Take a Daycation to Hearst Castle
SAN SIMEON – They say a man’s home is his castle. But for media magnate, businessman and politician William Randolph Hearst, this was actually true. Inspired by the castles he saw as a boy in Europe, Hearst spent 28 years working with architect Julia Morgan to build a storied hilltop mansion on his family’s considerable estate in San Simeon. He called his retreat La Cuesta Encantada – Spanish for “Enchanted Hill” – but today it is best known as Hearst Castle.
Many of us have ideas about a custom feature or extra room we would like in our dream home. But Hearst didn’t want a special room or a single luxury feature. He wanted all of them. Even though he never fully finished Hearst Castle, the sprawling estate has 165 rooms, 123 acres of gardens, terraces and an indoor and outdoor pool. There is a massive wine cellar, built during Prohibition no less, and an airport, which allowed for Hearst’s numerous famous guests to arrive conveniently. The property was also once the site of the world’s largest private zoo.
Hearst Castle is opulent, inside and out. Hearst was an avid and prolific collector of museum-quality art, which he used to furnish the rooms of Hearst Castle from top to bottom. During your visit, you’ll see American and European Old Master paintings and sculptures, oriental rugs, antiquities, silver and even historic ceilings.
Although San Simeon isn’t exactly “right down the street” from the Bay Area (it’s roughly 3.5-4 hours away), it’s still a must visit destination. And, while you could easily make a weekend out of it, it’s a doable daycation.
The Castle, which touts itself as a “museum like no other” offers several different tours, with everything ranging from the Grand Room tour, which is recommended for first time visitors, to accessibility tours and exclusive, private tours.
The pièce de résistance, however, is the spring and fall evening tour. Offered only from March-May and October-December, you’ll be able to experience Hearst Castle in the style of its famed guests (past visitors included Winston Churchill, Cary Grant and Joan Crawford). During this extended tour, the docents are in time period dress and the buildings and grounds are illuminated. This evening like no other ends with a vintage newsreel in Hearst’s private theaters. One word of caution: given that you may work up an appetite on this tour with its 303 stairs and ¾-mile walking route, you might want to grab something to eat beforehand as the area surrounding Hearst Castle doesn’t have many options.
All tours start at the Visitor’s Center and include a 5-mile bus ride up the hill narrated by none other than Alex Trebek of “Jeopardy!” The ride back down takes you past what’s left of the remaining zoo.
If you go: Hearst Castle is located at 750 Hearst Castle Rd, San Simeon, CA 93452. Ticket prices start at $25 for adults and $12 for children ages 5-12. Children under the age of 5 are free. Reservations are encouraged. To purchase tickets online or for more information, visit HearstCastle.org.