Sometimes you have to go see something simply because somebody was crazy or determined enough to build it. Take the Winchester Mystery House for example: If someone spends 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, for 38 years building a nuthouse, people will line up to see it (and they do). So this week’s getaway theme is a tribute to the top seven man-made wonders that people said couldn’t (or shouldn’t) be built, all of which are a fantastic excuse to get away for fun-filled weekend of exploring Northern California.
Hearst Castle, San Simeon
Few buildings on earth are as elaborate as Hearst Castle. The 165-room estate of publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst, located high above the village of San Simeon atop a hill he called La Cuesta Encantada (“the Enchanted Hill”), is an ego trip par excellence. One of the last great estates of America’s Gilded Age, it’s an over-the-top monument to wealth—and to the power that money brings. The 127 acres of gardens, terraces, pools, and walkways perched 1,600 feet above sea level (and often above the fog level) can only be seen by guided tours. And for great hotel deals near Hearst Castle click here.
Lake Shasta Dam
The Shasta Dam and Power Plant offers one of the most interesting tours I’ve ever been on in California (and it’s free). At 3,460 feet long, 602 feet high, and 883 feet thick at its base, it’s a dramatic sight indeed, as well as vital component of the Central Valley water project, holding back the waters of the Sacramento, Pit, and McCloud rivers. You can walk or drive over the dam, but it’s far more interesting to take the 1-hour guided tour that takes you deep within the dam’s many chilly corridors (not a good place for claustrophobics) and below the spillway. At the visitor center is a series of photographs and displays covering the dam’s construction. Need an affordable hotel near Shasta Dam? Click here.
The Carson Mansion, Eureka
One of the most popular attractions on the north coast is the magnificent Carson Mansion, built from 1884 to 1886 for lumber baron William Carson. An 18-room, three-story conglomeration of ornamentation, its design is a mélange of styles—Queen Anne, Italianate, Stick, and Eastlake. It took 100 men more than 2 years to build it, and it’s said to be the most photographed Victorian home in the U.S. Today it’s a private club, so you can only marvel at the exterior. Across the street stands the Pink Lady, designed for William Carson as a wedding present for his son. Both buildings testify to the heady wealth that California lumber barons accrued in the 1800s. And for great hotel deals in Eureka, click here.
Winchester Mystery House, San Jose
Convinced that the evil spirits of those killed with Winchester guns would only be appeased by perpetual construction on her mansion, heiress Sarah L. Winchester used much of her $20-million inheritance to finance the construction of the Winchester Mystery House, which started in 1884 and went on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, for 38 years. With 160 rooms, the home sprawls across a half-dozen acres and is full of disturbing features: a staircase leading nowhere, a Tiffany window with a spider-web design, and doors that open onto blank walls. Such schemes were designed to confound the spirits that allegedly plagued the heiress. Truly a man-made wonder. And be sure to check out our San Jose hotel deals when you come.
Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco
They said it couldn’t be built, but there it is: The most beautiful, and certainly the most photographed, bridge in the world. With its gracefully suspended single span, spidery bracing cables, and zooming twin towers, the Golden Gate Bridge looks more like a work of abstract art than one of the 20th century’s greatest practical engineering feats. Construction was completed in May 1937 at the then-colossal cost of $35 million. The 1.75-mile bridge, which reaches a height of 746 feet above the water, is awe-inspiring to cross on foot. It’s simply one of those things you have to do at least once in your life. And if you need a San Francisco hotel deal, click here.
California State Capitol, Sacramento
If you’ve never been to the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., we have a very close replica right here in Northern California. Serving as both a museum and the state’s working seat of government, the beautiful California State Capitol building was constructed in 1869 and underwent an extensive renovation in 1976 with spectacular results. The building’s highlights are its massive dome, which rises 220 feet above the roof, and stately colonnade of Corinthian columns. Free 1-hour guided tours provide insight into the architecture and the workings of the government it houses and a chance to see Arnold in action. And if you need a deal on a Sacramento hotel, click here.
Bodie Ghost Town, Mono Lake
Now here’s a man-made wonder of a different sort. The Bodie Ghost Town, located about 20 miles northeast of Yosemite National Park, is one of the most authentic ghost towns in the entire West. In 1870, more than 10,000 people lived in Bodie, mining $32 million in gold. Today it’s an eerie (almost creepy even) shell of a town that looks like it was abandoned overnight. The State of California took over the town in 1962 to make it a State Historic Park and maintain its “arrested decay.” My dad would take me here as a kid and I loved exploring this eerie place. And if you need a good deal on a nearby hotel, click here.
If you have your own tips and recommendations on great getaways that you’d like to share, feel free to add your own comments to our blog below. We’d love to hear from you. And for more insider tips on California activities and tours, California vacation spots, California tourist attractions, California vacation packages, and California inns, B&Bs, lodges, hotels, and restaurants, explore LocalGetaways.com, where you’ll always find best California travel deals.