Niche Museums

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Museo de las Misiones de Baja California

The town of Loreto was founded in 1697 at the Monqui Native American settlement of Conchó. Jesuit missionaries founded the town as the first Spanish colonial settlement on the Baja California Peninsula.

The Mission of our Lady of Loreto that they built there formed the start of El Camino Real ("The Royal Road"), a historic chain of missions that stretched all the way up to Sonoma in California, 1069 miles to the North.

The Museo de las Misiones is a small museum that documents the history of the missions. It includes archeological remains, weapons, paintings and historic sacred documents. It also features a church bell that fell into the sea in 1875 and was retrieved by fishermen a hundred years later.

The museum celebrates the Jesuits as "men of extraordinary intellectual and moral character", but in places it does hint at their contribution to the demise of indigenous cultures.


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Salvatierra 16, Centro, 23880 Loreto, Mexico - Map

9 January 2020

Bevolo Gas Light Museum

Bevolo is a family business founded in 1945 in the New Orleans French Quarter who today are the largest manufacturer of handmade copper lanterns in the United States.

Their lamps are hand-riveted (as opposed to soldered) which they claim gives them improved longevity.

Their workshop and museum offers the chance to watch the lamp makers in action, and see examples of historic street lamps from the French Quarter.

Website | Wikipedia

6 photos and 1 link

521 Conti Street, New Orleans, LA 70130 - Map

8 January 2020

Jelly Belly Factory

The Jelly Belly factory in Fairfield, California has an extensive collection of Ronald Reagan memorabilia. Most impressive are their portraits of Reagan constructed entirely from jelly beans. Why so much love for the Gipper?

In 1965 the Herman Goelitz Candy Company created a new, small and flavorful jelly bean. In 1966, having switched to candy as an alternative to cigarettes, California governor Ronald Reagan first tried one and became a massive fan.

In 1974 Reagan wrote to a letter to the company stating "They have become such a tradition of this administration that it has gotten to the point where we can hardly start a meeting or make a decision without passing around a jar of jelly beans."

The product was rebranded Jelly Belly in 1976, and in 1980 a Time photographer snapped a photo during Reagan's presidential campaign that revealed his preference to the public. Sales doubled over the next year and the company shipped 3.5 tons of red, white and blue jelly beans to Washington DC for the inauguration. Reagan even had a standing order of 720 bags per month during his presidency.

The factory tour is worthwhile: you get to see how jelly beans are made, and there are several exciting robot arms. But the highlight are the jelly bean portraits, covering Reagan and many other historical figures.


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1 Jelly Belly Lane, Fairfield, CA 94533 - Map

7 January 2020

Cohen Bray House

The Cohen Bray House in Oakland was built in 1882-1884 as a wedding present for Emma Bray and Alfred H. Cohen. The house is a relatively rare example of the Stick-Eastlake style of the late 19th century, but what really sets it apart is its interior, which maintains the aesthetic style popular when it was built. The house has remained in the same family for its entire history, and today that family preserve it as an Oakland Historical Landmark with the assistance of volunteers.

Tours are offered on the fourth Sunday of every month, and twice a year the house offers a tour with High Tea in the formal dining room. We did this in January 2020 and the tea was most excellent.


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1440 29th Ave, Oakland, CA 94601 - Map

6 January 2020

Griffith Observatory

The Griffith Observatory opened in 1935 using funds bequeathed to the city of Los Angeles for the purpose of making astronomy accessible to the public.

Griffith Jenkins Griffith was a Welsh-American who made money through mining syndicates during the California gold rush, trading on his expertise as a journalist covering mining for the Alta California newspaper.

After moving to Los Angeles in 1882 he married Tina Mesmer, the heir to the quarter million dollar Briswalter fortune... but only after ensuring that the entire fortune would be transferred to his name.

He used his wife's money to climb the ranks of LA society, building a reputation as a philanthropist through the donation in 1896 of 3,015 acres of ranch land to the city for use as a public park - Griffith Park.

A teetotaler in public, Griffith was secretly a drunk. He grew increasingly paranoid and in 1903 forced his wife Tina at gunpoint to swear on a prayer book that she was faithful to the marriage and was not involved in a perceived attempt to poison him.

Despite her attestations, he shot her in the head. She survived but was blinded in her right eye. Griffith was arrested three days later and was sentenced to just two years in San Quentin. His lawyer had blamed the incident on “alcoholic insanity”.

In 1908, upon visiting Mount Wilson Observatory Griffith declared "If all mankind could look through that telescope, it would change the world." He offered the city money to build an observatory in 1912, but they refused, wary of further association with an attempted murderer.

