If you want to take a trip to a life experience straight out of The Great Gatsby, visit and tour the Hearst Castle. It’s a National Historic Landmark and a California Historic Landmark perched high atop a hill in San Simeon on the Central Coast of California with an incredibly interesting history behind it. It’s no wonder that this estate is the Hearst “Castle” because it does feel like some place from fantasyland.
I recommend that you make reservations before you go, because at peak tourist times time slots for tours can fill up. Also bring an extra layer because our tour guide told us that the temperature change between the top of the hill and the bottom can be pretty drastic!
The estate was designed by a close friend of newspaper owner William Randolph Hearst’s, architect Julia Morgan, between 1919 and 1947 as a whimsical residence for Hearst himself. In its prime in the 1920’s and 30’s it was a highly coveted place to receive an invitation to, for Hollywood stars and political figures because lavish parties and debauchery were the norm every night on this mountain, safe up away from the real world down below.
The estate is adorned with magnificent historic art pieces from all over the world and features 56 bedrooms, 61 bathrooms, 19 sitting rooms, 127 acres of gardens, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, tennis courts, a movie theater, an airfield, and the world’s largest private zoo which was once a home to exotic animals as well like lions (sometimes they startled the guests…). Zebras can still be seen roaming the grounds even today. The estate was never fully complete in Hearst’s lifetime due to his innate perfectionism, of design. For example, the famous Neptune Pool was rebuilt three times before Hearst was satisfied.
For going on the tour, park at the big lot at the base of the grounds and go into the building with a multitude of stores and gift shops (even a professional photo taking opportunity) before you head up to the castle. A group shuttle bus will drive you up from the visitor’s center to the castle itself and during the 5 mile ascent you listen to a recording of Alex Trebek explain the history of the Castle and what you’re viewing on the mountain. The view of the ocean and the central coastline is impeccable.
Conner and I chose to take the “upstairs suites tour,” rather than the traditional “grand rooms tour,” because I did some research online and learned that it was a more intimate experience with a smaller tour group which even showed off Hearst’s own bedroom. In this 60 minute tour we were able to see Doge’s Suite, the Library, The Gothic Suite, Duplex Bedrooms, Celestial Suite, Gardens, Neptune Pool (which at this time June 2018 is empty of water) and the Roman Pool. The guide was incredibly knowledgeable and had so much passion for the history of the estate which made the experience enjoyable. Below is a gallery with photos of every room we saw:
My only regret is not doing the tour earlier in the day so that we could have more time to enjoy the gardens and the grounds. We did one of the last tours of the day at 4:10pm, and we didn’t have much time to explore the grounds or watch the included movie afterward since the “twilight” experience tours started soon after our own and we had to leave.
My favorite part of the tour was the absolutely incredible view 😉 I also really enjoyed the Roman Pool, which was unreal in its level of beauty and intricate detail.
To book your tour for Hearst Castle, visit their website. Tours are currently 25 dollars per person for adults and 12 dollars for children, with an 8 dollar reservation fee. Check out the rules of the ground here and be sure to appreciate every second of your experience perched atop the mountain with the best view on the Central Coast!
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