The Most Unusual Museums In The SF Bay Area

Winchester Mystery House
Winchester Mystery House | © Doug Letterman/Flickr
Natalie Savio

Looking for some offbeat attractions for a quick visit to the San Francisco Bay Area or something out of the ordinary for locals to do? Here is a guide to the most unusual museums in the Bay Area, from old arcade games to haunted houses and even banned toys.

1. Winchester Mystery House

Building, Museum

Winchester Mystery House © Mike Shelby/Flickr
Mike Shelby / Flickr
The owner of the Winchester Mystery House, Sarah L. Winchester, bought and designed the mansion after the death of her infant daughter in 1866 and her husband in 1881, leaving her with 20 million dollars. Mrs. Winchester believed that she was being haunted, and in an attempt to either cope with that idea or to please the evil spirits, she continued to construct and reconstruct her house for 38 years, up until her death in 1922. Although she paid her workers more than a fair wage, donated to several charities, and even let children play on her front lawn, she also liked her privacy, which is why the gardener’s first job was to plant a tall hedge around the property; it’s also more than likely the reason why she wore a black veil over her face. Mrs. Winchester hired round-the-clock builders to continue work on the complex, turning it into 161 acres of farmland with elaborate fruit gardens and a seven-story mansion. Besides Mrs. Winchester’s bizarre story, the most unusual part about the mansion is its unique architecture: stairs that cut off at ceilings, hallways and doors that lead to nowhere, secret passageways, chimneys that don’t meet the roof, and more. Mrs. Winchester rarely sketched anything out; she just met with her lead builder in the morning to go over any changes she would like done – sometime changing rooms that were just finished; hence, why between 500 and 600 rooms were built but only 160 are present. The most elaborate furnishings and fixtures that Mrs. Winchester could buy were placed into the home – some not even making it to their locations because of the continuous renovations. The most compelling reason to visit though, is that the mansion is supposedly haunted, which is why Mrs. Winchester went to such great lengths to keep construction going – to please the ghosts.

2. Beat Museum


Beat Museum
© Shubert Ciencia/Flickr
The Beat Museum is less unusual than the museums previously mentioned, but it is still exceptional in the fact that it exhibits memorabilia exclusively from The Beat Generation, which is an era of writers, artists, and thinkers who gathered in San Francisco during the 1950s. The museum includes original letters, manuscripts and first editions, and other artifacts from the time period.
By Natalie Savio

Natalie was born and raised in the south bay, San Jose, and is currently on her senior year studying Architecture and English writing at the University of San Francisco. She is back in San Francisco after studying abroad in London, UK. She enjoys writing, painting, singing, and exploring new places and TV shows.

Culture Trip Summer Sale

Save up to $1,395 on our unique small-group trips! Limited spots.

Edit article