Griffith died in 1919 and the city accepted the money he left in trust for both the observatory and the nearby Greek Theater. They have since become respected landmarks of Los Angeles.

Today the observatory hosts several exhibit areas, an astronomical telescope and a Tesla coil. Their Zeiss 12-inch refracting telescope has been looked through by 8 million people - more people than any other telescope on earth.

Website | Wikipedia

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2800 East Observatory Road, Los Angeles, CA 90027 - Map

5 January 2020

Sea Lions at Pier 39

Shortly before the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, sea lions started to haul out onto K dock at Pier 39 in San Francisco. Their numbers steadily increased, and their protected status lead to a quandary for the pier’s management team. They decided to relinquish the dock to the pinnipeds, and thirty years later the sea lions have established themselves as a San Francisco fixture.

There are usually between 150 and 600 sea lions at the pier, mostly male and weighing up to 850lb (390kg). Their numbers drop in June and July when most of them head south to the Channel Islands for breeding season. The highest recorded count was 1,701 in November 2009.

The Aquarium of the Bay operates a Sea Lion Center upstairs from the sea lions themselves which has interactive displays and educational videos.

Website | Wikipedia

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Pier 39, The Embarcadero at Beach Street, San Francisco, CA 94133 - Map

4 January 2020

The Beat Museum

The Beat Museum was founded as an Airstream trailer in Monterey in 2003, and relocated to permanent premises in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco in 2006.

The museum collects memorabilia of the Beat Generation - a literary movement founded in the 1950s who rejected economic materialism and explored psychedelic drugs and sexual liberation.

Leading figures in the movement included Allen Ginsberg, William S. Burroughs and Jack Kerouac. The museum features typewriters, jackets, letters and other memorabilia for these artists and many others.

Website | Wikipedia

6 photos and 1 link

540 Broadway, San Francisco, CA 94133 - Map

3 January 2020

Ilfracombe Tunnels Beaches

In the early 19th century North Devon started to establish itself as a destination for seaside resorts, with travelers arriving by ship and by railway. In the 1820s the Ilfracombe Sea Bathing Company formed, and a team of hundreds of Welsh miners were hired to spend two years carving six tunnels through the Ilfracombe hillside, providing access to the coastline by foot or by carriage.

In 1836 a new bath-house was erected, offering hot and cold-water sea baths as an aid to health. Outdoor bathing pools were organized, segregated by gender to protect the modesty of the ladies. A bugler was positioned between the male and female pools who would blow an alarm if any man attempted to spy on the ladies, resulting in his arrest.

Today four of the six tunnels are still in operation, and the remains of the pools themselves are open to visitors.

Website | Wikipedia

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Bath Place, Ilfracombe, Devon, EX34 8AN, United Kingdom - Map

2 January 2020

Hazel-Atlas Sand Mine

The Black Diamond Mines Regional Preserve in the East Bay is a 6,000 acre regional park incorporating 60 miles of trails, 3 deserted mining towns, a 19th century cemetery and a former sand mine, which today is open for guided tours.

The mine opened in the 1920s to produce silica sandstone for the glass industry. Their top customer was the Hazel-Atlas Glass Company plant in Oakland, who later purchased the mine and operated it until 1945.

Tours take 90 minutes and cover 1300 feet of the old sand mine. Reservations are recommended as they frequently sell out. The Greathouse Visitor Center is located underground in a large chamber excavated in the 1920s and features a small museum with displays about the history and geology of the area.

Website | Wikipedia

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Somersville Road, Antioch, CA 94509 - Map

1 January 2020

Jigokudani Monkey Park

As ski resorts developed in the 1950s, Japanese macaques (often referred to as snow monkeys) were forced to migrate to the lower mountain regions including the human occupied areas of Yamanouchi.

A guesthouse there called Korakukan featured an outdoor onsen - a hot spring bath - and the monkeys imitated human bathers and started enjoying the hot baths themselves.

Since the human population didn't particularly want to share their baths with the monkeys, a compromise was reached: in 1964 a set of hot spring baths were constructed for the monkeys to enjoy by themselves.

Guides make food available to the monkeys, encouraging them to stay in the area all year round. They are still very much wild creatures though, and they return to the safety of the forests in the evenings.

We stayed at the nearby Kokuya ryokan - a 400 year old guesthouse with eight of its own private hot spring baths - and it was absolutely magical.

