Happy Wanderer: East Bay’s Muir, O’Neill homes are gems


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HILLS NEWSPAPERS: February 26, 2015

Two famous men are the subject of this travel feature. And if that doesn’t intrigue you, the word “free” just might.

The East Bay homes of John Muir and Eugene O’Neill are off-radar gems that make great day trip destinations. Both were big thinkers, if not geniuses in their day, and their homes give us insight into their lives.

Let’s take O’Neill’s ranch house first. High above Danville on a verdant hillside where cows graze and Mount Diablo frames the landscape is the home where O’Neill wrote his last, and arguably greatest plays. The Tao House was his last sanctuary, and part of the tour includes the study where O’Neill penned “The Iceman Cometh” and “A Long Day’s Journey into Night.”

To get the most from your visit to this National Historic Site, read one of the books mentioned above or watch a movie version. Jack Lemmon stars in a chilling rendition of “Long Day’s Journey” (you can find it on YouTube) and paints a disturbing picture of O’Neill’s childhood and the demons he exorcised with the tortured genius of his work.

The free tour includes a shuttle from downtown Danville. See tour information at http://www.nps.gov/euon/index.htm. Make it a day with lunch at one of downtown Danville’s great restaurants.

Another worthy day trip is to John Muir’s home in the hills above Martinez. More than a century after his death, fans still gather here to remember the conservation icon. Muir and his family lived on Mount Wanda (named after his daughter) for 24 years until his death on Christmas Eve in 1914.

Remarkably, you don’t need a guide to wander through Muir’s house, grounds and grave site. See his second-floor “scribble den,” where Muir wrote his books and other published works. See the trees Muir and his workers carefully nurtured for the family fruit business. Take a hike on nearby Mount Wanda and enjoy lunch in quaint downtown Martinez. Information about this National Historic Site can be found at www.nps.gov/jomu.

And finally, though I’ve written about this site before, it’s worth mentioning again that Rosie the Riveter tours are a wonderful day trip excursion in Richmond. As a National Historic Site, it’s free to visit the Rosie the Riveter/World War II Home Front National Historical Park and the Rosie Memorial.

I recommend calling ahead to find out what days the actual Rosies are there to recount their memories and help you relive history. These gals are treasures, and a visit with them will reveal the spunk they had to sign up for these factory jobs that helped define the woman’s role in the war effort. There is a good restaurant on-site and a beautiful walking and biking trail that runs nearby along the shoreline. For more information, go to www.nps.gov/rori/index.htm.

 

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