By Rick Ellis. Filoli Center (just 10 miles from Half Moon Bay), is a magnificent 650 acre country estate, located about 25 miles south of San Francisco, California, at the head of the beautiful Crystal Springs Reservoir near the charming village of Woodside. Owned and operated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation since 1975, it was built between 1915 and 1917 for William Bowers Bourn II — the owner of one of the richest gold mines in California and also instrumental in bringing water from the Sierra Mountains to thirsty San Francisco. Bourn called his dream home Filoli, taking the first two letters of his personal motto: “Fight for a just cause; Love your fellow man; Live a good life.” In addition to making it his principal residence, Bourn envisioned Filoli as a focal point for Peninsula high society gatherings, and so it has been and continues to be.
As innkeepers, we always enjoy sending our Half Moon Bay bed and breakfast guests to Filoli because we know they are going to have an incredible and memorable experience. The gardens are some of the most beautiful on the West Coast and the house is a 36,000 square-foot mansion, full of art and antiques. The principal designer, San Francisco architect Willis Polk, used a free Georgian style that incorporated the tiled roofs characteristic of California. If it’s lunchtime while you’re there, the visitors’ center offers a truly delightful array of sandwiches, soups, salads, pastries, and other delicious goodies. You can have lunch under the trees in the courtyard.
The 16 acres of gardens are structured as a series of formally enclosed spaces framed within brick walls and clipped hedges, which open one from another, providing long axial views, in which profuse naturalized plantings of hardy and annual plants contrast with lawns, brick and gravel paths, formal reflecting pools, framed in walls and clipped hedging in box, holly, laurel and yew and punctuated by massive terracotta pots and many narrowly columnar Irish yews, originally grown on the estate from cuttings. Filoli gardens is an outstanding example of the Anglo-American gardening style.
Filoli is about so much more than gardens, though watching them change with the seasons is one of the great joys of being a supporter — a “Friend of Filoli” –and a regular visitor. In Summer and Fall the tennis court hosts a Sunday Jazz Series where those fortunate enough to get tickets can enjoy a catered luncheon under market umbrellas; being served fine local wines and beer while a prominent jazz act entertains from the stage. During breaks, attendees promenade through the gardens as in days of old. The Christmas Season finds the Mansion decorated in full Victoriana, and visitors can buy the decorations right off the trees and walls. It’s a major source of operational fund raising, and a chance to see how the Season might have been celebrated in years past. Festive luncheons and dinners are also highlights of the Season.
Filoli has served as the backdrop or setting for a number of movies and television shows, most notably as the Carrington mansion in the opening credits of TV’s “Dynasty“. Most actual filming took place on sound stages in Hollywood, but some critical scenes were shot on location in the Filoli mansion. “Heaven Can Wait” and “The Wedding Planner” also featured key scenes shot at the mansion.
Open 6 days a week (closed Mondays) from February 5 until October 27, Filoli is well worth a couple hours of your time, soaking up the peace and beauty of the gardens and exploring the house – don’t miss the “high tech” kitchen, circa 1930’s.