"All good things are wild and free." --Henry David Thoreau

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Blue Greenway

India Basin

A great thing is in the works in San Francisco: The Blue Greenway, a twisting path running down the bayside edge of The City from the baseball stadium to the curve of broken-rubble beach down by the old football stadium. It's not here yet--but it's on its way. This thirteen-mile section is part of a 500-mile grand plan of trails proposed for “waterfront walking and bicycling paths” along the jagged perimeter of San Francisco Bay.

On one hand, I fear it taking ages to happen. Nearly a decade has passed since the Blue Greenway was first proposed back in 2003. But then again, the wheels have been turning, and progress will continue, especially if more local people get involved.

San Francisco Chronicle writer Will Kane spread the word in early November of 2010 that the Neighborhood Parks Council received a $175,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to “research the best way to build [the] 13-mile path, called the Blue Greenway.”

There’s a call to action. Jane Diamond, Director of EPA’s Pacific Southwest Regional Superfund Division, says the money is also intended “to help residents more fully participate in planning efforts.” Now I’ve just got to find my way to knock on that door.

As a child growing up on Potrero Hill, sometimes my mom would take my sister and I to see a friend who lived down by the bayside at a place we called Shit Creek. The creek’s unfortunate name didn’t start with us; back in the days of the Gold Rush and Butchertown, the quaint name for this neck of the woods, folks dumped odds and ends of cattle carcasses here, shit, blood, trash, you name it. In the hundred and fifty odd years since those days, auto parts places, scrap metal yards, paint shops, and specialty hardware stores moved in, bringing their sweet mix of ingredients to the stew. I was a kid in the 1970s and ‘80s, feeding scraps of bread to birds floating on an iridescent, rainbow sheen of water, blissfully unaware.

As a teen with a bicycle, and then a car, I sometimes went down to the eastern edge of The City, to warehouses located where landfill meets water, and stayed up all night to music I didn’t care about, clustered with groups of young people at the edge of the abandoned MUNI bus yard, befriending one-eyed stray cats slinking under the bushes, warming our hands around small bonfires. By night, this part of town was dark and abandoned, half the streetlights off, and just a few cars going too fast down Third Street. If someone asked me, “What was San Francisco like before all this?” I would’ve said it was marshland. I had learned that in school. But I loved the abandoned buildings, the idea that I could traipse through them like a secret voyeur, like my friends and I were the last people on earth, throwing stones and painting pictures till arms grew tired. And still, I was blissfully unaware.

To realize the essentiality of marshland, I needed decades to pass. Years of working for someone else, for classrooms full of kids. Years of intensely loving other people, and then of losing them. Years of sitting in classrooms and lecture halls, or crouched over a book or computer, learning factoids like 90% of San Francisco Bay has been altered for the worse by mankind.

“You don’t miss the water till the well runs dry,” sang an R&B artist from the 1960s. The words couldn’t be more apt.

And it took a baby; where once I was like, okay, it’s marshland, so what? Landfill schmandfill. What can I do? What can I really do when it’s so easy for someone to press buttons and unleash weapons and blow the whole place up. My baby and I might not survive World War III, but damned if I can’t try to make things better now. Sometimes I wonder if planting that one seed, of literally touching that one rubbery tip of pickleweed growing at the edge of the development site, of chancing upon a heron stalking minnows in the eel grass, if that’s the last moment we have. If it’s the only thing I have, let it be.
Heron's Head Park

What happens when a marshland goes dry? When man fills her up with his trash and quarried rock?

Recently my husband and I went down to the waterfront in Hunter’s Point, a neighborhood next to our more southern neighborhood, Visitacion Valley. We went to see one of the “parks” that the Blue Greenway will connect (the greenest spaces right now, by the way, going from north to south, are China Basin, Agua Vista, Islais Creek (aka Shit Creek), Pier 94 Wetlands, Heron’s Head, India Basin Shoreline, and Candlestick Point State Recreation Area). A family of young parents and their kids picnicked at India Basin. Other than them and us, it was just the birds—brown pelicans, plenty of gulls, long-legged shorebirds whose names I have yet to learn, and little brown seedeaters darting from bush to bush. A veritable graveyard of small, paint-peeling boats rested on the water next to old shacks; this be Popeye’s territory.

