The Guide to the Winchester Mystery House | San Francisco Travel
Winchester Mystery House at night
Winchester Mystery House is the stuff of legends that you have to see for yourself.

The Guide to
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 has captured popular imagination for its unusual and sinister past. Here's what you need to know on your next visit.

"Mythbusters," "Ghost Adventures," and "Ghost Brothers" have all produced programs about the House. It made its spectacular big-screen debut with the supernatural horror film "Winchester" in 2018, which tells a fictionalized version of the story behind the mansion. The truth, however, 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, 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 notice when you arrive. However, that is the least remarkable thing about this mansion. For example: though there are more than 2,000 doors, they don’t all lead to 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 panes—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 Winchester Mystery House is sure to stay in your mind long after your visit.

Getting There

The Winchester Mystery House is located in San Jose, about an hour south of San Francisco. If you want to take in some other activities available in San Jose, you can rent a car for the trip. Otherwise, public transportation on Caltrain or BART 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 & Olsen stop. Walk about two minutes to reach the Winchester Mystery House. BART will take you from downtown San Francisco to the Milpitas Transit Center where you can board a VTA bus to the Winchester & Olsen stop.

Planning Your Visit

The Winchester Mystery House offers four different tours (more on each below), plus seasonal tours and scary encounters to be had.

The Guided Mansion Tour

The Guided Mansion Tour features the larger rooms in the mansion and guests will be able to experience the house like never before. During the one-hour adventure, you will see 110 rooms in the mansion, as well as the 3rd and 4th floors. Just watch out for paranormal activity along the way! The Mansion Tour ticket also includes access to the Victorian Gardens. Unlock the secrets of the Winchester Mystery House and learn about Sarah Winchester’s vast Estate with all-new audio and content.

Sarah's Garden Tour

The garden tour is entirely outdoors and a completely touchless, experience featuring 20 stops throughout the beautiful Victorian Gardens. Guests can go through this self-guided exploration with an audio guide and a digital map. Advance ticket purchase is required for the Garden Tour.

The general tours are not wheelchair accessible, but there is an ADA Tour that includes garden access. Complimentary parking is available both onsite and across the street.

Walk With Spirits Tour 

Take a chance at unraveling the mystery of the Winchester Mystery House as you step back in time to the era of Sarah Winchester. On the new Walk With Spirits Tour, you will attend a seance as you journey into the supernatural world.

Seasonal Encounters and Other Special Tours

See the mansion decorated for a truly terrifying Halloween show at Unhinged Nightshade's Curse. The fun begins with an outdoor spectacle followed by a self-guided walk through the haunted mansion. For fans of Dracula, the Winchester Mystery House offers a chance to delve into the secrets of the original novel with Secrets Unearthed: 125 Years of Dracula. For brave souls ages 5 and up, get away to Houdini's Spirited Escape as you check for clues and try to solve the mystery that is the mansion. For those who only come out after dark, there is the Friday The 13th Flashlight Tour, coming in January 2023.

The Tech Interactive

Make a day out of your time in San Jose by also visiting The Tech Interactive, commonly known as The Tech. It's a family-friendly science and technology museum with hands-on exhibits, great for young children and all ages.

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Carol High
Carol High

Carol is a digital marketer creating media-rich content for global audiences covering travel, San Francisco and the Bay Area, food & drink, outdoor experiences, and cross-cultural storytelling. Her work is found in the San Mateo Daily Journal and The Skyline View (Skyline College). Before travel writing, her professional background included working internationally in business, nonprofits, and government. She lives in San Francisco with her family and regularly explores the parks in her city, especially untamed McLaren Park.

The Golden Gate Bridge at sunset with a multicolored sky and the San Francisco Bay in the foreground.
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