Hearst Castle a California Treasure
Hearst Castle is a place I had heard of many times having lived in California pretty much all of my life, but I had yet to take the trip up the coast to see it. So when my friend Lia suggested we drive up to Hearst Castle it I was excited to go and check it out. Hearst Castle was purchased in 1865 by George Hearst a wealthy businessman and U.S. Senator. The over 250,000 acres of ranch land on the California coast in San Simeon was inherited by George Hearst’s son and newspaper publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst in 1919. Hearst commissioned architect Julia Morgan to help him build the resort of his dreams. Julia Morgan was the first woman to receive a certification in architecture from L’École des Beaux-Arts in Paris and California’s first licensed female architect.
Lia and I decided to drive up to Hearst Castle from Santa Barbara on a Saturday. There are several different options for the tours so make sure you visit the website to plan your visit. Luckily for us we arrived just at the right time before the 60 minute Grand Rooms tour began. We purchased tickets for $25 when we arrived, but you can also reserve tickets in advance from the Hearst Castle website. To get to the castle which is all the way up on top of what is called the “enchanted hill” so you must take a bus. The bus goes up the winding roads of the ranch and driving up the road it transports you back to the time when Hearst and his guests would arrive at the property.
The Tour of Hearst Castle
Upon arriving at the top of the hill I was just blown away by the expansive view and the beautiful sculptural entrance. The castle in many ways was built to feature Hearst’s amazing art collection and everywhere you look there are beautiful sculptures. Hearst Castle has 165 rooms and 127 acres of gardens. Our tour guide led us around the grounds and the outdoor Neptune pool. The Neptune pool is currently empty since it is leaking and in need of repairs, but the location is so gorgeous and would be perfect for a wedding when the pool is fixed. We were then led into the main part of the castle which is called Casa Grande where Hearst’s guests gathered in the splendid social rooms on the ground floor. Again we were amazed by the beautiful architecture of the rooms along with the paintings, tapestries and sculptures.
The Grand Rooms tour takes you through Assembly Room, Refectory, Billiard Room and movie theater. Once you arrive at the movie theater you are invited to enjoy some of Hearst’s home movies featuring some of his famous friends.
After completing the tour you are able to wander the grounds on your own before taking the bus back down the hill. We enjoyed taking pictures and walking around for awhile. Then we made our way down to see the indoor Roman pool.
I had heard of the Roman pool which is quite famous and it is truly spectacular. The reflections on the still water of the pool and details of the marble sculptures surrounding the pool were so lovely. The Roman pool was built in the style of an ancient Roman bath such as the Baths of Caracalla in Rome c. 211-17 CE. The roman pool is covered with stunning blue and gold mosaic tiles. The mosaic designs created by the tiles were developed by muralist Camille Solon. Both of the pools at Hearst castle were undoubtedly the setting of many lively parties for Hearst and his famous guests.
Having spent the afternoon at such an interesting historical site I really wished I could have been alive and visited the castle during it’s glory years. Hoping back on the bus to head down the windy road to the bottom of the hill we passed Hearst’s zoo. Hearst established an impressive menagerie, formally called the Hearst Garden of Comparative Zoology, during his time at the castle. The bus driver told us the story of one of Hearst’s bears that kept escaping. Hearst began selling off the animals in response to financial difficulties and after his death, most of the remaining animals were donated to zoos. The zebras, however, along with some other species like elk, sheep and goats, were allowed to roam free on the mountainside. Today, descendants of those zebras can still be seen on the property.
Hearst castle is now a State Park and hopefully it will continue to be preserved so that many generations will be able to enjoy the beauty and history of this special place. Before leaving San Simeon we had to stop and visit the elephant seals who rest there and watch the sunset. It was a beautiful day!