Yellow lit MIDTOWN sign from the Midtown Safeway in San José

Chase Down the Neon Signs of San José

A tour of San José’s neon signs has been on my to-do list for a very long time now. I found a list compiled by Josh Marcotte ( Unfortunately, this list was written a long time ago and some of the signs are now gone

Western Appliance neon signOnly a few of the signs from the original list remain in Midtown, and even fewer are lit up at night. The most iconic one is the Western Appliances sign on 1976 W San Carlos St. Built in 1962, it has a great history. When it was first lit, the flashy lights on top caused two accidents on highway 17! Western Appliance closed its doors in 2020 and the sign went dark. Nearby is the former Time Deli – which got its name from the neon sign it inherited and is now a shoe store. Time neon sign

Burbank theaterA few of the signs are in dire need of rescue, like the Y Not sign over a sex toy shop across from the Time Deli.  The Burbank theater further down on South Bascom Ave could use some help as well. Equally, the neighborhood Midtown, itself, is in need of a renaissance. Hence I would like to caution you not to go by yourself. I think this is not the most inviting neighborhood for strolling around at night. 

O. C. McDonald's neon signThere are a few lit signs,  e.g.,  the Bears Cocktail Lounge. The Midtown Safeway celebrates neon with its large yellow Midtown sign. O. C. Mc Donald, a mechanical contractor, does a wordplay, Oh See!, on its name, and it still lights up. The Falafel’s Drive-In is not only interesting because of the pointy sign but was visited by Guy Fieri from Diners, Driveins and Dives. The West Side Billiards is currently closed and therefore the sign which is one of the coolest on the list is not illuminated.

West Side Billiards neon signMidtown has the highest concentration of these historic lightning features, but the most iconic signs found a good home at History Park. These are the Dancing Pig and the Orchard Hardware sign. The OSH sign is with some more artifacts from the store and the Dancing Pig is near the Vietnamese Museum.

Neon Signs Location
  • Western Appliances 1976 W San Carlos St., San José
  • Time Deli 349 S Bascom Ave., San José
  • Y Not 1933 W San Carlos St., San José
  • Burbank Theater 552 S Bascom Ave., San José
  • The Bears Cocktail Lounge 1872 W San Carlos St., San José
  • Midtown Safeway 1300 W San Carlos St, San José
  • O.C. McDonald 1150 W San Carlos St., San José
  • West Side Billiards 1050 W San Carlos St., San José
  • Falafel’s Drive-In 2301 Stevens Creek Blvd., San José
  • Orchard Supply Hardware and Stephen’s Meat Market, History Park 635 Phelan Ave, San José


Falafel's Drive-In neon signI made a Google map for the San José Neon Signs and hope to expand this in the future. Please let me know of interesting signs within San José.

For more information check out the San José Sign Project’s Facebook page or order their book on the iconic neon signs! Sarah JL Nguyen of Crossinglightstudio wrote a great blog post: San José’s Neon Signs: Works of Art That Tell Our Story 

Looking Back: Signs of the Times by Ralph Pearce has a great list of neon signs.


Do you have a favorite neon sign?

A sign saying Antiques and Collectables Enter

Steal a Deal, San Jose Antique Row

This post is one of those I-put-off-for-too-long, or more accurately, when-I-don’t-get-to-go-out-and-explore post. 

Antique row storefront in San Jose It turns out that according to the San Jose Spotlight, San Jose’s Antique Row might be a thing of the past soon. The San Jose City Council voted unanimously to annex a portion of the ‘Row’ for new housing, including urgently needed senior housing. A new development there might replace the antique stores currently occupying the space.

Mannequin heads and nick nack Antique Row is on W. San Carlos between Brooklyn Ave and Hester Ave in San Jose, an area known as Burbank. This is a great place to check  if you collect a specific antique, or if you are looking for some pieces not labeled made-in-China. The staff understands that you need time to browse and is very knowledgeable if you have specific questions.

The four most well-known antique stores on Antique Row, Antiques Colony, Burbank Antiques, Briarwood Antiques and Collectibles, and Memory Lane Antiques, are still open. Tony, the owner of Memory Lane Antiques told me he plans to retire next year. I was unable to get anyone else to confirm they were closing in the near future. A collection of hats

I hope when the time comes they can relocate and create a new Antique Row within San Jose. Meanwhile catch them while they are still in this location. 

