Although I was born and raised in California, it’s not until nearly 40 years of age do I visit some of the state’s more famed attractions. My dad, my husband and I set out for a road trip along the renowned coastal Highway 1, stopping off at the Winchester Mystery House and the Hearst Castle along the way.


Both Mrs. Winchester and Mr. Hearst were absurdly wealthy. But what they chose to do with their money was quite different from one another. I couldn’t help to begin imagining what I would do if I, myself, happened to come across a never-ending flow of cash.

Our first stop was in the city of San Jose to specifically tour the WInchester Mystery House. Today the home resides on a busy road next to a cinema and shopping centre. This was quite strange to me, and challenging to think of a time when the area would have been filled with orchards.

Driving through the Altamont Pass.

Here she is - the only known photo of Sara Winchester after her husband’s death:

Little Sara Winchester (measuring a total height of 4’10”) was the widow of gun magnate William Wirt Winchester who held the name behind the lever-action rifle colloquially known as "The Gun that Won the West." She inherited more than $20.5 million upon her husband's death and received nearly 50 percent ownership of the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, giving her an income of roughly $1,000 per day (equivalent to about $300,000 a day in 2012).


Perhaps Sara held a rather guilty conscience, because she believed that her home was haunted by the ghosts of the people who fell victim to Winchester rifles, and that only continuous construction on her home would appease them.

I am not a fan of guns.

The Victorian mansion was continuously under construction for 38 years. This proceeded around the clock, without interruption, from 1884 until Sara’s death on September 5, 1922, at which time work immediately ceased. Still today, the house is said to be haunted.

While on the tour, it becomes blatant that the home lacked of any master building plan. The maze-like house is full of twists, turns, and dead ends - supposedly so that haunting spirits would get lost. We saw a staircase that lead to the ceiling. We hiked over a hundred stairs to go seven feet up to the next floor. We saw doors that opened to walls. We saw windows that looked into other parts of the home.


I was not allowed to take photos inside the house; but here you can see the “Door to Nowhere:”

Sara’s favourite number was 13 and her favourite shape, the spider web. These motifs are reflected throughout the house, and in particular, her specially-designed Tiffany stain glass windows. The most expensive window, designed by Tiffany himself, was created so that when light hit the crystals, the room would be filled with thousands of rainbow prisms. However, Sara placed it in a room with no direct light, as well as being built facing a wall.

The home was created with the strangest of intentions. The rooms were all rather small – my dad stating that none of these rooms were even “big enough for playing table tennis.” Honestly, this home seemed more like a kid’s fun house rather than a comfortable living space.

Mrs. Winchester made no mention of the mansion in her will, and appraisers considered the house worthless due to the damage caused by an earthquake, the unfinished design and the impractical nature of its construction. It was sold at auction to a local investor for $135,000, and in February 1923, five months after Winchester's death, it was opened to the public.


Our guide at the Winchester Mystery House had memorised his script so well, I decided to tip him at the end of the tour.

After staying the night in Monterey, we continued south down the Highway 1. This scenic route is famous for running along some of the most beautiful coastlines in the USA.

Almost once extinct, the condor is a success story. At one time, only ten known condors were known to exist. America’s largest bird, with a wing span spreading up to ten feet, was bread in captivity to replenish its population. Over 400 birds have been released back in to the wild. They can been seen in Big Sur country, along the Highway 1.

These birds are not condors. The condor is much larger.

Big Sur Country

Check out these buds...

My dad has wanted to go see the Hearst Castle for as long as he could remember. So we made it happen. Three hours south of Monterey, we finally reached the residence of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst in the unincorporated area of Sam Simeon.

The Historical Landmark was built atop Pine Mountain between the years 1919 - 1947.

Hearst Castle was the inspiration for the "Xanadu" mansion of the 1941 Orson Welles film Citizen Kane, which was itself a fictionalisation of William Randolph Hearst's career.

Invitations to Hearst Castle were highly coveted during its heyday in the 1920s and '30s. The Hollywood and political elite often visited, usually flying into the estate's airfield or taking a private Hearst-owned train car from Los Angeles. Charlie Chaplin, Cary Grant, the Marx Brothers, Charles Lindbergh, Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, James Stewart, Bob Hope, Calvin Coolidge, Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill were among Hearst's A-list guests. While guests were expected to attend the formal dinners each evening, they were normally left to their own devices during the day while Hearst directed his business affairs. Since "the ranch" had so many facilities, guests were rarely at a loss for things to do.

Hearst Castle featured 56 bedrooms, 61 bathrooms, 19 sitting rooms, 127 acres of gardens, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, tennis courts, a movie theatre, an airfield and the world's largest private zoo.

Below these tennis courts is a gold-infused indoor swimming area:

If you can afford it, you can rent the Hearst Castle for your own private party. It’s $7,500 to reserve the Castle for 1 to 50 people for up to 3 hours, and $15,000 for parties larger than 50 people or for weddings lasting longer than 3 hours. That doesn’t include the nonrefundable $500 - $1,000 deposit, as well as scheduling fees, staff reimbursement, and insurance for up to $1 million.

Traveling thirty more minutes south, we reached the quaint little town of Morro Bay. It was a fun night and a good sleep here before we headed back home to Modesto the following morning.

For the time being, we opted to just buy this picture instead.

Neptune Pool, outdoor party area