South of San Francisco: Mystery, History and CuriOdyssey

There’s so much to do in San Francisco that some visitors never leave the city. Others take day trips north to Sonoma and Napa wine country, which happens to be one of my favorite side trips. However, there are other places in the Bay Area to consider. I recently posted about the Livermore Valley to the east where there are a surprising number of vineyards and tasting rooms. But what are some of the things to do south of San Francisco?

Fun and Interesting Things To Do South of San Francisco

There are many points of interest and things to do south of San Francisco along the Peninsula and beyond to San Jose, as well. Here are just a few of them.

Winchester Mystery House

Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California -- things to do south of San Francisco

Winchester Mystery House, San Jose

Construction started on this house in 1886 and only stopped when the owner, Sarah Winchester, died in 1922. It’s thought that Mrs. Winchester was obsessed with having continuous, 24 hours a day construction on the house because she was superstitious and believed that if building was completed, she would die. I’ve toured Winchester Mystery House on two occasions. It’s a fun, interesting and kind of eerie tour as you wind through a maze of Mrs. Winchester’s eccentrically designed hallways, stairways, and 110 of the 160 rooms. You really could get lost in the place if it weren’t for the guides. People have reported seeing ghosts in the house, so keep a look out especially when you’re in the seance room, where Mrs. Winchester went nightly to get guidance on building plans. The guides have interesting tales to tell about the many puzzling places in the house, such as the door that opens to an eight foot drop, windows that open onto walls and stairs that go to the ceiling.

Stanford University and Palo Alto

Stanford University chapel and quad in Palo Alto, California -- things to do south of San Francisco

Stanford University, Palo Alto

I like to visit universities and I’m lucky to have Stanford University very close to home. Established in 1891, Stanford is well-known worldwide for academics and athletics. I enjoy walking around the campus to admire the architecture and feel the energy of students bustling along the sidewalks to class. A very special landmark at the center of the campus is Stanford Memorial Church. In 1899, Jane Stanford began overseeing construction of the church which she created as a memorial to her late husband, Leland Stanford. The beautiful exterior facade, seen in the photo, is intricately made of mosaic tiles.

It’s also nice to spend time downtown Palo Alto, where university students as well as Silicon Valley entrepreneurs hang out at the many diverse restaurants, bakeries and cafes. There’s plenty of technology history in Palo Alto, too. For example, it was in a garage at 367 Addison Avenue where Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard developed their first products. In more recent history, Facebook’s first offices were located at 156 University Avenue.


Filoli Estate and Gardens in Woodside, California -- things to do south of San Francisco

Filoli Estate and Gardens, Woodside

Filoli takes you back in time to San Francisco’s Golden Age of the early 20th century. The 36,000 square foot Georgian house and its extensive gardens are set on 654 acres in a lovely country setting in Woodside. The estate was built in 1917 by gold mining magnate, William Bourn, who named it Filoli (short for his motto of “Fight, Love, Live”). Also part of Filoli’s history are the movies and television shows that have been filmed there, such as The Joy Luck Club, The Wedding Planner, and Dynasty.

Hiller Aviation Museum

Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos, California -- things to do south of San Francisco

Hiller Aviation Museum, San Carlos

You don’t have to be a pilot or aviation buff to enjoy Hiller Aviation Museum in San Carlos where you’ll learn much about aviation history going back to 1869 and see displays of vintage airplanes and models. There are also exhibits focusing on the future of aviation. Through large windows in one area of the gallery, you can watch the restoration and maintenance of the exhibits. In the Flight Sim Zone, you can take control of a flight simulator to get some realistic piloting experience. The simulators weren’t available when I was there, so I’d love to go back and try that.

Rosicrucian Museum

Rosicrucian Museum in San Jose, California -- Things to do south of San Francisco

Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum, San Jose

I never expected to find an Egyptian museum in San Jose, but there is one and it’s quite exceptional. At Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum there are many fascinating exhibits of artifacts and educational displays about burial practices, religion, an daily life of the ancient Egyptians. One of the best parts for me was going inside a replica of an ancient Egyptian tomb.