Next door in the other direction big machines thrummed in the old naval shipyard, and bright yellow booms floated in crescent shapes just off shore, containing unknown toxic crap in their arm-hold. Clean up has been a long time coming, but its here, spearheaded I believe by Lennar, a Florida-based development company. They’re building over 10,000 units on the landfill of the old shipyard. It shall be a vast commune of condos—far better than a toxic shipyard, in my opinion, but worse than just cleaning up the land and restoring marshland.

In 1849 the Swamp Land Act allowed and encouraged people to “reclaim” the wetlands. This Act, plus a couple of subsequent ones, granted California 2,192,875 acres for “swamp reclamation.” Nice going, Forebears. A relatively recent inventory of California marshland, as detailed by the Fish and Wildlife Service, tallies us at 457,000 remaining wetland acres.

I guess nobody knew what they meant when they talked about reclaiming wetlands. The shoulders shrugged and the pickaxes swung. Who knew the wealth of a marshland? That its matted rooty tangles could filter pollutants, or give refuge to baby fish? That birds needed to rest here. That water was contained and somewhat cleansed here. Who knew?
At India Basin

And if I knew San Francisco had marshlands, did I care when the mortgage payment kept me working like a dog? Bitter fish grow legs and live on land, you see. But now the pull of the sea draws me back to the waterfront.

According to the group Save the Bay, we can bring wetlands back. It’s really a choice. They say we need to have 100,000 acres of marshland here in San Francisco Bay. When Save the Bay started in 1961, there were only five miles of “publicly accessible shoreline”—now there are 300 miles.

How does one change an environmental tragedy? How does one like me, who is learning a little too late in life, do something with tangible results? Sometimes all I want to do is sit on the rotted dock and watch the moon rise over the Oakland hills. Sometimes all I want to do is complain.

Perhaps the big change takes one pickleweed plant at a time. (Jeez, it’ll take forever, the curmudgeon in me whines.) Perhaps each pocketful of bottle caps picked up by a waterfront wanderer will make a difference.

With seven million residents in the Bay Area, there’s a lot of possibility. But we just want our gourmet burritos, our winding streets, our iconic image of fog pushing over the peaks, our bridges. 

The industrial southeastern side of SF is not the first place I’d have imagined a waterfront part. Now I can’t help but imagine a trail there. Call it the Blue Greenway, call it our last chance. Peel off the concrete like a scab. 

I see a shoreline made of mud instead of concrete, filled with thousands of shrimp, crabs, worms, clams, and snails, instead of polystyrene bits and bottle caps. And the birds on their epic migrations will be here, as well as the resident species. May the eelgrass and pickleweed grow. May a zillion baby fish be born and thrive here. May the nearly unseen bits of plankton, the shimmery diatoms and larva and dinoflagellates, drift along our waterfront and be touched by sunlight instead of rainbow oil.

Heron's Head

“If I had the influence with the good fairy who is supposed to preside over the christening of all children I should ask that her gift to each child in the world be a sense of wonder so indestructible that it would last throughout life, as an unfailing antidote against the boredom and disenchantments of later years, the sterile preoccupation with things that are artificial, the alienation from the sources of our strength.”  --Rachel Carson (1907-1956)

Naval shipyard

India Basin

Egret at Heron's Head

San Francisco from a boat

Candlestick Park

Old fishing pier at Candlestick Park

Raven at Candlestick Park

"Mudflats" at Candlestick Park

Yosemite Slough

By the entrance to Heron's Head Park


Alexander, Jean. “A bird’s eye view of The Blue Greenway.” Neighborhood Parks Council. 2003-2007. Retrieved 11/24/10.
Armstrong, P.; Connor, J.; Parsons, C.; Rand, J.; Vuturo-Brady, J. Sea Searchers Handbook. Monterey: Monterey Bay Aquarium Foundation, 1996.
Kane, Will. “13-mile path to revitalize industrial waterfront.” San Francisco Chronicle. November 11, 2010.
Neigborhood Parks Council Press Release, “San Francisco’s Blue Greenway Gains National Recognition & Support from EPA.” November 10, 2010.
Save the Bay 50th Anniversary 2011 Calendar. “Fun Facts of the San Francisco Bay-Delta Estuary.” Save the Bay, 2010.
USGS. “Wetlands of the United States: Their Extent and Their Value To Waterfowl and Other Wildlife, A Century of Wetland Exploitation.” 2006. Retrieved 11/26/10.

