Historical and cultural attractions in the South Bay offer the chance to explore the past as it was back then, as well as to get up-close and hands-on with the innovation and creativity you would expect from Silicon Valley. One moment, wander through a wondrous mansion designed by a haunted heiress, and the next enter an Egyptian burial chamber like those for dignitaries from four millennia ago — or get in touch with your inner duke and duchess at a sprawling country estate worthy of Downton Abbey. Here are some of the best places to visit in the South Bay.
Featured Photo: Filoli Gardens
86 Cañada Road, Woodside
Empire Gold Mine owner William Bourne II had the 43-room Filoli mansion built in 1915 to “create a magnificent and enduring country estate.” The grand, elegant home is surrounded by 16 acres of astonishing gardens, arbors, water features and pavilions that are tended by 14 full-time horticulturalists. The 654-acre estate, surrounded by 23,000 acres of protected watershed, is just 30 miles south of San Francisco, but offers a complete escape from urban landscapes. It’s bigger than it looks, so set aside plenty of time to explore the house and gardens. filoli.org
Hiller Aviation Museum
601 Skyway Road, San Carlos
The museum started as an eclectic private collection of aircraft prototypes and test vehicles, assembled by helicopter designer Stanley Hiller Jr., that eventually opened to the public in 1998. The roster of more than 50 aircraft includes: the Boeing Condor, a secret unmanned spy plane used in the 1980s that is bigger than a B-52 bomber; and the Hiller XROE-1 “Rotorcycle,” a full-size helicopter built in 1956 that collapses down into a portable pod. Also included are exhibits on the Beginnings of Flight and the nose section of a Boeing 747-100, including the First Class cabin and the cockpit. hiller.org
The Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum
1660 Park Ave., San Jose
With more than 4,000 objects, the museum is home to one of the largest collections of ancient Egyptian artifacts in North America. The collection is divided among exhibits covering daily life, the afterlife, alchemy, religion and Egypt’s rulers. Explore a full-size recreation of an ancient rock-cut tomb, complete with burial chamber, modeled on burial sites used for prominent officials 4,000 years ago, then gaze at the face of the Lady of the House Ta’awa, painted on her coffin some 2,500 years ago. The museum is part of the larger Rosicrucian Park, which includes a peace garden, labyrinth and the Alchemy Museum. egyptianmuseum.org
*The Tech Interactive
201 S Market St., San Jose
Formerly the Tech Museum of Innovation, this family-friendly science and technology center offers hands-on activities, labs and “design challenge experiences” with the goal of motivating the next generation of innovators through creativity and curiosity. The Tech is housed in a 132,000-square-foot facility that is a downtown San Jose landmark and includes an IMAX theater. Exhibits include Social Robot stations for building and programming your own robot, and the popular Body World Decoded, which displays eight plastinated bodies and more than 60 anatomical specimens. thetech.org
*Readers’ Choice Best Place to Visit in the South Bay
Winchester Mystery House
525 S Winchester Blvd., San Jose
This bizarre sprawling, 160-room mansion that took 38 years to build is the physical story of Sarah Winchester, heiress to the Winchester rifle fortune, and her continuous attempts to dodge evil spirits. She was told by a spiritualist in the 1880s she needed to continuously build the house to prevent being haunted by victims of the company’s guns. Inside are puzzling features, including staircases that go nowhere, windows set into floors and “decoy doors” to confuse the spirits. Guided and self-guided tours of the mansion are available, as well as a tour of the gardens and an ax-throwing experience in the stables. winchestermysteryhouse.com
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