California Historic Destination: Hearst Castle

About halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, on the spectacular Pacific Coast Highway, you will find San Simeon Point. Atop the highest vantage point overlooking the coast is the historic Hearst Castle. Let’s Go Learn Things about….William Randolph Hearst

 

San Simeon, California

In spite of our many trips to California, we had never visited the iconic Hearst Castle.  The Hearst family developed a certain infamous notoriety in the 20th century. They were an integral part of California history, especially in the Central Coast region.  Even though I thought I had an idea of what to expect, this opulent estate with its vast proportions shocked me. The drive towards the Castle is sprawling ranch land and crashing surf. I expected the structure to be more fitted to that landscape, more of a massive timber house and less of a “castle”. Ridiculous, since the place is called Hearst Castle afterall.

Visiting Hearst Castle

The Visitor Center is a bustling, Disney-like atmosphere, with multiple tours to select from.  You need reservations for the tours and if you haven’t planned ahead (like us) you may need to kick around the museum/gift shop for a few hours waiting for your tour time. It is definitely worth the price and effort, a word to the wise — just book ahead.  The tours our split by which rooms or portions of the Castle you will see.  We did the Upstairs Suites because of timing and it was very interesting.  The Grand Rooms Tour with the Upstairs Tour would be the best combination if you had all day.  They shuttle you up to the Castle and  you are free to wander the grounds after your tour. Hearst lived an extraordinarily lavish life. The tour and museum do a great job of detailing his life and history.

Hearst Castle
Hearst Castle Visitor Center

William Randolph Hearst

Hearst made his riches in the print media industry. By pure chance, William Randolph Hearst acquired his first newspaper, the San Francisco Examiner, from his father George Hearst. George Hearst had won the newspaper as payment for a gambling debt and passed it on to William to “play” with. As they say, “the rest is history”. William Randolph Hearst went on to buy up over two dozen newspapers across the country. He branched out into motion pictures and the popular newsreels of the 1930’s and eventually early television productions.

As often happens, the tycoon became involved in politics as well. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, representing New York in 1902.

William Randolph Hearst was an odd duck in my book. I think he might be diagnosed as a hoarder in today’s world.  He was a rich eccentric, who lived beyond his means most of his life.  He and his mother, Phoebe Apperson Hearst, collected rare pieces of art and antiquities. William Randolph Hearst inherited the estate from his mother in 1919. He proceeded to gobble up a total of 250,000 acres along the coast.

Enchanted Hill

Hearst conceived of a retreat he called La Cuesta Encantada—Spanish for “Enchanted Hill.” He hired Julia Morgan, one of the few female architects of the time, to produce his dreams. The estate was built to showcase Hearst’s unrivaled art collection.  Never quite complete, the building consists now of 165 rooms and 123 acres of gardens, terraces, pools and walkways. His collection is truly museum quality. Many of the rooms of the estate were created and designed around specific art periods.

Hearst definitely had a bent for extreme opulence. The rooms and the art felt heavy and unwelcoming.  I found it presumptive that many antiquities had been dismantled and turned into mundane objects, such as lamp shades and door knobs. Honestly after our tour of the Upstairs we were overcome by the “embarrassment of riches”.

Hearst Castle and Hollywood

It is a spectacularly beautiful setting. Positioned equidistant from Los Angeles and San Francisco, Hearst Castle became a playground for the rich and famous. As the shuttle climbed the incline to the castle I could imagine the glamorous arriving for a weekend of pampering.

 

 

Historic Mansions

It is always fascinating to tour historic mansions. They are an opportunity to learn about the lifestyles of days past. Mansions give us a glimpse of the socio-economic climate, cutting edge technology of the day, and personal values of the owners. For all of these reasons, a visit to Hearst Castle is a worthy road trip along the California coast. I recommend devoting  a whole day and booking tour tickets in advance.  We did not leave enough time to wander the impressive grounds and gardens. Do spend some time perusing the Visitor Center displays. These displays give a very thorough picture of the Hearst dynasty, and William Randolph Hearst specifically. The information about the ground-breaking work of architect Julia Morgan was also very informative.

Nitty-Gritty Details

Today the Hearst Castle is run by the California State Parks.

Hours: Opens Daily at 9:00 AM with the last tours starting at 4:00 PM

Prices: The Grand Rooms and Upstairs Suites tours are each $25 for adults and $12 for children 5-12

Directions: The museum is located right on Highway 1, exactly 4 hours from either San Francisco or Los Angeles.

 

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