750 Hearst Castle Road
San Simeon, CA 93452
The ocean can be viewed in the distance from the castle
The beautiful holiday decorations.
While my family vacationed along the central California coast, we contemplated what we should do first. Hearst Castle of course immediately came to mind! Hearst Castle is an internationally popular and historical site that became the highlight of our vacation. The castle is perched on a lush, green mountain, high above the Pacific Ocean, expanding the view. Hearst Castle sits like a magical entity glimpsed amidst the San Simeon fog, just like a setting for a Disney movie, but only this castle is real. William Randolph Hearst started building what he called “La Cuesta Encantada,” the Enchanted Hill, in 1919 with architect Julia Morgan and they mostly completed the project by 1947. On the tour, you can see areas that were never actually finished in the project.
Even the drive to the castle on Highway 1 along the coast was extraordinary as we observed crashing waves along the sparsely populated (compared to most of coastal California) coastline on one side with happy roaming cows and even zebras (part of the Hearst Castle estate) roaming in green pastures on the other side. After leaving San Luis Obispo, on our coastal route, we first passed the seaside towns of Morro Bay and Cayucos, then the artist community of Harmony (population 18), followed by touristy Cambria, and finally San Simeon. The entire drive is breathtaking!
The dining area where Hollywood A-listers once enjoyed many meals with their host.
Once Hearst Castle is reached, the adventure begins at the Visitor Center at the bottom of the mountain that offers gorgeous views of the castle, hills, pastures, and glistening ocean. Many linger on the back patio near a museum dedicated to the early days of the Hearst Ranch. The center also contains a gift shop and a restaurant (with an impressive number of vegetarian options) and a coffee shop that proudly serves Starbuck’s. I had a very tasty vegetable salad with avocado, tomatoes, onions, and sprouts and my husband had the vegetarian pizza. My kids enjoyed the burgers and chicken patties with extra yummy French fries. Meat eaters and vegetarians alike can be satisfied at this restaurant with its substantial food options available before or after the tour.
You can purchase your tickets at the Visitor Center (advance reservations are recommended, since many of the popular tours sell out), and view a movie about the history of Hearst Castle and the Hearst family. The movie is about 40 minutes and is displayed in a giant dome-style theater. It is worth the time to watch it as it shows the history and evolution of the masterpiece you came to see. The movie starts by showing how George Hearst struck silver and used the money to purchase the 127 acres on which the castle now sits. Young William was then whisked on European journeys with his mother, where he gained the inspiration for his own castle. The movie touches on William’s professional career, but primarily shows how he and architect Julia Morgan painstakingly designed the castle which later became a playground for Hollywood’s starlets and even the political and even intellectual elite of the 1920s and 1930s.
After the movie, the 15 minute bus ride has a relaxing and informational narration to accompany the sights viewed on the meandering drive up the mountain to the castle. When the tourists reach the castle, they are greeted by a friendly tour guide who explains the history and evolution of Hearst Castle. You have a choice of three different tours: The Grand Rooms, the Guest Houses, and the Upstairs Suites. On this cool December day, my family took the Grand Rooms tour and it was fascinating to view the lavish rooms that were all dressed up for the holidays. The Assembly Room The Refrectory and the Morning Room were especially festive with bright red poinsettias, beautiful garlands, and two 18 foot Christmas trees with old-fashioned ornaments. After the tour, visitors from all of the tours are allowed to stay and explore the gardens and grounds. My family must have taken a hundred pictures among the ancient statues and works of art, magnificent trees and flowers, architectural masterpieces, and breathtaking views of the Pacific. People on our tour came from as far as Paris to see the amazement of Hearst Castle, and you should too! You will be so glad that you did!