AAA Travel Tips / 9 Amazing, Over-the-Top Homes to Visit One Day (When We Can Finally Leave Our Own Homes)

9 Amazing, Over-the-Top Homes to Visit One Day (When We Can Finally Leave Our Own Homes)

AAA/Thuyvi Gates
By AAA Travel Editor Katie Broome
June 10, 2020
With so much time spent at home lately, wouldn’t it be nice to escape for a bit (even if just virtually) and tour an extravagant, over-the-top estate? To fuel your wanderlust and stave off the cabin fever, here are nine opulent homes—all AAA recommended attractions—that are worth a closer look.
(Note: Many of the attractions included in this list are temporarily closed due to COVID-19. Check their websites for scheduled reopening dates.)
Biltmore, asheville
Courtesy of The Biltmore Company

Biltmore

Asheville, North Carolina
Said to be the largest privately owned home in the U.S., the Biltmore House is a 175,000-square-foot wonder to behold in the Blue Ridge Mountains. The 250-room Renaissance chateau, built in 1895, served as a country estate for George Vanderbilt, grandson of industrialist and philanthropist Cornelius Vanderbilt. A descendant opened the property for tours in 1930, and a winery was added in 1985. Self-guiding tours are a bit pricey compared to other homes on this list (starting at $64; check with your local AAA club office for discounts), but admission includes three floors of the house as well as the surrounding formal gardens, a shopping village and the winery. Two hotels with AAA Diamond designations are also on site ( Village Hotel at Biltmore Estate and The Inn on Biltmore Estate).
COVID-19 programming: Visit the Biltmore From Home website for virtual tours, downloadable educational materials and recipes from estate chefs.
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The Breakers, mansion
The Preservation Society of Newport County/Gavin Ashworth

The Breakers

Newport, Rhode Island
Considered one of the most lavish of Newport’s mansions, The Breakers was built in 1895 as a summer home for Cornelius Vanderbilt II, grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt. The mansion’s 70 rooms are furnished as you might expect for the Gilded Age—French and Italian designs in stone, marble, alabaster, mosaics and gilded wood are sure to impress. Self-guiding audio tours ($22) provide background about how the Vanderbilt family lived, worked and played. Other Newport mansions are within walking distance and offer tours, including Marble House, Rosecliff and The Elms.
COVID-19 programming: Download The Preservation Society of Newport County’s free “Newport Mansions” mobile app for audio tours from home.
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Exterior photo of Elvis Presley's Graceland in Memphis Tennessee
flickr/Curtis Simmons

Elvis Presley's Graceland

Memphis, Tennessee
See where the king of rock ‘n’ roll lived with his family at Elvis Presley’s Graceland, just a 15-minute drive from Beale Street. Self-guiding audio tours of the mansion and grounds (starting at $69, with discounts for AAA members) are loaded onto interactive tablets and narrated by actor John Stamos, with additional commentary from Elvis and his daughter Lisa Marie. Tour packages allow you to explore the rest of the sprawling complex, which has exhibits dedicated to Elvis’ music and movie career as well as a museum with his automobile collection. You can even visit Elvis’ grave site without buying an admission ticket; just visit the Meditation Garden before Graceland opens (between 7:30 and 8:30 a.m.).
COVID-19 programming: Visit the Graceland Facebook page for behind-the-scenes videos. The mansion will reopen with limited capacity on May 21, 2020.
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Fallingwater, Frank Lloyd Wright, Pennsylvania
Wikimedia Commons / CC0/Daderot

Fallingwater

Mill Run, Pennsylvania
A road trip through the Laurel Highlands of southwestern Pennsylvania offers the chance to visit Fallingwater, one of the most famous works by American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. Even if you aren’t an architecture buff, you’ll appreciate the significance and beauty of this private residence, cantilevered over a 30-foot waterfall using only reinforced concrete and native stone. Guided tours ($33) cover all the major rooms of the 1930s home and allow you to see the original black walnut furnishings, sculptures, Picasso prints and Diego Rivera paintings inside.
COVID-19 programming: Search the #WrightVirtualVisits hashtag on social media for a peek inside Frank Lloyd Wright properties.
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Neptune pool at the Hearst Castle in San Simeon California
Wikimedia Commons / CC BY SA/Erdrokan

