I loved this museum! I think I found out about it by browsing Roadside America and seeing the “dead gray whale monument” that’s located outside. But then I also remember learning that Pacific Grove has one of the largest monarch overwintering sites in America, and there’s monarch viewing at the museum and a sanctuary a few blocks away, so it all kind of got wrapped up into this must-experience destination. Anyway, what I loved about the museum was the really beautiful, unique displays (“Sands from all over the world!” The “examples of protective coloration” case! Small dioramas of individual reptiles that you view from above!) and displays that looked old and gorgeous, the focus on monarchs, and the incredible Birds of Monterey County exhibition (featuring 291 bird species and 409 mounted birds, including a Passenger Pigeon – one of only about 30 on public display west of the Mississippi). Not just visiting natural history museums but photographing in them makes me happier than maybe anything else on earth. I had a truly wonderful time.
When we decided to take a three-day weekend and go to San Jose, we said we would basically only do the Winchester Mystery House and maybe a National Park since it was supposed to be a small, inexpensive trip. But then we got to looking at what was reasonably nearby, and we decided to spend a night in Monterey, and Nathaniel said we had to go to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I was not crazy about spending $50/person on tickets, or going to a huge, famous aquarium on a Sunday during spring break (on St. Patrick’s Day!) and it was a madhouse, but it was cool. I really loved the birds, and the jellyfish, and the Kelp Forest, one of the tallest aquarium exhibits in the world (28 feet), with its huge schools of sardines.
Pretty much right after I learned that the Winchester Mystery House supposedly served as the inspiration for the Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland (and I learned that it is in San Jose, which I had somehow never known, and that airfare from Portland was about $60) I asked Nathaniel if that’s what he wanted to do for his 30th birthday, and he said yes. We were supposed to be treating our trip to St. Louis/Kansas next month (right between our two birthdays) as our 30th birthday ~thing~ but as his neared he decided he wanted to do something that day or weekend, and I agreed we should. We flew to San Jose the Friday after Nat’s birthday, after work. We checked in to our hotel and went to San Pedro Square Market for dinner from Pizza Bocca Lupo, and the next morning we went to the Winchester Mystery House!
We took a tour of just a portion of the house and it went way too fast. Nat and I were the last ones trailing behind in every room. Someone asked me afterward if we saw any ghosts and I realized I hadn’t even thought about the house being haunted, because I was so distracted by the crazy architecture and all the perfect details, like this embossed wall covering made from wood flour. And! Because Sarah Winchester was obsessed with the number 13, there are all these significant 13-related things: 13 bathrooms, 13-windowed rooms, 13-stepped staircases, 13 hooks in her seance room, 13 drain holes in the sink, 13 parts to her will, which she signed 13 times. Nat got a kick out of it (he, too, loves the number 13, and his birthday is the 13th).