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010


Ever since childhood when Momma drove her red convertible Mustang up 101 towards San Francisco, I wondered about those humungous letters on the side of San Bruno Mountain:


What was so great about South SF that they got to hog up the side of a hill with their name? Shouldn’t it just say SAN FRANCISCO? And were those letters painted on, or made of wood like the Hollywood sign? Most importantly, could I get up there?

But Momma had other plans, and we drove on.

"Y" spells "Weeee!"
A short lifetime of distractions kept me from reaching for the letters ‘til my twenties, when I went clambering up the hillside with beer in my backpack and friends at my side. The letters were like big concrete slides going down the hill! Well how’s about them apples! I must’ve tried to joyride them, but I don’t quite remember.

Fast-forward ten years.

On a recent afternoon my nuclear family (husband, baby, and I) ate burritos on Grand Avenue and then took our girl for a swing at the playground behind South SF’s City Hall. Then, bellies full of food, we waddled off in search of yard sales. (I’m thinking I’ve surely hit middle age.) We decided to go up to those letters on the hill.

On the Letters Trail
Sign Hill, the official name where the letters are, isn’t smack up against San Bruno Mountain, but on a parallel ridge. Getting to the letters is easy from Grand Avenue, just a short, uphill walk through a quiet suburban neighborhood.

We climbed up Sign Hill’s eastern edge (the backside of the Letters Trail?), up a fire road alongside eucalyptuses. I had a dizzy flashback from my twenties, but this time my backpack held a 22-pound baby girl and a canteen filled with Hetch Hetchy’s finest.

Looking south
And for the second time in my life, there were the letters, up close and personal. It was very, very cool. There’s a certain thrill from being up so high, sort of lording over the peninsula, looking down at a thousand backyards, and perching next to a monumental letter. It reminded me of trespassing, but it obviously wasn’t.

The Letters Trail was a short jaunt, a mini-hike, although there are four trails to choose from (Ridge, Seubert, Iris Hill, and Letters). We made our way back to suburbia, at the intersection of Poplar and Rocca Streets.

"Warship"--SSF Library
We meandered back to our car by City Hall, and noticed some brass plaques about Sign Hill. It was time to learn some history. Apparently the letters went up in 1923, sixty feet tall and ten feet wide, but were replaced with concrete ones by the end of the decade. South SF was truly an industrial city in its day, home to businesses like Pacific Coast Steel, Western Pipe, South SF Lumber Company, Baden Brick, American Marble, and more. Back then, acres of cattle stockyards undoubtedly stank up the vicinity but supplied fresh beef to the many distributors. Besides the Swift Meat Company and the Western Meat Company, there was the Morgan Oyster Company, and probably a whole lot of other warehouses full of food being shipped across country. It must’ve been exciting. (Back then, freight trains ran to San Francisco, carrying goods up and down the peninsula—and characters like Jack London and Jack Kerouac worked or hoboed on them.) When America became involved in two World Wars, it was the blue-collar folk of South SF who churned out some of our warships. South San Francisco quite justifiably added “The Industrial City” to its name back in 1908.

My husband and I drove back to San Francisco better off for having checked out those massive letters than we were before. Did we feel like middle-aged old coots? Naw. We felt pretty stoked to live in the Bay Area. Did we slide down the letters? Well, what do you think? 

Baby says, "Weeee!"

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Liberty Street, San Francisco

My mom once lived in a commune on Liberty Street, back in the 1970s, and so I went there (having forgotten the specific address) to just look at the many Late Victorian houses and tromp the hills with my baby in tow. There are several great staircases bordered by lush plants, so leave the stroller behind.

