The 10 Best Mansion Tours in the U.S. That Will Leave You Awestruck
GET A GLIMPSE OF HOW THE OTHER HALF LIVED BY WANDERING THROUGH AN EXTRAVAGANT HISTORICAL HOME.
A lot of travel can be unglamorous—trying to jam all your items into a suitcase, fitting into an uncomfortable seat in a plane or car for hours, and the sheer exhaustion of it all. But sometimes it's important to inject a little glamour into a trip, which can easily be done by visiting some of the country's most historic homes.
These extravagant mansions aren't just for looking at elegant decor and expensive items, though. They can also give an insight into American history through examining the mansion's architecture, looking into the history of the area at the time the home was lived in, or learning more about the figures who inhabited these historic homes.
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Best Historic Homes to Tour in the U.S.
1. Oheka Castle
Serving as the embodiment of the gilded age, Oheka Castle, in Huntington, New York, is a sprawling mansion that was built in the early 20th century. Not only is the castle available for tours, but it's also been converted into a hotel, and has 32 uniquely-designed rooms available for guests to stay in.
"On [the] one hour tour, you are offered limited access to the estate and gardens which includes the beautiful mansion," says Jennifer Castillo, an account executive at Finn Partners. "After your tour, you can dine at the OHK Bar and Restaurant … in the casual elegance of the dining rooms or opt for the outdoor piazza for al fresco wining and dining."
While the mansion's history is fascinating, its use in modern culture is also of note: It has been the setting for music videos like Beyonce's "Haunted" and Taylor Swift's "Blank Space," used as a filming location for Succession, and served as the inspiration for Gatsby's estate in The Great Gatsby.
In most cases if you want to see a celebrity-owned home you'll have to take a trip out to Los Angeles, but that's not the case for Elvis Presley's most famous mansion, Graceland, located in Memphis, Tennessee.
"Graceland goes way beyond just a tour of the mansion," says Jalyn Souchek, a PR manager at Memphis Travel. "Visitors get to immerse themselves in his life at Elvis Presley's Memphis Entertainment Complex, which is over 200,000 square feet in size. Visitors can see his favorite automobiles, including his iconic pink Cadillac, his collection of gold and platinum records, movie memorabilia, and more."
While the home is a perfect place to visit for any Elvis fan, or music fan in general, it's also an interesting look into the styles and trends of the 1970s. The mansion remains decorated in the same style as it was when the King of Rock and Roll lived in it.
"Many mansions take you back to the 19th century, Graceland offers visitors the unique opportunity to step back in time to the '70s with its lavish decor while also experiencing an intimate look at the personal side of Elvis," Souchek says. "The tour of Graceland Mansion includes the living room, his parents' bedroom, the kitchen, TV room, pool room, the famous Jungle Room, his father's office, the newly-enhanced Trophy Building, the Racquetball Building—newly-restored to how it looked in 1977—and Meditation Garden."
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3. Biltmore Estate
One of the most popular tourist destinations in North Carolina is the Biltmore Estate, a chateauesque-style mansion in Asheville that has been owned by the Vanderbilt family since it was constructed in 1895.
"The Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina is a splendid monument to the Gilded Age," says Steve Prohaska, a travel expert and the founder of See the Best Places. "George Vanderbilt and Richard Morris Hunt designed the 250-room mansion to look like a 16th-century chateau from France's Loire Valley."
Visitors to the mansion can enjoy walking around the estate and admiring the opulence, or take part in some of the many activities available for visitors, including exploring nature trails on the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains.
"At the estate's Antler Hill Village, you can learn about traditional crafts like woodworking and blacksmithing from on-site demonstrations," Prohaska says. "The mansion also sits on 8,000 acres of themed gardens and scenic nature trails you can explore."
4. The Breakers
The Biltmore Estate wasn't the only mansion made for members of the wealthy Vanderbilt family, they also owned The Breakers, an oceanfront mansion in Newport, Rhode Island.
"The Breakers is the most famous of a series of historic Gilded Age mansions in Newport," says Amanda Ghanbarpour, a travel writer and owner of My Vintage Map. "Tour the mansion at your own pace using their audio guide that gives vivid descriptions of life for the Vanderbilt family and other mansion residents in the late 19th and early 20th centuries."
Tours of the mansion are available year-round and visitors can see the home's 48 bedrooms and 27 fireplaces, among its many other rooms. But another perk of visiting the Gilded Age home is exploring the grounds surrounding the elegant mansion, which sit right on the Atlantic Ocean.
"The highlight of The Breakers mansion is the grounds," says Ghanbarpour. "The home is right on the Atlantic Ocean with stunning scenery from the backyard. You can also easily access the public Cliff Walk nearby for sweeping views of the cliffs and sea."
5. Winchester Mystery House
Many mansions throughout the country leave visitors surprised by the extent of their elegance and displays of wealth. The Winchester Mystery House, in San Jose, California, leaves visitors surprised because it's, well, puzzling. The house, owned by Sarah Winchester, the heiress to the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, was continuously worked on for nearly 40 years and featured staircases that led to nowhere, trap doors and windows that opened to nothing.
According to rumors, the house was not only occupied by Winchester, her guests, employees, and construction crews, but also by the spirits of those killed by the Winchester rifle, which her husband's company invented. It's reportedly one of the most haunted homes in the country.
