Visiting the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, California
The Winchester Mystery House
On my recent trip to Northern California, I had very few things planned - only four to be exact - and the Winchester Mystery House was one of them. I knew enough about it’s strange history that I was definitely interested in seeing it and heard from a few people that it was worth taking a peek at.
To give you a bit of insight, the Winchester House (ahem, mansion) was built in 1884 by the Winchester rifle heiress, Sarah L. Winchester. She oversaw the construction and design for 38 years - as in, it was constantly under construction for all those years! If a house takes that much work, I’m already interested, but it’s actual oddities and unexplained design that take the cake.
There are an estimated 160 rooms in this 24,000 square foot mansion along with 2,000 doors, 10,000 windows, and 40 stairways. Which might well be the norm for a mansion that large (I wouldn’t know) until you get into the house yourself and realize that some of the doors don’t open to anything, windows reveal nothing but walls, and some of the stairs take you to absolutely nothing.
The house has been declared California Historical Landmark and is open to the public for guided tours and viewing. We snagged a couple tickets for the regular tour - it’s a small-ish group of about 20 or so people - and swung by in the early afternoon.
Our tour guide was fantastic and hilarious. She unloaded a ton of information on us without it feeling ‘tour guide-y’ and got us through the house in about an hour. It was great to hear the history about what brought Sarah Winchester out west (her medium apparently told her this was the best way to shake the spirits haunting her family) and learn about the house itself.
Because we were on the regular tour, we only went through the ‘main’ parts of the mansion. They do offer an Explore More Tour and a Video Tour too. In hindsight, we should have bundled our Mansion Tour with the Explore More and planned our days a little differently. We were both interested enough in the home itself that seeing another hour’s worth of rooms and features would have been worth it.
planning to visit
$20-39 USD per ticket. They have age adjusted ticket pricing as well (children, adults, seniors).
We were a little over an hour (their website states 1 hour and five minutes) but it felt quite quick.
It’s a mansion so there’s quite a bit of walking and a lot of steps. The majority of the stairs are easy-riders and are very shallow and easy to walk. There’s a lot of up and down the staircases as well as tighter spaces. If you’re claustrophobic, I’d be wary about going on this tour. The spaces aren’t incredibly well lit (despite all the windows LOL and at no fault to the organization) and because you’re in a tour group, everyone crowds into a room at a time to hear about the history.
Yes! Our tour group was quite varied with seniors right down to a one-year-old. The Explore More Tour has an age cut off and you must be 11+.
Visitor Access & Parking
They’re open 9-7 (from Memorial Day to Labor Day) and 9-5 (from Labor Day to Memorial Day). When you purchase your tickets, you pick the time of your tour. I usually try to any sort of tourist attraction sight-seeing as early as possible.
They do have a parking lot and it looked quite full when we got there but we used a rideshare service to drop us off and pick us up. We were staying downtown and it was about a 15 minute car drive.
Overall, I found it to be good value for the cost - even if you’re not as interested in the home itself or previously heard of it, the tour is entertaining enough to kill off a piece of your day if you’re in the area. If you plan on visiting, you can also checked out some of the stories about the supernatural aspects (or rumors, you be the judge) about it.
They do a photo at the beginning that you’ll have to pay for at the end if you want the printed and/or digital copies. We could’ve gone without these (they were a little pricey for what they were) but I also snagged a ton of photos while I was inside. If you’re a bigger group and want a quick cheesy family photo, go for it.
Have you ever visited the Winchester Mystery House on your travels? Or have you planned on checking it out? It’s definitely one of those things you have to experience for yourself. I’d love to hear about your time there - or anything else you ran into for fun in San Jose!
Stay posted on my Instagram (@kaespo) + Twitter (@kaespodesign) to find out how the rest of my travel adventures went while I was in San Jose and San Francisco (like the best tacos and tastiest pasta).