Liberty runs for just a handful of blocks, running parallel and between 20th and 21st Streets, to the north and south, and perpendicularly hemmed in between Castro and Valencia, to the west and east.

You'll traverse hills, navigate stairways, and see some beautiful views. Sustenance and bathrooms are only blocks away--south to Noe Valley, west to the Castro, and east to the Mission neighborhood.

Stairways not to miss:
--Sanchez to Liberty Street
--Liberty Street between Noe and Rayburn Streets

And if you want to have fun on the STEEPEST STAIRS in the City, deviate your path off Liberty and go to Sanchez and 21st. :-)

Monday, July 12, 2010

Fort Funston: a hike around Battery Davis and onto Ocean Beach

 A month ago or so, we explored Fort Funston in the southwestern corner of San Francisco. It seems it had been years since I visited, and now that I'm reacquainted, I think it's an awesome place to walk in the City. There are so many interesting things to see for adults and kids—WWII barracks, hidden trails behind the bunkers, an area where hang gliders scoot off into the misty blue, and the expansive, slate-grey Pacific Ocean pounding onto Ocean Beach, littered with weird naturalia.


There are two main hikes, one paved and easy (three-quarters of a mile long), the other suited for babies in slings or children, up and down from the cliffs and forts, and along the Ocean Beach (two and a half miles roundtrip).

There is a drinking fountain on the trail, and very thoughtfully, a spigot and a water dish for dogs.
There might be a port-o-potty somewhere for humans, but I didn’t see one.


The Sunset Trail (0.75 of a mile) is paved and slightly changes in elevation, but is under trees and in the sun, next to the old bunker of Battery Davis, and is a place where dogs can leap and run around off leash. There are some very cool trails around the thickets behind Battery Davis, but some of the pathways lead right off the high cliff (don’t let your kids or dog gallop down the trails).

The Low Tide Loop Hike (2.5 miles roundtrip) is started on either end of the Sunset Trail. Look for wide, sandy pathways to the beach, the one in the north more sandy and eroded, the other in the south steeper, with steps, and a landscape of bright green ice plant and winding, sandy path down a very cool cliff face. Walk along the beach in a big loop, keeping an eye out for the sea flotsam, huge jellyfish, scads of lady bugs, sand lice. An endangered bird, the Bank Swallow, nests in the cliff faces.

I recommend doing the whole loop of bunkers and beach. 


Battery Davis is essentially an artificial hill built into the seaside cliffs above Ocean Beach. It’s an old heavy-caliber gun battery, built just before the Second World War, housing thirty-five soldiers in over twenty-five rooms who manned the big guns and watched the sea (no attack ever hit the west coast), and probably had a drink or two over a long game of cards. (According to an explanatory plaque, when the guns discharged, they damaged neighborhood civilian homes.)


If you’re going with a child, consider making a treasure hunt list for things to find, but not keep. If they can’t read, you can draw pictures. Things in the vicinity include round stones, ladybugs, jellyfish, sand dollars, yellow or purple ice plant flowers, driftwood, black, grey, or yellow sand, pieces of plastic.

Another idea is to be a Super Trash Collector! Bring along a container or bag for collecting little pieces of plastic off the beach. Teach the kids about the horrendous plastic gyre in the Pacific, and do our part to pick up little bits of plastic that might otherwise end up in the gyre.


Click here for an article about hiking around Lake Merced (across the road from Fort Funston), as well as some other articles I have on Examiner.com. 


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Monday, June 28, 2010

Call for Articles!

I would love to publish other people's writing on Hill Babies! The only guideline is that the article be about hiking with children in the Bay Area.  If you're interested, please contact me.  And if you know a writerly hiking type of parent or caregiver, please tell them about Hill Babies.



Potrero Hill’s two playgrounds on Arkansas Street

 I grew up on Potrero Hill, so I’m somewhat partial to this sunny, banana-belt of a neighborhood on the eastern edge of the San Francisco Peninsula. There are two playgrounds on Arkansas Street, and the walk between them takes you from the flatlands to the top of the hill, and back again.


