Once open by invitation only, Hearst Castle is now yours to explore with a range of tours that makes it a destination worth seeing for the first time and one that you will want to return to. We recommend making reservations in advance; the Castle is one of the most popular destinations in California.
Hearst Castle lies at the heart of what was an amazingly vast estate that William Randolph Hearst first visited with his mother when a child. So impressed was he by the setting that he determined to build his home here one day; this is what he did. His architect, Julia Morgan, is one of the first, best and certainly the most famous of America’s women architects. The plans began simply, as a bungalow from which to enjoy the sweeping views of the Pacific coastline. The idea changed and grew. Built between 1919 and 1947, this is no ordinary home but rather one of the ultimate spectacular private residences in the United States. Today, it ranks as the 13th largest private home in the United States.
Hearst Castle Visitor Information
Now owned by the state of California, Hearst San Simeon State Park is open to view both during the day, and in certain months, into the evening. The three daytime tours, the “Grand Rooms Tour,” the “Upstairs Suites Tour,” and the “Cottages and Kitchen Tour,” are each 45 minutes in length. The “Evening Tour” is offered in the spring and fall on Friday and Saturday evenings, with docents dressed in 1930s attire.
The drive from the Visitors Center is in school bus type buses, making the views as one ascends and descends seem especially dramatic and enjoyable. We loved the lore of the place, and much of it centers around the Great Hall dining room. Host William Randolph Hearst and hostess Marion Davies sat at the middle of the long banquet table, and the other guests were seated near them if they were especially welcome, and at the far ends if they had begun to overstay their welcome. It is fun to see that the antique table which is set with irreplaceable china and silver, also boasts jars of Heinz Ketchup. Drinks before dinner were served in the chintz covered Assembly Room, but Marion kept a watchful eye on the proceeding to be sure no one was over-indulging.
Architectural details are both ancient and contemporaneous with the Castle’s construction. The temple at the Neptune Pool is from ancient Rome. The caryatid style lamp stands’ faces on the terraces are said to be molded on W R Hearst’s beloved mother Phoebe. The use of fine arts and crafts era tile is stunning and varied, all over the hillside aerie, with many rare examples of firms like Grueby, Batchelder and California Faience; the large terrace in front of the casa grade is a priceless example.
Hearst Castle Grounds and Outdoor Areas
The outdoor pool, called the Neptune Pool, is almost impossibly beautiful, and it is not hard to picture Dolores del Rio and Errol Flynn splashing about in its classical waters with the California sunshine all around. We also enjoyed seeing the indoor pool and felt that either Busby Berkeley used it as his inspiration for the famous “By a Waterfall” sequence in the film “Footlight Parade” or that Hearst commissioned the pool to mimic that scene. Either way, the golden mosaics are dazzling and the pool seems to go on forever.
The gardens are a profusion of beauty, with roses taking center stage. There is something about the Pacific mist kissed air that these roses love, and they respond with abandon. The tours take you to various guest cottages, and along the way stories are told of the famous guest who slept here or there. Cary Grant claimed he had visited so often he had slept in every one of the 54 guest rooms. Maybe so.
After your tour, be sure to stop at the William Randolph Hearst Memorial Beach, to see the Pacific up close and probably the resident seals. The Hearst family still lives on a portion of the estate and while you will not see them, it is worth thinking how kind it is of them to let the rest of us visit and pretend, if only for a day, that we are part of the illustrious guests of bygone days.