Five Reasons To Visit (Again)
There’s no shortage of eye candy when you live on the Central Coast. From the scenic hikes and dynamic surfs in Santa Cruz to the breathtaking landscapes of Pebble Beach, Carmel and Big Sur, it’s hard to find yourself bored here. When the economy began mood swinging back in 2008, locals who were hoping to be more financially responsible began turning to “staycationing” rather than, say, taking longer trips across the country. Naturally, this gave people more of an opportunity to appreciate the scenic gems found in their own backyard.
Hearst Castle in San Simeon is, perhaps, the most breathtaking jewel among the bunch and it will certainly always be worthy of some attention—no matter what the economic conditions.
A recent excursion to the iconic portal built by publishing magnet William Randolph Hearst and architect Julia Morgan, validates what we already knew: That there really is no place like it on the planet.
Not that locals and visitors would need much nudging to consider a visit, but here are five more notables:
Few people are actually aware of the castle’s backstory. William’s father, George, purchased 40,000 acres of land back in 1865 and by the time William inherited his father’s “estate” in 1919, it had sprawled out to more than 250,000 acres. William's original thought was to give birth to a retreat, but it soon became something more than that once he began collaborating with Morgan, a well-known San Francisco architect at the time. They had no idea, however, that it would take decades to create Hearst’s dream castle, which, by 1947, boasted 165 rooms, more than 100 acres of lush gardens and several dreamy pools. After its unveiling, it soon became a powerful point of interest, yes—Hearst had become famous by that point—but also a haven for celebrated Hollywood stars (Marion Davies among them) and other inventive souls who gathered there with Hearst in many a think-tank.
I visited the castle with several other people and I recommend experiencing the big-screen theater presentation—first—before anything else. It’s just across the patio from the large visitor/check-in center. For starters, the 30-40 minute presentation gives you an extensive backstory into how the castle came into being and the acting and story are actually engaging. (You can view historic castle footage here and actually find old film strips and cameras in the lobby.) Once you’re up on the castle grounds, you can see Heart’s in-castle theater. It’s a somewhat haunting yet eye-opening experience once it sinks in that Hearst and Davies always entertained guests in the theater after festive dinner parties.
Grand Room Tours
This seems to be one of the more popular tours as it gives you a memorable if not extensive overview of some of the estate’s history. The tour guides are downright savvy—they have to be because to become a guide one must basically go through an extensive course of Hearst’s history and proper etiquette. Our guide, like most others I imagine, was upbeat and pointed out interesting factoids about several of the rooms—how many people were seated at the monstrous dining room table. for instance, and, if you were a guest for more than, say, three occasions, where you would have been seated at that table. (Hearst wanted to get to know his guests first-hand so, often, he’d seat them closer toward the middle, where he typically sat. Meanwhile, if you always knew you overstayed your welcome if were seated on the outer edges of that grand table.) Other rooms, those used for socializing, stood out, too, but my entourage and I were impressed by not only how much the guides actually knew but also by how interested they seemed to be in what they were communicating.
There are a few of them here—outside and in. Both are mammoth. Both are unforgettable. But if we had to pick—the outside trumps the inside. Travelers may not know this until they arrive at the castle, but after taking a Grand Rooms tour, or tour of the upstairs suites or cottages, visitors are free to explore the Neptune Pool area outside. It was originally built back in the ’20s, but went through several enlargements. Serpentine tiles and tons—literally—of marble adorn the area. It’s quite a sanctuary. Occasionally, you can find a tour guide nearby. I asked one what he loved most about working at the castle. His broad smile told me everything: “Are you kidding? Look at the view!” Again, the amount of knowledge these guides hold is impressive. He went on and on about the grounds below and the ranchland and got into more details about its evolution. Good to know: You can lounge by the pool as long as you want, so plan on staying a while and feeling spoiled. We did.
We spent about 45 minutes exploring the lush areas just outside of the castle itself and definitely worth checking out. Fun game: find a statue and pose just like that figure in front of it.
The ride up to and down from Hearst Castle from the main visitor center takes about 15-20 minutes. It’s a spirited trip and you learn more about the castle and the land it was built on, on the way up. Those familiar with the landscape of Big Sur will appreciate the views of San Simeon and the powerful Pacific, but you can learn more about what Heart’s father envisioned for the ranch and what Hearst himself used some of the property for—his zoo was a huge attraction for his Hollywood guests, for instance. There’s a vast array of native animals still living on the ranchlands.
Learn more about Hearst Castle, prices and look into various tours by clicking here.
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