The first playground, a big one with all sorts of cool equipment, is on Arkansas and 17th Streets, adjoining a green baseball field. You’ll be just down the road from the Anchor Steam Brewery, which you might locate just on its earthy aroma of hops and malt (and has free tastings and tours of the plant, even their distillery—but call first because there aren’t any drop-in tours).

The second playground is at the Potrero Hill Recreation Center, on Arkansas and 23rd/22nd Streets. It’s more my childhood stomping grounds, near the top of the hill, just a couple of blocks from where I grew up. The bare-bones, old school play structures are behind the indoor basketball court (which is a very cool old wooden structure; if neighborhood kids are shooting hoops, you can see the old gallery of team photos from the 1970s and 80s). There’s also a baseball field, a hillside of eucalyptus and wild plants adjoining some housing projects, built in the 40s for Navy workers, so I’ve heard, and a lovely community garden in the northern border, near Connecticut and 22nd Streets. 
The hike (maybe a mile) between the two Arkansas Street playgrounds is uphill, but a great walk.

I recommend starting on Arkansas and 17th, where it’s flat, and then hiking up to the Pot Hill Rec Center on Arkansas and 22nd/23rd.  Walking uphill in San Francisco is truly gratifying when you reach the peak of a hill, hang out for a while, have a picnic, marvel at the view. Then go downhill, going past the community garden, maybe stopping at a café or a grocery store or the library along the way back down to the flatlands.   


There are public restrooms, water, and a fantastic wall of windows in the children’s section of the Potrero Hill Library, which is at the halfway point of the walk. Go east on 20th Street a block or two. Also on 20th Street is the Thinkers Café, several grocery stores (one being Good Life Grocery, where I worked when I was 15 and 16), and a pricey but good sandwich shop.

The playgrounds have rustic bathrooms and drinking water too.


The 22nd Street Staircase—For a longer walk, do up the long staircase basically going west from the community garden, up what would be 22nd Street, all the way to the blue water tower on Wisconsin. There’s a cool old firehouse up here and great views of San Francisco.

The Pink Palace—One of my favorite mystery houses is a salmon-colored, turn-of-the-century mansion, on Wisconsin and 20th Street. The sidewalk is overtaken by its tropical garden. 


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Sunday, May 2, 2010

Union Square and Hallidie Plaza

I’ve never had much interest in Union Square until recently, although I grew up in San Francisco. I’ve thought of it as such a frenetic center of consuming activity—not my cup of tea.

When I started my Hill Babies blog and then a column on Examiner.com about walking in The City with children, another mother wrote to tell me about some baby-friendly resources in the vicinity. I’ve discovered Union Square is a still point in the middle of downtown. That and the gold rush era history, plus an invitation to have a drink with a former colleague, drew me back to Union Square. I was pleasantly surprised.


First things first. Right by the Powell Street BART station are several sumptuous bathrooms for kids and babies in the children’s sections of certain department stores.

Bloomingdale’s has a semi-private play area just outside the bathroom. Cushioned benches for nursing, a video game for little kids, a ridiculously huge television, and a wall of toys and fun house style mirrors. The baby-changing table is plush.

Nordstrom’s has changing tables and a lounge for nursing. San Francisco Center (near the food court / Bristol Farm) has a family restroom with a kid-sized toilet.


Hallidie Plaza is the triangular-shaped plaza just outside and upstairs from the Powell Street BART and MUNI station, where the cable cars (http://www.sfcablecar.com/) turnaround. This is the most popular place to catch a cable car. Of course buskers are present en masse; on this most recent visit, I appreciated the music of an acoustic guitarist and two skilled tap dancers. Hallidie Plaza is a great place to people-watch. It’s a convergence of tourists and locals, performers, sidewalk vendors, and street preachers holding big signs.

The history is interesting. The plaza is named for Andrew Smith Hallidie, inventor of the cable car. Check out the ornate streetlight from 1917 with three torches on the top. It is one of many going up Market Street.

Just past the Gap is the entrance to the Flood Building, on 870 Market Street. It is a cool, flat-iron building (with a snubby triangular edge, like an iron), built in 1904 by the son of one of San Francisco’s “Bonanza Kings” (who made his wealth from silver mining in the late 1800s). The foyer is architecturally beautiful in Renaissance Baroque style, and there’s a mini museum of the building’s history.


