Patrick and I visited the Walt Disney Family Museum a few months after it opened, and we LOVED it! Except for one thing: They wouldn’t let you take any photos. So I never did a trip report, cuz what was there to show you guys?
Well, sometime last year I noticed people were starting to tweet photos from inside the museum and found out they now allow it. Then WDFM announced the limited engagement of Magic, Color, Flair: The World of Mary Blair. And THEN they announced Leading Ladies and Femmes Fatales: The Art of Marc Davis! At that point, we couldn’t not go!
So for Patrick’s birthday weekend, I booked flights from LAX to SFO, rented the cheapest car Thrifty offers (who knew they still made hand-crank windows?), and splurged on a stay at the only hotel inside the Presidio, where the Walt Disney Family Museum is located. We planned to fly up Saturday and back on Monday, with all of Sunday devoted to the museum.
Because we are über tourists, I planned a bazillion other options for us to squeeze into the trip if we had time. So—fair warning—there are parts of this report that don’t have anything to do with Disney. But if you’re planning a trip to the museum, they might give you ideas of other stuff to see and do in the Bay Area.
A trip from LA to San Francisco doesn’t require the kind of travel-planning advice I’d give for, say a trip to Japan, so let me offer just this one tip: Sign up for TSA Pre✓! I did and Patrick didn’t, and he spent 20 minutes in a snaking line while I breezed through security in about 3. Oh, one more thing: SFO is rad! Granted, the decaying Virgin America terminal at LAX makes some third-world airports look like spaceports, but, golly, did we rubes have our heads turned by SFO’s local-and-artisanal food hall, Kiehl’s shop, and Sunset Magazine STORE, fer cryin’ out loud. There’s even a yoga room! Yoga is practically municipally mandated in LA, but even we don’t have one of those…
We had MCO flashbacks as we sat in the front of the tram out to the car rental garage, where Thrifty had hand-curated for us the finest artisinal economy auto known to man: The Toyota Yaris. Signing up for Thrifty’s free loyalty program meant we got to see our names posted in a list of loyalty members and not much else. We still had to sit around waiting for paperwork, but that gave us time to wind up the key in the back of the car and christen it the “Tasha Yaris.”
Our first stop was an historic house and its gardens, so if that sounds boring, you might want to jump to the part where we checked into the Inn at the Presidio and see if it’s someplace you’d like to stay when you visit the Walt Disney Family Museum…
Filoli has the distinction of being the only self-sustaining property in the National Trust for Historic Preservation’s entire portfolio. But the reason I wanted to visit is that it was built by the Bourne family, owners of California’s oldest, largest, and richest gold mine, which was also my childhood backyard. When my parents transplanted me and my brother from LA to Northern California in 1985, all I could do was sob over the loss of Santa Monica Place mall and lament being “surrounded by yahoos” (actual quote, first night, middle of Mountain Mike’s Pizza, still suffering the effects of an eight-hour drive with a yowling cat, plus my first bee sting). But our destiny in LA was to eventually attend Venice “Drive-By” High, so my parents whisked us away to the sleepy and piney tourist town of Grass Valley.
When you grow up in Grass Valley, you visit the Empire Mine a LOT. You go for school, you go with out-of-town visitors, you go for picnics and meetings at the clubhouse—heck, you almost get married there! You marvel at the wire model depicting every shaft of the mine, with little metal-rimmed paper tags identifying all the local landmarks aboveground: Union Hill School, the Del Oro Theater, and the Safeway where all the “hards” hang out and smoke clove cigarettes. And when you go on the creaky living history tour of the main house, everyone laughs when the guides refer to this grand, two-story stone edifice as the Bourn family’s “cottage”—a place to escape for a few weeks of the year. Their real house, you are told, is the magnificent manor near San Francisco known as Filoli.
It became a sort of Shangri-La to me, never actually to be seen because by the time I was old enough to drive into the City, all I wanted to do was see punk shows and shop at Amoeba Records. But now that I’m old and Green Day has their own Broadway show, a trip to a lovely historic home is right up my alley!
