of a drought. The picturesque mission-style buildings are all tan with brown tile roofs.

Our visit seemed to coincide with college visitation week because the leaders of various small student groups were all walking backwards. We overheard one sibling remark to a parent, “How can anyone not be happy at this incredible campus?” The same thought ran through our minds.

Here, you’ll be able to visit the eighth of 21 Spanish missions established by Franciscans in California. The beautifully restored mission was destroyed by earthquakes and fire six times but always rebuilt. It still serves as a working chapel and if you are lucky, you might catch a campus alumnus getting married at the ornate altar. Signage outside and inside the chapel offers information about the mission’s rich history.

500 El Camino Real, Santa Clara, California; Open everyday from 7AM-9PM

3) de Saisset Art Museum

Entrance to the mission-style de Saisset Art Museum
Entrance to the mission-style de Saisset Art Museum

Open since the 1950s, this museum holds 10,000 pieces of American, European, African, and Oriental art and artifacts including many works by its namesake, French painter Ernest de Saisset who immigrated to California during the Gold Rush. The museum is also located on the campus of Santa Clara University, perpendicular to the mission.

In addition to the permanent collection, there are changing exhibits and special programs. One of the unique permanent installations is the California History Museum. Because of the art museum’s proximity to the mission, it contains a wealth of historical information and a collection of Spanish Colonial art. Some of the impressive modernist prints include works by Chagall, Matisse and Picasso.

Unfortunately, when we visited, the museum was closed for nearly a month as it prepared for a new installation. As driving distances in Silicon Valley are great, always check ahead before you go!

500 El Camino Real, Santa Clara, California History Museum

4) Triton Museum of Art

Whimsical sunglasse sculpture outside the Triton Museum of Art
Whimsical sunglasse sculpture outside the Triton Museum of Art

You’ll know you’re arrived when you see the whimsical, larger-than-life modern sculpture of a pair of gaudy eyeglasses on the street outside the museum. As Seekenders, we learned that many attractions in the Silicon Valley are closed on Mondays. However, we hadn’t realized that until we arrived in Santa Clara and learned that this art museum was shuttered.

The museum’s permanent collection is comprised primarily of 19th and 20th century art, emphasizing Bay area artists. This small community-oriented museum also houses a sculpture garden on its gracious 7-acre property. We’ll definitely be back!

1505 Warburton Avenue, Santa Clara, California; Open 11AM-5PM Tuesday- Sunday, 11AM-8PM every third Thursday, and Sundays 12PM-4PM (Closed Mondays)

5) Stroll into the Past

Stroll in the Past: A painless outdoor approach to learn the history of Santa Clara
Stroll in the Past: A painless outdoor approach to learn the history of Santa Clara

We recovered quickly from our disappointment of two closed museums in one day. Just across the street from the Triton Museum, on the grounds of the Santa Clara City Hall, we were able to visit the 28 plaques that document this history of the city from the time it was a Native American settlement to the present day as a center of technology and innovation in the Silicon Valley.

Some of the major international firms that have headquarters in Santa Clara include Intel, National Semiconductor and Applied Materials.

1500 Warburton Avenue, Santa Clara, California; This outdoor walk starts at the corner of Civic Center Drive and Lincoln Avenue in the city of Santa Clara.

Disclosure: As a member of the Ultimate Seekender team (the only empty nester Seekender), my weekend getaway to the Silicon Valley was sponsored by Hampton by Hilton but all opinions expressed in this post are my own.

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  1. I have never been to Santa Clara, but who doesn’t like free stuff. I have to remember this for my future visit. The pics show a very harsh light. It was so nice and sunny. It’s always great when a place can be visited while having great weather.

  2. Nice roundup of things to do here on the weekends. This reminds me that I haven’t been to the de Saisset or the Triton Art Museums and I’ve lived here for more than 30 years.

    While it is sunny most months of the year here, especially in Santa Clara (we have our micro-climates), the sun can be harsh, as your previous reader says. Believe it or not, so much sun can get old (sometimes I mumble “another sunny day in paradise” to myself) and it’s not great for photos.

    But Silicon Valley is definitely the place to be for so many other reasons. For one thing, you run into some brilliant people. For another, the produce and organic food is tops. Whenever I travel, I’m reminded of how grateful I am to live here for those reasons.

    Thanks for writing.

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