The Winchester Mystery House is one of the most famous tourist attractions in Silicon Valley and is just a few hours drive from San Francisco. Travelers are drawn to the sprawling 19th-century Victorian mansion because of its massive size and odd building features.
It's said that Winchester rifle company heiress Sarah Winchester, grieving the loss of her husband and young daughter, became convinced that she was cursed. A medium told her that the only way to rid herself of these spirits was to never stop construction on her San Jose home. For the next 38 years, she had a crew working 7 days a week, 365 days a year, adding rooms and a labyrinth of strange passageways to trick the spirits.
While the mystery of what led Sarah Winchester to this curious obsession is no mystery at all (i.e. mental illness), the house is an interesting look into her world and the lovely architecture of the time, and life in 19th century San Jose. The house listed as a National Historic Landmark.
Visiting the Winchester Mystery House
This attraction is located at 525 South Winchester Blvd. San Jose, CA
There are two different types of tours offered each day (Prices: Adult / Senior / Child):
- Mansion Tour: 65-minute tour of the interior of the mansion. ($36 / 32 / 20)
- Explore More Tour: This new tour that is offered for a limited time and leads people through previously off-limit areas. ($49 / 42 / 20)
On the Mansion Tour, children under 5 are free with an adult. Children 5 and under are not allowed on the Behind the Scenes Tour due to safety concerns.
This attraction also offers a virtual tour with a video you can watch if you are unable to walk and climb the stairs.
Hours: From Memorial Day to Labor Day hours are 9 am to 7 pm. From Labor Day to Memorial day hours are 9 am to 5 pm.
Visit Winchester Mystery House's website for the most updated dates and times.
The Door to Nowhere
The Winchester house is full of strange passageways like this second story "door to nowhere." Winchester believed that things like this would distract and confuse the spirits she was convinced were following her.
A Hallway to Nowhere
The interior of the house has several "hallways to nowhere," like this staircase that ends at a wall.
The Switchback Staircase
The so-called "Switchback Staircase" has seven flights with forty-four steps, but it only rises about nine feet since because the step is just two inches high. This household oddity may have a very practical reason--it may have been built to allow Winchester to get around in her later years, despite her debilitating arthritis.
Beautiful details: Stained glass
Winchester never skimped on elegant details and the home has hundreds of colorfully stained glass windows, many made by the Tiffany Company.
Beautiful details: Ornate wooden floors
More of the lovely and handcrafted details--the wooden floors.
Beautiful details: Luxe wallpapers
More of the lovely and handcrafted details--the luxe wallpaper.
Stocked up for a lifetime of construction
As the staff were constantly building and retrofitting the house, there was a ton of household construction materials left at the time of Sarah Winchester's death. On touring the house, you can see boxes of supplies piled up in many of the rooms.
Before the Earthquake
At the turn of the century, one tower of the home was seven stories high--see photo. That tower collapsed in the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, so the crew decided not to rebuild. Today the house maxes out at four stories high.
Be sure to peer out of one of the upper floor windows, into the sea of ornate roofs and decorative spires.
Quirky souvenirs in the gift shop
At the end of the tour, be sure to check out the Winchester House gift shop which stocks a great selection of quirky California souvenirs.