Spinning Straw Into Semiconductors in Woodside

Forty miles from the East Bay, Woodside is the closest we can come to modern-day fairy tales.


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Find Flowers and 17th -century art at Fioli.

Photos courtesy of Filoli

Visiting Woodside is an exercise in ogling multimillionaires.

Nothing against multimillionaires. Nothing, for that matter, against ogling. But while you can rightly say that visiting Woodside is also about hiking, cycling, and riding horseback on wooded trails or touring the opulent 645-acre Filoli estate, it’s mainly about ogling multimillionaires just as visiting Madagascar is mainly about looking at lemurs.

Wealth arguably has been Northern California’s most defining feature since gold first glinted at Sutter’s Mill. Calculatedly quaint Woodside with its bakery, tack shop, and venture-capitalist-magnet restaurant—Buck’s of Woodside—is perfect for imbibing this heritage whose “richness” is no mere metaphor.

Most of us can’t score invitations to the modern mansions housing a hefty percentage of Woodside’s population (including, formerly, Shirley Temple and Steve Jobs) and whose seven- and eight-figure price tags make this one of America’s spendiest towns. But we can stroll the 43 glamorous neo-Georgian rooms and fruit-treed, flower-tressed, reflecting-pooled English gardens of National Trust-owned Filoli, completed in 1917 for William Bowers Bourn II, who’d inherited California’s oldest, richest gold mine.

It’s hard to imagine living amid these 18-foot ceilings, sweeping stairways, servants’ quarters, palatial panoramas, and secret passageways.

But every model ship and taxidermed owl reminds you that this white-columned, clock-towered paradise where Dynasty, Heaven Can Wait, and Rent were filmed was, for 50-plus years, a home. Mr. and Mrs. Bourn employed a Swedish cook, an English butler, and Italian farmhands and threw fancy fetes—including a hilarious “Drunks’ Dinner” hailing Prohibition’s end—but they also buried their beloved daughter here and spent their final years morosely observing the manicured gardens, oak rows, and serpentine hills from wheelchairs in separate bedrooms.

Multimillionaires are people, too, and that’s the point of examining their enclaves: History is a human chain that links us all. Woodside is about the closest we can come today to fairy-tale castles and straw spun into gold. If we squint a bit, its kings and queens could almost be us.Photos courtesy of Filoli

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