Plazas are great places, period. Kids were running around, people were having drinks, and an Eighties cover band was whooping it up on the center stage. I could sit there a while, rest the feet, listen to tunes, and bask in the sun. There are several places to get coffee drinks and snacks. In the winter there’s an ice skating rink, and in warmer months there’s live music.

In the middle of Union Square is a tall, granite Corinthian column topped by a virtuous looking, almost angelic sculpture of a woman. She carries a trident in one hand, and a laurel wreath in the other. She is symbolic of the Republic, as her wreath commemorates President McKinley, and her trident symbolizes a naval victory. Look closer and it seems like she modeled during a wet T-shirt contest. The model was Alma de Bretteville, a six feet tall, voluptuous, sought-after woman. Born in 1881, she came from a poor Danish family with aristocratic roots. She studied art in San Francisco and made money by posing nude... and gold digging for rich old men. There’s a fabulous history about her, too much to write here. One last note: she was a benefactress to San Francisco after she became wealthy—the Legion of Honor and National Maritime Museum were projects of hers. Next time I come to Union Square, I am bringing binoculars.


My friend and I went in here to see a famous clock, and discovered some other interesting things.

“Meet me under the clock” is a phrase connected with the Magneta Grandfather Clock. It is a 10-foot tall rococo style clock, sort of awkwardly positioned in the corner of the foyer. It was built in 1856 in Vienna, and is the master clock for the entire hotel.

We discovered four things about the hotel. The elevators are fast and have a glass wall with a tremendous view of downtown San Francisco. The Italian Ballroom—sort of hard to find—has a beautiful embossed metal ceiling of Art Nouveau figures. Barack Obama stayed here. When Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II visited in the early Eighties, her dinner menu included Consommé of Pheasant, Loin of Veal with Morel Mousse, Lobster Terrine with Golden Caviar and Dill Sauce, and Cheese Straws.

We stopped in the lobby café. Coffee drinks with sugar encrusted swivel sticks, overpriced wine, orchids in the table vases, and cushioned booths. It was nice.



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Ø  Melissa Helms. Thank you for the information on kid-friendly resources!

Ø  Bacon, Daniel Bacon. Walking San Francisco on the Barbary Coast Trail. Quicksilver Press: San Francisco, 1997. This book is funny, smart, and well illustrated!

Ø  Kahn, Edgar. “Andrew Smith Halliedie.” Virtual Museum of the City of San Francisco. Retrieved May 1, 2010.

Ø  Various plaques inside the St. Francis Hotel and Flood Building.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


 My excitement grew as my husband and I drove up a serpentine driveway flanked by ancient oaks, nearing the famed estate of Filoli. Over the years, people described its beautiful gardens and grand home, often filled with exquisite flower arrangements, but I had yet to visit. The house is an amazing 36,000 square feet, and there are sixteen acres of European-style gardens. The property, most of it left to grow as it will, is 654 acres.

It was the day before Easter and grey clouds washed over the sky, but everything was green, glistening with dew or raindrops, as we drove into a parking lot dominated by olive trees. My in-laws were there, waiting for us, eager to show us one of their favorite local places.

Filoli is only a half hour’s drive south of San Francisco, near the affluent community of Woodside. It’s right off the 280 freeway, tucked against the eastern flank of the Santa Cruz Mountains.


William Bowers Bourn II, a man made wealthy from Californian natural resources, wanted a country estate for he and his wife, Agnes. (He owned Crystal Springs Lake,  Empire Mine of Grass Valley, a gold mine, and was instrumental in the creation of the Pacific Gas and Electric Company. Just for the record, he wasn’t loved by all—the San Francisco Chronicle labeled him “a thief and scoundrel.” Even the Filoli website describes him as “a proud man” who forbade his gardeners to see him roll along in his wheelchair after he suffered a stroke in later years.)

