For thousands of years before the arrival of European settlers, the area now known as San Jose was inhabited by several groups of Ohlone Native Americans. Permanent European presence in the area came with the 1770 founding of the Presidio of Monterey and Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo by Gaspar de Portolà and Father Junípero Serra, about sixty miles (100 km) to the south. Don Pedro Fages, the military governor at Monterey, passed through the area on his 1770 and 1772 expeditions to explore the East Bay and Sacramento River Delta.
Late in 1775, Juan Bautista de Anza led the first overland expedition to bring colonists from New Spain (Mexico) to California and to locate sites for two missions, one presidio, and one pueblo (town). He left the colonists at Monterey in 1776, and explored north with a small group. He selected the sites of the Presidio of San Francisco and Mission San Francisco de Asís in what is now San Francisco; on his way back to Monterey, he sited Mission Santa Clara de Asís and the pueblo San Jose in the Santa Clara Valley. De Anza returned to Mexico City before any of the settlements were actually founded, but his name lives on in many buildings and street names.
El Pueblo de San José de Guadalupe (The Town of Saint Joseph of Guadalupe) was founded by José Joaquín Moraga on November 29, 1777, the first pueblo-town not associated with a mission or a military post (presidio) in upper Las Californias. (Mission Santa Clara, the closest mission, was founded earlier in 1777, three miles (5 km) from the original pueblo site in neighboring Santa Clara. Mission San José was not founded until 1797, about 20 miles (30 km) north of San Jose in what is now Fremont.) The town was founded by the colonists led to California by de Anza, as a farming community to provide food for the presidios of San Francisco and Monterey. In 1778, the pueblo had a population of 68. In 1797, the pueblo was moved from its original location, near the present-day intersection of Guadalupe Parkway and Taylor Street, to a location in what is now Downtown San Jose, surrounding Pueblo Plaza (now Plaza de César Chávez).
In the ensuing years a number of Mexican Rancho Land Grants Land Grants were confirmed within the lands now considered San Jose. For example, the Rincón de los Esteros grant was conferred upon Rafael Alvisa in the year 1859; the name of this rancho became the moniker for the modern redevelopment project area.