A good house tour can add a nice dose of history to your vacation while also shedding light on the intimate domestic details of notable people. Because tour quality can vary widely, below I’ve listed my top five picks for house tours in the United States. Each is well worth the entrance fee!
Monticello, Charlottesville, Virginia: Discover the genius of Thomas Jefferson by exploring his well-preserved estate. Touring this 5,000 acre plantation is like getting a visual autobiography of Jefferson—he designed and redesigned and built and rebuilt the place for more than forty years. The most amazing part for me was seeing his office and bedroom up close, including all the innovative little gadgets he invented.
Biltmore Estate, Asheville, North Carolina: Know as America’s largest house, this massive 8,000 acre, 250-room estate was built by George Vanderbilt as an escape from everyday life. And it’s definitely not every day that you get to traipse around such an opulent, over-the-top home. Biltmore is a must-see symbol of 19th century robber baron excess, and it’s also where they filmed the Richie Rich movie!
Hearst Castle, San Simeon, California: I think of Hearst Castle as the West Coast counterpart to the Biltmore Estate. Built on land owned by the Hearst family since the 1860s, the estate was completed in 1947 and features 165 rooms spread over an ornate main house and three guest houses, plus 127 acres of gardens and a very fancy Greco-Roman style pool perched on a hilltop.
Winchester Mystery House, San Jose, California: This extravagant maze of Victorian craftsmanship was built by rifle fortune heiress Sarah Winchester. There are miles of twisting hallways, secret passageways in the walls, a spooky seance room, staircases that lead nowhere, and many other baffling touches. According to legend, Mrs. Winchester built all these eccentric features in an effort to ward off and confuse “bad spirits.” Creepy!
Fallingwater, Mill Run, Pennsylvania: Viewed by many as architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece, Fallingwater is a beautiful example of Wright’s passion for creating structures that integrate seamlessly with their surrounding landscape. The house is built directly over a 30 foot waterfall, and its ingenious exterior and interior make it a must-see, especially for architecture buffs.