Burrowing Owl at CuriOdyssey in San Mateo, California -- things to do south of San Francisco

Burrowing Owl at CuriOdyssey, San Mateo

CuriOdyssey is a great place to take the kids to experience science and nature exhibits and educational activities. Of course, the stars of CuriOdyssey are the more than 100 animals that live there. Most of them come from rehabilitation facilities and would not be able to survive in the wild. CuriOdyssey is located next to San Francisco Bay where there’s a clear vantage point to watch planes coming in for landing at San Francisco International Airport. That’s actually my favorite thing to do there. Don’t tell the animals.

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56 thoughts on “South of San Francisco: Mystery, History and CuriOdyssey

  1. Michael

    Amazing how much one can discover in one’s own backyard if one only takes the time to be a tourist in one’s own town. That’s why a staycation is always a good idea.

    1. Cathy Post author

      It is lovely with all of the old building, church & the quad. I also like driving down Palm Drive to get there with all of those beautiful palms lining the street.

  2. Sophie

    Back when I was a student, we did many road trips between San Fransisco and LA. So much to see, especially the nearer we got to SF. Never seen the Winchester Mystery House, though, but would really like to. So interesting.

  3. Jeff Titelius

    Fascinating places to discover in California!! I’ve seen the Winchester House on TV…fascination place…all of those mysterious stairways and doors leading to nowhere. Love the mystery and intrigue. Would like to see the Stanford mosaic as well!! Plus, all the places you list actually. CuriOdyssey sounds wonderful.

    1. Cathy Post author

      Glad you like the list. They have special Halloween tours at the Winchester Mystery House — that would be lots of fun, I think.

  4. Katrina

    You always find the coolest little tucked-away places, Cathy. How did I not know about some of these? I think the only 2 I’ve heard of before are the Winchester Mystery House (from Believe It Or Not) and Stanford. Gah! Now you’ve got me pining for my home state – cut it out! 😉

  5. Steve

    I know I’ve heard about the Winchester Mystery House before, but I had no idea it was out near San Francisco. I spent some time in San Jose a while ago too, which probably would have been perfect for a visit. Oh well…have to go back I guess.

    1. Cathy Post author

      I have a feeling that you and your family would have so much fun there. I’d look forward to reading one of your fun posts about it, too!

    1. Cathy Post author

      Thank YOU, Marianne. You’ll love Winchester Mystery House. They also have a gun museum there — Winchester, or course! I’m not into guns, but it’s interesting history.

  6. Mary @ The World Is A Book

    We did the SJ to SF drive a couple of years ago and missed a lot of these places except for the Stanford campus. My husband and I wanted to go to Winchester House but didn’t want to creep the kids out. This is such as great list for our next trip up there. Would love to visit CuriOdyssey =)

    1. Cathy Post author

      There were quite a few kids on the tour, but I think they were older kids. They really don’t make it too scary of a thing, but your imagination can run wild there. 🙂

  7. Goody

    I didn’t expected >San Francisco to be packed with so beautiful spots and attractions. Well I’ve heard about Stanford University of course but not of all the other attractions!

    1. Cathy Post author

      Thanks for sharing, Courtnery. I wish I could take credit for that name CuriOdyssey — it is a very clever name for the place.

  8. Christy

    I can’t believe I have never been to the Winchester Mystery house! I’m going to have to make a point to stop the next time we drive through the area. SF has so many cool things to see!

    1. Cathy Post author

      Try to visit off-season. It can get pretty busy there. On a weekend in January, we waited about 45 minutes for a tour, which wasn’t bad. Plenty to look at in the gardens and Winchester gun museum while you wait.

    1. Cathy Post author

      They are both unique places and worth a visit. They really take you back in time and the Winchester Mystery House adds a little — well, mystery!

    1. Cathy Post author

      You’re right, it’s not just a mysterious place. The history is also sad. You can you imagine living with the fear that Mrs. Winchester had about dying if building didn’t continue 24/7.

  9. insideJourneys

    Enjoyed reading about the variety here, Cathy. That Winchester House certainly has an air of mystery about it. I love the Stanford campus so much, I probably wouldn’t want to graduate. Also didn’t know there was a Rosicrusian museum.

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