"With seemingly insane architectural feats, like stairs that lead nowhere, visitors flock to the Winchester house for a chance to see the bizarre mansion and for the chance at a potential ghost sighting, as well," says Nick Mueller, a travel expert and director of operations at Hawaiian Islands. "Reportedly, Sarah Winchester kept construction on the house going around the clock until her death, in an attempt to confuse the ghosts she was certain inhabited the house with her. It makes for one of the most interesting mansion tours in the U.S."
6. Villa Zorayda
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Many people flock to Florida for the winter, and millionaire Franklin W. Smith was no different back in the 19th century. He opted for St. Augustine and built Villa Zorayda, one of the most unique homes in the country. The mansion sticks out a bit among other pieces of American architecture, as it was inspired by the Alhambra, a 13th century Islamic fortress in Granada, Spain. In 1913, the home was purchased by Abraham Mussallem, a Lebanese immigrant and expert on Oriental rugs and Egyptian artifacts, who expertly decorated the mansion.
"After 20 years as a residence, the building was leased out and transformed into the Zorayda Club, a restaurant and club where the most prominent guests enjoyed dining, dancing, and socializing," says Barbara Golden, a communications and PR manager at Florida's Historic Coast.
Since its construction, Villa Zorayda has served as a personal home, a restaurant, a nightclub and a casino, but now it's been reopened as a museum, with visitors able to embark on an hour-long tour visiting the mansion's six rooms with antiques owned by Smith and Mussallem.
"One of our most discussed pieces on display is the 'Sacred Cat Rug' which is over 2400 years old and made from the hairs of ancient cats that roamed the Nile River," Golden says.
7. Wrigley Mansion
The state of Arizona is known for its outdoor beauty, but there's plenty of gorgeous sights to be held indoors as well. Phoenix's Wrigley Mansion, which was owned by Wrigley chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr, served as his winter home for when the baseball team he owned, the Chicago Cubs, were off-season.
"The Spanish Colonial style mansion is over 16 thousand square feet with 24 rooms and 12 bathrooms, and was completed in 1932 for $1.2 million by architect Earl Heitschmidt," says Kayla Singleton, a media relations intern at Visit Phoenix.
The Wrigley family wasn't the only food-adjacent heirs to own the home. In 1992 the mansion was purchased by Geordie Hormel, a musician and Spam heir, who opened the mansion up to the public for tours and private events.
"After extensive renovations in 2021, the Wrigley Mansion is now a premiere fine dining and special events venue that offers tours covering the history of the mansion and the two grand families that lived there," Singleton says. "Visit for a tour or dine at one of their restaurants on-site, like Christopher's at Wrigley Mansion helmed by James Beard award-winning chef Christopher Gross."
8. Winterthur Museum
It makes sense that the country's first state, Delaware, is home to plenty of history, including the massive Winterthur mansion. It was originally owned by horticulturalist Henry Francis du Pont and is now the country's premier museum of American furniture.
"Winterthur is considered one of the most important collections of American antiques in the United States, with unique collections of ceramics, glass, furniture, paintings, textiles, and needlework," says Eric Ruth of Visit Delaware. "The home's former owner, Henry Francis du Pont, was a passionate collector who meticulously transformed his family home into a showplace, then opened it as a museum to share America's diverse stories with the public."
It's not only the mansion's stunning interiors that deserve a look, though. The museum sits on one thousand acres of property that are worthy of walking around as well.
"Outside the big house, the lush rolling hills erupt with blossoms each spring, inviting visitors to wander the flower-filled trails or board tram cars to marvel at the natural vistas that emerge from around each corner," Ruth says. "In total, Winterthur encompasses one thousand acres of rolling hills, meadows, and woodlands."
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9. Hearst Castle
California, more than most places, is filled with extravagant homes and mansions of the rich and famous, but few stand out as much as Hearst Castle, an elaborate hilltop estate that towers over the village of San Simeon.
The mansion, which looks out at the Pacific Ocean, and is now a national historic landmark, as well as a California historic landmark, was built for publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst. The extravagant home, and Hearst himself, were satirized by Orson Welles in the 1941 film Citizen Kane.
"The castle was built in the 1920s by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst and includes 115 rooms, 61 fireplaces, 19 sitting rooms, and a movie theater," says James Brad, of travel website Travare. "Visitors can take tours of the main house and grounds, which include gardens, pools, and a zoo."
10. Thunderbird Lodge
Located along the shores of Lake Tahoe, Thunderbird Lodge is a historic mansion built in the 1930s to serve as the home of George Whittell Jr., an heir to the Pacific Gas and Electric Company fortune. But he wasn't the only well-known resident in the home: Whittell lived with his pet Indian elephant, Mingo, who is rumored (incorrectly) to be preserved in the bottom of nearby Lake Tahoe.
"Although he hosted famous friends like baseball legend Ty Cobb and fellow millionaire Howard Hughes for all-night card games in the card house, he often preferred to be alone," says Emily Creighton, a public relations account executive at Fahlgren Mortine who represents Travel Nevada. "Whittell originally had plans to turn the land into a casino, but after growing fond of having his own secluded hideaway he abandoned those plans and kept the land to himself until his death."
The mansion is now located in Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park, and sits on more than six acres of land that's great for hiking or visiting by boat.
'Public tours of this site are available by land, by tour boat or by kayak, Tuesdays through Saturdays from May to October," Creighton says. "Docent-guided tours take visitors on an hour and 15-minute walk through the stone mansion and grounds to reveal the mystery and legacy of the enigmatic George Whittell Jr. and the iconic Thunderbird Lodge."