There is nothing Americans love more than a good old European castle — the more wondrous, historical, and over-the-top the better. However, what many of them don’t know is that California has its own castle, perched on a beautiful hilltop in the heart of San Simeon. One of my favorite spots in the state of California, Hearst Castle is a magnificent spectacle of opulence. Built by media mogul William Randolph Hearst, this is arguably the closest thing that the United States has to a “royal palace.” Back in 1919, Hearst (who is known for building a newspaper empire based on yellow journalism) hired famous modern architect Julia Morgan to help him build a “little” home on his family’s land between LA and San Francisco. His small home turned into a 28-year long project that, ultimately, was never completed due to his failing health. Although you certainly wouldn’t believe that upon seeing it.
When I visited, I opted for the classic 45-minute Grand Rooms Tour which had us boarding a bus at the oceanside visitor center and then driving up the windy hill as we listened to the game show host Alex Trebak explain the history of the place. Upon reaching the top, we met our tour guide who proceeded to shower us with additional information about the estate before taking us inside. We wandered through the Assembly Room, Refectory, Billiard Room, and several others before ending up in the movie theater to watch black and white footage of Hearst and his guests back in the day. Come have a peak around with me…
The combination of Morgan’s architectural talents with the devastation of the European economy after World War I enabled Hearst to construct this 165-room residence which sprawls across acres of lushly landscaped gardens, accentuated by shimmering pools and fountains, a tiled plaza, and the ruins of what was once the world’s largest private zoo. The building itself has the facade of a church from Ronda, Spain and is located on land modeled after a Spanish village. I mean, talk about SPECTACULAR. When Hearst died in 1951, the estate wasn’t finished; but, his heirs were done paying the maintenance fees. They willingly gave it to the government, and now it runs as a California state park. Tours are offered around the rooms and grounds, allowing visitors to have a wee taste of the glamorous owner’s life and style.
Mind-blowing is pretty much the only way to describe the interiors of Hearst Castle. The owner went on many a fabled European shopping spree and came back with sculptural facades from Spanish cathedrals, large fireplaces from French chateaus, beautiful tapestries from the Netherlands, and ceilings from medieval monasteries ensuring that practically every inch once belonged to some European church or chateau, empire or republic. Details from all eras of European art are assembled in an eclectic amalgamation of sculptures, furniture, ceilings, mantlepieces, and even choir stalls. But, if you think that the interior of the castle is impressive, then you are going to be *somewhat* dazzled by the exterior. Ancient sarcophagi line the walkways (how billionaires do garden gnomes), while fresh flowers sweeten the air. Not to mention the indoor Roman Pool is without a doubt one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.
Despite Hearst never finishing his castle, he still seemed to waste no time in inviting the most celebrated in Hollywood to parties and weekend getaways in his home. Priorities! Guests journeyed from all over the place to admire the art, splash around in the dazzling pools, and watch the latest chick flick in Hearst’s state-of-the-art private movie theater. The legendary gossip columnist Hedda Hopper once said, “A visit to the Hearst Ranch was a ticket to never-never land. Never has there been such a place and never will we see its like again.”
If you are taking a road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway, then make sure you plan a visit to the enchanting Hearst Castle! Because of the long lines that you may encounter at the Visitor Center, I recommend you plan your excursion before your arrival. Hearst Castle offers a variety of tours, with ticket prices starting at $25 for adults. Tickets can be purchased on their website here. You can still buy tickets at the Visitor Center; however, tours of Hearst Castle are very popular and often sell out.
Hearst Castle offers a variety of tours for guests to be able to visit different parts of the estate. It is important to note that signing up for a tour is the only way you are allowed to enter the grounds. Depending on how much time you have, you can sign up for as many tours as you deem worthwhile. Unfortunately, I only had time for one, so I am looking forward to going back and doing the others at some point in this life.
Your options are:
- Grand Rooms Tour: Recommended for first-time visitors (and the one that we did!) This tour provides an experience of Casa Grande (the main house of Hearst Castle) and all of the opulent social rooms.
- Upstairs Suites Tour: Explore up the winding staircases into the Castle’s most private rooms, including Mr. Hearst’s quarters.
- Cottages & Kitchen Tour: Discover the Castle’s surrounding cottages, wine cellar, and enormous kitchen.
- Evening Tour: Turn back time to the 1930s and experience the house at night! Book your reservation for a night tour, where Living History Docents will be dressed up as if they were heading to an evening soiree at the Castle with Mr. Hearst himself. This tour is the most extended tour available and can only be taken at certain times of the year.
After the tour(s), you are allowed to explore the Neptune Pool, the Roman Pool, and the gardens at your leisure.
750 Hearst Castle Rd. San Simeon, CA 93452
Photos by Jenny Heyside
*Originally published on Oct 25, 2016*