Hearst Castle

Hearst Castle

Newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst’s request to architect Julia Morgan in 1919 to “build a little something,” because he was tired of camping, mushroomed into “La Casa Grande,” a 115 room twin- towered main house, four guest houses, two pools containing over a half million gallons of water, eight acres of gardens, and the largest private zoo in the world with a full-time veterinarian on staff. Despite mansions in New York, Wales, Santa Monica, and Long Island, San Simeon became the place he felt most at home and where he spent the rest of his life. It became “America’s Castle” when it was donated by the Hearst family to the state of California in 1958. (Hearst died in 1951.)

Prepare to be impressed if you’ve never seen Hearst’s “little something,” rising 1600 feet above the Pacific Ocean on his “Enchanted Hill.” What looks like a Mediterranean cathedral, Hearst Castle was originally the private San Simeon, California retreat of multimillionaire Hearst, who was also a movie producer, and his long-time companion, actress Marion Davies. They entertained their famous guests, Hollywood royalty like Cary Grant, Greta Garbo, and Gary Cooper who were overnight guests. Charlie Chaplin played tennis on the courts above the Roman pool. World luminaries such as President Calvin Coolidge, Winston Churchill, Charles Lindbergh, and George Bernard Shaw ate a typically late 9 p.m. dinner with the publisher on long, narrow, 300-year-old monastic refectory tables under French Gothic windows. Meals were not complete without mustard and ketchup bottles and Mr. Hearst’s requisite paper napkins.

Hearst was a collector at heart and his home reflects his passion for art and architecture. Gothic period tapestries, gleaming travertine marble floors, an extensive collection of antique silver, carved monastic ceilings, and priceless statuary and paintings fill the rooms. This is a grand house turned grander museum. The ground floor alone contains 7,238 feet of living space, with a total of 69,000 square feet for the aptly nicknamed the “Big House.” With 58 bedrooms, two libraries containing over 100,000 volumes and 49 bathrooms, this is the place that Hearst referred to simply as “the ranch.” As a patron of the arts Hearst donated over 900 items, including tapestries, illuminated manuscripts, Greek vases, paintings, and statues, which became the basis for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Those items were featured in a 2008 LACMA exhibition called, “Hearst the Collector.”

Buses take visitors up the 5 mile winding road from the Visitor Center to the castle itself. There are five guided tours of the property available:

Tour #1: “The Experience Tour” is the most popular. This tour is a must for first-time visitors. Highlights are the Casa Grande, the main house, the esplanade and gardens, and the Casa del Sol, an eighteen room guesthouse. Included in this tour is the fascinating 40 minute film “Hearst Castle - Building the Dream,” presented in the on-site Imax theater, with its five-story screen.

Note : Tours #1, #2, #3, and #4 ticket prices are $24 for adults and $12 for youth, ages 6-17. Children under 6 are free with paying adult.

Tour #2: “Casa Grande,” is a guided tour of the upper floors of the main house which are not part of the first tour and include the castle library with its Ancient Greek and Roman antiquities and 4000 books, Hearst’s private suite, four guestrooms, the “Doge’s Suite” modeled after the Doge’s Palace in Venice, and the kitchen and pantry where daily meals were prepared.

Tour#3: “Casa Grande North,” is more of the main Casa Grande, including the unfinished North Terrace (which was originally intended as the Grande Entrance,) Casa del Monte, a 10 room guesthouse, and the North Wing which was completed near the end of Hearst’s life and featured three floors of more spacious and modern guest rooms. This tour also features a short video of historical photos and films showing the construction of the house from the 1920’s and 1930’s.

Tour#4: “The Garden Tour” is only offered from April through October. Casa del Mar, the largest guest house and Hearst’s residence until the main house was completed, is part of this tour. (Casa del Mar is also where Hearst spent the last years of his life.) The Neptune Pool with its 17 colorful dressing rooms is included as is the indoor Roman Pool and an overview of the gardens, terraces and walkways. The hidden terrace, discovered during recent renovation, and the wine vault containing vintages dating from 1848, are intriguing sidelights not available on the other tours.

Tour #5 The “Evening Tour” is available Friday and Saturday evenings from March to May and September to December. This is extremely popular tour sells out fast, especially from mid-November through the end of December when the Castle is decorated for Christmas. Costumed docents roam the grounds, dressed as guests would have been during Hearst’s time in residence. Highlights from Tours #1, #2 and #4.

Note: The “Evening Tour” ticket prices are $30 for adults and $15 for youth ages 6-17. Children under 6 are free with paying adult.

A recently added self-guided tour is the “Gardens and Vistas Tour.” While the other castle tours are necessarily time-limited, this is an opportunity to walk the grounds in the late afternoon until a half-hour after sunset. (No buildings are included in this tour, though.) There are guides stationed to answer questions. “Gardens and Vistas Tour” is offered from mid-March through mid-June on Friday and Saturday late afternoons and daily from June 27 through Labor Day. Included in the $24 (adult) or $12 (youth ages 6-17) admission is the movie “Hearst Castle - Building the Dream,” shown in the IMAX theater.

Hearst Castle is 40 minutes from Paso Robles on Highway 1 at 750 Hearst Castle Road, San Simeon, CA 93452-9740 From Paso Robles take US 101 South to CA 46 West toward Cambria. Turn right onto Highway 1 North and go past Cambria 9 miles to San Carpoforo Creek and turn right again. Parking is free at the Visitor’s Center.

Note: As you drive north on Hwy. 1 near San Simeon, watch for grazing zebra, descendants of those acquired by Hearst for his private zoo.

Reservations are strongly encouraged and may be made at (800) 444- 4445 for U.S. reservations, (916) 414-8400 x 4100 for outside U.S. or online @ www.hearstcastle.org .

Note: A virtual tour of Hearst Castle is available at: www.regal360.com/clients/hearst/hearstcastle/index.html or www.hearstcastle.org