Visiting Hearst Castle in San Simeon, CA
Joe and I have made it to San Francisco! We flew into LAX and drove up CA-1, the Pacific Coast Highway, in a new rental Mustang. We used the Garmin Virb to film our route, too! I'm looking forward to writing up about the whole trip with the video and all, but in the meantime, I wanted to highlight my favorite part of the trip so far: Hearst Castle.
Day 3 of our trip, the very first thing on the itinerary was Hearst Castle. We woke up in our lovely Cayucos, CA bed & breakfast, were treated to veggie frittatas and chicken sausage, and headed up CA-1 for about an hour and a half to the castle. One of my all-time favorite things is home tours of homesteads and estates and I think Hearst Castle is now my number one favorite home tour.
California Parks Hearst Castle Experience
There are three main tours of Hearst Castle plus a nighttime tour that includes actors and guides in period costumes and scenes. The three main tours are: Grand Rooms, Upstairs Suites, and Kitchens & Guest Cottages. Unfortunately, we only had time for one tour on our trip.
I chose the Upper Suites because as incredible as I'm sure the Grand Rooms tour is, I've seen plenty of ballrooms and dining rooms on other home tours before. I opted instead for the more intimate tour of personal bedrooms, the office and library. I don't regret choosing the Upper Suites, they were fabulous and I loved seeing their personal spaces. But, I definitely need to get back someday to do the other tours. If you are planning on seeing Hearst Castle, I would highly recommend making it a day trip and seeing each tour and roaming the grounds!
When you first arrive at Hearst Castle, you are welcomed at the visitors center, where you are directed to "board at gate 3" for the bus to the top of the hill. The bus ride is a 13 minute journey up a winding, precarious road to the mansion and is punctuated by Alex Trebek's narration of the outbuildings, animals (including zebras!), and pergola as you drive by. The views from the bus and from the hilltop are absolutely stunning.
At the top of the hill, on the Casa Grande steps, the tour groups are split up, and we joined our extremely knowledgeable guide, Janice. I was really impressed with the knowledge and dedication of the guides. Janice seemed to know the answer to every obscure question from our group. She seemed to know the history and provenance of each and every item in the rooms - and the rooms are thoroughly decorated and ornate. As we finished our tour, Janice even mentioned that she and the other guides are available to answer any questions we may have as we tour the gardens and grounds and if they didn't know the answer, they could call the Hearst historical library and find the answer for us.
The Upper Suites tour brought us through the bedrooms for Hearst's famous guests, his children's bedrooms, his private suite, and his mistress' bedroom as well as sitting rooms for the bedrooms, a few bathrooms, and Hearst's humongous office and library. When the tour ends, guests are invited to self-tour the grounds and outdoor areas. The outdoor pool is currently empty and under renovation and you can see the marble bottom. No matter which tour you choose, everyone exits through the indoor pool which is below the tennis courts. It is really something else.
History of William Randolph Hearst's Mediterranean Campsite
William Randolph Hearst built what we call Hearst Castle, La Cuesta Encantada, on the site of his father, George Hearst's ranch in San Simeon, CA. Since he was a boy, Hearst and his family had visited the ranch and camped on the site of the mansion he would build. His mother, Phoebe, didn't want him to build on their campsite, so he didn't begin construction until after her death, when he was in his 50s. La Cuesta Encantada and Hearst were the inspiration for Citizen Kane and his estate Xanadu.
Hearst was never finished with La Cuesta Encantada. He began construction in 1919 and continued until his health declined in 1947 saying he was about 50% finished. His architect, Julia Morgan, had a long a prolific career with over 700 buildings in her final portfolio. She was the first woman admitted to the architecture program at l'Ecole actionable supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris and the first woman architect licensed in California. Janice told us that Hearst Castle was something like her 503rd project and it was her biggest and longest lasting. Her buildings were known for their structural integrity, as many of hers survived the devastating 1906 earthquake.
Hearst never divorced his wife Millicent, but lived openly with his mistress actress and comedienne Marion Davies at her home in Los Angeles from around 1919. He was able to use La Cuesta Encantada more often since they were in California (Millicent stayed in New York). Because he was spending more time at the estate, Hearst had Morgan add an office where he would preview his newspapers before they were distributed in the morning. Our tour guide Janice told us that he and Marion would host celebrity guests into the night and when the festivities would die down around 1 AM, he would go to the office and work until dawn.
Many of the ceilings, pieces of art, and decor were 15th-18th century European and Mediterranean pieces collected by Hearst himself. Janice, who seemed to know everything about each piece, said that at one point, Hearst had the largest collection of Greek pots outside of Greece, over 150 of which were still on display in the Library on our tour. The Upper Suites ceilings were mostly divided up from historic European ceilings. But, the office and the Celestial Bedroom and adjoining sitting room each had ceilings specially fitted for the room and painted by a local San Franciscan (by way of England) painter named Camille Solon, which I loved.
Hearst Castle was incredible, as was the entire drive up the coast. I am in love with California now!