Hearst Castle is located in San Simeon on Coastal Highway 1, about 300 miles south of our home in Santa Rosa (250 miles from San Francisco). It’s a long but easy enough drive if one takes HI101, which we did. The coastal routes are a bit shorter in miles but take a lot longer as they meander along the incredibly beautiful Califonia coastline—a highly recommended drive for those who want to see Big Sur and do some serious sightseeing.
Built over a span of 28 years by William Randolph Hearst and architect Julia Morgan in the early 20th century, the “castle” is a huge mansion high on a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Hearst formally named the estate “La Cuesta Ecantada” (The Enchanted Hill), but usually simply called it “the ranch.” It consists of 115 rooms on four floors and nearly 45,000 square feet of space.These include 26 bedrooms, 32 bathrooms, 14 sitting rooms, two libraries, a 2,000 square foot dining room, 30 fireplaces, a billiard room, and a movie theater with projection room. This does not include servants’ quarters, a hotel-size kitchen and a 9,000 square foot basement basement with two wine cellars. Throughout, some of Hearst’s extensive collection of art and antiquities is prominently displayed. Additionally, there are two pools–on outside and one inside, three guest “cottages” and a tennis court.
The Hearst family donated the estate to the State of California after his death in 1951. It was designated as a National Historic Landmark and California Historical Landmark, and opened to the public in 1958. Four different tours are offered, three of which we took over two days:
The Grand Rooms Tour. This covers the castle’s opulent social rooms, including the Assembly Room where guests gathered before dinner; the dining room, which could seat about 50 people; the Billiard Room; the Theater, in which home movies were shown; the outdoor Neptune Pool, with an ancient Roman-Greco facade (unfortunately, it was drained in 2014 for retrofitting and is scheduled to be refilled in 2017); the gardens, laden with ancient statuary; and the Roman Pool, an amazing indoor pool that leads to the outdoor tennis courts.
The Upstairs Suites. After touring the main rooms, it is interesting to visit some of the accommodations that Hearst offered to his guests—ranging from lavish 2-bedroom suites with a shared living room and exquisite imported ceilings to equally beautiful duplex bedrooms–some for single women and, in a separate wing, for single men. It is interesting to note there were as many bathrooms as there are bedrooms, assuring everyone’s comfort and privacy (jokingly attributed to Julia Morgan as “the woman’s touch”). Also included in this tour were walking through the library and Hearst’s “office.”
Cottages and Kitchen features a look at the original wine cellar and vault, sprawling kitchen, and two of the guest “cottages.” Casa del Monte, the smallest of the three cottages, contains 10 ten rooms including 4 bedroom, 4 baths, a foyer, and a central sitting room on one level; Casa del Mar, the largest of the three, has 18 rooms on three levels, including 8 bedrooms 6 baths, a sitting room, and lobbies. This was the first building completed and Hearst’s residence until the castle was ready for occupancy. The third cottage, Case del Sol, is included during a fourth tour–that we did not take–which brings visitors behind-the-scenes to observe current maintenance.
An Evening Tour, featuring docents in period costume, is offered during the winter months when the nights are longer. All tours offer tickets to a “Building the Dream,” a 40-minute biographical movie shown on an iMax screen at the Visitors’ Center theater–it’s a good overview that helps put the gargantuan building effort into perspective. Also, the tour guides are very knowledgeable and informative as they offer a look at life in the castle during Hearst’s time.
The only caveat I offer is that there varying levels of strenuous activity—primarily climbing stairs. Check their website for further information.