when we first began planning our trip, i told my parents that hearst castle was high on my list of places to visit. i have heard for years about the palatial house on the hill that william randolph hearst built in the early 20th century, and i am a sucker for tours of historical homes. lucky for us, hearst castle is in san simeon and was on our way up the 101, so we stoped by on the monday of our trip.
when we pulled in to the visitor center, we were all craning our necks to get a glimpse of the house, but it sits so far up and back that we couldn’t spot it. i had booked tickets for the 10.40am grand rooms tour, but we arrived early and were able to move up to the 10am tour [something that i imagine is probably not as easily done during the summer or on weekends].
promptly at 10am, our tickets were scanned and our group loaded ourselves onto our bus. as we made our way up the winding drive, alex trebek gave us a history of the hearst family, of the area, and of the construction of the house and surrounding buildings. we passed a variety of animals roaming free on the land, one of the many legacies of the patriarch himself.
it took a solid five minutes before we were able to catch a glimpse of the house, and even when we did it was just for a split second before we rounded another curve. you can see, even from far away, just how grand the estate is, and the drive gives you plenty of time to raise those expectations and get excited.
when we disembarked from the bus, we met our guide for the morning, learned a little more about hearst and his lifestyle, and got on our way.
we stopped by the neptune pool – apparently the most photographed pool in the world – before walking around to the cottages and eventually up to the main house. every nook and cranny of the house and grounds were designed and decorated with the utmost eye to detail. it was fun to hear the stories behind some of the pieces on display in the house and to hear how they are restoring different wings.
some of my favorite fun facts:
- hearst hired julia morgan as the chief architect for hearst castle and the grounds, which was pretty uncommon for the time. julia was one of the first female architects and civil engineers in the united states and was kind of a badass.
- the land the castle sits on comprises about 80,000 acres, which is about one-third the size of the city of memphis.
- hearst loved animals and had a live zoo on the property. to this day a number of species roam free on the hearst ranch.
good things to know when planning your visit:
- buy your ticket ahead of time. you can always move to an earlier tour if there are spots available, but if you are visiting on a busy day i would suggest booking ahead of time to save yourself having to wait in line. tickets are $25 for adults and $12 for children.
- give yourself lots of extra time. the 65 minutes the website allots you for the grand rooms tour – recommended for first-time visitors – does not take into account the time it takes to travel to and from the castle. if you are on a 10am tour, that means you load your bus at 10am to make your way up the hill from the visitor center. it’s about a 15-20 minute ride each way, so you’re really not beginning your tour until about 10.25am. when your tour finishes you are allowed to wander the grounds for as long as you like, but remember that the ride back will take you some time as well. all told we spent a little over two hours on the property, including my parents getting coffee and the time we spent perusing the gift shop.
- the 101 is closed between san simeon and monterey. due to the landslides earlier this year, the 101 is currently closed north of san simeon while the roads are being repaired. if you are visiting as part of a pch road trip, as we did, you will have to backtrack about 15 miles and then detour inland through paso robles in order to continue your trip north; the highway picks up again in monterey. repairs are underway, and the highway should be open to traffic again in late 2017 or early 2018 at the latest.
- carry layers. when we visited it was about 60 degrees fahrenheit and foggy down at the visitor center, but it was about 80 and sunny at the top of the hill. i was glad i had a light jacket for our wanderings down by the coast but was happy to shed it when we got to the top. carry some light layers so that you can add or remove them as you need.
- no flash photography inside. as with many house tours, photographs are allowed inside but flash photography is strictly prohibited.
- bottles of water are allowed, but no snacks and no chewing gum. i would highly suggest carrying a refillable water bottle with you, especially on a hot day, but leave the snacks and chewing gum in your car. they’re pretty strict about it, and no one likes a jackass.
which part is your favorite? i think mine is still the view; even now i can’t stop looking.