Magic dwells in Tarrytown – magic, mirth, and a smidgeon of mystery.

On the banks of the Hudson River stands a house called Sunnyside. Sunnyside is not a grand house, like neighboring Lyndhurst (see photo on right). Lyndhurst is a castle of a house, an outstanding example of American Gothic Revival architecture built by a man of substance and made grander still by those who came after.

Nor is Sunnyside a house that prompts thoughts of great wealth like Kykuit (see photo on left), the home a few miles up the road that oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller carved from a mountain top. His grandson, Nelson Rockefeller, filled the six-story mansion with modern art inside and out – Picassos and the like – before the family left the home to the National Trust.

Sunnyside is, instead, a humble, fairy tale sort of house.

In 1835, after an adventurous life in America and abroad, noted author Washington Irving bought a simple two-room Dutch cabin, built in 1656, and some acres of land surrounding it. His idea, he wrote, was to “make a little nookery somewhat in the Dutch style, quaint, but unpretending. It will be of stone.” And thus, Sunnyside was born.

Irving’s young fiancé had died of consumption and he never married. In his later years he lived at Sunnyside with his widowed brother and five nieces. He was a genial, hugely popular man who entertained renowned literary figures and United States Presidents alike within the walls of his humble cottage.

What is it that causes one house to stand apart from its neighbors?

Is it the stone, wood, and skill that creates the structure? Is it simply the setting? Or does some spiritual remnant of those who have lived within linger to bid us welcome?

San Francisco – July 27

From now until the RWA National Conference ends August 3, I’m posting daily about events here in San Francisco. If the mood strikes, please take a minute to comment. To other writers attending, please share a link to your own blog posts about RWA National.

Years from now, long after senility sets in, I will still recall Sunday in San Francisco and the feel of the whipping wind as we crossed the Golden Gate Bridge.

It started peacefully. Early afternoon, after a savory brunch at The Crepe House, we boarded an open-top double-decker bus for a sightseeing tour of the city. Sunday’s weather was cloudy and in the low 50s. Sitting in seats atop the red bus, cool air brushed our faces. Up and down the hilly streets we rode, passing the Seven Sisters at Alamo Square, skirting Golden Gate Park. We traveled through the Presidio, listening to a recorded guide tell us of its history. And on we rode, to the Golden Gate Bridge.

The driver pulled into a parking lot and offered us the opportunity to walk the 1.2 miles across the bridge. I declined. My husband offered me the opportunity to go to the seats below. “It will be windy up here,” he said. Remembering our breathtaking sail the night before, again I declined. Walking might be out, but I could surely ride in the open air. We pulled out of the parking lot and into a settling mist.

We were only a few hundred feet onto the bridge before I felt the rushing cold. The bridge pillars and supports stood shrouded in fog. Down on the Bay, daring sailboats skimmed over the water. We watched wide-eyed as one boat tilted, and tilted. With sails nearly touching the water, the valiant on board, ant-like from our height, scrambled to keep her upright. On we went.

On the walkways, brave walkers, bundled in hoods and jackets, moved quickly. The bridge is no place for a leisurely stroll. I tucked my hands into my pockets, and fervently wished for gloves.

Suddenly we reached Vista Point North. We sat for a while, passing around cameras, taking pictures of the view and each other, watching waves of fog roll down the mountainside, talking about our lives. (One of the other tourists on board, a Suzanne Brockman groupie, is coming to RWA’s Literacy signing on Wednesday!) Finally we turned and headed south, on the west side of the bridge, the ocean side where the cold wind originates.

We stepped off at Fisherman’s Wharf and dined at Alioto’s, where we had an upstairs window seat with a perfect view of moored fishing boats (see photo). Rockfish and salmon, scalloped potatoes, wine, all delicious. Prolonging our meal, we ordered coffee and dessert, and sat some more.

We hopped back on the bus and rode by the Wells Fargo Museum, the Cafe Zoetrope, Chinatown, around Union Square, the hotel district, the Asian Art Museum, and on.

The entire bus loop takes 90 minutes but most of the varying lines are hop on, hop off so it can easily become an all day adventure. The bus we rode runs from 9 am to 5 pm, but we saw mention evening tours. The trips are not cheap, but they offer a great way to view the city as a whole.

Check back tomorrow for more!