Amazing Kids! Magazine

Filoli Center in Woodside, California

Filoli Center in Woodside, California, a Garden of Eden near San Francisco

By Sean Traynor, Editor-in-Chief

Photos courtesy of Filoli

Filoli Christmas Gate

Imagine being transported back into the early 1900’s and witnessing the furniture, paintings, architecture and one of the finest gardens of the time.  Filoli Center in Woodside, California offers you this and much, much, more.  Filoli has a 528 acre nature preserve with beautiful and serene settings with more than seven miles of trails.  Filoli is recognized as one of the finest remaining country estates of the early twentieth century.  The property includes a 36,000 square-foot mansion (the size of 15 regular size houses) furnished with antiques and decorative art, as well as sixteen acres of European-inspired gardens which showcase a magnificent plant and flower collection.  It also has a gentleman’s orchard (with the largest collection of rare, heirloom fruit in private hands in the USA).  Orchard tours are available in summer and autumn.  More than 100,000 people visit each year.

Filoli was established as a private residence in 1917 and opened to the public in 1976 to promote cultural and horticultural pursuits.  It is the property of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and, lucky for the public, is open for tours and special events.  The House and grounds have been featured in numerous movies including: Heaven Can Wait, Shadow of Doubt, Joy Luck Club, George of the Jungle and Wedding Planner.  They have also been in television shows including the opening sequence of Dynasty.

Front of Filoli House

Driving up the country path to the mansion, you immediately notice the beautiful trees, plants, wildlife and seclusion which hide the mansion from the view of any road.  The house was designed by Willis Polk and noted for its elegant interiors.  Built by the owner of California’s largest gold mine, William Bowers Bourn II, the house includes a butler’s pantry and kitchen with a walk-in safe, a wood-paneled library and a ballroom. It has 43 rooms and 17 fireplaces. The interior has carved moldings, marble fireplaces, inlaid parquet floors, and striking doorways. Most of the major rooms are 17 feet high, with the reception room being 18 feet 6 inches high and the ballroom being 22 feet 6 inches high. The rooms are full of a large collection of 17th and 18th century English antiques and give the visitor a real sense of life during that time.

Sunken Garden and the Clock Tower

The garden is 16 acres (the size of 12 football fields).  It has one mile of hedges (the size of 17 city blocks). Filoli has trees from all over the world including the Irish Yew from Ireland, the Blue Atlas Cedar from North Africa, the London Plane from the Mediterranean, the Magnolia from the United States and the Japanese Maple from Japan and Korea.  Since their gardens are divided into “rooms” you feel like you’ve been transported into different areas of the country every time you move to a different area because each “room” has a different character and range of plant colors.

While visiting Filoli you can tour the house and gardens on your own using guide maps or you can join a docent-led group, gaining interesting information about the history and qualities of the grounds. Not only can the trained docents answer your questions about the house, but they also are trained to answer questions about the science and skill of cultivating plants in gardens including various facts about the plant collections.

Filoli Kids Program

Filoli offers educational programming for all ages on topics such as photography, horticulture, art, botanical illustration, decorative arts, floral design, nature education, history and conservation. Classes, hands-on workshops, lectures, specialized hikes and walks, as well as school programs are available.  Through guided nature hikes you can travel over seven miles of well-maintained trails crisscrossing six different types of native California habitats.

Nature Hike

The Wildlife Explorations for Families program takes you on a discovery of what the local wildlife are doing during this time of year. In addition, their school programs have provided more than 5000 children each year with a chance to explore the nature preserve as they focus on scientific themes and investigate the uses of plants and animals by the native California Indians.  Filoli hopes to develop a passion in kids for discovering more about their environment and their relationship with it.

Filoli Kids Programs - Acorns


One of my favorite times of year at Filoli is the holidays because they always offer a special event.  This year’s theme is “Visions of Sugarplums Dancing” and will be available November 26th through December 4th.

Receptions Room at the Holidays

The entire mansion is transformed into a holiday extravaganza with the warmth and cheeriness of a 19th Century holiday season.  The Courtyard’s English park will have a frozen pond, skaters, gas lamps, and park benches. The House will be decorated with touches of history inspired by Charles Dickens’s tales. Every room of the house is decorated differently.  Scenes from “The Nutcracker” and “Twas the Night Before Christmas” will be featured in the House and in the Visitor and Education Center. A snow-packed village scene, an array of nutcrackers, stuffed animals, and unique gifts will be available to guests in the house.  The ballroom will be transformed into a land of snow complete with penguins, polar bears and reindeer. Butterflies, dragonflies and flowers will cascade down the marble staircase.  Filoli will also have a holiday boutique where gifts for the holidays can be purchased while listening to singers and players offering seasonal music. To purchase tickets for this special event, visit www.filoli.org.

Spring Fling Clown

Filoli also offers other special events and exhibits throughout the year including a Mother’s Day Flower Show, summer Jazz at Filoli Concert Series, and the Spring Fling.  Kid activities are always included and are great fun.

So, whether you’re interested in stepping back in time to see early 1900 architecture and furnishings or you LOVE gardens, Filoli will fill the bill for any visitor.  The house and gardens are breathtaking and not to be missed if you’re visiting the Bay Area near San Francisco.  To check in advance to make sure they are open or for more information about special events, see:  www.filoli.org.

3 comments

  1. Christina Syrett /

    A big thank you to Sean Traynor for writing such a wonderful article about Filoli, and about its programs and events that are available to kids and families. Sean captures the fun and variety available to Filoli visitors.

  2. Mary Ann /

    As a long term Filoli docent, I think the article has captured the essence of Filoli and the joy of visiting.

  3. That a wonderful article about a real treasure! Thank you.