Antique Row is located on W. San Carlos between Brooklyn Ave and Hester Ave in San Jose. Opening hours vary by store.

Do you enjoy bargain hunting? 

A bouquet of zinnias

Gift some Zinnia Flowers, Woodland, CA

A bouquet of purple zinniasI remember when I volunteered at the Mountain View food bank (CSA) every time we had flowers to give out, these were the most precious items that day. Gifting flowers is something the Mezger family in Woodland understands very well. They provide the zinnia patch on the outskirts of Woodland. This is a give-it-forward patch. You can pick a bouquet of zinnias and you are asked to pick one for someone else, who is not able to come and pick their own. A sign that says: Welcome to the zinnia patchCheck out their facebook page to follow the announcement when the zinnias are ready to pick, usually at the end of June until September. I love this concept so much! Thank you, Mezger family!

A collection of scissorsSome tips for zinnia picking. First, please note that the field has moved. It’s now located at 11990 County Rd. 96, Woodland, CA 95695. We brought our own scissors, but saw that there were scissors on a table. A very important fact I learned was that zinnias don’t like to lay down. They do much better in a vase during transport (and obviously when at home). It doesn’t have to be fancy, just bring a high jar with a wide mouth (or more if you have many to share). There is a water station to fill up the jars. Just make sure they can sit upright in your car and don’t tip over! If you have a lot of vases, this might be the spot to donate them. And I’m sure the scissors will need to be replenished, too.  A sign marking the entrance to the zinnia patch

Zinnias attract a lot of pollinators, and it was pure joy to see the butterflies dance around. What a fantastic place and a generous family. 

How to get there

To find the zinnias patch follow the signs attached to the blue boxes. Located at 11990 County Rd. 96 in Woodland. I did not see any opening hours, but there is a private driveway next to the patch, so please be respectful and don’t park there. A red zinnia

Have you picked zinnias at the Mezger’s before?


The Winchester Mystery House

Bypass the Winchester Mystery House, San Jose

Model of the Winchester Mystery HouseThe Winchester Mystery House is still on my to-do list, especially when it’s celebrating its centennial, but I’m no fan of horror or ghosts. For those who don’t know San Jose’s biggest attraction and oddity, the Winchester House was the residence of Sarah Winchester, heir of the  firearms magnate William Wirt Winchester. To appease the spirits she kept building additions to her mansion and ended up with 160 rooms, 2,000 doors, 10,000 windows, 9 kitchens, 13 bathrooms, 47 stairways and fireplaces. 

Obviously this is the core idea of a haunted house, with staircases going nowhere and doors open to the outside! Tickets are about $42 for adults. Like I said, all these are reasons I did not bother to visit, yet. 

Entrance to the Product Museum of the Winchester Mystery HouseIf you are looking for a stripped down adventure which bypasses the inside experience, go and visit the free Product Museum and gift shop. The Product Museum is one room inside the gift shop that shows off the Winchester products and history. Did you know that they were known for roller skates? I also liked the model of the Winchester house, it gives you an idea of the quirkiness of it. The gift shop, besides the kitsch, has these old penny machines – test your love, anyone?

The shooting galleryAnother way to enjoy the Winchester Mystery House on a budget is to walk the garden; see some old Winchester equipment, like a Winchester lawn mower. Also, the paid entertainment fits the eccentric location: axe throwing and a shooting gallery. Axe throwing for one hour for up to 5 people is $24.99 per person per lane. The shooting gallery with one game for $3 might be the most frugal experience. 

The love testerThe Winchester Mystery House is located at 525 S. Winchester Blvd, San Jose, CA near Santana Row. Parking is complimentary. Opening hours are daily from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm on weekdays and 10:00 am to 7:00 pm on weekends. You can book various tours online. 

Have you been to the Winchester Mystery House?

People at the Woodland Farmers Market

A Farmers Market with the Gift of Community, Woodland, CA

Strormtroopers greeting people at Woodland's farmers marketFarmers markets are my preferred food shopping sources and I visited many of them in Northern California. It is always a pleasure to browse the fresh produce that grows a short distance away, buy bread with a crust, and get lunch while listening to some music. 

