Bring a child.
Ardenwood Historic Farm

Neil Wiley

It’s not Six Flags, Great America, or Disneyland. It’s too quiet, too simple, too old-fashioned. But if you would like to enjoy a peaceful day with your favorite child, Ardenwood is worth a visit.

This beautifully restored 1890s farm doesn’t overwhelm with bright lights, loud music, and children’s screams. You walk along shady paths to discover a cow in a pasture, a colorful preening peacock, and a wagon full of hay. At the small railroad station, you don’t see giant locomotives. Instead, you get aboard a little narrow-gauge horse-drawn car for a ride around a large meadow and through the shade of a eucalyptus forest. Traveling at the speed of a walking draft horse isn’t exciting, but it’s comfortable, pleasant, and natural. Petting the horse after the ride is even better.

We didn’t see any lions or tigers, but my grandson was more interested in seeing a real, live pig in real, dirty mud. He liked feeding the sheep and goats. For him, the best part was up close and personal.

Young docents, dressed in 1890s costumes, supplied enough facts to stimulate interest, but most of the education was hands-on. Children got their hands a little dirty. They smelled animal smells. They ate homemade cookies. At the end of their animal-feeding tour, they were given popcorn on real corn cobs to take home.

We looked at many tractors, wagons, and farm implements. We saw farmhands at work. We also watched a blacksmith forging a steel hilt for a sword. (I don’t know what this has to do with farming, but small boys appeared to like it.) We even saw a running fox.

The historic centerpiece of the farm is an elaborate Victorian mansion, the Patterson House. Complete with large lawns, gardens, and a gazebo, it was considered by the Washington Press to be “the most handsome house in the township in 1898.” It may still be, but while tours were available, my grandson passed in favor of visiting the nearby produce stand. Perry’s sells a wide assortment of fruits and vegetables, many grown locally.

Although Ardenwood is open Tuesday through Sunday, I recommend “historic days.” On Thursday, Friday, and Sunday, you can attend naturalist programs, tour the house, ride the horse-drawn railcar, and visit the blacksmith shop. The Farmyard Café is open only on Sunday. Join in feeding the animals at 3 p.m. On “historic days” fees are $5 for adults, $4 for seniors, and $4 for children aged four and above. For more information, visit, or call 510-796-0663 or 510-796-0199.


Directions to Ardenwood

Take Highway 17 north and continue on Interstate 880 into the East Bay. Turn on Highway 84 west (second Highway 84 exit), exit right on Ardenwood, and right again at the park entrance.


Other local farms

In Santa Cruz County, visit Wilder Ranch. Located about two miles north of Western Drive on Highway 1, this historic farm comes complete with ranch house, Victorian home, barns, gardens, and farm animals. Over 34 miles of hiking, biking, and equestrian trails wind through 7,000 acres of coastal terraces and valleys. The interpretive center is open Thursday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., except December through February. For a schedule of tours and living history demonstrations, call 831-426-0505.

In Santa Clara County’s Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve, ten-acre Deer Hollow Farm offers self-guided tours of a working farm with farm animals. You can also arrange a guided group tour. Bring the farm home when you buy farm-fresh eggs and seasonal orchard produce. The one-mile walk from the parking lot may discourage some visitors.

Open Tuesday through Sunday, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Wednesday, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Animals can be seen between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. To visit Deer Hollow, take Highway 17 to Interstate 280, exit at Foothill Boulevard south, and go 0.2-mile to Cristo Rey Drive. Turn right, and continue for one mile. Stay right at the traffic circle, and then turn left into the park entrance. To learn more, call 650-903-6430.


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