As a tech-dependent Silicon Valley local, one of the most common hassles I face when I travel involves how to find WiFi hotspots and keep connected on the go. I know I’m not alone. Free WiFi is constantly rated as the most requested hotel amenity and a struggle for modern, tech-toting travelers at home and abroad. WiFi connectivity is especially important for business travelers, international travelers, and anyone without an unlimited mobile data plan.
Here are some general tips for how to find free WiFi hotspots when you travel and some specific tips for where to find free WiFi in San Jose and Silicon Valley.
Note: There can be safety concerns with connecting to free and unlocked WiFi networks. Be sure to follow these WiFi hotspot safety tips to make sure you connect safely.
Check chain restaurants, stores, coffee shops:
One of the best ways to find a quick WiFi connection is by stopping into global chain restaurants and cafes. Ever-present McDonalds and Starbucks locations offer free WiFi access to customers. In the US and abroad, most local coffee shops offer free WiFi, but do ask before you order to make sure it is available and working.
Most Barnes & Noble, Best Buy, Whole Foods, and Apple Stores have free WiFi in their stores.
Check the local library:
In many cities, the local public library offers free WiFi to both locals and guests. In some cities, you do need to have a local library card, but some systems will offer temporary access for visitors.
Check at airports, transit stations, and convention centers:
Many airports now offer free WiFi to passengers in their terminals. And if you are traveling for a meeting or conference, most convention centers offer free WiFi to guests. If the network is not unlocked, ask your conference staff for the password.
Some transit centers, train stations, and even public transportation lines (subways, light rail, buses) include free WiFi in the station or onboard. In the United States, inter-city bus and rail networks Amtrak, Greyhound, BoltBus, and MegaBus offer free internet to passengers on most lines.
Check your hotel:
More and more hotels are including free in-room WiFi as an amenity. Budget hotels often include basic amenities like WiFi, breakfast, and free parking as standard, though higher end and luxury hotels targeting business travelers still often charge for WiFi access. Even if it’s not available for free in-room, many hotels offer free WiFi in their lobby.
Go to a museum, tourist attraction, or sporting event:
Many museums, local tourist attractions, and sporting events now offer free WiFi to visitors to promote social sharing of their exhibits and attractions. Note: very crowded venues, events, and stadiums are often unable to handle the massive connection load, so don't count on having a reliable network at a busy venue.
Search Yelp reviews for “wifi”:
When you have WiFi access, search Yelp.com or the Yelp mobile app for reviews that include the word “wifi.” Be sure to read the reviews to see whether the reviewer mentions that “they have wifi” rather than a statement about how “they don’t have wifi”. Some business listings include whether they do or don’t have WiFi in the “More Information” section of the app, but that depends on how detailed of a listing they have.
Before you go, download some apps: There are dozens of iOS and Android mobile apps that list free WiFi options in cities around the world. The mostly user-generated databases can be hit-or-miss, but some popular options are WiFi Map, WiFi Finder Free, Open WiFi Spot, and (my personal favorite) Work Hard Anywhere, where users rate the speed and stability of the network. Note: If the apps require WiFi/data access to function, remember to check it and look up some options before you leave home. Some apps do offer downloadable maps, for offline access.
Drop into a coworking facility:
While not free, coworking facilities (where you buy a day pass to use their shared office facilities) can be an affordable option for extended internet use, especially when you factor in the money you would spend on drinks and snacks all day at a coffee shop or cafe. For a list of coworking facilities in the San Jose & Silicon Valley, check out this post: Coworking and Shared Office Space in Silicon Valley.
Buy a portable WiFi hotspot:
This option is not free, but it can save you a lot of time and hassle, especially if you need reliable or ongoing data access or are trying to connect several devices on an extended trip. You can buy or rent the devices from various companies, including most mobile phone providers. I own a Skyroam mobile wifi device which lets you purchase 24-hour day passes for unlimited WiFi access for up to 5 devices at a time. Check out my Skyroam review here (external site, affiliate link).
Where to Get Free WiFi in San Jose & Silicon Valley
While the public access options are constantly changing, here are just some of the places where you can find free WiFi in San Jose and other Silicon Valley cities.
Free WiFi in San Jose:
Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC): Starting on arrival in San Jose, you can find city-sponsored “Wickedly Fast Free WiFi” service throughout the airport.
San Jose McEnery Convention Center: The San Jose Convention Center offers the city-sponsored “Wickedly Fast Free WiFi” throughout the lobby and all convention halls.
Downtown San Jose: The city-sponsored “Wickedly Fast Free WiFi” service is accessible through the downtown core from East St. John Street to the north, portions of Balbach Street and Viola Avenue to the south, North 6th Street to the east, and Almaden Boulevard to the west. Click here to download a map of the downtown coverage area.
The San Jose Public Library: The local public library system offers free WiFi in all of the buildings. Click here for a list of all San Jose branch library facilities.
VTA Light Rail, Buses, and Transit Stations: The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority offers free 4G WiFi for use on Light Rail, Express Bus Lines, and Select VTA Transit Centers (Winchester, Alum Rock and Chynoweth). They are also testing out free WiFi service on other bus lines across the system. Find out more about the VTA WiFi program.
Free WiFi in Santa Clara:
Downtown Santa Clara: The City of Santa Clara offers free wifi across the city. Connect to the "SVPMeterConnectWifi" network.
Free WiFi in Sunnyvale:
Sunnyvale Public Library: The City of Sunnyvale offers free WiFi access to library members and guests. Connect to the "Sunnyvale-Library" network.
Free WiFi in Mountain View:
Downtown Mountain View: As a courtesy to their home city, Google provides free, public outdoor Wi-Fi in Mountain View along the Downtown corridor, primarily Castro Street and Rengstorff Park.
Google also provides indoor Wi-Fi at the Mountain View Public Library, Senior Center, Community Center, and Teen Center.
The City of Mountain View offers free WiFi at Mountain View City Hall.
Free WiFi in Palo Alto:
Palo Alto Public Library: All branches of the library offer free WiFi to guests and visitors. No library card is needed.
Stanford University: The Stanford campus offers free WiFi to campus visitors and guests. Connect to the "Stanford Visitor" wireless network.