Last month I was driving down California State Route 1 to Los Angeles, starting in Half Moon Bay. Highway 1 is also known as Cabrillo Highway and around Malibu and south as Pacific Coast Highway (PCH).
My plan was to stop near Hearst Castle, stay overnight and continue the next day south to Los Angeles after visiting Hearst Castle. I have driven this Road like half a dozen times, but never stopped at Hearst Castle. Fortunately I had all weekend to spare and decided to stop there.
Hearst Castle is located in the Santa Lucia Mountains near San Simeon and is about half-way between San Francisco and Los Angeles on State Route 1.
It was build by Newspaper Tycoon William Randolph Hearst between the years 1919 and 1947. The architect was Julia Morgan, the first woman architect licensed in California. The estate is a pastiche of historic architectural styles that Hearst admired in his travels around Europe. He also bought a lot of art pieces throughout his travels, which found now a home in Hearst Castle. In an earlier post I wrote about another memorably architectural highlight, the ancient Spanish Monastery in Miami. Hearst bought it, but was unable to erect it in the USA after his financial crisis and died later on in 1951.
The estate featured 56 bedrooms, 61 bathrooms, 19 sitting rooms, 127 acres (0.5 km2) of gardens, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, tennis courts, a movie theater, an airfield, and the world’s largest private zoo. If you still can see some animals roaming around the grounds and if you are lucky enough you can even see Zebras. I was able to spot some on the fields right of Pacific Coast Highway. The main house, Casa Grande is the biggest one atop the hill and is surrounded by 3 guest houses.
Casa Grande has a size of 60,645 square feet (5,634 m²) and the guest houses were also quite spacious.
- Casa del Mar: 5,875 square feet (546 m²)
- Casa del Monte: 2,291 square feet (213 m²)
- Casa del Sol: 2,604 square feet (242 m²)
The other two highlights are the Neptune pool and Roman Indoor Pool. The Neptune pool holds 345.000 gallons of water but was drained in 2014 due to severe drought conditions in California. The pool had been leaking and evaporating over 5.000 gallons of water every day. As of now there is no date set yet to fill it again. According to one of the guides, there is an issue finding funds to repair the pool.
On your way back to the buses to the visitor center you will pass through the Roman Indoor Pool. This one still holds water and you will walk on gold-plated ornaments. Right above the pool is the tennis court. Notice the glass bricks in the floor near the net of the court. This help to lighten the indoor pool below.
Now the castle is National and California Historical Landmark which can be visited and offer a variety of tours. They offer three main tours available all year around. “Grand Room Tour”, “Upstairs Suites Tour” and “Cottages and Kitchen Tour”. There are more tours available, see the website for more information.
Here my thoughts and experience of my “Upstairs Suites Tour”.
I arrived early in the morning at the visitor center. Hoping to hope on one of the first buses to get up there. Note you have to book a tour to get up to the castle, after the tour ends you can explore the grounds as long as you wish. My plan was to hop on the first tour bus and be the first one out, to have fewer people roaming the area to help me take great pictures of the area without disturbance. Plans changed quick, when I got a phone call from work and had to do some phone support. I also had to push my departure time for my tour a couple of times back. I bought my ticket the night before to make sure the first tour of the day won’t be sold out. You can change the departure time for your tour as much as you want throughout the day, as long the tour you select is not already booked out. Your tour ticket gives you also entrance to the Hearst Castle Movie Theatre, to watch a movie about the history of Hearst Castle. I watched the movie the night before after buying my ticket, but I highly recommend you to watch the movie either before or after your visit at the Castle. The beginning of the film kinda reminded me about an Indiana Jones movie. The movie is really informative and gives you a lot of facts and info of the history of the Castle.
On the very end of the Visitor Center is to your right a small museum. You can enter at any time, even without a ticket for a tour. It gives you more information about W. R. Hearst and his life.
During your drive up to the estate the castle will appear and disappear a couple of times until you finally arrive. Our groups tour guide was fabulous and funny. I really enjoyed how he incorporated us into the tour. You also can do multiple tours, if you are not sure in the beginning about it, buy a the tour you like most and then you can buy the other tickets at the castle. No need to head back down to the visitor center and come back up.
I chose the “Upstairs Suites Tour” to see how William R. Hearst lived himself at the castle and what he offered his visitors. It is just mind-blowing what he created here. If I get another chance I will visit again and do another tour. I would like to do a night tour and take awesome pictures of the castle by night.
A quick reminder if you plan to visit. Due to the severe drought in California, Hearst Castle also closed its toilets and there are now chemical toilets all over the parking area and in front of the visitor center, as well up at the estate.
Depending on your selected tour, you will have to walk a set of stairs up and down. If you have issues with that, let the staff know and they will try to accommodate you as good as possible.
On the other side of PCH you can find W. R. Hearst Memorial State Beach, great for a picnic or to hang out. Another place you should visit, and just north on Cabrillo Highway, is Elephant Seal Vista Point. Dozens of Elephant Seals are laying on the beach sun bathing and throwing sand in the air.