The Bourns wanted to move onto the peninsula after the 1906 earthquake but it took until 1917, when Filoli was ready to be moved into, for them to settle. In the interim, Bourn married off his daughter to an Irishman, buying the new couple a fabulous Irish estate as a wedding gift. Bourn wanted a similar estate in California. His first choice was to build along Crystal Springs Lake but ultimately Filoli was built just south of there.

Bourn commissioned Willis Polk, a famous architect from San Francisco, to design the home; Polk already designed homes for the Bourns in Grass Valley and San Francisco. Polk was known for his creativity and at Filoli he fused Georgian, Stuart, and Spanish architectural styles. Construction began in 1915; two years later, the Bourns moved in.

According to the Filoli’s official brochure, “Filoli” is an amalgam of Bourn’s motto: Fight for a just cause; Love your fellow man; Live a good life. It sounds like a good maxim. After reading some of the history, my husband jokingly mused, “And dig for gold.” Filolidi.

The Gardens

It was a lovely day to walk through the gardens: the inclement weather kept the hordes at bay, and the tulips looked particularly beautiful with dewdrops on their pastel petals. The surrounding land is gorgeous, quintessentially Californian with tree-covered hills and meadows. As we traipsed through gardens—Chartres, Daffodil Meadow, the Knot Garden, the Wedding Place, the Bowling Green, the Woodland—my baby leaned forward from her sling, interested in the colors and textures of flowers and leaves.

I noticed some visitors brought strollers for their children. I highly recommend leaving your stroller behind if you visit with a baby or child. The many steps and levels make maneuvering a stroller a challenge only overcome by sheer physical strength, as seen in Mom and Dad grunting and lifting their stroller to continue along certain paths.

The House
A cold wind snapped us into the warm home, where I’d never seen so many different types of marble (black Belgian, beige Tavernelle, white Carrara, red Verona, French rouge, Machiavelli). We wandered from room to room, admiring the antique furniture, Tiffany silver, oak and black walnut flooring and shelving, ornate chandeliers, and paintings. The ballroom had impressive murals of the Irish estate that Bourn bought for his daughter as her wedding present. My mother-in-law and I agreed the original green wall paint, a murky color called “watergreen,” was less appealing to the eye.  

In contrast to the large and fabulous ballroom, one tiny room was filled with unique maritime odds and ends, paintings of ships, and miniature models of boats. Filoli’s second owners, the Roths, also owned the Matson Navigation Company. As an admirer of all things nautical, I appreciated the eclectic collection of maritime-themed artwork in such close proximity to something as royal as the library carpet, once laid in one of Queen Victoria’s homes.

I also appreciated that the kitchen—an ample room with a gargantuan stove—had simple adornments, the menus from the Matson’s ships. Instead of salivating over the Tiffany silver, I imagined tasting certain menu items: Roast Duckling with Apple Dressing and Orange Sauce, Assorted Garden Fresh Vegetable Platter with Fried Scallops, Waldorf Salad, or the Aiguillettes of Mahimahi. What does Consommé Gold Nugget taste like, I wondered? Or Saxon Soufflé Pudding? I’ll skip the Smoked Ox Tongue in Sauce Piquant and the Jellied Essence of Tomato, thank you very much. 

By the end of the tour, my baby had fallen asleep in my arms. There was a serene expression on her face. In her head, perhaps dreams of tulips and daffodils.  

Lunch in Woodside

Later we lunched on Italian entrees and freshly baked pastries at the bright Woodside Bakery and Café (3052 Woodside Road, Woodside, 94062). If you have a small child as I do, I recommend sitting at one of the wide, leather-covered booths, where the baby can lay after she’s dined on applesauce at her borrowed highchair. If you’re a rascal, like I can be, you’ll begrudge the fact that there’s no baby-changing table in the bathroom, and surreptitiously change your baby’s dirty diaper on the soft, leather seat of the booth.


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Filoli Center. “The Bourns Build Filoli.” http://www.filoli.org/explore-filoli/history/the-bourns-build-filoli.html 2010.

National Trust for Historic Preservation. “Filoli: Self-Guided Tours of the House and Garden” brochure, 2009.

Wikipedia contributors. “William Bowers Bourn II.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 19 Jan. 2010. Web. 22 Apr. 2010.