This post was most recently updated on July 9th, 2019
Living in Silicon Valley can be a little chaotic! The highways are often clogged by the relentless red lights of traffic, and the hustle and bustle of startups and big name tech companies can be a bit overwhelming. So you can imagine my surprise when I discovered a century-old, country estate hidden within a half-hour of my home! When my family finally had the opportunity to visit Filoli, it truly was a breath of fresh air! Nestled right above the Crystal Springs Reservoir in Woodside, CA the resulting country estate–with it’s Renaissance-style gardens–is a beautiful place to spend the day! Video Credit: Koptervision
The thirty minute drive to the estate was spectacular in and of itself! We drove past rolling green hills and wind-rustled meadows, and I truly felt like I had escaped the chaos of the Bay Area for just a moment. And, as we headed up the winding road to the estate I was further transported into a place of true serenity and history.
Upon exiting our car we were immediately welcomed by the delicate sound of birds chirping, the aroma of spring blossoms, and views of the surrounding hills and nature preserve. After a quick stop at the Visitor’s Center for admission and a map of the estate, we were free to explore!
Percy the Peacock
In my research about the estate prior to coming, someone recommended that I be sure to find Percy the Peacock because my toddler would really enjoy it! In all honesty, I thought it was going to be some kind of sculpture, or perhaps a collection of flowers in the garden shaped like a peacock. I was definitely not expecting an ACTUAL, live peacock! Percy was very friendly and more than willing to present his brightly colored plumes to all of us. The way he strutted around reminded me of a model in a fashion show; my two year old–along with my entire family–was quite impressed!
With 16-acres of gardens to explore, we set off at a brisk pace to see it all! My two year old enjoyed running up and down every pathway of the well-manicured, Renaissance-style gardens, pointing out the occasional bug or lizard along the way. Thank goodness my husband was there to chase him around so that I, an avid flower photographer at heart, could spend some time one on one with nature!
I was entranced by the vibrant colors of the flowers in bloom. The entire garden looked like a painter’s palette, dotted with a speck of yellow here and a bit of red there. I thoroughly enjoyed my time meandering through the gardens, stopping to literally smell the roses.
If I could have, I would have happily sat on one of the many benches along the way with a good book and enjoyed taking in the peacefulness of the gardens for hours on end. But, with an antsy two year old vying for my attention, I had to settle for a good hour exploring (which was indeed plenty of time to capture some very lovely memories to look back on).
As we completed our tour of the gardens and approached the mansion, I felt as if I had stepped through a portal and travelled far from Silicon Valley; the home appeared to have been plucked from the aristocrats of Europe and nestled right before my eyes in the hills of Northern California! The green vines climbing endlessly up the brick walls, the stately columns, and the overall grandeur look of the home seemed to encompass so many styles I had seen in past trips to Europe.
A Bit of History
Now, before I jump right in to the house tour, let’s back up and give a little context. Construction of the estate began in 1915, funded by Mr. and Mrs. William Bowers Bourn II. Prominent San Franciscans, the couple was very wealthy, owning the Empire Gold Mine as well as the Spring Valley Water Company. They went on to inhabit the estate between 1917 and 1936.
The origin of the estate’s name is an interesting story! The name, Filoli, was created by Mr. Bourn II himself by combining the first two letters from the key words of his credo: “FIght for a just cause; LOve your fellow man; LIve a good life.”
In 1937 the estate was sold to the Roth Family and was later donated to the National Trust for Historic Preservation who manages the property still today. Their goal, since 1975, has been to maintain Filoli for the enjoyment and inspiration of future generations. I’m sure glad Filoli is still around and kicking today, because it truly was an inspiration for me!
The most elaborate room in the mansion was by far the ballroom. The gold painted trim, tall windows, detailed murals, and chandeliers gave the entire room a feeling of grandeur! Our favorite part of the room was getting to sit and listen to the pianist who was more than willing to play any requests; my son especially enjoyed his jazzed up rendition of Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.
This room was probably my favorite because it was such an intimate, warm room. The oak-paneled walls, long drapes, and cozy furniture gave it a very homey feel. My husband was especially in awe of the beautifully hand-carved chess set sitting on the table in the corner!
Oh, to be left alone in this library for just a few hours! The American black walnut walls and shelves are filled with all sorts of books (although I’m not sure just how interested I am in reading volume after volume of Messages and Papers of the Presidents). Either way, this room truly is inviting with all of its nooks and sofas for sitting and getting lost in a world of books.
The Dining Room
This formal dining room is paneled in dark-stained oak with beautifully carved moldings. I could definitely imagine myself sitting down to dine in such a comfortable space!
The Kitchen & Butler’s Pantry
Every home needs as much cooking space as this estate had! I appreciated the open feel of the kitchen and pantry, as well as all the natural light pouring in from the windows. They even had the kitchen cabinets full of some antique spice jars and dishes, further transporting me back into the 20th century when Filoli was at its prime!
Beauty in the Details
While this post doesn’t spotlight every room in the mansion, I was especially appreciative of the attention to detail throughout the entire home. Around every corner was an ornate door handle, staircase, or artistic detail that made the whole home feel much more grand! My most favorite art piece was the intricate needlepoint screen found in the Dining Room. It depicted several scenes from around the estate, and was truly a masterpiece; the entire 3-panel needlepoint contains more than 2.5 million stitches and took more than five years to complete. Now that’s attention to detail!
Visiting Filoli truly was a step back in time! It was a fantastic place to explore nature and history, plus I was pleasantly surprised to find something there for all of my family to enjoy. While we only spent a morning at the estate, I noticed that Filoli often hosts events such as paint classes, jazz concerts, and even educational field trips. Also, if you’re looking for a closer look at the surrounding nature preserve, be sure to tag along one of the docent-led hikes.
I would recommend Filoli to nature-lovers, adventure-seekers, families, photographers, and anyone looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of the San Francisco Peninsula!
Plan your visit to Filoli!
During 2017, Filoli is open to visitors from Tuesday through Sunday, 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. Admission to Filoli is $20/adult, $10/student (with valid ID), $17/Seniors (65 yr+), and children 4 years and younger are free. For more information, be sure to check out Filoli’s website at www.filoli.org.
Disclosure**I received complimentary tickets to visit Filoli estate, but my opinions are all my own. My husband and I are already looking for an excuse to go back and would be more than willing to pay the $20/person admission price!
Written by guest blogger Heather Young (my lovely daughter!), whose photography is featured on her blog, Heather Hiding Photography.