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Customer Review

on March 1, 2007
Thanks to the Internet, it's easy these days to compile and publish lists of things, such as bed and breakfast getaways or suspension bridges or pet friendly parks, but rarer for authors actually to visit the venues they write about. That's what impressed me about "Best of California's Missions, Mansions and Museums" ($21.95 in paperback from Wilderness Press) by Ken and Dahlynn McKowen out of Sacramento.

The couple, along with Dahlynn's two children, 9-year-old Shawn and his sister, 14 year-old-Lahre, hit the road for four months, visited some 200 sites and racked up 10,000 miles on the odometer. The result, after some editing, are chatty descriptions of 135 family-friendly California missions, mansions and museums. This is a good guide to consult if one is planning a summer vacation in the Golden State.

The listings, write the authors, "provide a broad geographic and subject-matter selection of California's missions, mansions and museums, primarily as they relate to California's history and culture." Picking the "best" was difficult, subjective of course, and a lot of places were not included (such as most science and technology museums) that didn't meet the criteria of illuminating state history.

In the area of missions, "our final choice came down to 13 missions that we felt included not only wonderful museums, but retained much of their original or at least their early 20th century restored historic fabric. ... We chose our favorite mansions in much the same way as the missions, but we added accessibility -- how frequently they are open to the public for tours."

For museums, the authors concentrated on smaller collections. "We didn't choose them because of their size or the value or rarity of their collections, although we certainly considered those things. ... We considered their uniqueness, not only in the types of collections and the variety of artifacts, but also in how they relate to California's overall history or to their local community's history."

The book is divided geographically, from the North Coast, through the Great Valley and on to the South Coast and desert. Each section has a numbered locator map, trivia questions and introduction. Each two- or three-page entry features a "what's here" list, a "don't miss this" note, a description of the venue, usually a small black and white photograph and a box providing operating hours, cost, location and the Web site. The book also features an index and a list destinations by category.

The chapter devoted to the Great Valley includes entries for the Turtle Bay Exploration Park (including the Sundial Bridge) in Redding, and Chico's own Bidwell Mansion State Historic Park.

The authors note that the second floor of the mansion "features several of the home's 12 bedrooms. That was not a good location for bedrooms in a town where summer temperatures reach 100 degrees, and upstairs rooms become even hotter. Possibly, the plantation windows served as summer escapes to cooler sleeping arrangements on the outside balcony. The indoor toilets that Bidwell included were thought strange by his neighbors and visitors. Many believed that having to perform such bodily tasks inside a house, rather than in an outhouse, was unsanitary."

And there is some Great Valley trivia. "Where can you find the very first Pony Car (Mustang) manufactured by Ford?" It's at the Towe Auto Museum in Sacramento. The car is a white convertible, the first to roll off the assembly line back on April 9, 1964.

See you on the road!

Copyright 2007 Chico Enterprise-Record. Used by permission.
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