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This is a wonderful area of California. The ocean, small towns, big cities, lots of history, and rolling hills covered with vineyards, deserve to be explored. This was not our first time in the area; we first explored San Francisco and Napa Valley 11 years ago so we set out to tour a little differently this time.

Camping at the Elks Club in Petaluma
Camping at the Elks clubs in the west has been enjoyable and has saved us a ton of money. Here in Petaluma the Elks club is in a large business park. The large buildings house many different businesses; the Elks lodge is in one of the large buildings. Behind the lodge they have 18 full hook up sites which they rent out for $15.00 per night which is really a bargain; of course only members may camp here. The  nearby KOA charges upwards of $35.00. 

Bird Sanctuary across the street.
This is a very quiet neighborhood and it is easy to get to. Granted the RV parking area is only a parking lot without picnic tables and such, but across the road from the Elks lodge is a beautiful wildlife preserve with a lake. There is a two-mile walk way around the lake and the setting is very pleasant. When we walk in the morning, it is like a banquet for our senses. We are kissed by the sun, tickled by a gentle breeze, serenaded by the sounds of nature and enjoy watching the birds play, the water ripple and grasses bend slightly. The parking lot at the start of the preserve is always full of cars. Locals drive to the park for their morning stroll; we simply walk across the street.

Petaluma was fortunate during the devastating earthquake that leveled many Northern California cities in 1906. Very little damage was done here and the beautiful old Victorian buildings were preserved. It is fun to walk the streets of the historic downtown and admire the architecture. I especially love the houses. Here is a very small sampling.

Petaluma was known as the "egg basket" of the world from about 1915 to 1955. There is a river, Christmas tree farms, mills, and more to explore. And don't forget dining and shopping. We suggest that you start your tour at the very friendly visitor center and go from there. Even if you choose to ignore Petaluma (which would be a shame) it is a great base for exploring nearby attractions.

Winchester Mystery House in San Jose

I have wanted to tour this house for ages and the wait was well worth it. It was an easy 80 mile drive via freeways to get to the house. This Victorian mansion was designed to baffle the evil spirits that haunted Sarah Winchester, eccentric heiress to the Winchester Arms fortune, and mistress of the house. With 160 rooms, 2,000 doors, 13 bathrooms, 10,000 windows, 47 fireplaces, blind closets and cupboards, secret passageways and 40 staircases, the house is complex and mysterious. 

 Ron pointing to the door that goes straight down. 
Sarah Winchester was overcome with grief by the loss of her month old baby girl, and her grief was magnified 15 years later when her husband died suddenly. Doctors and friends urged her to move to the west and find some hobby. She moved to the San Jose area and purchased an eight room farm house. Then strange things began to happen. She started building and building and building. She hired carpenters (as many as 16) who worked around the clock. For 38 years (1884-1922) the sound of saw and hammer never ceased. They didn't stop working until the day she died (September 5, 1922). The result at the end of some 20 years was a house with stairs going to no where, doors that open to a blank wall, a sky light in the middle of a room is on the floor; there are tiny rooms and large rooms and rooms that were never finished. The house has five different heating systems and three elevators, one hydraulic and two electric. Some of the 13 bathrooms lacked privacy; they have glass doors, but then she lived alone. A spiral stairway has 42 steps, each two inches high. Other stairways melt into blank walls. You have to take the tour to believe it all.

I loved capturing the geometric designs in the house.
No one knows for sure why she did all of this but the speculation is that she was told by a psychic that if she kept building, she would keep spirits at bay. Some even said that she was trying to avoid the spirits of all who the Winchester rifle killed. 

In the middle of her house is a seance room and every night she had seances. There were three doors in the seance room, but only one worked as an entry door. The second door led to a blank wall and the third had no door knob on the outside so it could only be used as an exit from the room. 

The number 13, her favorite number, is everywhere. In one bathroom, for example, there are 13 windows. Because there are supposed to be 13 petals in a perfect daisy that was  her favorite flower and it is depicted in many ways in the house. Spider webs were also a favorite design of hers.

Many of the rooms are unfinished. In order to keep carpenters busy she had rooms remodeled constantly. The house was damaged in the 1906 earthquake and because she was trapped in a bedroom in the front part of the house for a while, she figured that the spirits were trying to tell here to quit building on that part of the house so she closed up those rooms and continued her building in the back of the house. 

The front door  was built at a cost of $3,000 and its key is solid gold, but it was never used. Only three people ever walked through the door--- Mrs. Winchester and the two carpenters who installed it and it was never opened again. This and other strange facts come to light as one takes the tour of the house and grounds. Here's something spooky. I had a new diskette in my camera and filled it up with pictures I took while on our tour. When we got home and I put the diskette in the computer to look at the pictures picture number 22 was missing. That had never happened before. Did some spirit make my camera skip a number? Mrs. Winchester died in 1922. Spooky!!!

