Zoom out. What is this place?
The Whaley House Museum has been called one of the most haunted houses in the United States and has been featured on the Travel Channel’s Ghost Adventures and BuzzFeed Unsolved: Supernatural. The two-story Greek Revival style house was built by businessman Thomas Whaley in 1857, and within its walls were the county courthouse, a small theater for traveling troupes, and a general store in more than a private residence for the Whaley family. Thomas and his wife, Anna, experienced several tragedies after moving into the house, including the death of two of their children. Rumor has it that the property was already haunted before the house was built, as the land was once an execution yard, and paranormal activity is said to occur in the house to this day. Since the house has received extensive media coverage for its haunted reputation, it has been a popular attraction for visitors.
The permanent collection of a museum is its main characteristic: what was it like?
The house is well-preserved with Victorian-era furniture, decor, artwork, and kitchenware, and a visit to the house is a walk back in time. Guests can see the living room, dining room, kitchen, and some of the bedrooms, and get a glimpse into life for a prominent family in California’s pioneer days.
Exhibitions keep us coming back. What can we expect?
There are no seasonal or non-permanent exhibits at the museum — just consider that tours book up quickly around Halloween. If a standard tour isn’t scary enough for you, there’s a special “paranormal investigation after hours” experience that starts at 10:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and comes with the use of a “ghost hunting equipment” like thermal cameras and EMF meters. The tour costs $99 and reservations are required. As for the museum itself, it’s a good opportunity to see a house over 150 years old, which history buffs and architecture lovers will appreciate. Light fixtures and lanterns throughout the house are dimly lit and flicker throughout the visit, adding to the mysterious ambiance. Guided tours are run at a good pace, and then there is an optional question-and-answer session on the lawn in the garden of the house.
What did you think of the crowd?
Evening tours are limited to 20 people at a time, which seems like the right amount — some rooms in the house are small, and the guest limit allows for an intimate experience without feeling cramped. Children aren’t usually around after 5 p.m., as the museum says it doesn’t recommend the nighttime tour for anyone under 13. Night tours attract visitors from all over the world – both skeptics and haunted house enthusiasts – you’ll see a mix of families, couples and groups of friends exploring the house. The tour has its dark moments, but it doesn’t leave you feeling heavy.
On the practical side, how were the facilities?
Since you are visiting a historic house, furniture is prohibited for seating. There are two brief moments during the tour when guests are asked to be seated – in the audience hall and the theatre. There is no elevator on site and to access the second floor you have to climb a narrow staircase – people with reduced mobility will not be able to see the whole house.
Guided tours worth trying?
Self-guided tours are available from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., but an evening guided tour is the way to go. Being home after sunset adds to the spine-tingling effect, and the guides – who are dressed in Victorian-era clothing – are enthusiastic storytellers. The details they share about the history of the neighborhood, the Whaley family, and the tragedies that happened on the property make the quick tour engaging and bring the home to life. Fans of the paranormal will enjoy hearing about the ghost sightings and encounters that staff and guests have reportedly experienced over the years, and visitors are encouraged to submit their stories and photos to the museum’s website if they wish. see or capture something unexplained during their visit.
Gift shop: obligatory, inspiring or skipped?
You must enter the museum shop, which is next to the Whaley House, to purchase a tour (if you have not booked online in advance) as well as to check in prior to your reservation. The small shop offers Whaley House themed souvenirs, books on local history and paranormal subjects, tarot cards, candles and incense.
Is the coffee worth the detour?
The museum does not have an on-site restaurant, but there is a small coffee stand on the property where you can grab a latte. As it is in the heart of the old town (a bustling tourist area), several restaurants are within walking distance. We recommend Tahona Bar for mezcal flights and upscale modern Mexican fare, and Old Town Urban Market, a new food hall that offers birria tacos, mariscos (seafood), micheladas and a wine bar.
Any advice for people short on time or attention?
It takes about half an hour to explore the house on a guided tour. Even though it’s a short amount of time, the guide’s storytelling skills and appreciation of the house’s history make it worth it.
Zoom out. What is this place?