If you go, it’s good to know that tours are free but admission is not, and it’s recommended that you call ahead to reserve your spot on a tour. Prices are…
February 11 – May 31, 2014: Adults $20 / Seniors $17 (65 years and older) / Students $10*
June 1 – October 26, 2014: Adults $18 / Seniors $15 (65 years and older) / Students $8*
Patrick’s parents drove down from San Leandro to meet us. We decided to take the first tour of the day and wound up in a nice, small group of about 8 led by a tiny dynamo of a grandma. She achieved the Tour Guide trifecta: 1) lively and interesting stories 2) a strong, clear voice and 3) counter programming to all the other tours so we never got bogged down in the crush.
William Bowers Bourn owed most of his wealth to the Empire Mine, but he also owned the Crystal Springs Reservoir, about 20 miles south of San Francisco. After the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906, many wealthy families began to build estates outside of the city; Bourne situated his within view of the lake. He was inexplicably secretive about the source of his name for the house, but one of his employees finally figured out that “Filoli” was a combination of the first two letters of the three key words in Bourn’s credo: “Fight for a just cause; Love your fellow man; Live a good life” (but only cuz “YOLO” was already taken by a nearby county).
Our guide thought it would be better to hit the gardens first and leave the house for the hotter part of the day. She had us enter through a very Secret Garden-like door…
…And what an entrance!
The sculpture in the middle of the pond is part of a temporary art exhibit. I don’t remember what that one was titled—we’ll just call it “Emerging RoboSquid.” See how many other artworks you can find in Patrick’s photos!
Kindred shutterbugs, Patrick and his mom stayed behind the group when this magnificent emissary of Mother Nature alighted upon the burbling fountain.
If you hate photos of flowers or bees or flowers with bees in them, here’s another chance to bail on this part of the report!
Above the pool house is a grand patio where Bourn used to like to barbecue in the summer (and still not far enough away from the house for his cook’s taste). Now the foundation holds jazz concerts there.
From there, we plunged into the gardens. I think this one was the “woodland”-style garden that was supposed to be naturalistic—even though everything in it was brought to the site. Apparently the second owner, Mrs. Roth (whose family owned the Matson Navigation Company), was an avid gardener. Her groundskeepers would sigh with relief when she came back from a nursery-shopping trip in the city with only a plant or two, then faint dead away two weeks later when giant truckloads of plants showed up.
For some reason they prohibit weddings and any kind of portrait session at Filoli (too many requests?). The only wedding ever held there was that of one of Mrs. Roth’s twin daughters, and this is the view from the altar down toward all the terraces where the guests sat.
Looking back up toward the altar…
Our guide had us all try out these recently refurbished chairs, the only original lawn furniture in the garden. The seats are made from thin, flexible metal strips that sorta pop inside out when you sit on them, and they’re extremely comfy!
“The High Place” is, appropriately, the highest point on the property and had Bourn’s all-important view of Crystal Springs Lake before the trees grew in. This was his favorite place to sit. In his later years, after a series of strokes, he had to be carried out to the High Place, and he required all the servants to turn away from him along the way so they wouldn’t see his debilitated state. He also—I am not making this up—had a sort of cage he would sit in, I guess to protect him from bugs? Or being eaten by deer?
It felt like each new section of the garden brought a fresh lament from our guide that we were missing some burst of blooms that had either just happened or was just about to happen. (We tallied up all the months she’d mentioned, and apparently late March is THE best time to visit Filoli). Instead, all we got to see was this crap…
Patrick and I agreed that our favorite place in the garden was this pavilion. Actually, after seeing the somewhat gloomy interior of the main house, I think this might’ve been my favorite place on the whole property.
The Main House was designed by Willis Polk, who also designed the Bourn Cottage at the Empire Mine. It is considered a modified Georgian English country house with elements of the Stuart period. The Spanish mission roof tiles are a nod to the Californian setting.
The kitchen had an interesting mix of 1920s and 1950s elements, reflecting a later remodel, and was the place I found most relatable. I mean, except for the fact that our entire apartment could fit in its three rooms…
Matson Shipping heiress Mrs. Roth had this ship’s stove installed in the ’40s or ’50s, presaging today’s mania for industrial-grade appliances in kitchens that never turn out more than a reheated rotisserie chicken. But what’s rad about this one is it’s totally magnetic—great for earthquake country!
Servants could be summoned from almost any room in the house, including most of the baths. (“Rubber ducky required in the Guest Bath, STAT!”)
