Review of Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, CA
The Winchester Mystery House is one of the top tourist attractions in San Jose, so I had to go check it out.
This is my honest opinion of the place.
The Winchester Mystery House is a beautiful and bizarre mansion created by Sarah Winchester, heiress of the Winchester rifle fortune. Sadly, she lost her child and her husband and with a stack load of cash decided to build/extend her house to confus the spirits that she was haunted by.
Work on the house began in 1884 and kept going for 38 years. It is now (aparently) haunted by the spirits of Winchester rifle victims.
The Victorian mansion contains many odd and mysterious features, including stairs that go to nowhere, doors that go to nowhere, hallways that lead to dead ends, and cupboards that open to other rooms.
The Winchester Mystery House has 160 rooms including 40 bedrooms, 40 staircases, 13 bathrooms, 6 kitchens, 10,000 window panes, 2,000 doors, 52 skylights, 47 fireplaces, three elevators, two basements and just one shower.
The house is located at 525 S. Winchester Blvd, San Jose, CA 95128.
Complimentary parking is available to guests, directly in front of the entrance, with an overflow area behind the house.
I got there really early and the parking lot appears to be open 24/7. I parked up and wandered up the road to Starbucks before I started my tour.
Open daily: 10:00am to 5:00pm weekdays and 10:00am to 7:00pm weekends. Note that closing times vary. Closed on Thanksgiving & Christmas Day.
There is a guided mansion tour, a self-guided garden tour and an interactive video tour.
There are additional special tours organised. Check the website for more details.
It’s pricey! For the guided mansion tour, which is supposed to last just over an hour, it costs $41.99 for adults, $34.99 for seniors and $19.99 for children (aged 5-12).
For the self-guided garden tour, it costs $19.99 for adults, $15.99 for seniors and $9.99 for children (aged 5-12).
Access to the interactive video tour, it costs $8.99 per person. But you can share access, so you only need one per family.
By signing up to their newsletter, you can get 10% off. So worth doing that to bring the price down a touch.
The entrance is accessible from the front parking lot. It opens at 10am on the dot and there’s normally a few crazy people waiting to get access.
You can buy tickets at the booth. If you already have bought tickets on line, you can walk straight into the gift shop.
There are not many attractions where visitors start in the gift shop!
To sign in for your tour, walk through the gift shop and follow the signs to the start of the guided mansion tour.
Guided tours start every 5 mins. Announcements are made, just before a guided tour is about to depart.
Guided Mansion Tours
The guide assigned to the group I was in did a pretty good job overall.
She had her script memorised and she only stumbled a couple of times.
She was cheery, but didn’t engage with anyone in the group, so it was completely impersonal.
To be fair, she had a difficult job with the group I was in, but not helped by the fact that some of the issues were brought on by the way the tour was organised.
The first few rooms were really interesting – they showed all of the oddities that the house is famous for.
After that, time seemed to drag on, although worth noting that some of the nicer, more ornate rooms are later on in the tour.
I’ve only included a few pictures here to keep this review brief. I took at least one in every room!
You can pay for access to the Interactive Video Tour and you can see everything with the benefit of no other guests getting in the way!
Self-Guided Garden Tour
I had a quick wander around the gardens before my Guided Mansion Tour. To be honest, there’s not that much to report on, but you get access to a map of the garden, which covers the 20 items of interest.
The gardens at the front are well maintained, but the rest follows the haphazard nature of the mansion.
The organisers have included some altyernative attractions around the gardens like a shooting gallery and axe throwing.
Problems with the Guded Mansion Tour
Problems brought on by the tour organisers included:
- Not attempting to balance group numbers
The first group of the day left with about 10 guests. The second group left with 4. My group left with about 15 guests.
It takes time for large numbers to move through the house at a decent speed.
I offered to move up to an earlier group but the guides were not interested in flexing the group sizes.
- Only leaving 5 mins between groups
Due to the size of my group which included an older lady who was a little unsteady on her feet, meant that it didn’t take long before the group behind us caught us up.
That led to pressure on our group to not hang about, when some of us wanted some space to take it all in and take some photos.
- Hearing multiple guides at the same time
Guided tours are supposed to take about 65 mins – ours was closer to 90 mins due to the slowness of our group.
At times, I could hear at least 3 guides trying to narrate different aspects of the tour to their own groups in different parts of the house.
This just underlines the need to create more space between guided tours.
The Winchester Mystery House is an architectural wonder and historic landmark in San Jose, CA. It’s a very quirky place to visit.
The house, gardens and parking are all well organised, but whether it will satisfy every member of your party is down to individual preferences.
If you like this sort of thing, then you may decide that $41.99 per person is value for money for the Guided Mansion Tour. The tour lasts just over an hour and you see a good proportion of the house.
However, if you are anything like me, I wouldn’t bother with the Guided Mansion Tour – it gets pretty monotonous after 30 mins or so. You just want to get out, especially when you are being hassled behind by the next group.
Best recommendation I can offer is to buy access to the Interactive Video Tour, which only costs $8.99. You can see a 3D model of the entire house, how all of the rooms are linked together and follow the exact same tour, step by step (similar to Google Streetview), as you would have with the Guided Mansion Tour. You get all of the descriptions as well. It will save you a shed load of cash and allow you to do the tour in your own time. And there’s nothing stopping all the family from sharing in the experience with just the one purchase.
Follow the whole story here: Tier Point Run to San Jose in Nov 2023