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Local tourist: A mansion, some wine and the 49ers

Some will say that there are tourists and there are travelers. The distinction tends to be that tourists visit the common places and take selfies, while travelers wander off the beaten path and take a more peaceful and thoughtful approach to enjoying their chosen destination.

I’m a happy tourist. Even when I’m at home.

Back in December our friend Danita was in town and I took advantage of this fact by going full on Bay Area tourist with her.

Our first adventure was going down to the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose. Built continuously for decades by the widow Sarah Winchester (of Winchester rifle fame), the house is a maze of uneven floors, staircases that go nowhere and doors that could drop you a story or two if you don’t watch when stepping through them. It’s said that the spiritualist movement heavily influenced Mrs. Winchester’s decisions, from moving to California after her husband’s death to the need to continuously be doing construction. She had a private seance room and after the house survived the 1906 earthquake that destroyed the tower that used to be a key feature in the house, she followed spirit-driven guidance. This caused her to stop work on the main, highly decorated front part of the house and only work on the back half, not even fixing up the sections damaged in the earthquake.

Door to nowhere
A “door to nowhere” in the Winchester House

There certainly are bits about this place that remind me of a tourist trap, including the massive gift shop and ghost stories. But it wasn’t shopping, spiritualism or ghosts that brought me here. As an armchair history and documentary geek, I’ve known about the Winchester House for years. When I moved to the bay area almost six years ago, it immediately went on my “to visit” list. The beautiful Victorian architecture, the oddity that was how she built it and her interest in the latest turn of the 20th century innovations in the house are what interested me. She had three elevators in the house, of varying types as the technology was developed, providing a fascinating snapshot into approximately 20 years of early elevator innovation history. She was an early adopter of electricity, and there were various types of the latest time and energy-saving gadgets and tools that were installed to help her staff get their work done. Plus, in addition to having a car (with a chauffeur, obviously), the garage where it was kept had a car wash apparatus built in! We went on a behind-the-scenes tour to visit many of these things. The estate originally covered many acres, allowing for a large fruit orchard and fruit was actually processed on site, so we got to see the massive on-site evaporator used for preparing the fruit for distribution.

Fruit evaporator at Winchester House

When Mrs. Winchester died, her belongings were carefully distributed among her heirs, but no arrangements were made for the house. Instead, curious neighbors got together and made sure it was saved from demolition, effectively turning it into a tourist attraction just a few years after her passing. Still privately-owned, today it’s listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places.

Photos weren’t allowed inside the house, but I snapped away outside: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/albums/72157660011104133

My next round of local touristing took us north, to Sonoma county for some wine tasting! We’re a member of a winery up there, so we had our shipment to pick up too, but it’s also always fun bringing our friends to our favorite stops in wine country. We started at Imagery Winery where we picked up our wine and enjoyed tastings of several of their sweeter wines, including their port. From there we picked up fresh sandwiches at a deli and grocery store before making our way to Benziger Family Winery, where MJ and I got engaged back in 2011.s We ate lunch before the rain began and then went inside to do some more wine tastings. Thankfully, the weather cleared up before our 3PM tour, where we got to see the vinyards, their processing area and inside the wine caves. It was cold though, in the 40s with a stiff breeze throughout the day. Our adventure concluded with a stop at Jacuzzi Family Vineyards where we tasted some olive oils, vinegar and mustard.

More photos from our Sonoma adventure here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/albums/72157661706977879

In slightly less tourism and more local experience, the last adventure I went on with Danita was a trip down the bay (took Amtrak) to the brand new NFL stadium for the 49ers on Sunday, December 20th. I’m not into football, but going to an NFL game was something I wanted to experience, particularly since this brand new stadium is the one the Super Bowl will be played in a few weeks from now. Nice experience to have! The forecast called for rain, but we lucked out and it was merely cold (40s and 50s), I picked up a winter hat there at the stadium and they appeared to be doing brisk business for us Californians who are not accustomed to the chilly weather. We got to our seats before all the pre-game activities began, of which there are many, I had no idea the kind of pomp that accompanies a football game! We had really nice seats right next to the field, so close that Danita was able to find us upon watching game footage later:

The game itself? I am still no football fan. As someone who doesn’t watch much, I’ll admit that it was a bit hard for me to follow. Thankfully Danita is a big fan so she was able to explain things to me when I had questions. And regardless of the sport, it is fun to be piled into a stadium with fans. Hot dogs and pretzels, cheering and excitement, all good for the human spirit. I also found the cheerleaders to be a lot of fun, for all the stopping and starting the football players did, the cheerleaders were active throughout the game. I also learned that the stadium was near the San Jose airport, I may have taken a lot of pictures of planes flying over the stadium. They also had a halftime break that featured some previous Super Bowl 49ers from the 80s, Joe Montana was among them. Even as someone who doesn’t pay attention to football, I recognized him!

Airplane, cheerleaders and probably some football happening ;)

The Amtrak trip home was also an adventure, but not the good kind. Our train broke down and we had to be rescued by the next train, an hour behind us. There were high spirits among our fellow passengers though… and lots of spirits, the train bar ran out of champagne. It was raining by the time we got on the next train and so we had a bit of a late and soggy trip back. Still, all in all I’m glad I went.

More photos from the game here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/pleia2/albums/72157662674446015


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