Hearst Castle, San Simeon
||San Luis Obispo, CA|
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High, high above the sea, on its own 1,600 foot mountain sits Hearst Castle, like a dream! Starting with the bus ride up from the visitor center, there is a magical feeling. From the winding steep road you see wide open cattle fields where zebras roam, miles of undeveloped land, and blue blue ocean. During the five mile ride, an audio presentation introduces you to the history of the castle.
Once at the top, you discover lovely gardens full of sculptures and California palms. The landing where you arrive is really impressive, with palms reaching to the sky. There is Spanish tile work and sweet architectural details around every corner.
Inside the castle, there is a heavy style of decor, popular at the time, but not my favorite. Still, it's interesting to learn that Hearst bought up all these treasures from Europe, such as carved wood wall panels from a church, at a time when Europe was facing financial difficulties.
After the interesting one-hour tour, you can wander the gardens for as long as you'd like, and since they are so beautiful with great views, this could be a while!
My favorite spot is the lily pond in the center of it all, with female sculpture, Galatea on a Dolphin, and pretty trees all around.
Since the land around the castle slopes so steeply down, it feels very special to be on the tippy top of this mountain. It is a unique feeling and kids will love it. In fact, Hearst formally named the castle La Cuesta Encantada (The Enchanted Hill).
The private cinema is full of atmosphere, with fascinating Egyptian style sculptures holding lanterns.
The drought has affected the castle unfortunately, in that someone decided to close the toilets and only allow porta-potties (horrible!) in order to save water basically because no one can flush the toilet or wash their hands (gross!). And the huge outdoor Neptune Pool is dry, since 2014, because it was leaking as well as evaporating and wasting water. I remember seeing the pool as a child and being mesmerized by the checkered black and white marble flooring, ancient Roman temple facade, and the glimmering water. So to find it empty was a disappointment upon my return! There is, however, an exquisite deep blue indoor pool with Egyptian style decor.
The castle was built for newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, by famous architect Julia Morgan, over three decades in the first half of the 20th century. It is in gorgeous Spanish revival style, fashioned after a church in Ronda, Southern Spain, that Hearst enjoyed.
The Lady Gaga music video, G.U.Y., was filmed at the castle and the Neptune pool was filled for this event. There is awesome footage of the Egyptian style indoor pool. At the end there's a great panoramic shot of the castle from the air, plus the surrounding countryside and the ocean. Unfortunately, the video is not appropriate for kids.
Afterward, eat at nearby San Simeon Beach Bar and Grill, where you can see the ocean from their glassed-in patio.
After your visit, play in the sand at William R. Hearst Beach. You might see an elephant seal!
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Hearst Castle is located at 750 Hearst Castle Rd, San Simeon, CA 93452, call (800) 444-4445.
Open daily 8-4. Closed Jan 1, Thanksgiving Day (fourth Thurs in Nov), and Dec 25.
Tour costs $25 for adults, and $12 for children aged 5-12. Children under 5 enter for free.
Purchase your tickets and choose your tour time online. It's always good to reserve ahead, and further ahead during busy times of year.
San Simeon Beach Bar and Grill, 9520 Castillo Dr, San Simeon, CA 93452.
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Overall Visitor Rating: Unrated.