Everything You Need to Know About the Winchester Mystery House
The Bay Area has its share of legends. However, none are quite as strange as the story of the Winchester Mystery House, which you can visit in nearby San Jose.
The Winchester Mystery House has captured popular imagination. "Mythbusters," "Ghost Adventures," and "Ghost Brothers" have all produced programs about the House. It made its spectacular big-screen debut with the horror film "Winchester" in 2018. The film tells a fictionalized version of the story behind the mansion; but many people believe that the truth is far stranger than fiction.
The Spooky History of the Winchester Mystery House
When Sarah Winchester’s husband, William Wirt Winchester, died in 1881, she became one of the wealthiest women in the world. Unfortunately for Sarah, the fortune came with a dark side. She became convinced that she was cursed.
She was certain that relocating was the only way to evade the spirits that plagued her. In 1886, she left her home in New Haven, CT, for a new life in San Jose, CA. There, she bought a simple eight-room farmhouse that she would go on to transform into a marvelous, madcap, 160-room mansion that would come to be known as the Winchester Mystery House.
The Oddities of the Winchester Mystery House
The sheer size of the House is the first thing you will notice when you arrive. However, that is the least remarkable thing about this attraction. For example: though there are more than 2,000 doors, they don’t all lead where you would expect. One opens to a sheer 15-foot drop into an outdoor garden. If you step through another, you will land eight feet below in a kitchen sink.
Some of the staircases in this home are truly peculiar. Instead of taking you to another floor, they lead right into the ceiling. There is a vast network of secret passages twisting throughout the property. One cabinet door opens to a hive of 30 additional rooms. Many visitors are fascinated by the vast collection of windows, more than 10,000, and the fact that some of the loveliest Tiffany stained glass is hidden away where no light can reach it.
The biggest question is why. Why did Sarah Winchester continue to make changes until her death? Some say that she believed she would die as soon as the house was declared complete. Others say she created a labyrinth to confuse and evade the spirits that followed her. Whatever you believe the reason is, the Mystery House is sure to stay in your mind long after your visit.
Upcoming New Attractions
Winchester Mystery House will offer new activities and attractions this Fall. Throw axes at the outdoor stables, experience a Houdini-themed escape room challenge, and take the newly expanded Explore More Tour, which allows access to areas of the house that have been closed for more than 90 years.
Also new to Winchester Mystery House is Unhinged, a fully-immersive nighttime horror experience beginning Sept. 6 and running on select nights through Nov. 2, 2019. Trespass into the forbidden rooms of the mansion and encounter the home's most terrifying secrets. On the nights Unhinged takes place, visitors can see a 3D projection mapped light show on the front of the mansion starting every half hour at 7:30 p.m.
The Winchester Mystery House can be found in San Jose, which is about an hour south of San Francisco. If you want to take in some of the other activities available in San Jose, you may wish to rent a car for the trip. Otherwise, public transportation can get you there. Caltrain will take you from San Francisco to the Santa Clara Transit Center, where you can board a bus to the Winchester and Olsen stop. Walk or hail a ride about two miles to the Winchester Mystery House.
Planning Your Visit
Two separate tours are offered each day, and you need both to get the full Winchester Mystery House experience. The Mansion Tour takes you through the home. Over approximately one hour, you will see 110 of the 160 rooms, along with many of the mansion’s strangest features.
- Mansion Tour (Adult) - $39
- Mansion Tour (age 6 – 12) - $20
- Mansion Tour (65 and up) - $32
The Explore More tour is an extension of the Mansion Tour, taking you through some of the property’s secret passages over the course of an additional hour. These have been closed to the public for decades, and the Explore More tour is only being offered for a limited time.
- Explore More Tour (Adult) - $39
- Explore More Tour (age 10 – 12) - $20
- Explore More Tour (65 and up) - $32
The Winchester Mystery House opens each day at 9 a.m., except Christmas. Closing times vary throughout the year. Free parking is available on-site and across the street, and there are lockers to store your valuables during the tour.