The odd facade of San Jose's Winchester Mystery House (photo: Phillip Bond/Alamy)

Quirky California

By Sion Wulffhart

Every state in the U.S. (and province in Canada) has its own oddball attractions. But California, perhaps because it attracts so many dreamers and “creative types”—and no doubt also because some of those people have a lot of extra money—arguably tops the list of American capitals of quirkiness. Here are five of the more notably unusual places to visit in the Golden State.

San Jose’s Winchester Mystery House is a puzzle wrapped in a mystery inside a baffling building. The estate is the former home of Sarah, widow of gun tycoon William Wirt Winchester. Construction began in 1886 under the close supervision of Mrs. Winchester, who requested doors opening to nowhere, upside-down turrets and a skylight built into the floor. It’s said she erected the odd abode to appease the spirits of people killed by her husband’s guns. Construction of the 160-room mansion halted following her death in 1922, but some say ghosts remain lurking.

If you’ve ever wanted to belong to a secret club, head to San Diego’s Craft & Commerce restaurant. Walk past the refrigeration room, with its shelves of specimen jars and taxidermy, and you’ll enter the False Idol tiki bar, a world bursting with colourful sights like an indoor waterfall and flaming volcano. The tropical speak-easy serves 200-plus rums, but be sure to order the daily special—it triggers a Polynesian rain storm and volcano eruption each time it’s requested. The bar has limited space, so call ahead to secure your spot inside this hidden enclave.

quirky california hearst castle
The opulent pool at Hearst Castle (photo: Richard Wong/Alamy)

William Randolph Hearst built Hearst Castle, his extravagant “publisher’s palace,” on the San Simeon coast in 1919. The sprawling 16,200-hectare estate served as Hearst’s residence until 1947. In its heyday, the castle was invitation-only and welcomed guests like Churchill and Chaplin. It became a public tourist attraction in 1958, so visitors could ogle Hearst’s art collection and antiques, as they imagine the lifestyles of the rich and famous.

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We all know California is home to celebrities. While most live in sprawling mansions, some of the state’s most notorious residents called a five-by-nine-foot cell home. A short boat ride from San Francisco will take you to Alcatraz, America’s most infamous prison. Between 1934 and 1963, “The Rock,” as it was unaffectionately known, was home to the country’s most dangerous inmates, including Al Capone and Machine Gun Kelly. Today, visitors can tour the prison to see how the other side lived.

Looking for an extra “appeeling” attraction to slip into? The North Shore California Banana Museum contains more than 20,000 banana-inspired items to check out. You’ll find every-thing from harmonicas to staplers to record players. And before you split, be sure to hit the banana bar to indulge in a shake, ice cream or even soda pop. 

AMA Travel counsellors can help you arrange for flights, accommodations (with our Best Price Guarantee), attraction visits and more in California and the rest of the United States. Visit or call 1-844-771-1522 to make an appointment with a travel expert.