Hearst Castle

Hearst Castle San Simeon

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One of the largest and most extravagant private residences ever built in the U.S., Hearst Castle as it is now called was the monumental pleasure palace built by publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst on his family’s massive cattle ranch. He began the project in 1919 when he was 56 years old, and with architect Julia Morgan worked on Casa Encantada, as they called it, for 28 years. The vast property, which is still surrounded by the Hearst cattle ranch (Hearst steak can be bought in the visitor’s center), once housed the largest private zoo in the world, and when Walt Disney, Clark Gable and Bing Crosby came to visit, they would pass zebra, giraffe, even polar bears on the grounds.

With 165 rooms (38 bedrooms, 42 baths and 14 living rooms), it would take hours to tour the entire residence. Visitors today can choose from five different tours of the estate, ranging from a self-guided tour of the gardens and ground and a one-hour-and-fifteen-minute tour, which includes some of the famous pools, one guest house and some of the first-floor rooms, such as the living room, dining room and movie theater, to a four-hour private tour for a small group. All tours should be reserved in advance online. You will need to park in a visitor’s parking lot and ride a shuttle bus up to the castle. The guides are full of colorful stories about Hearst and the house so the time goes very quickly and will likely leave you wishing to see more. If you would like to wander the grounds of the castle after your tour, you may do so, and many repeat visitors choose their tour times to allow for wandering in the gardens. For those who dream of spending the night or swimming in the glorious pools, there are two options: you will need an invitation from one of the Hearst descendants, who still have special access to the property (it was donated to the state of California after William Randolph Hearst’s death) or if an overnight at the Castle is auctioned off for charity, as sometimes happens, you will need to win it. Reservations are strongly recommended and can be made online.

Indagare Tip

If you are driving from Carmel down Highway 1, the drive may take you close to three hours on the winding road where many stop at turnouts to marvel at the spectacular coastal views. On a sunny day a nice spot for lunch along the way (for the setting not the food, which is basic diner fare) is Lucia Lodge.

Good to Know

At many times of the year, the beach just up from the Hearst Castle will be packed with sunbathing elephant seals. They can be aggressive, so you won’t want to venture on to the sand with them, but there are viewing platforms and they provide quite a show.

Written by Indagare

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