Winchester Mystery House/Santana Row


I don’t know what is about this week, but I am itching to keep posting about all the fun adventures I am having. So here is Wednesday’s post; a little earlier than I wanted. I just can’t wait for you to read about the adventure I had today.

I have more local (in Bay Area, California) gems to talk about. My cousin who has visited us numerous times wanted something different than the beach-y California-type vacation so I decided to do something different today. I took him on a tour of the Winchester Mystery House and a stroll in Santana Row in San Jose. Both locations are walking distance from each other and accessible by car.

San Jose is about half an hour from Mountain View and about an hour south of San Francisco. The places I am going to talk about aren’t accessible by trains, but you can use buses as public transportation to get here. However, driving a car is recommended.

It has been raining pretty much all week so it was a blessing from God that when we left the house, the rain had stopped and the skies were partly cloudy. We made our way to San Jose and took the Winchester Boulevard from 280 South. Winchester Mystery House comes pretty much immediately on the left-hand side.

The Winchester Mystery House is a mansion, which was once the personal residence of Sarah Winchester, the widow of gun magnate William Wirt Winchester. Built in Queen Anne Style, this Victorian mansion is renowned for its size, architectural curiosities and its lack of any master building plan. It is designated a California historical landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Today, it is privately owned.

Ever since the construction started in 1884, the property and mansion were claimed to by many to be haunted by the ghosts of those killed with Winchester rifles. Sarah Winchester herself believed she was haunted by these ghosts and to confuse and appease them, she continuously had the house built and remodeled. Under her guidance, the construction proceeded around the clock without interruption until her death on September 5th, 1922.

How did she pay for this? Well, allow me to tell you. After her husband’s death in 1881, Sarah inherited more than $20 million dollars and a nearly 50% ownership of her husband’s company giving her an income of $1000 dollars per day. According to the guide the income is estimated to be $24,000 today. After her daughters and husband’s untimely deaths, she went to a Boston medium who advised her to travel west and build a home where construction was to be ongoing permanently. In 1884, she purchased a farmhouse and began building her mansion. The mansion was originally 7 stories high, but after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake only its bottom 3 stories remain. If you visit it today be sure to take the tour (frankly you can’t go inside without a tour guide or you will get lost). The mansion is known for its construction in a haphazard manner as it contains doors and stairs that go nowhere, windows overlooking other rooms and stairs with odd-sized risers. Many accounts attribute these oddities to her belief in ghosts and her arthritis.

There are two tours-the mansion tour and the estate tour. The mansion tour is about 65 minutes and focuses on the mansion only. The estate tour is about an hour and a half and includes the mansion and the gardens. We took the mansion tour because of time constraints and budget.

We had a particular nice group with us who asked a lot of questions and the guide was super knowledgeable about the history and architecture of the mansion. During the tour, you will notice a lot of high-end building materials used such as tiffany stain glass windows and California oak wood. Overall, a “local gem” in our eyes.

From there we drove to Santana Row (a two minute drive) and after several attempts (even though it was a random weekday) found parking. We were lucky it wasn’t raining or we couldn’t have walked around the outdoor shopping area. When we locals think of Santana Row, we think of Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles. Santana Row has many high-end restaurants and shops (including a Tesla showroom) that people can buy from or just window shop. If you are a local resident then you know about their monthly Cars and Croissants event where the most obscenely expensive cars are showcased. I was happy to learn there were even stores that had organic and hand-made merchandise. I bet Rodeo Drive can’t compete with that! After our quick walk on Santana Row, we made our way to Lisa’s Tea Treasures.

Lisa’s Tea Treasures is a local Peninsula/South Bay eatery chain where the décor and presentation of food and the food itself is in a Victorian High-Tea style. I have been here several times and it is a great place for lady friends to hang out and have a chatter party. I don’t know why I brought my 22 year old male cousin here. I guess I wanted him to have a high-tea experience. There were no complaints! We went on a weekday, but I still made reservations just in case and it was pretty filled-although not noisy. When you walk in there is a small shop where guests can check-in and purchase gifts such as porcelain teapots and teacups. Once the hostess seats you in a room filled with tapestries and beautiful wall art, she hands you the menus.

The menu is very diverse with all sorts of scones, English/French pastries, mini sandwiches (with crusts taken out, of course) and of course a plethora of aromatic herbal and dark teas. Since it was the two of us we took the “Tea for Two” option which was much cheaper than the individual varieties although with less options. As you know I eat only halal and my cousin doesn’t, so I asked the server (who was dressed in a maid’s costume) to bring vegetarian sandwiches with a handful of chicken ones. For sixty dollars (which includes tip and tax) we were able to eat macaroons, eclairs, an assortment of mini sandwiches, and tarts. The tea was delicious too and there were free refills. The highlight was seeing all the little girls dressed in party dresses celebrating birthdays. I am completely in love with this place and will come back.

This 6-hour expedition was a hit according to my cousin. It is something different to do with friends who are adults and families with kids. Happy Travels!

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