For years, my husband talked (or obsessed) about visiting Hearst Castle. When he moved to the United States, his English professor, a man partial to mystical rocks and all things Brazil, talked wonders about the place. My husband was eager to see what all the fuss was about.
We finally made it there for our 4th wedding anniversary. After that first visit, we have become regulars of the San Luis Obispo Coast. We have revisited the castle many times.
I feel joy every time I stop by. This is truly a unique place. And, I am not saying this because I cannot think of better words to express myself. I mean it. It is not only the architecture, grandeur, and location. There are so many stories related to the place. Plus, let’s not forget the castle was designed by a woman.
Let me show you why I adore Hearst Castle and why it is a great addition to any trip around California.
About Hearst Castle
William Randolph Hearst was a media mogul as well as a businessman and politician. The company he founded, Hearst Corporation, operates to this day. They publish magazines such as Cosmopolitan, Marie Claire, and Woman’s Day.
In 1919, with architect Julia Morgan, he started to build Hearst Castle on land he inherited from his father. At the time of Hearst’s death (1951), he still had plans to add features to different parts of the complex. We can say this project was never completed.
Hearst formally named the state “La Cuesta Encantada” (“The Enchanted Hill”) and used to refer to it as the “ranch”. People started to call the main structure in the complex (La Casa Grande) a castle because it has 56 bedrooms, 61 bathrooms, and 19 sitting rooms.
The property also contains guest houses, gardens, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, tennis courts, a movie theater, and an airfield. It used to host the world’s largest private zoo. Descendants of the original animals bought by Hearst to the ranch still roam the property. Do not get surprised if you see zebras while driving around the area.
It is refreshing to know The Hearst Corporation (mass media group) donated the property to the state of California in 1957. Since that, the complex has been managed as a state park and the collection of art and antiques is open to the public. The Corporation is also compromised with the preservation of the land within the property.
Hearst Castle Location
Hearst Castle is located in the town of San Simeon in coastal San Luis Obispo County. The property is located a few miles away from the famous Pacific Coast Highway or CA-1. Therefore, it is a popular stop for those road tripping around the state.
Those heading north through Highway 101, can connect to CA-1 by using CA-46 (south of Paso Robles). Many people use the highway to save time and then use CA-46 to connect to the coast and start driving the famous Big Sur. Consider stopping at Hearst Castle before heading to Monterrey.
San Simeon is located between San Francisco and Los Angeles. That would be about 230 miles from each of the big cities. It is located 42 miles from San Luis Obispo (seat of the county), 136 miles from Santa Barbara, and 95 miles from Monterey.
The best way to reach the town is by car. The closest major airports are located in San Jose, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Other cities along the Central Coast like Santa Barbara and Monterey have airports but experience tells me it is relatively expensive to fly to those.
Hearst Castle Tours
Hearst Castle can only be visited by booking a tour.
The most popular (1 hour) tours are the following:
- Grand Rooms Tour
- Upstairs Suites Tour
- Cottages and Kitchen Tour
- Evening Tour
Other tours such as Art of San Simeon, Julia Morgan, and Hearst and Hollywood are offered. In December, the Holiday Twilight Tour is available.
Now, not all tours are offered at the same frequency. The Grand Rooms Tour is offered several times per hour and it is the tour most people choose. Actually, I recommend choosing this tour for your first visit. The wait time for other tours may be longer.
At the end of all tours, you can stay on the grounds (outside) and explore the pools and gardens at leisure.
Tickets start at $25 for adults and $12 for children. I realize this is not necessarily a budget attraction but I believe the price is fair. The facilities are vast and impeccable. Tour guides are well-versed and the place itself is gorgeous.
Heart Castle Tours – Grand Rooms
Here is a sample of what you can see in the Grand Rooms Tour.
The Casa Grande Facade
When people mention “Hearst Castle”, they are actually referring to “La Casa Grande”, the biggest building in the complex.