Website | Wikipedia

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〒381-0401 Nagano, Shimotakai District, Yamanochi, Hirao, 6845, Japan - Map

31 December 2019

The Donkey Sanctuary

The Donkey Sanctuary in Sidmouth, Devon is an extraordinarily successful charity. Frequently ranked in the top 50 UK charities by funds raised, in 2018 it spent £40M and pulled in £42.3M - more than half of which was from legacies in people’s wills. The sanctuary is responsible for more than 6,000 donkeys worldwide and the headquarters in Sidmouth usually hosts a population of several hundred. The British public really likes donkeys.

Founded by Elisabeth Svendsen in 1969, the sanctuary moved to its present location in 1974 when she was bequeathed a legacy of 204 donkeys by the estate of Violet Philpin - joining Elisabeth’s existing herd of 38. The charity continued to grow over the years, and today operates in 35 countries worldwide.

Visits to the sanctuary are free, and it opens 365 days a year.

Website | Wikipedia

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Slade House Farm, Sidmouth, EX10 0NU, United Kingdom - Map

30 December 2019

Seaton Tramway

A unique narrow-gauge electric tramway, running between the East Devon coastal town of Seaton and the villages of Colyford and Colyton in the Axe Valley.

The fourteen trams that operate on the line are custom half-scale and two-thirds-scale electric vehicles, mostly built for the tramway by founder Claude Lane and his successor Allan Gardner.

Some of the trams are adapted from historic vehicles, the oldest of which is a red and white Ex Metropolitan Electric Tramways vehicle first constructed in 1904.

The tramway opened in 1970, reusing segments of the Seaton branch line that had been closed by the Beaching cuts in the 1960s. The tramway had previously spent the 1950s moving homes between St Leonard’s, Rhyl and Eastbourne.

The tram ride takes 25 minutes in each direction, and the Colyton end has a station cafeteria, a picnic area and an excellent antique thrift shop.

Website | Wikipedia

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Seaton Tramway, Harbour Road, Seaton, Devon EX12 2NQ, United Kingdom - Map

29 December 2019

Oakley Court

A British Victorian country house built in 1859. Today it's a luxury hotel, but the fancy trimmings conceal a mischievous past: this mansion is Dr. Frank N. Furter's castle from the Rocky Horror Picture Show!

The house changed hands several times before the Second World War, but in 1949 it became home to Hammer Film Productions, notorious producer of British gothic horror films from the 1950s to the 1970s.

Hammer shot five films there before moving to a custom studio built next door. They continued to use Oakley Court for exteriors, including The Brides of Dracula in 1962 and The Plague of the Zombies in 1966.

In October through December of 1974 Oakley Court was used as a location for many scenes of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. The mansion was in very poor condition at the time, with no heat or bathrooms. Susan Sarandon (Janet) came down with pneumonia while filming there.

Today there is little evidence of the hotel's cinematic past - but if you head to the lounge bar room that borders the conservatory you will find yourself sitting in the room that hosted the Time Warp.

Website | Wikipedia

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Windsor Road, Water Oakley, Windsor, Berkshire, SL4 5UR, United Kingdom - Map

29 December 2019

Southern Food and Beverage Museum

New Orleans is really good at food. The Southern Food & Beverage Museum helps explain why.

Founded in 2004, and relocated a couple of times until it reached its current location in September 2014, the museum has exhibits covering food cultures from throughout the American south and detailed exhibits on the foods of Louisiana.

Popeyes Chicken founder Al Copeland has his own area, which includes his 1986 Scoville Unit chromatography device and an original Satisfryer device custom built for Al’s restaurants.

The museum includes a museum-within-a-museum: The Museum of the American Cocktail, which displays cocktail items dating all the way back to the 1750s. Also present is La Galerie de l'Absinthe, the largest collection of Absinthe artifacts in the USA.

SoFAB hosts frequent cooking demonstrations by local chefs, and shares space with Toups South, a highly rated brunch and dinner restaurant.

Website | Wikipedia

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1504 Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard, New Orleans, LA 70113 - Map

28 December 2019

Horniman Museum and Gardens

The Horniman museum in Forest Hill, south London was opened in 1901 by Frederick John Horniman, heir to the world's largest tea trading business.

Frederick was a lifelong collector, focusing on natural history, anthropology and musical instruments. His collection of 30,000 items formed the basis of the museum's collection, which has since grown to more than 350,000 items, continuing to focus on those three topics.

The most famous item in the Horniman is a stuffed walrus, first displayed at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition in South Kensington in 1886. The walrus originated in eastern Canada but was stuffed in England, apparently by a taxidermist who had never seen a walrus and assumed that it should be stuffed until the wrinkles smoothed out. Today you can follow the walrus on Twitter.

Website | Wikipedia

6 photos and 2 links

100 London Road, Forest Hill, London SE23 3PQ, United Kingdom - Map

27 December 2019

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