We woke up to a beautiful sunny day in San Simeon California. Yesterday's rain was behind us and we were happy that we also got to experience some nicer weather on our drive on California State Route 1 with our European guests. We had booked tickets to a tour of Hearst Castle which was about 10 minutes drive from our hotel.
We have driven Highway 1 many times before but never had a chance to stop at Hearst Castle. I never even saw it because it is up at the hill and very often covered by some fog. With nice weather you can see a glimpse of it from Route 1.
Below the hill where the castle is, they have a big visitor center where we received our tickets. We were then driven up to the castle by a shuttle. On a 10 minute shuttle ride we already learned a lot about the history of this place. We started the actual tour with a tour guide from the garden, and from there to the main building.
Hearst Castle, actually a huge mansion, was built by news paper publisher William Randolph Hearst. In year 1919 he inherited some land at San Simeon and decided to build a vacation house on top of the hill. He hired Julian Moore, a known architect to design the building, and named it "La Questa Encantada" (The Enchanted Hill). During the years he expanded the building, and Moore designed some guest houses, pools and a tennis court next to it. The main building of Hearst Castle had 38 bed rooms, 42 bathrooms, a movie theatre and a billiard room. On the surrounding grounds Mr. Hearst build a private zoo and an airport.
Mr. Hearst didn't follow one particular style when building his mansion. It became an interesting combination of different times and styles. He brought different kinds of art work from his travels and placed them inside. For example, you can see some statues from the New Kingdom of Egypt in the garden and some old sarcophagi. The roof of the billiard room was also imported and reconstructed.
Also both of the pools in Hearst Castle are beautiful pieces of art. The outside pool, called Neptune Pool is close to olympic size and it has an ancient Roman temple facade. The front was transported from Europe and reconstructed at the site. Unfortunately the pool is empty due to some damage from earthquakes and drought conditions in California. Hopefully someday it will be repaired and has no leakage anymore so it can be filled with water again.
The indoor pool is called " the Roman Pool", and it is decorated with roman gods and goddesses. Inspiration for the mosaic tiles came from an italian mausoleum. Some of them are blue, and some are glass with gold inlay. Quite a pool, or what do you think?
Hearst Castle was very popular place in the 1920's and 30's. Everybody wanted to get an invitation to the famous parties of Mr. Hearst. Many Hollywood stars like Charlie Chaplin and Clark Cable, or politicians like Winston Churchill spent time at the mansion. While Mr. Hearst was taking care of his businesses during the day, the guests were able to enjoy the pools, watched movies at the theatre or played tennis. Evenings they dined with Mr. Hearst who had an interesting seating arrangement at his dining room. When you first visited at the mansion you got to sit next to the host, but you were slowly moved further away on the table. When you ended up at the very end of the table, you knew that the next day there was no place for you anymore. Mr. Hearst died in 1951 and after a long negotiation, the mansion was added to the California State Park system.
I would say that this place is absolutely worth a visit. It is different and interesting. You can choose from four different tours they offer. We chose the Grand Rooms Tour which walks you thru the gardens and the biggest rooms in the main building. At the end you will have time to explore the garden and pool areas freely. Tour tickets are $25 for an adult (2016) including a movie they show in the visitor center. The visitor center also has a restaurant, cafeteria and a large book store. From the shuttle, keep your eyes open because you can still see some zoo animals like zebras living on the mansion grounds.
Overall we had a great time visiting this place. The only thing we felt slightly uncomfortable with was the strict supervision. We had a tour guide who was leading our group but we also has a chaperone walking behind us making sure no one touches anything. I understand that the building and the art workare protected and respect that, but if my daughter wants to see fishes in the pond, I would like to look at them without someone breathing on my neck and telling me not let her touch anything. We heard the rules many times in the shuttle, then from our tour guide also, so now please leave us alone. What is this, the White House? I don't remember ever experienced something quite like this in California.
TIPS FOR VISITING HEARST CASTLE
- Order your tour tickets beforehand, they often sell out.
- If possible, choose a weekday for your visit to avoid the biggest crowds.
- Reserve enough time for your visit. One tour is 60 minutes (evening tour 100 minutes) + shuttle ride 15 minutes each way, the movie in the visitor center is 40 minutes and you might want some time to stroll around the gardens when you are up at the mansion.
- Wear comfortable shoes. On each tour there are lots of steps. On the Grand Room Tour you walk up and down 159 steps.
- There are no food sales up at the mansion and the only thing allowed is a water bottle. However, the visitor center has a cafeteria and a restaurant where you can eat before or after the tour.
- Don't forget to bring your camera! You can take a picture without the flash inside the mansion and the view to the Pacific Ocean is magnificent from the hill.
- And last one last thing: Don't try to sneak in any soda bottles, like we did. Because of the altitude change, they will blow up in your face when you open them, and you will be very embarrassed!