Storytime outside Woodland's libraryNext to the library on First St, the Woodland farmers market presents a small offering of fresh produce. If you are looking for a larger variety of produce you should consider driving to nearby Davis for its more expansive farmers market. Nevertheless all fruits and vegetables offered at the Woodland location are brought to you within an hour away. And, Woodland’s farmers market stands out for bringing together the community while shopping.

The library offers outdoor children’s reading circles, from 10 am to 10:30 am, and the Friends of the library open up their book store in the basement of the Carnegie Library, from 10 am to 1 pm. Furthermore you might be able to have an interesting photo opp; I saw stormtroopers peacefully engaging with the public on my last visit! 

Kids at the kids farmers market stand in Woodland, CAIf you have gardening questions, two master gardeners from the UC Davis are on hand to answer them. Last but not least every other week the farmers market offers the kids farmers market a free event where kids get to shop for their own fruits and vegetables. This teaches future market shopping skills and gives them an appetite for fresh produce.

The Woodland farmers market is open from May to October, 9 am – 12 pm, located on 1st St. in front of the Woodland public library. There is a second market every Tuesday from June to August 10 am to 1 pm at the Woodland Memorial Hospital on 1325 Cottonwood Street.

Where is your favorite farmers market?

Entrance to the history museum in Winters, CA

Memorialize the History of Winters

Entrance to the history museum in Winters, CAWinters is a small city in Yolo. Off the main street, on 13 Russell Street, you will find the Winters history museum. The current exhibit Wide World of Winters’ Sports in the front shows a collection of famous sports events, gathered by locals.

An antique printing pressI found the printing presses in the back the most amazing artifacts in the collection. They are still working and we saw some nice examples of embossed wedding invitations.  Through the passionate eyes of the volunteers you will be guided to local history events and the printing press operations. We were introduced to the immense time-consuming act of typesetting with lead molds, which were hazardous work environments.  

A drawer full of typesetsThe free history museum was a welcome stop while we explored Winters. It is open Thursday through Sunday from 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm. And if you are lucky there will be fresh baked cookies, too!

What is your favorite history museum?

Cache Creek Nature Preserve

Trudge the Cache Creek Nature Preserve

 weaving basket, part of the Tending and Gathering GardenBesides the 1.5 miles of hiking trails the Cache Creek Nature Preserve has also a Tending and Gathering Garden (TGG) and the Jan T. Lowrey Memorial Grove. The Tending and Gathering Garden provides educational space to teach cultural practices of the Wintun people. You can learn about controlled fires known as Good fire or Leok Po, in a workshop, or check out some weaving baskets that were left behind.

Sign for the belted kingfisherWe started our hike at the wetland overlook. A calming place to take in the beauty of the area. On clear days you will be able to see the Anderson mountains located to the West. Next stop was the heron boardwalk, a pier that is in the middle of the wetland, with info signs on local birds. We only took the short loop through grassy land. Afterwards, we checked out the old barn with the impressive Hold Harvester tractor. And finally we saw the natural lawn mowers – a herd of sheep with a lot of lambs – decimating the landscape.

You can do yoga under the oaks Sundays at 8 am for $15. Further, there are guided nature walks; June 11th and July 9th starting at 9 am. These walks are free! Lamb

If you have little kids and live near Woodland you might want to check out the library’s Creek Explorers program. Every Monday from 10-11am, in June and July, the Putah Creek Council will teach children about the biodiversity of the Putah Creek.

The Cache Creek Nature Preserve is located at 34199 County Road 20 in Woodland. Hours are Sunday through Friday, 8:00 am to 4:00 pm. The visitor center is currently closed.


Back entrance for the MarinMOCA

Sojourn to the MarinMOCA, Novato

Immigrant sculpture by Aristides DemetriosImmigrant sculpture by Aristides DemetriosMy favorite piece at MarinMOCA in Novato was one of the sculptures outside, in the courtyard between the museum and 789 Hamilton Parkway. The Immigrant by Aristides Demetrios (who also did the Wind Harp in South San Francisco), depicts a bronze body that’s fluid in shape, holding up a mask in one hand, and a short ladder in the other. The head bent away from the body. The symbolism hit me immediately of always pretending, bending to other’s needs, and yet struggling to climb up the ladder. 

