History Adventures in the Bay


June was filled with so many adventures that I’m splitting it up into a handful of posts. Today, I’m sharing three of the history-related sites I got to visit as part of my 100 Bay Area Gems: Mission San Jose, Bale Grist Mill, and History Park San Jose. Here are the paintings I painted of them below! Click to go to each of the corresponding instagram posts.

Mission San Jose is actually located in Fremont. It was established by the Spaniards as one of their 21 California Missions in an effort to convert locals to Catholicism and the Spanish way of life.

The church is actually a replica built years later, but part of the original buildings remains standing and is now a history museum.

Next, I visited the Bale Grist Mill, which is an original water-powered mill restored to full function today. You can take a tour and watch them mill flour and even buy a sack to take home.

I bought a bag of corn meal and made tasty corn muffins! Disclaimer: the backs of the bags are labeled “Not for human consumption” but it’s really a matter of the health department being unable to license a place that doesn’t have stainless steel counters and washable concrete floors… this is an old wooden mill, after all. So the labels are the compromise. But I ate these and they were great.

And finally in this trio, we have History Park San Jose, a part of Kelley Park where they decided to put a bunch of historic buildings. It’s very interesting since they don’t really all go together in a very logical way, but they do house lots of tiny museums.

The second image below is a Chinese American history museum. There, I learned that San Jose actually had multiple Chinatowns in the past. One of the biggest ones was right downtown where the Fairmont and art museum are now. It burned down in a suspicious arson in 1870.


And then there was the most confusing museum I’ve ever seen: the Viet Museum. I really don’t know what to make of this. It had so much stuff in it and so little explanation. I couldn’t tell if they were lauding the history of the Vietnam War? There were lots of war-related things but no point of view on it.


And then there was this whole section of models of world landmarks… maybe a Vietnamese person made these? I am not sure.

Then towards the end of my visit, I stepped inside the Portuguese museum, where two very nice ladies personally took me around the exhibits. All of these little museums are volunteer-run so the hours can be limited and also may vary from what’s posted.

The cutest ice cream & candy parlor!

In one of the other historic houses, there was an exhibit featuring Suhita Shirodkar’s urban sketches of vintage signs around San Jose. So cool! And perfect to spot the sign for Falafel’s Drive In…

… which was my lunch spot when I met up with Dan afterwards!

I generally think of Guy Fieri as a strike against a place (not for), but other than the sloppy application of my chili paste, the falafels were pretty good and the banana shake was as delicious as promised. A San Jose classic.

Thanks for following along on all my 100 Bay Area Gems! As of right now, I have only three more to post!

Anna Wu is a wedding and portrait photographer based in San Francisco. She compulsively documents and blogs all of her daily adventures. Follow her on instagram and view more of her professional work at annawu.com.