A Colorful Step Back Into HistoryFiloli Historic House & Garden • Woodside
Visited: May 2021
Following our Oregon/Northern California trip, Tracy and I decided to make one last stop at a gorgeous spot she had been yearning to visit when the flowers bloomed in spring. Located about 25 miles south of San Francisco in Woodside, Filoli Historic House & Garden is a 654-acre estate that includes 16 acres of formal gardens and a historic 1917 Georgian revival mansion.After the massive 1906 San Francisco earthquake, a lot of people decided to move south along the San Francisco Peninsula. Soon, a number of “grand estates” were constructed in Hillsborough and Woodside. Although it seemed safer from earthquakes than in The City, the Bourn family constructed their house only 200 yards away from the San Andreas fault.
In a bit of irony, the Bourns experienced an earthquake the same month they moved in, but there was minimal damage to the house.
Its first owner, William Bourn (owner of one of California’s richest gold mines and president of Spring Valley Water Company, which supplied San Francisco’s water), named the estate Filoli, “a made-up word drawn from the first letters of his personal motto: “FIght for a just cause; LOve your fellow man; LIve a good life.” I guess that motto could sum up the Bourn identity and secured the Bourn legacy (I love sequels).
William and wife Agnes died in 1936, and the estate was purchased by the Roth family the following year, so the property is also called the Bourn-Roth Estate. In 1975, Mrs. Roth donated the estate in its entirety to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, with an endowment that helps support annual operating expenses, and the property was opened to the public in 1977.
On a sunny, stupendous spring morning we headed south from Bodega Bay, crossed the magnificent Golden Gate Bridge and arrived at Filoli shortly before its opening time at 10 a.m. (timed tickets purchased online a month previous to our visit.)
They weren’t kidding about mask wearing, and they had the sign to prove it.
We were given the lay of the land, walked around the huge house we would tour later, and started our hike through its gorgeously manicured gardens.
The first stop we made was at the Sunken Garden. Its reflecting pool was full of water lilies with the top of the old Carriage House (now the gift shop) Clock Tower peeking out above the yew hedge. “It had to be yew,” I crooned to Tracy, who pretended not to hear me.The view out toward the hills was fairly terrific, too.
In the other direction stands another pool with large trees serving as a backdrop.
The Garden House is located near the reflecting pool.
With its gated portico beckoning us, we headed toward the one-acre Walled Garden and beyond.
Here comes the Sun … dial.
The gardens contain components of both English and Italian Renaissance designs.
The Lavender was buzzing with bees. Luckily, this area was not a sting operation.
When I saw these boxes for Carpenter Bees, I knew we had only just begun. I wondered what I would do if I were a carpenter.Filoli also serves as a wedding destination site with some areas seemingly perfect to stage the nuptials.The Rose Garden explodes with English roses, hybrid perpetuals and standard roses dotting the various beds.
Tracy loves rose gardens, and I always wonder how much it will cost at the nursery when we arrive back home. (we currently have 78 roses in our garden, but there is always room for more, or so Tracy tells me).These beauties lit up like firecrackers.
There are plenty of trails and even a trailer.We walked through this entrance to another area that’s name completely escapes me. There’s also a one-hour Estate Trail that passes over the San Andreas Fault, but since we had about a six-hour drive ahead of us, we passed, through no fault of our own. I did have a feeling someone was watching me, though.
Although it wasn’t really early, this bird caught his worm, and then went Bob-Bob-Bobbing along.
Walking through the gardens with very few people present gave us an air of tranquility.
Different flower varieties dotted each square foot.
This is “Tracy Heaven.” Soon we were back at the Garden House.
I think this is our favorite spot in the garden.
The views of the old Carriage House can be seen at various points throughout your walk around the grounds of Filoli.
Now, back at the entrance, it was time to take a quick tour of the 54,000+ square foot. house. It contains 56 rooms. including 17 fireplaces, 15 bathrooms, 14 staff bedrooms and 10 family bedrooms. Fortunately, the self-guided tour only takes you to a relatively small number of rooms.
We passed by the Grand Staircase with a small welcoming committee …
… and entered the Reception Room.
This area is where both the Bourn and Roth families held part of their large parties.
A European “Table Carpet” has hung here for 100 years. It was originally used as a tablecloth.
This beautiful room also contains some interesting objets d’art.
According to its website, “Though William and Agnes Bourn initially conceived Filoli as a humble ‘country place,’ the House was designed as a space for entertaining on a grand scale. The large Ballroom and Reception Room hosted concerts and debut balls, and formal dinner parties were held in the elegant Dining Room.” As you can see by the ballroom, humble it is not.
Not surprisingly, the house is full of fresh flowers.
The Bourn’s library showcased some of the family book collection.
The Dining Room reminded us that we needed to get an In-N-Out burger on the way home.
Although there was no Starsky in the dining room, we did find a hutch.
Hi Ho Silver! This Tiffany & Co. family sterling silverware service for 18 comes from the early 1900s. It contains 581 pieces, including 77 serving pieces. Doesn’t everyone need a bon bon spoon, pickle knife or shears for cutting grape stems?Throughout the house there are examples of the prejudice that existed back when the Bourns and Roths lived in the house.
The kitchens at the House are large …
… complete with a large pantry. Since we were good to the last drop, we decided to head for the hills, or since there was so much coffee, the grounds.
We exited the house and took a last look at the reflecting pool.
Although I tried to steer Tracy away, she found a doorway, and soon we were inside the Clock Tower Shop spending money on plants that would travel southward with us as we drove home.
Luckily we left just enough room in the car for Tracy’s garden haul.
We spent a little less than two hours walking through the gardens and touring the house. Filoli Historic House & Garden is a worthwhile stop if you’re planning on spending time in the Bay Area.
Spring was the perfect time to visit, but the changing seasons mean Filoli is always filled with colorful experiences. Although Filoli is just a short half hour drive from San Francisco, you’ll soon feel at home in the surrounding countryside, where one feels light years away from city life.
Filoli Historic House & Garden
86 Cañada Road
Woodside, California 94062
Daily 10 a.m.- 5 p.m.
$25 • Senior $22 • Children (5-17) $15