When I was in high school in the early 1980s, a nighttime drama on ABC was one of the most popular programs on television. “Dynasty” was about a wealthy family that was more concerned about their love lives than anything else in their unhappy existence. It was riding on the coattails of another soapy drama, “Dallas,” which had become popular in the late 1970s.

If you watch the opening to “Dynasty,” you see a sprawling estate tucked away in a wooded, hilly landscape. Then, images of Denver, the series’ setting, and the cast follow. Of course, that gives you the idea that the mansion is in Colorado. But it is not.

The Carrington family estate was south of San Francisco, down the peninsula. I didn’t find this out until years later when people asked me about the “Dynasty” house and didn’t know what they were talking about. I later discovered it was just 15 minutes from where I lived in Burlingame and called Filoli.  During the five years I lived in the Bay Area, I didn’t visit there or on my frequent visits when I moved to Colorado after that.

It's now taken almost thirty years for me to visit Filoli after first finding out about it. My two sisters, brother-in-law, niece and her family made the trip here this past weekend, and I am glad I finally went here.


Completed in 1917, Filoli was the home of William and Agnes Bourn. They owned one of the largest gold mines in the state and the water company that supplied San Francisco. The main reservoir, Crystal Springs, is just a short distance from the estate in Woodside. The home eventually had 56 rooms, including a ballroom and reception room, a large dining room, and staff quarters.

The estate’s name comes from an acronym of the first few letters of William Bourn’s saying: “Fight for a just cause; Love your fellow man; Live a good life.” The mansion was modeled after Bourn’s estate in Ireland called Muckross. After the Bourns passed away, William and Lurline Roth took it over and built the estate’s gardens. In 1975, Mrs. Roth donated the entire place to the National Trust for Historic Preservation, which operates it now.

The entire home features oversized rooms elaborately decorated in a French chateau style. I was most impressed with the ballroom, with its expansive hardwood floor, platform with a grand piano and high fireplace. This room is where President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping met for a summit late last year.

The grounds

Most people of a certain age will know about Filoli because of “Dynasty.” But many more know about the estate for its beautiful gardens, extensive fields, and orchards.  The original gardener, Louis Mariconi, worked here for 40 years and collaborated with its landscape architect to create the stunning European-style layout. 

The gardens are now maintained year-round with seasonal blooms and plants. Some areas are subdivided into smaller distinct areas, such as the Walled Garden, Daffodil Meadow, Family Orchard, Bowling Green and Pool Pavilion. We did not see too many flowers in the garden, but there were many potted, brightly colored tulips around the grounds.  Most of the flowers and plants will be at their peak in a few months.

The larger estate grounds surround the immediate home and garden, forming a private park. There’s a mile-long trail where you might see some native wildlife like turkeys and deer.  Fields grow hay, herbs and fruit trees, and the estate produces food products. You can also view part of the San Andreas fault when crossing the Fault Creek bridge.


There is only one dining venue at Filoli, the Quail Café, which serves bistro-style food. The menu consists of appetizers, salads, sandwiches, soups and desserts. Nothing was too creative or innovative, so I went with quiche Lorraine and a quinoa salad.  The rest of my family chose salads and sandwiches.  Most of the items are pre-made so that visitors can get served quickly.

The café is in an airy, light-filled setting. There is also an outdoor patio, but a private party occupied the space so we couldn’t sit there. It was just as well because a cool, steady wind blew and would’ve made our visit that much colder. A bar in another estate area serves several craft cocktails, beer and wine.

As my family and I did, you will need a reservation to go to Filoli. The weekends sell out quickly, so it’s best to get yours well in advance