There’s no place like home, of course, but some houses play a part in history or represent a worthy architectural style that makes them stand out. The Bay Area boasts many historic and notable houses that you can travel to as part of an organized itinerary or you can visit one at a time as you please.
Here are 11 suggestions to get you started.
John Muir House. The father of the National Park Service, John Muir, lived and worked in Martinez. His writing helped convince the government to protect Yosemite, Sequoia, Grand Canyon and Mt. Rainier as national parks. A self-described student in the "University of the Wilderness,” Muir also was an avid naturalist, lecturer, schoolteacher, inventor and fruit rancher. He wrote 12 books and 300 articles, and he co-founded the Sierra Club in 1892. His grave is about one mile south of the house. (nps.gov/jomu/index.htm)
Jack London House. Wolf House, the 26-room mansion that writer London built in Glen Ellen, burned down before he was able to move in. You can still see “the beautiful ruin,” tour the cottage London did live in, visit his gravesite and the House of Happy Walls, and hike the surrounding area at Jack London State Historic Park. A colorful raconteur, London wrote more than 50 books, including “Call of the Wild,” “White Fang” and “The Sea Wolf.” Some of them have been translated into 70 languages. (jacklondonpark.com/jack-london-wolf-house.html)
Hanna House. This house designed by Frank Lloyd Wright will reopen for tours this month. Constructed in 1937 on the Stanford University campus in Palo Alto, the house is based on hexagonal geometry and has no right angles in its floor plan. Also known as the Hanna–Honeycomb House, the building represents Wright’s first work with non-rectangular structures and the first house he designed in the Bay Area. After welcoming visitors this June and July, Hanna House will close for August and reopen in September. (https://hannahousetours.stanford.edu/)
Filoli. Set on the eastern slope of the Santa Cruz Mountains in Woodside, Filoli boasts a 54,000-square-foot Georgian country house, a 16-acre English Renaissance garden and the rare privilege of having served as the mansion seen from the above in the opening credits of “Dynasty,” the television series that aired from 1981-89. Aficionados of trees will appreciate the row of immense Italian stone pines and native coast live oaks, some over 250 years old, scattered across the 654-acre property. Self-guided tours are available, with docents on hand to answer questions. (filoli.org/)
Haas-Lilienthal House. Designed by Peter R. Schmidt and built in 1886, this house in San Francisco is said to exemplify upper-middle class life in the Victorian era. Built of redwood and fir, the Queen Anne-style house features a turreted corner tower and prominent open gables. The house had cost $18,500 to construct, which was expensive for its time. Today, the house is one of 34 inaugural National Treasures in America. It is the only Victorian house in San Francisco open to the public, but right now it is closed for upgrades and restoration. The house will reopen in October. (sfheritage.org/haas-lilienthal-house/)
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McElroy Octagon House. Built in 1861, the McElroy House is one of three wooden octagon-shaped houses remaining in San Francisco. A San Francisco historical landmark, this architectural treasure serves as a Colonial and Federal Periods Decorative Arts Museum. The National Society of the Colonial Dames of America bought the vacant house in 1951, moved it from its original location across the street and renovated it. Now on the National Register of Historic Places, the house and adjacent garden are open on the second Sunday and second and fourth Thursdays of each month except in January, when the house is closed. (nscda-ca.org/octagon-house/)
General Vallejo's Home. Mariano Guadalupe Vallejo, one of the first commercial winemakers in the region, moved in 1852 with his family to an estate in Sonoma. He named the place “Lachryma Montis" (mountain tear), a Latin translation of the Native American name for a spring that runs on the property. The house, a two-story prefabricated wood structure built in 1851-1852, was shipped from the East Coast around Cape Horn for assembly on site. Furnished with many of Vallejo’s possessions, the house is now a museum in Sonoma State Historic Park. Vallejo’s house is on the National Register of Historic Places and is a California Historical Landmark. (sonomaparks.org/pub/place/4)
Pardee Home. Enoch Pardee, an eye doctor, built his Italianate-style home in Oakland in 1868. He later served as mayor of that city, state assemblyman and state senator. His son, George C. Pardee, was elected governor of California in 1902. Collections on display at the museum reflect the Pardee family's many interests, including scrimshaw from Alaska, candlesticks from India, altarpieces from China, weapons from Africa and fine art from California. A bonus: You can book a reservation for tea in the elegant dining room. The house is a city landmark, a California Historical Landmark and is on the National Register of Historic Places. (pardeehome.org/)
Sam Brannan Cottage. A businessman, founder of Calistoga and co-founder of the first newspaper in San Francisco (which halted publication when the staff ran off to the gold fields), Sam Brannan made his fortune selling picks, shovels and pans to miners. Hailed as California’s first millionaire, Brannan opened the first spa in Calistoga in 1862, and one of the original cottages -- complete with arches, gabled roof and gingerbread scrollwork -- has been restored and is attached to the eclectic Sharpsteen Museum. (sharpsteenmuseum.org/)
Leland Stanford Mansion. This 19,000-square-foot mansion in Sacramento is said to epitomize “the splendor and elegance of the Victorian era in California”. Built in 1856 by a Gold Rush merchant, the house was purchased later by Leland Stanford, who served as governor of California from 1862-1863. After a recent $22 million restoration, the mansion now is a museum. Highlights of the tour include 19th century crystal and bronze light fixtures, 17-foot ceilings, restored woodwork, detailed carved moldings, carpeting and draperies based on photographs from the 1870s, original furnishings that belonged to the Stanfords and 19th-century style gardens. (www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=489)
The Ackerman Heritage House: An 1888 Queen Anne Victorian in downtown Napa has been painstakingly restored by Lauren Ackerman, who searched out historically correct furnishings to create a "living history" museum. Tours and wine tastings are offered by appointment and the house hosts monthly afternoon teas. http://www.ackermanheritagehouse.com/
Many communities hold tours of historic districts, some of them in spring, so check the web if you are interested in a guided walking tour that includes historic homes.