Friday, November 7, 2008

Hearst Castle, San Simeon, California

In the 1920's, William R. Hearst started building what is truly a castle as his private retreat. This is a magnificent, one of a kind estate built on top of a hill overlooking the Pacific coast, and is a destination that you won't want to miss. To give a little historical context, Hearst's parents' wealth was made in silver and other mining in the late 1800's - this provided them the means to purchase over 390 square miles of land along the coast and hills near San Simeon. Hearst grew up camping on this land and grew to love what it had to offer. As an adult, he became a newspaper and publishing mogul, thus becoming extremely wealthy in his own right. After his mother's death, Hearst inherited this land and almost immediately began his dream of building what he called "better accommodations" than the temporary camp that he was used to all these years.

In the 1920's construction started, and with his ever-changing visions coupled with his interest in the creative process of building, he had built, but never completed, Hearst Castle. Through the heyday years, Hearst shared his private retreat with many celebrities, movie stars and politicians of the time. Name someone famous back then and they probably were a guest at Hearst Castle.

Hearst decorated the gardens, the outdoor Greco-Roman style Neptune pool and inside each building with lavish European antiques that he purchased through auctions. These items ranged from 500 year old doors from Spanish churches to ornate hand-carved wooden ceilings from Italy. The gardens contain many stone statues that were imported, including one that was 34 centuries old from Egypt. Inside the house, the furnishings rivaled what you would see touring the famous castles of England. Every piece of furniture, tapestry and picture is a an antique. The entire estate is more of a museum than a part-time retreat as Hearst used it.

Hearst also had a great love for animals. So much so that during the 1930's he had one of the largest zoos of the time. He had polar, brown and black bears as well many species of big cats, including lions. He also imported many types of grazing animals including Zebras and Kangaroos. Most animals later were donated to California zoos, but there are still Zebra that you can see grazing along side Highway 1 as you approach the castle.

In the 1950's after Hearst died, his family sold the castle and over 100 acres of land to the State of California. The state made it into an historic monument and started sharing this wonderful place with visitors. The Hearst family retained ownership of the remaining land, which is still an active cattle ranch to this day.
The State Park service offers five different tours of the various buildings, gardens and pools. Each tour takes you into a different combination of houses, rooms, floors and areas in the gardens. Also each tour is offered several times a day so you can go to multiple tours, as we did. If you only have time for one tour, then definitely take Tour 1 - The Experience Tour. This will give you a good broad exposure.

Because of all the grandeur, we felt one tour wasn't enough to see all that we wanted to see so we took Tour 1 - The Experience Tour first, which included an additional 45-minute movie about the making of Hearst Castle. We also took Tour 2, which included more of Casa Grande, the main house of the estate. Tour 1 is what most people take, and this was a tour of 55 people, which was a bit much. The tour takes you through one (of the three) guest house, the Neptune Pool, the indoor pool, and a few of the larger rooms of Casa Grande (again, the main house). There were a few too many people on this tour, although it was a good overall perspective. The second tour we took was Tour 2 - this included the Neptune pool again, the indoor pool again, and all of the rooms of Casa Grande. This tour was much more intimate - about 8 of us with one tour guide. We were able to ask questions of any sort, and get to know the castle and the man a bit better. This tour was more to our liking.

Here are a few tips we learned to make your day more enjoyable:

1. If you take more than one tour, book them at least 30 minutes apart if you want something to eat between the tours. We didn't do this at first, and had only 15 minutes between tours. However, we arrived at Hearst Castle early, and moved our first tour time up a bit earlier, and moved out second tour back about 20 minutes. This gave us enough time between tours to use the restroom and eat our picnic lunch.

2. There is (an expensive) cafeteria there, if you want to eat between tours. As mentioned, we brought a picnic lunch and went out to our car to eat - this worked out very well.

3. There are often announcements of open seats on tours that may be earlier than the one you reserved, so listen for these announcements.

4. If you take Tour 1, there is a movie of the making of the castle that comes with your admission price (which, by the way is $20/per person/per tour). You can see this movie before or after your tour.

5. You can reserve tickets early by booking online with ReserveAmerica. It is recommend that you pre-order tickets. Surprisingly, there's no charge for this service.

Check below the adsense for more - there are two posts today - the one below if about the Elephant Seals we saw!!!


Anonymous said...

hmmm! this looks like a very cool place to visit. i think tom's been there. i'd like to see it sometime :)


Suzanne and Brad said...

I'm sure you'll get some decorating ideas!!! :-) Of course, you need a billion or so....

jean said...

Hey, looks interesting. I like your own tips, quite helpful information. :) Best luck with your trips.
local guides, local wisdom

Suzanne and Brad said...

Thanks, Jean! Good to "meet" you. :-)

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