The facade of this building is full of rich details. It is carved with saints, heroes, and ferocious animals. Even though the castle terminology is used the building was inspired by the cathedrals of Southern Spain. The bell towers were modeled after the Santa Maria La Mayor Church in Ronda.
This was the main socializing area. According to a tour guide, Hearst used to invite a lot of famous people to the “Castle.” However, if a guest wasn’t a storyteller, funny, or interesting, Hearst would not invite that person anymore.
The room features three-dimensional ceilings, furniture made from precious woods, tapestries, statues, flags, chandeliers, and other works of art.
All meals were served in this huge dining hall named after the dining areas in monasteries. Hearst liked to keep things informal. Therefore, each guest was given his / her own bottles of ketchup and mustard. Hearst also was in charge of assigning seats. He used to move boring guests to the far ends of the table.
The Billiard Room
This was the place used to enjoy one or two rounds of pool.
Hearst used to play a movie every night at 11:00 p.m. Nowadays, visitors enjoy a short film with scenes of movie stars and politicians that used to frequent the installations.
This is the Castle’s outdoor swimming pool. It is fed by mountain water and is surrounded by Roman-style columns and statues. As the rest of the complex, it was designed by architect Julia Morgan.
Hearst had the pool rebuilt three times (talking about picky tastes). The centerpiece is the façade of an ancient Roman temple imported to California from Europe.
Even though the house and the gardens are spectacular, the Neptune Pool is the real showstopper. I don’t know if the architect was aware of how impressive the design is. Some have called it the “most sumptuous swimming poo on earth.”l
There are tons of grand residences and palaces around the world. However, how many pools can take your breath away?
My mind was so blown away by this pool.
This is a tiled indoor pool decorated with eight statues of Roman gods, goddesses, and heroes. The pool appears to be styled after an ancient Roman bath such as the Baths of Caracalla in Rome.
The pool is decorated from ceiling to floor with 1″ square mosaic tiles. These glass tiles, called smalti, are either colored (mainly blue or orange) or clear (with fused gold inside). The intense color, gold tones, and light combine to create a breathtaking effect.
It is kind of amazing to be surrounded by so much gold!
The views complement the beauty of the entire place. Definitely, the perfect location was chosen to build all these masterpieces. From the castle, the Willian Randolph Hearst Memorial Beach, and the pier used to receive the good shipping from all over the world, can be observed.
There is a lot more to see in San Simeon. I have an entire article dedicated to this town. Make sure to check it out.
And, you can spend many glorious weekends and entire vacations exploring coastal San Luis Obispo. Below I am highlighting some of the places to add to your itinerary (or bucket list).
Ragged Point (20 miles north) – Those short on time can have a taste of Big Sur by driving to Ragged Point, a spot with impressive cliff vistas, a waterfall, and some hikes. It is a short drive if you are exploring San Carpoforo Creek and Beach.
Paso Robles (40 miles east) – Wine lovers rejoice! Paso is only a couple of miles away from San Simeon. Paso’s east vineyards are even located closer to San Simeon. Use scenic CA-46 to reach the wine area.
Cambria (10 miles south) – Cambria and San Simeon are usually marketed together. So, it makes sense to visit both on a single trip. Make sure you have enough time to check Cambria’s nature preserves, wine tasting rooms, and Monterey pines. This town is a favorite of many. I have an extensive guide on Things to Do in Cambria.
Cayucos (23 miles south) – This small, almost unknown town located north of Morro Bay, is a great place to relax and meet some friendly locals. Did I mention smoked fish tacos and brown sugar cookies are sold in there? That is reason enough to go! I have an entire guide with details on Things to Do in Cayucos.
Morro Bay (29 miles south) – If you want to visit a unique place, Morro Bay should be your choice. The panorama in this town is dominated by Morro Rock, an enormous volcanic plug. It is one of the most beautiful places in California. For more info, check out my article on Things to Do in Morro Bay.
Don’t you think it is incredible how rich people chose to use their money? Well, at least, we can get a glimpse of this madness. Hope this article has given you tons of wanderlust!
Have you taken a Heart Castle Tour? Have you visited the area?