I love castles! I'm not sure when my fascination started, but I suspect it may go all the way back to my childhood and my love of princesses- Cinderella, Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, and others. I have been seeking out and visiting castles for a long time and I'm ready to go explore some new ones. I especially love the castles of European royalty, but did you know there are plenty of castles you can explore right here in the USA? Here are just a few that are worth a visit.
Castello di Amorosa, Napa Valley, California
Napa Valley is the home of a medieval, Tuscan-style castle complete with a moat, a drawbridge, and a torture chamber. This 13th century-inspired, 107-room castle is actually a winery. They offer guided tours of the castle and dungeon and all tours end with tastings of the castle’s Italian-style wines.
Hearst Castle, San Simeon, California
William Randolph Hearst built this extravagant retreat in California’s Santa Lucia Mountains. It took 28 years to build and was actually never finished. It's worth a tour to see his priceless art and antique collection, which includes a 16th-century French fireplace and an ancient Greek vase. It was used for his lavish parties with many well-known celebrities.
Smithsonian Castle, Washington DC
This red sandstone castle, built in 1855, definitely stands out on the National Mall. This castle has a strange story behind it. British scientist James Smithson, who had never set foot in Washington, D.C., left his large fortune to the USA to build a place devoted to increasing knowledge. At first, the Smithsonian’s museum collections were housed here, along with lecture halls and administrative offices. But today the castle serves as the Smithsonian’s visitor center, and includes a small exhibition with samples of exhibitions from all the other Smithsonian museums.
Scotty’s Castle, Death Valley, California
It's hard to believe there's any kind of residence in the middle of Death Valley. It was built in 1922, and today the castle is owned by the National Park Service. This building also has a strange story. Walter Scott was a man who worked as a trick rider with Buffalo Bill’s show. But he was most famous for selling shares to his “secret” gold mine. This was a profitable business for him until Chicago banker, Albert Johnson, insisted on accompanying him to the desert to see it for himself. Of course, they didn't find any gold, but Johnson declared that the dry weather improved his health, so he built Scotty’s Castle, with turrets and an enormous swimming pool. He even allowed Scott to live there, who in turn told guests that he had built it himself, with his alleged gold profits.
Newman’s Castle, Bellville Texas
Local baker Mike Newman is well-known for his pastries in the town of Bellville, but he wanted something more out of life. So he built himself a majestic cinderblock and stucco castle, complete with a working drawbridge, a moat, and a dungeon. Newman and one assistant built the 3,400 square foot castle themselves, but it took them eight years to finish. Today he still lives there, and offers tours to the curious.
Castle in the Clouds, Moultonborough, New Hampshire
In 1914, millionaire shoemaker Tom Plant and his wife built a fairytale castle overlooking New Hampshire’s largest lake. It included ground-breaking amenities, such as a circular shower, central vacuum system, and indoor fire hydrants. The couple worked along with the builder to make every detail correct. Today you can spend an entire day here, touring the castle, strolling the gardens, exploring the grounds by horseback, and hiking 28 miles of trails.
Eastern State Penitentiary, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Eastern State Penitentiary was actually built as a cold, haunting prison that once housed infamous criminals, like Al Capone and “Slick Willie” Sutton. Even so, it definitely resembles a castle and is a bucket list item for many visitors. Today it’s open as a historic site offering self-guided tours and occasional themed events.
Belvedere Castle, New York City, NY
Belvedere Castle was built in 1869 in Central Park, New York City. For many years, it was just a beautiful building to look at with a turret to climb for panoramic views over the park. That all changed in 1919, when the National Weather Service came along. Using the turret to measure wind speed and direction, the castle was given a real purpose. To this day, New York City’s weather data is measured at Belvedere Castle and the beautiful views remain.
There are many more castles all over the USA, most representing the luxurious lives of the wealthy. Perhaps we love them because they remind us of our dreams of reaching a level of luxury in our own lives. Do you have a favorite castle to visit? I'd love to hear!