From San Francisco’s Victorian homes to Carmel’s fairy tale cottages, we’re lucky to enjoy a variety of playful architecture around Northern California. In lieu of a trip to Europe, we’re not far from some totally breathtaking castles near the Bay Area that will transport you to a land far, far away.
These local castles are admittedly less historic than their overseas counterparts, but keep an open mind and get ready to discover some lovely castle-like buildings in or near the Bay Area that you may not have known about. Don’t forget to scroll to the bottom for a map.
Our castle tour starts right at home in San Francisco’s Hunters Point neighborhood. John Hamlin Burnell built this giant stone castle in 1870 as a state-of-the-art brewery, which was eventually shuttered as a result of Prohibition and transformed into the Albion Water Company. It changed hands several times – notably, sculptor Adrian Voisin added many of its medieval elements – and is now owned by SF Police Lieutenant and real estate investor Bill Gilbert. It has two enormous subterranean cisterns accessible through secret caves, which still provide clean water to this day.
📍 881 Innes Ave, San Francisco
Castello di Amorosa in Calistoga is one of Napa’s most unique wineries in that it’s styled to emulate a Tuscan castle from the 13th century. The castle was the vision of fourth-generation winemaker Dario Sattui, who began construction in 1994 as a tribute to his Italian heritage and love of medieval architecture.
The structure took 15 years to build, employing various medieval designs and construction techniques. It has all the hallmarks of a real 13th-century Tuscan castle, including 5 defensive towers with battlements, 107 rooms, handmade antique bricks from Europe, a moat, a drawbridge, several courtyards, an armory, a chapel, stables, and even a torture chamber. The Great Hall is the castle’s most sought-after room, with a 500-year-old Umbrian fireplace and hand-painted frescoes. You’ll feel entirely transported to the Italian countryside with a little help from their spectacular hand-crafted Italian-style wines.
📍 4045 St. Helena Highway, Calistoga
3. Sam’s Castle
Pacifica is home to a collection of well-preserved historical sites including Sam’s Castle, built in 1908 by rail magnate Henry Harrison McCloskey. McCloskey modeled the design after his wife Emily’s childhood home in Scotland, but the building went through countless iterations throughout the years as it changed hands.
In 1916 the McCloskey family turned the castle over to Berkeley physician Dr. Galen Richard Hickok, who was eventually arrested for performing illegal abortions there in 1920. During the next decade it served as a brothel and speakeasy, was raided multiple times during Prohibition, and was eventually bought by Clarence and Annie Eaken. The Eakens rented the castle to the U.S. Coast Guard to use as a barracks during WWII, after which Annie Eaken lived in the castle for another decade with close to 20 cats. Many ghostly encounters were also reported.
In 1958, 20th Century Fox set designer Sam Mazza bought the castle on a whim and began renovations. Mazza and his wife Mary filled the castle with eclectic decor and collectibles, some of which they rescued from San Francisco’s Fox Theatre before it was demolished in 1963. The couple hosted opulent parties in the castle over the years.
These days, Sam’s Castle is managed by the Sam Mazza Foundation, which offers tours several times a month. For $30 guests can enjoy a 90-minute guided tour through the residence followed by light refreshments, tea, and coffee. Alternatively you can check out this gorgeous cinematic video tour.
📍 900 Mirador Terrace, Pacifica
Robert Howden built this stone castle in Ben Lomond in the early 1920s as an ode to his childhood in Scotland. Howden owned a tile company in Oakland (you can still see the Howden Building at 337 17th St) and worked slowly on the castle with local hired help.
A talented stone carver, Howden etched the window panes with Scottish scenes and poems by Sir Walter Scott and Robert Burns. Each stone in the structure was hand-selected and hand-laid, and eventually the 3-room castle was completed in 1926. Howden’s love for the countryside is clear in his poem: “Ben Lomond, nestling ‘mong the heights, / Above fair Santa Cruz, / Your peaceful quiet my soul delights, / Your charm awakes my muse…”
A decade later, Howden sold his castle to a local couple and it changed hands multiple times over the years, growing to 15 rooms by 1978. It’s been open for tours and as a vacation rental in the past, but is now a private residence.
📍 9699 CA-9, Ben Lomond
5. Castle Noz
Castle Noz is a wedding and event venue in Snelling, a small community near Modesto. According to a 2021 article by the Merced County Times, Denair resident Casper Noz began building the castle brick-by-brick 3 decades ago, doing most of the work by himself on the weekends. These days he works on it almost 7 days a week.
Noz’s design is inspired by Dutch castles between 600-1,400 A.D. and covers nearly 12,000 square feet. Although completion is still another 10-15 years away, the current structure features two round four-story structures at the entrance which are rustically decorated inside with medieval elements. This completed front part is rented out for weddings and events in order to fund the project, and Noz continues his labor of love with the goal of eventually moving in with his family.
📍 6101 Keyes Rd, Snelling
This magnificent red-brick building near Sacramento was built in 1894 as part of the Preston School of Industry, a reform school for boys. In order to make the building feel more like a school and less like a prison, architect Henry Atherton Schulze designed it in the Romanesque Revival style. It remains the most significant example of this architecture style in Gold Country.
The Preston School of Industry eventually closed in 1960, at which point the State nearly moved to demolish it. The castle was spared thanks to the efforts of a local group of women, but it fell until disrepair until the Preston Castle Foundation managed to lease it from the state in 2001. As of 2014, the foundation now owns the site and maintains it as a remarkable piece of history.
Today you can visit Preston Castle for self-guided, guided, paranormal, and private tours. The foundation hosts seasonal events including a fall haunted house and a winter craft fair. (Tip: If you decide to visit, consider passing through nearby Amador City, the smallest city in CA).
📍4306 CA-104, Ione
More California castles
To continue with your California castle tour, here are some more to put on your radar:
- Hearst Castle (San Simeon) – This famous estate has been a cornerstone of California history since 1919, known for its stunning landscape, glistening pools, and ornate interior décor.
- Vikingsholm (Tahoe) – The hidden stone mansion in Lake Tahoe’s Emerald Bay is open for tours during the summer.
- John Medica Gardens (Sonoma) – John Medica created this collection of small stone folk castle sculptures over 2 decades. They’re now located on private and gated property.
- Seaward, Brad Pitt’s castle house (Carmel) – Brad Pitt made headlines in 2022 when he dropped $40M on this historic estate known as “Seaward” or the “D.L. James Home.”