Hearst Castle

San Simeon, California
With more than 160 rooms, three guesthouses, two pools and a past guest list that included such Hollywood stars as Clark Gable, Charlie Chaplin and Cary Grant, the Hearst Castle is a must-see estate on the California coast. Located halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco (a 4-hour drive from each), the hilltop estate was once the home of newspaper publisher and movie producer William Randolph Hearst. These days it’s open for guided tours (starting at $25), with various packages that allow you to see private sitting rooms, bedroom suites, an underground wine cellar and grand social rooms with art from around the world.
COVID-19 programming: Visit the Hearst Castle page on Facebook for virtual tours and live videos.
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The Mount, Edith Wharton's Home
David Dashiell / flickr

The Mount, Edith Wharton's Home

Lenox, Massachusetts
While penning the 1905 novel “The House of Mirth,” Pulitzer Prize–winning author Edith Wharton lived in this 42-room mansion—a beautiful Georgian-style home she designed—in the tony Berkshires of western Massachusetts. Not only a fiction writer but also an authority on architecture, interior design and gardening, Edith Wharton’s mansion estate came to be known as “The Mount” and is open for tours ($20), which allow you to see Wharton’s personal library of more than 2,600 books.
COVID-19 programming: The grounds are currently open to the public, but the house remains closed.
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Nemours Mansion and Gardens
Delaware Tourism Office

Nemours Estate

Wilmington, Delaware
Skip the trip to Europe this year—you’ll feel like you’re already there with a visit to the Nemours Estate, a mansion built 1909–10 by American industrialist Alfred I. du Pont. Just 32 miles (about 35 minutes) southwest of Philadelphia, the modified Louis XVI French chateau is, in a word, opulent. Admission ($20) gets you into the 77-room mansion and the formal French gardens, said to be the largest in North America. You can also check out the chauffeur’s garage complete with vintage vehicles.
COVID-19 programming: Visit the Nemours Estate page on Facebook for photos and virtual tours.
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museum, gardens, miami, florida
AAA/Thuyvi Gates

Vizcaya Museum and Gardens

Miami, Florida
Built as a winter home for American businessman James Deering from 1914 to 1922, the Vizcaya mansion and gardens are a modern-day wonder to explore. The grand estate was an architectural and engineering marvel for its time, with a style modeled after an 18th-century Italian villa and the ornate interior furnishings and tapestries to match. Self-guiding tours ($18, with discounts for AAA members) allow you to check out the 34 decorated rooms in the main house at your own pace before venturing outside to see the impressive formal gardens, fountains, statues and a terrace overlooking Biscayne Bay.
COVID-19 programming: Visit Vizcaya’s Free Online Experiences website for virtual tours, music playlists, Zoom backgrounds, downloadable coloring book pages and more.
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Winchester Mystery House
flickr/David Prasad

Winchester Mystery House

San Jose, California
This mysterious Victorian mansion, the 1886–1922 home of Sarah Winchester, heiress to the Winchester Repeating Arms Company fortune, has more than enough rooms to keep you occupied—160 rooms, to be exact. The reason for the house’s bizarre layout (and continuous construction for the 38 years Ms. Winchester owned it) is a bit of a mystery; take the guided tour ($39) to hear the theories. (The spookiest theory proposes the labyrinth design was meant to baffle the spirits that haunted it.) Secret passageways, rooms within rooms and staircases leading to ceilings—it’s all here.
COVID-19 programming: The gardens are currently open for self-guiding tours, but the house remains closed. Check the #winchestermysteryhouse hashtag on social media or visit the Winchester Mystery House website to purchase a virtual tour. You can also stream the 2018 horror film “Winchester” to see the story played out on screen.
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