[Best of the Santa Clara Valley 1997]

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Best of East San Jose

mariachi band
Music Men: Kelley Park reigns as the place to audition a mariachi band.

Best Place to Book a Mariachi Band
On sunny weekends, several bands from as far away as Salinas wander about Kelley Park with their guitars, accordions and fiddles, quietly offering Mexican, norteño and mariachi music for $6 a song. The minstrels, outfitted in cowboy hats and boots, are hired to play tableside by picnicking families and shirtless beer drinkers in the shade. Most of the strolling entertainers hope that their $6 serenades will lead to other, bigger gigs. And indeed, people who need to hire bands often stop at the park until they hear something they like, paying about $200 per hour to have mariachis show up for a party or wedding. In the meantime, the musicians seem perfectly happy to strum a few songs for one or two listeners.
1300 Senter Road, San Jose

Best Hill to Test Your Pedal's Mettle
Silver Creek Valley Road is the area's closest thing to a hill that's impossible to climb--but that doesn't stop crazed cyclists from trying. The challenge starts at Hellyer Avenue and Silver Creek Valley Road and snakes eastward 1.3 miles up a Mt. Everestian ascent before sloping down toward Evergreen Valley. Evergreen resident and weekend biker Jose Chavez says he's set out several times to conquer Silver Creek Valley Road and once made it a quarter of the way up before his legs couldn't turn the pedals anymore. This air of unconquerability is what makes the course popular. "You see some avid road racers up there huffing and puffing as you pass them [in your car]," Chavez says.
East of Blossom Hill Road at Highway 101, where Blossom Hill turns into Silver Creek Valley Road

Best Place to Ponder the Universe
If the stars seem closer from up here, it's probably because of the 120-inch Shane reflector telescope. For only 10 nights each summer, Lick Observatory allows 250 people a chance to squint through one of the big 'scopes. The event is so popular that all the tickets disappeared by the end of April this year. Half those nights were free tours, and half were part of a $30 concert deal that included either Dixieland jazz or Scottish flutes. Music or no, an astronomer is on hand to explain spectacular celestial phenomena, and visitors can look through one of the three telescopes at, say, the Orion nebula in the Trapezium star system or the Lagoon nebula in Sagittarius. Getting on the observatory's mailing list in hopes of getting in on next year's open house is as simple as phoning the office.

In the meantime, star-lovers can tour two of the observatory's eight domes for free, seven days a week. There's a self-guided tour of the Shane reflector; guides explain the workings of one of the largest domes in tours that start on the hour and the half-hour. The observatory is open weekdays, 12:30-5pm, and weekends, 10am-5pm.
Top of Mt. Hamilton Road (408/274-5061)

Raging Waters

Best Way to Wet Your Trunks Without Driving Over the Hill
The best thing about Raging Waters is that it's local, whereas a trip to the "real" thing means a 35-mile crawl in beach-bound traffic--and maybe there's no surf anyway. Opening each year in May, before school gets out, the park is about as crowded as the lagoon on Gilligan's Island. After the weather turns hot and until late September, people stampede into Raging Waters, zipping on the speed slides, splashing in the wave pool and getting all wet in 30 other ingenious ways. General admission is $19.95 for adults, $15.95 for kids under 42 inches and $9.95 for seniors. Admission after 3pm is $13.95 for everyone.
2333 S. White Road, San Jose (408/270-8000)

Best Fiesta Emporium
Bonanza Mexican Foods opened six months ago in a small tile-roofed brick building on the portion of Alum Rock Avenue known as Little Portugal. It quickly set itself apart from its larger neighbors by hanging piñatas from the ceiling. Bonanza is about half the size of the usual neighborhood store, but every square inch counts. Need pozole fixings? Bonanza carries dried corn, tomatoes, peppers and onion. Tamales? The corn husks are on your right. Imported cookies prove that there's more to life than Oreos. Visible through a row of windows in the rear, Bonanza's tortilla-making factory supplies its own shelves, other grocery stores and local restaurants.
1640 Alum Rock Ave., San Jose (408/923-1564)

Best Place to Pick Wild Blackberries
A train used to run from downtown San Jose to Alum Rock Park, the Santa Clara Valley's original outdoor playground. Now, it's an easy drive (10 minutes from I-280) to the creekside picnic areas, or to short hikes which lead to pinnacled overlooks that yield some of the prettiest views of the valley. Wildflowers, sparrow hawks and owls are in abundance, as are the humble wild blackberries--sweeter than anything Ben and Jerry can whip up.
16240 Alum Rock Ave., San Jose (408/259-5477)


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From the Sept. 18-24, 1997 issue of Metro.

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