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Dive into Insane Royal Lifestyle of a Media Mogul at Hearst Castle

 Welcome to Hearst Castle

We were planning for our San Jose to Los Angeles road trip and looking for potential stops enroute. We were taking the legendary Highway 1 hence the source of information was enormous. Every forum we visited and every blog we read did recommend one definite stop - the Hearst Castle. After reading it a few times, we were inquisitive about what it actually was. Some research later, we included it on our itinerary. And, without a doubt, we add ourselves to the list of people who would recommend you visit the castle. The peek into the royal lifestyle of a media mogul is unmissable.

Hearst Castle is located in the town of San Simeon slightly off the Cabrillo Highway or Highway 1. The scenic highway is perfect for a road trip and this site becomes a logical stop on your route. Almost equal distance from San Francisco and Los Angeles, this is a perfect break on your trip. Please read our article for more details about the road trip including various stops at SantaBarbara Roadtrip - Driving Down Highway 1

Hearst Castle - An Introduction

The story of the castle starts in 1919 when William Randolph Hearst inherited a large amount of ranchland owned by his parents. The media influencer along with his architect, Julia Morgan, dreamt of a large estate on the land. The estate would be one of its kind and act as a holiday retreat for Williams. They named it La Cuesta Encantada—Spanish for “Enchanted Hill”. The name followed the absolutely stunning scenery amidst which the estate was set up. The land oversaw the town of San Simeon and was along the Pacific coast of California.

By 1947, the hilltop complex included a twin-towered main building, three sumptuous guesthouses, and 127 acres of terraced gardens, fountains, and pools. Each corner of the estate was built based on careful specifications of Hearst. Hearst had to leave the location because of health concerns when the estate was still a work in progress. During his stay, Hearst would frequently invite celebrities from various walks of life and offer them hospitality beyond imagination.

The magnificent estate or glorified museum as it is today is a living testimony of the royal life that the media influence led at his time. The estate is a California State Park and the organization is preserving and protecting the monument for future generations. We bring to you a first-hand experience of visiting the beautiful abode and some aspects of the site that you may want to know before your visit.

The Imposing Building - Casa Grande

The Hearst Castle Visitor Center

This is your first stop on your visit to the Castle. Located in an imposing building right in the middle of the massive parking lot, this is a good place to start. You will feel welcomed from the moment you enter the center. The guides at the reception desk are courteous and offer a good overview of the facility. They are quick to help you choose one of the many available tours. They offered us an option to choose out of four different tours but recommended the Grand Room tour. Apparently, this is one most suited for first-time visitors and has the least number of stairs. It suited us as we were with a toddler and strollers are not allowed on the tour. Please visit the official portal for details on tours and hours.

Yes, folks coming with kids - kindly note that tours do not allow strollers. They offer the infant carry-ons if you are up for it. You can keep your strollers at the theatre building which is adjoining the visitor center. Ticket windows are efficient in their purpose. They would quickly have you ready for your tour. Again be aware that they do not accept American Express cards - so you need to either carry one of the other platforms or cash ready. The center also houses a decent food outlet and a coffee shop along with a large seating area.

The Interior of Visitor Center

The tickets have the tour time that you are on and they recommend being ready to board the bus a couple of minutes in advance. They are, however, flexible in accommodating you on different tours. Also, while they recommend advance booking for the tours, we saw that availability was not an issue, even though we were there on a weekend. This could change during summers though, which is the busiest time on this road.

Ride Up-hill on the Bus

The first views of the castle are offered during your bus ride. So stay focused and do not consider this as an innocuous medium to a larger good. The bus ride up the hill to the castle is an important part of the overall experience of your visit. The ride takes you through the vast estate and provides glimpses of various gardens and orchards. The guide provides an overview of the history and setup of the castle on the ride up.

