Decent bar crawling / low key stuff for 30-somethings+. You'll make do if you're going to college there or if you're sketchily pretending to go to college there to pick up co-eds. Otherwise, just go to San Francisco.
Andy Manoske summarizes each of the major cities:
- San Jose: Most of SJ's nightlife is focused on Downtown. A terrible guy to girl ratio lends itself to the city being less than affectionately referred to as Man Jose. Violent crime is an uncommon but present issue within the city's large clubs and bars. Most of the tech crowd sticks to San Pedro square, with Firehouse, O'Flaherty's, and Wagon Wheel being the major ports of call. The best parties are all invite-only House Parties. Due to geography these are frequently SJSU parties or parties thrown by new engineers at one of the Valley giants.
- Santana Row: While technically in San Jose / Santa Clara, Santana Row is a different scene in and of itself. The crowd here is very yuppie, owing to the high cost of drinks and general bougieness of the area. Big draws are Straits (turns into a dance at night), Sino, Yardhouse, and Molly McGees. Straits and Molly McGees have dance floors, with Straits being more high 20's/low 30's and MM the "it" spot for tech 20-somethings in the area.
- Santa Clara: There are a few random nightclubs and music venues strewn across the city, but for the most part Santa Clara's nightlife is immediately focused around SCU.
- Campbell: Campbell has a surprisingly decent scene focused around The Spot. That aside, the scene itself is small and demographics are what you would expect from a place that prides itself on being a quasi-small town.
- Woodside / Menlo Park / Foster City: "Nightlife" consists of gettingbusted by the cops.
- Atherton: Similar to the above, but you've paid off the cops so blasting music from your palatial and isolated mansion is a go.
- Palo Alto: PA's downtown is everything you'd expect from the stomping grounds of Stanford University: small, intellectual, and ridiculously expensive for an actual college town. Nola's and Old Pro become jam packed with Stanford kids from Thursday - Saturday, with lots of skeezy tech and finance guys prowling for college girls abound. Dancing can be had at Rudy's and The Patio, but neither venue is a club per se. Like San Jose the best parties to be had are private ones hosted on campus or near campus.
- Mountain View: Casto Street is the home of all of MTV's nightlife. It's mostly a bar crawl scene, with big draws being Stephen's Green and Molly MaGees. Molly's and Zen Lounge have dancing. The former is usually full of 30-something and 40-somethings dancing to top 40. The latter is a weird microcosm of Palo Alto: lots of tech guys sketchily pawing at Stanford undergrads.
- Sunnyvale: There's supposedly a dance club in Sunnyvale. But given that Sunnyvale is like a lower-key version of Mountain View you're generally going to be leaving the city for any measure of excitement.
- San Mateo: Downtown stays open late and there are a few decent bars circling the Movie Theater. Demographics are heavily slanted towards yuppy Asians, particularly Chinese. Pretty decent for a low-key night, but you'll want to leave the city as a 20-something and drive to San Francisco if you want to do anything remotely aggressive.
- Redwood City: Redwood City feels like it wants to be Campbell. There's a few good bars downtown, but it's a ghost town for the kind of excitement that most 20-somethings want outside of house parties.
- San Carlos / Belmont: Nightlife consists of merging onto 280 and driving up to the city.
- Burlingame: If only shopping at J-Crew was nightlife.
Jon Xavier explains why night life in Silicon Valley no nightlife compared to NYC or LA.
In my experience, Silicon Valley has no nightlife to speak of compared to someplace like NYC or LA, despite the young and affluent people. This is because the young and affluent people invariably work in one industry (Tech) and invariably for one kind of company (A startup).
This is just a completely different culture than virtually any other group of young professionals. To begin with these are most likely engineers, who don't put the same premium on going out and getting publicly drunk as other young people. To the kind of person who succeeds in the Valley, hard work is play.
Further, startups need to be cranking along on all cylinders to meet product schedules so tight that in any other industry they would be considered completely ludicrous, because their investors need to start seeing a payoff for the millions that they've thrown at these 20 somethings fast or they start to get very, very nervous. Due to the confluence of engineer temperament and tight deadlines, 18 hour work days are not the exception, they're the norm. These even seems to spill over into other industries; I've heard anecdotally that lawyers in the Valley tend to work longer hours than in other areas.
Founders and executives are not immune to this either. Not only do they have to spend just as much time working on product, because teams tend to be small, they also have the added hassle of trying to raise money. In the Valley as a startup you've either just raised a venture round or you're actively trying to make the connections you need to raise your next one. Often both of these things are true. For that reason you see a lot of what are called "networking" events, boring little soirees usually centered on a charity or a panel discussion that let entrepreneurs do the gladhandin' they need to get introduced to VCs and media.
Even when not working, there's a tendency for people to hang out at the office, in part because the offices are a lot nicer here, with amenities like free food, gyms, and even bars. As a result, corporate campuses tend to become the center of a person's social life to a greater extent then you find other places.
All this being true, establishments around here tend to cater to either the college crowd or older people who are established enough to actually have free time. Neither group really lends itself to the kind of club scene you'd find elsewhere. If you want that, San Francisco does have a very healthy club scene, and it's close, so most people just head up to The City for a night on the town.
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