Jelly Belly factory in Fairfield
I love Jelly Belly jelly beans. I have loved them since I first tried one. I first head about them back in 1980 when Time magazine reported that presidential candidate, Ronald Reagen, loved them. They are expensive ($6.50 a pound) but I buy the big 4 pound jar at Costco for about $12.00 which makes them more reasonable. If I eat 12 of these flavorful candies that amounts to one Weight Watcher point. Currently there are 75 wonderful flavors,

The Jelly Belly factory was easy to get to from Petaluma. We drove California Route 116 to 121 then jumped on I-80 heading east and exited at Route 12. We could see the Jelly Belly name on the building from the freeway. As we pulled into the parking lot we observed about a dozen school busses and hoped that they were well into their tours, but as we entered the building it was obvious that we would be sharing the tour with many excited school children. The line was rather long, but it moved swiftly.

Ron standing near the end of the long line
Gustav and Albert Goelitz immigrated to America from Germany and started making candy corn in Illinois around 1900. Today their decedents continue the tradition with Jelly Belly beans which were invented in 1976. We were surprised to learn that it takes 7 to 10 days to make each Jelly Belly and we were further amazed to see the process. 

At several points along the way the Jelly Belly beans must cure or dry before the next stage. These jelly beans are different from most in that the flavor is on the inside, the coating and the final coating and when you eat a Jelly Belly you will be amazed at the true flavor. 

San Francisco
There is enough to see in San Francisco to take weeks, but we only spent a day and were happy for the experience. On our way to the Winchester House, we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge but for our visit to the city, we took a ferry from Larkspur. What a smart move that was. The ride was comfortable, and eliminated the need to worry about parking. We arrived at Pier 2 about 45 minutes after boarding the ferry.

Alcatraz as seen from the ferry
We got a transfer to the bus/ trolley and took that to Fisherman's Wharf. 

Some of the sights at Fisherman's Wharf
We walked that and had a little to eat then took off walking towards China Town. Some parts were up hill, but it was an okay walk. 

Entrance to China Town --- lamp post---overall scene
From China town we walked on to Market Street and all in all we walked about 3 1/2 miles. We stopped to shop at the huge Comp USA store and Stacy's bookstore. We found McDonalds used book store but were sad that were out of business. They had just closed on May 15th. We had been there 11 years ago and remember it as a huge used book store where I found a copy of an out-of-print copy of a book by Lady Bird Johnston. 

Nice penthouse, huh? (both pictures are of the same building).

I loved gawking at the sky scrapers and enjoyed capturing a few for you with my camera. We didn't do the trolly ride or visit Alcatraz; we had done that before. It was just a fun day with lots of good walking and people watching.

Napa Valley
We had visited this whole area quite thoroughly back in 1991. We remember that we visited Napa Valley twice in that visit; the second time we toured on bikes and that was very enjoyable. Much has changed in 11 years. There are many more wineries, Route 29 is part freeway and wine tasting is an expensive treat. Where it was free to taste before wineries now charge anywhere from $5 to $10 for each person to sample three wines. We didn't. 

We had been south of here in Templeton a week or so before and toured a half a dozen or more wineries there with our friends Marge and Rod. The first two we stopped at charged and they didn't have many lingering around. The third winery we stopped at did not charge and we did sample three or four wines; we also purchased 4 bottles of wine. The next wineries also did not charge and we purchased a total of $100 of wine. Some of the wineries also had mustard, salsa and other dips for sale and had samples of those out for tasting; we also bought several jars of those kinds of goodies too and have enjoyed them a lot. 

When we visited Napa on this trip, we were surprised at the first winery that charged for tasting, but stopped at another because of our experience in Templeton. Sadly all of them charge here in Napa and apparently folks are willing to pay. For us it is a matter of principle. Why should I pay to see if I might like their wine? Let me taste and perhaps I will buy. If you go to Napa, take your wallet. To go to three wineries and have tastes of their wines it will cost a couple upwards of $60.  I'll go back to Templeton and buy their wines. 

There is more to do in Napa besides visiting wineries though. The side roads over the genetly rolling hills make for nice drives. The town of St Helena offers great shopping and there are many fine restaurants. We didn't even look at menues because we didn't want to be tempted. We ate bad things when we were in San Francisco (fish and chips and desserts) so had to get back to healthy eating. Instead we stopped at a Marie Callendars and had a healthy salad. 

We had a wonderful 10 days in the area and are sure you will enjoy all that you do here. Be sure to plan a drive along the coast north of San Francisco. The Muir woods, the coast and little general stores that we wrote about 3 years ago make for interesting exploring. 

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