Cattle Ranch - Views on the Bus Tour

Catch Glimpses of Wildlife - Largest Private Zoo

The bus ride takes about 10 minutes to cover the 5-mile distance. During the journey, you would also notice cattle grazing along the slopes. The castle had one of the largest private zoos in the world. These grazing lands hosted varied wildlife which has since dwindled. However, you can still site deers or zebras even today. As the bus negotiates the curves, you can catch a glimpse of the majestic castle up the hill. The ride also introduces visitors to the paddock where Hearst's guests would ride horses.

The Walking Part - The Grand Room Tour

The guide welcomes you to the castle as you disembark from the bus. Most tours have about 20 guests. After a brief overview and setting the rules of the game, the tour begins.

The Exterior - Gardens and the Pools

The Gardens
Gardens Around Hearst Castle

As the tour starts, the guide takes you through the gardens and the fruit orchards. You will notice beautiful sculptures and pieces of art all around the gardens. Statues and pillars embellish most of the gardens and walkways. as you move along, you find fruits hanging from fruits and nicely manicured lawns.

Neptune Pool
The Neptune Pool - Art, Entertainment & Nature

A few steps ahead, you are welcomed by a mesmerizing outdoor pool with aesthetic pillars around. This is the Neptune Pool - an ornamental swimming pool. Hearst took a keen interest in the specifications of the pool during its construction. In fact, the pool was built in three phases and is the result of the third and the largest upgrade. This is a heated pool using an oil-burning heating system. There are 4 beautiful sculptures around it and the pool has an artistic verandah. The views across the pool add to the overall charm with the Pacific Ocean in the far-field and lush green slopes in the near.

Roman Pool

The Roman Pool - Golden Lining on Tiles

The other pool open to the public is the Roman Pool. This is an indoor pool that has been inspired by an ancient Roman bath. There are statues of Roman God, Goddesses, and heroes. The entire pool from ceiling to floor is decorated in blue square mosaic tiles. The intense colors and shimmering gold of the tiles combine to create a breathtaking effect. The tiles have an actual 24-carat gold lining which glows and visitors get to actually "walk on gold".

The tours start with the gardens and take you through the Neptune Pool before entering the mansion. Towards the end of the tour, you get time to explore the gardens and the pools at your pace. Roman Pool is the last point on your tour which you pass through before boarding the return bus to the visitor center.

The Mansion Inside - Four Grand Rooms

Once you are inside the mansion through a small side-door, you are inside a dream house with wealth spread all around. The royalty is evident in each corner to mesmerize you for long. The Grand Tour takes you through five key rooms of the building. Here is a brief description of the 4 rooms.

Assembly Room

The Assembly Room - Look at the Art around

This is the first room when you enter the mansion on the tour. This is a grand social room where the guests were received and entertained over coffee and cocktail. The room is decorated in walnut paneling and rich art.

Dining Room

This room adorns a long dining table with all the amenities needed. Hearst named the room Refectory based on the name of monastery dining rooms. It is believed that when the guests first arrived they were seated next to Mr. Hearst who would take the center place. As days passed, they would move a seat farther each time.

The Dining Room - Refractory
Billiards Room

This was apparently the most popular room of the time. Guests would spend hours over pool or billiards, chatting on various aspects of life. The room has a sports theme with an artistic ceiling.

The Billiards Room
Theatre Room

This is the last room of the tour. Today, the theatre runs footage of the castle with glimpses of the guests who visited the retreat. Mr. Castle used to join his guests to watch full-length movies in this theatre.

The Movie Theatre

Watch the History of Castle at the Theatre

There is a movie theatre adjoining the visitor center. The theatre telecasts a movie specially developed for the castle. The movie depicts the story of the conceptualization of the castle. Also, the movie includes exclusive footage that provides rich context and overview into the history of this mansion and life of Mr. Hearst. The tickets for the tours include the price of the movie but you could purchase one separately too.

Hearst Castle is a result of the careful preservation of a historic museum. It is a great insight into an influential man

Let us end the article with a coffee!

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