Glowing in the sun on a distant mountain top, sits Hearst Castle. Named “La Cuesta Encantada” (The Enchanted Hill) by William Randolph Hearst, a dreamer and successful publishing magnate, it’s famous for its history, artwork and architecture.Bringing History to a Hilltop
Hearst’s passion for history, antiques and castles was born when his mother took him on the Grand Tour of Europe, a trip regularly done by the wealthy to expose their children to culture in the 1800s and early 1900s. As a successful publishing magnate, he accumulated enough wealth to fulfill a dream of building a home such as nobody had ever seen, in the beloved place he had camped as a boy – the San Simeon area.
Hearst purchased 40,000 acres, and in 1919, construction commenced under renowned architect, Julia Morgan. Exhibiting extensive patience with her client – who was constantly changing her plans, it took her craftsman 28 years of continuous work to complete the castle. Work continued even after Hearst took up residence. No expense was spared, and innovative building techniques (for that era) such as steel beams and concrete were used to protect the home from earthquake tremors.
The magnate had bought treasures from around the world during his many travels (before countries began to restrict such purchases, particularly for antiquities). By 1947, there were 165 rooms, Filled with priceless antiques, sculptures, even whole pieces of buildings. Plus 127 acres of pools, terraces, gardens and walkways. Hearst so enjoyed designing and building, that it never ended, and in 1951, when he died, it remained unfinished.Perched Among the Clouds
Today Hearst’s legendary castle is a California State Historical Monument and a part of the State Parks system. Visitors are bussed from the Visitor’s Center up to the castle, which is often perched above the clouds that roll in from the nearby Pacific.
The sheer size of the castle and its grounds has resulted in it being parsed out into different tours. I took the Grand Rooms tour, wanting the get the full flavor and see as much as possible. Done in a Mediterranean Revival style, with white stucco and tile rooftops, there is so much to see, it is an optical feast. From sumptuous marble statuary to hand-carved roof beams to intricate tile, no detail was ignored.
Grand stairways escort you about the flower-filled property. Overhead looms the twin-towered Spanish cathedral, the Casa Grande. The ornate Neptune pool is spangled with light, surrounded by a shaded patio. Every room is a work of art in itself, tastefully combining so many elements that at times, you are spinning like a top, trying to take it all in. There is the Refectory, the Billiard Room, the Roman Pool, to name a few. Each room comes with a story, and the knowledgeable guides willingly answer a bombardment of questions.
My favorite was the gorgeous Theater. The room is “papered” in scarlet velvet, and carved and gilt-clad Grecian goddesses “support” the ceiling, clasping candelabra which cast a dim glow in the dark interior. Hearst’s guests were indulged with the opportunity to preview films, a special treat in the golden age of movies. He was extensively involved with the theatre industry, and his many guests included Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, Bing Crosby and Clark Gable.If You Go
Hearst castle is open daily except major holidays. Tickets can be purchased online athttp://hearstcastle.org
, or at the Visitors Center. Do note it gets very busy in the summer, so reservations are recommended.
Guides both lead and follow the group to ensure that nobody stays behind, leaves the walkway, or touches any of the often priceless objects. You can choose from different guided tours such as the Grand Rooms, Upstairs Suites, and Cottages & Kitchen, depending on your time, interests and stamina. Walking shoes are a must, because there are many stairs (there are Accessibly Designed Tours for those who have trouble with stairs). The website profiles each tour, cost, and includes number of stairs, duration, and areas visited. Do see “Building the Dream” at Hearst Castle Theater – it provides a lot of fascinating insights and details, and is usually included with the ticket price.
Located on Route 1, just half an hour north of Morro Bay, it’s approximately a four-hour drive from the Valley. I recommend staying in Morro Bay or nearby Cambria, both lovely towns that make for a perfect weekend getaway.