The museum is part of the historic Hamilton Field, a former Air Force base. The ornate entrance is a clue that this was the former administration headquarters. In the near vicinity is also a theater building and a church. All buildings are in the Spanish Colonial style. The museum also serves as an art center with classes and over 60 artist studios. 

Part of the exhibit by Barbara Stauffacher Solomon & Nellie King Solomon: SUPER-SILLY-USThe current exhibit by Barbara Stauffacher Solomon & Nellie King Solomon: SUPER-SILLY-US at the main gallery and the members showcase, Elena Guryeva : PHENOMENA on the second floor, will end on June 4th. Two new exhibits will start June 17th, 2023.

The general admission is $10, $8 for seniors, students, military (with valid ID). A steep price for the little museum. The museum’s store has tempting offerings from jewelry to scarves and cute elephants. There are also unique hand-crafted items from the MarinMOCA artist members.

The MarinMOCA is located at 500 Palm Drive, in Novato, CA. Opening hours are Wednesday to Friday from 11am to 4pm and Saturday and Sunday from 11am to 5pm.

Where is your favorite art museum in the Bay Area?

A sign saying: 'The barking lot is occupied'

Take Care of an Animal

Millie is a 2 year old husky mix available at the Yolo animal shelterThe last three weeks we were a medical foster family for Millie, a 2 year old husky mix. She’s been in the animal shelter since October of last year. Her dermoid, a condition that grew skin over her eyes, was removed a few weeks ago and paid for by the generous Friends of Yolo County Animal Services (YCAS). Now she is a beautiful, active doggy. I hope someone with a big yard and a furry sibling will adopt her soon. 

A door with a dog image and canine coveI usually write more on sights to see, but I really wanted to introduce people to the idea of helping pets. After all, this is also a great way to spend your free time. And you will discover interesting parts of your neighborhood. You don’t need to adopt them (right away); there are lots of ways you can contribute. Shelters are overflowing right now with pets that became inconvenient after their people had to return to work, or it might be too expensive with a high inflation rate. Whatever the reasons, the shelters provide valuable care. 

Here are some ways you can help: Picture taken at the Santa Clara Animal Shelter of a small dog in a doggy bed

  1. Volunteer at the local shelter
    I started a few months ago volunteering at the local animal shelter. It is a great way to spend time with dogs. You get to walk them, play with them, and connect with a new buddy.
  2. Foster an animal
    This is a short term commitment to give a pet a chance to be in a home and get more personal attention. [There is no shame in foster fails! Meaning if you decide to keep the animal after a short while this should be great news for everyone.]
  3. Donate to your local shelter
    You can make a monetary contribution, always welcome, and look for lists on the shelter’s website of things they might need, like towels, blankets or toys.
  4. Spread the word
    Use your social media presence to help get the word out and hopefully someone in your circle will see a pet they are interested in. 

Another picture of Millie the 2 year old husky mixYes, there are pitfalls to this, too. I am writing this after I returned Millie to the shelter yesterday. I know she is in good hands there, with a caring staff and volunteers. But even in these short three weeks we miss having her around. Yet we also know what Millie needs is a permanent solution. You can’t possibly help every pet. But the love you give will be returned; it means a lot to them to have human contact.

Do you volunteer? What areas do you like to give you time for?

A sign pointing to the garden walk with an info box on top

Walk the Line, Woodland, CA

I’ve written about labyrinths before. There are a few in Palo Alto, and I highly recommend the one on top of Eaton Park in San Carlos. Mostly these are classical patterns of walking from the outside in, winding to the center, and then back out again. A great tool to contemplate life’s questions. 

Garden walk at the American Lutheran Church in Woodland, CAThe American Lutheran Church in Woodland, CA invites you to walk their beautiful garden walk. The path is made of dirt and lined with bricks in a zig-zag pattern. It ends at a bench, inviting you to sit and reflect. While on your walk you can either focus inward or appreciate the mural of a sunset over a mountain range with sunflower fields.  Mural of mountain range with sunflowers in the front

The garden walk is open from dawn to dusk, so you can enjoy it any time of day. The church is located at 1114 College St, Woodland, CA. If you’re looking for a peaceful place to relax and connect with nature, be sure to check out the American Lutheran Church’s garden walk.

The garden walk from the exitA more traditional labyrinth can be found at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church on 515 2nd St, Woodland, CA.

Do you have a labyrinth you like to walk?