Apparently it is traditional to have a really gory hunting scene hung in any well-appointed dining room. Fortunately for you, gentle reader, all of these photos are slightly out of focus…
This is not the kids’ table. The kids ate in the nursery or, if they’d been really bad, probably not at all…
I think there was some amazing story about this rug… like it had originally been in the house (most of the other furnishings you see are not original) and then got sold to someone in England and then got donated back or something… or maybe they just got a really good deal on it at CostCo.
We weren’t allowed to go upstairs, so of course I was desperate to. Maybe that’s where they keep all the macrame plant hangers and shag rugs of the later eras! We were told that fans of the TV series Dynasty may recognize the staircase.
Bourn kept gold from the Empire Mine in this safe. Having grown up hearing the tales of overworked and underpaid miners trying to sneak gold out of the mine in all sorts of dangerous ways, it was pretty grim to think of Bourn down here in Woodside swimming in his piles of money. The Roths converted the safe into a wine vault.
The family was appalled when Mrs. Roth’s portrait artist came back with this thirft store-lookin’ thing, but apparently she liked it because it depicted her enjoying her favorite pastime: being old.
The last room on the house tour was the ballroom. Filoli has appeared in several films (most recently The Master), and apparently this room is given the star treatment in Heaven Can Wait.
When Bourn became too ill to travel to the beloved Irish mansion he bought for his daughter, Muckross (that’s the house, not the daughter), the family commissioned a muralist to travel there and paint these grand vistas for Bourn to enjoy at home. After their daughter’s untimely death, the Bourns gave Muckross House to the Irish nation and it became Ireland’s first national park.
I think this model was made for Heaven Can Wait…? Maybe…? Sorry, I was too busy wondering if Filoli’s cafe had ice cream.
If Bourn was anything like Scrooge McDuck, I’m thinking this was one of those coin-vortex thingies that induces you to give up all your change!
Apparently this peacock lives at the next mansion down, but he prefers hanging out at Filoil all day… His favorite activity is being really hard to photograph.
Filoli has a nice little gift shop and a small cafe, but since Patrick still had the camera, you don’t get to see either of those. The cafe has halfway decent food in a crowded space; the patio’s a better place to sit. And they serve Three Twins Ice Cream, which came to be a touchstone of our trip. We ran into it again at the food truck fest the next day and saw it in the airport. Plus, it turns out Three Twins just opened their first scoop shop outside the Bay Area, and it’s in Santa Monica—hooray! You can also buy it at Whole Foods. I’m someone who needs to be dazzled by all kinds of bells and whistles in her ice cream (peanut butter cups, cookie dough, bacon, etc.) and I was completely knocked out by their plain-old chocolate ice cream!
After lunch we bid Patrick’s parents farewell and drove an hour up 280 to San Francisco and the Presidio.
Inn at the Presidio
There’s only one hotel inside the Presidio, and that’s the Inn at the Presidio. The owners converted the old officers’ quarters into one of this new breed of casually elegant boutique hotels, where everything looks plain until you see how well made it is.
There are upper and lower porches, which make a great place to nibble on the evening snacks they put out in the breakfast room.
I wanted to spend more time in front of the lobby fireplace, but it was too dang toasty that weekend.
A QR code map of the Presidio, in case you doubted how hip this place was.
Although they don’t host weddings at Inn at the Presidio, they host tons of bridal parties because there are multiple places to get married inside the park.
They serve continental breakfast every day of the week. It was the usual store-bought baked goods and cold cuts, but there was plenty of it and it was “free.”
Our room was on the top floor and quite charming. I loved that we had a bathtub AND a fireplace —what more do you need in a hotel room? (Well, OK, besides maybe a bathtub in FRONT of a fireplace!)
It costs an arm and a leg but, boy, if you want to escape the typical hotel chains dotting the dark canyons of San Francisco’s skyscrapers, this is the place! I’ve always found the City to be quite claustrophobic, but I felt quite at home inside the Presidio. Our room overlooked a lush hiking trail in the back and the splendor of San Francisco Bay out front.
We took a nap and then went out to The Metreon so Patrick could see “Edge of Tomorrow” in IMAX 3-D, another birthday wish. I won’t bore you with that, but I will say that our quick and cheap dinner Super Duper Burgers turned out to be the best one of the trip! Oh, and the only good thing they sell at the enticing but disappointing chain Cako is the silvana, a frozen, monster-sized Filipino version of a macaron.