There’s more to Silicon Valley than ones, zeros, Stanford University and 21st century wealth. There’s also a natural world of forests and seashores and a semi-natural world of gardens and estates such as Filoli, a 654-acre haven of bright blooms and birdsong in rural Woodside, about midway between San Francisco and San Jose. It’s a little more than a century old, the creation of a previous generation’s 1%. I made it the centerpiece of a quick visit. The tab: $400 for two nights in a hotel, $62 for lunches and dinner and $22 for admission to Filoli.
The Holiday Inn & Suites San Mateo-San Francisco SFO isn’t a beauty. But its location served me well: along U.S. 101, seven miles south of the San Francisco airport and 10 miles north of Filoli. Comfortable bed and desk, plenty of outlets and reliable Wi-Fi. And my breakfasts in the hotel’s Bistro 330 — included in my room rate — were fresh and hearty.
As pleasant as those breakfasts were, the standout meal of the visit was dinner at Mountain House, a roadside spot with barn-red walls surrounded by redwoods. Inside you’ll find crackling fireplaces, a fetching little bar in front and a screened-in patio out back, a.k.a. the Forest Room. Good for couples, although maybe not vegetarian ones. (The menu favors fish and game.) I liked the Manhattan clam chowder.
At Filoli, the red brick Georgian Revival house alone is enough to make you gape. It dates to 1917 and has 56 rooms and a clock tower that rises above the former garage, now a shop. Yet the mansion is really the supporting act. The Bourn family, which built the estate, and the Roth family, which took over in 1937, lavished attention on the gardens. By the time the Roths donated the estate in the 1970s to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, there were 16 acres of formal gardens, including a rose garden, a sunken garden, a walled garden and a yew alley. Then there’s the sprawling Filoli Nature Preserve, where you can stroll the Estate Trail‘s mile-long loop, which includes a bridge across Fault Creek. (Beneath Fault Creek is the San Andreas fault.) I arrived in late winter, with camera at the ready, and had blazing yellow daffodils, brilliant pink camellias and bright white magnolia blossoms to keep me busy. As spring arrives, tulips, cherry blossoms and others will take their turn. As I wandered, I spotted labels marked Ezra Pound, Black Panther and Gauguin, which meant either these types of tree peonies are to bloom in late March or Filoli has an amazing secret cemetery. For lunch I grabbed a sandwich at the Quail’s Nest Café. As for the Filoli name, the first owner, William Bourn, had a favorite credo: Fight for a just cause / Love your fellow man / Live a good life. “Filoli” grew out of those words.
THE LESSON LEARNED
Lodging prices here plummet on weekends because business travelers have gone home. When I checked prices for March, my Holiday Inn room dropped to about $100 per night on weekends. At fancier properties in the area, I found a room for Saturday night at the LiA Hotel in San Carlos for as low as $73 and at the Westin Palo Alto for $153.
Filoli Historic House & Garden, 86 Cañada Road, Woodside; (650) 364-8300. Open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Adult admission $22. Limited wheelchair accessible.
Holiday Inn & Suites San Mateo-San Francisco SFO, 330 N. Bayshore Blvd., San Mateo; (650) 344-3219. Weekend rates from $155 a night. Wheelchair accessible.
The Mountain House, 13808 Skyline Blvd., Woodside; (650) 851-8541. Main dishes $24-$43. Dinner only, though there’s bar food after 2 p.m on Sundays. Closed Mondays and Tuesdays.