Our visit to Hearst Castle was part of our May/June 2019 USA Trip – click here for all the USA trip reviews.
Hearst Castle was built between 1919 and 1947 it is the joint concept of William Randolph Hearst, the publishing tycoon, and his architect Julia Morgan. Known formally as ‘La Cuesta Encantada’, (The Enchanted Hill), and often referred to simply as San Simeon, Hearst himself called his castle the ‘Ranch’. His father George Hearst had purchased the original 40,000 acre estate in 1865. Camp Hill, the site for the future Hearst Castle, was used for family camping holidays during Hearst’s youth.
Following his mother’s death in 1919, Hearst commissioned Julia Morgan to build “something a little more comfortable up on the hill”, the genesis of the present castle. Working in close collaboration with Hearst for over twenty years, the castle at San Simeon is a spectacular and lavish creation.
In 1958, the Hearst family gave the castle and many of its contents to the State of California and it is now a major visitor attraction. There are several tours available – we chose the Grand Rooms Tour ($25) as it is recommended for first-time visitors.
We arrived early to the visitor centre – there are buses that take visitors up the hill to Hearst Castle. What we hadn’t realised that included in the ticket price is a 40 minute movie called ‘Building the Dream’ shown on a five-storey cinema screen. We instead ‘half-wasted’ our time having some fast food from the ‘Chef’s Galley Cafe’ and by the time we realised that there was a movie offering it was time to take the bus. I can’t tell you whether the movie is worth watching, but my advice is to arrive at least an hour before your tour time if you want to see it.
The bus ride up the hill has a recorded commentary. The most interesting part for me was that Hearst used to have exotic animals roaming the castle land – a herd of over 100 zebra still roam the land still owned by the Hearst family. We didn’t see any.
We met our tour guide on arrival. I should say at this point that I’m not a big fan of tour guides. They are usually passionate about their subject and full of information – our guide was no different. My problem is that I don’t want the slow-paced tour and level of detail they offer – I’d rather just look around and read about it later. Similarly, I’m not going to describe my photos in detail – if you want to know more then take the tour, buy a book etc.
All tours allow you to roam the castle grounds when the tour completes – there ‘s plenty of security both inside and outside so don’t think about jumping in the swimming pools. Our tour also included 20 minutes outside.
The Neptune swimming pool is amazing. Members of the Hearst family still visit and use the pools – it’s an unofficial arrangement to thank them for their donation. If you’re not a Hearst family member you can still swim in the pool by first joining the Foundation at Hearst Castle (starting at $500) then purchase a ticket to one of the members-only pool parties for $950.
There is a grand main entrance door.
But our tour continued via a side entrance. The interior reminded me of an old English country house albeit with an Italian style – everything very heavy and imposing. It’s also a jumble of design styles. Whereas I’d love to attend a pool party, I wouldn’t want to spend an evening inside. Still interesting to see though.
We sat in the cinema where Hearst entertained his evening guests with the latest movies of the time – we watched his home videos of parties at the castle with movie stars.
Back outside we saw the tennis courts.
And down some steps to the amazing Roman pool. They also arrange $950 pool parties here.
Soon we were back on the bus heading down the visitor centre.
If you are driving Highway 1 then Hearst Castle is definitely one place that you should visit. I imagine most visitors take the Grand Rooms tour. If I could change anything, it would be for California State Parks to offer a combined tour; Grand Rooms, Library, Upstairs, Cottages and Kitchens – but for a similar duration and price.
750 Hearst Castle Road
San Simeon, CA 93452-9741