Hearst Castle sits 1600 feet above California’s Pacific Coast Highway half-way between San Francisco and Los Angeles. It was once the summer home of media mogul William Randolph Hearst. Hearst inherited the property from his family in 1919. He had spent time camping on the property during his childhood and loved it. Hearst commissioned Julia Morgan, California’s first licensed female architect, to create La Cuesta Encanta (the Enchanted Hill). They worked on the project together for 28 years. Hearst passed away before the castle was complete and it remains incomplete today. After his death, Hearst Castle was donated to the state and it is now a California State Park.
Hearst was married. Reportedly, his wife did not like the castle and resided on the East Coast with their children. Hearst resided in the castle with his girlfriend Marion Davies. Davies was an actress before meeting Hearst. He took over managing her career and promoted her heavily in the 1930’s. It was well known she was his mistress. When Hearst died he left 51% of his estate to her. Davies gave it back to the family. She had her own money and was never after his as had been rumored.
The Enchanted Hill was a playground for Hollywood’s Elite during the 1920’s and 1930’s and Davies was the hostess. Guests included Charlie Chaplin, Clark Gable, Cary Grant, the Marx Brothers, Joan Crawford, James Stewart and Bob Hope. Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt also spent time at the castle. Hearst only invited people he believed were interesting and amused him. He worked during the day while his guests enjoyed the property. They dined together at night. Upon arrival, a guest would be seated next to Hearst at the long table. Each evening the guest was moved further down the table until they reached the end, signaling it was time to leave.
Hearst was an art collector. He had warehouses full of priceless art and furniture from all cultures, periods and styles. He took advantage of Europe’s poor economic state after World War I and bought entire rooms, including the ceiling. Morgan designed the castle around his purchases. The front of Casa Grand is a façade from a cathedral in Ronda Spain.
Hearst Castle is a 250,000-acre estate. It is a working ranch with a main house, 3 guest homes, two swimming pools, tennis court, zoo, theater, airport and 127 acres of garden. The main house has 115 rooms. There are 38 bedrooms; two Celestial bedrooms of gold for VIP guests are located in the bell towers. The outdoor Neptune Pool has a Roman Temple façade that was transported from Europe and reconstructed on site. The indoor Roman pool is a replica of the Baths of Caracalla in Rome. There are eight statues of Gods and Goddesses. The pool itself is covered with 3 million Murano glass tiles in blue, orange and clear with inlaid gold. The theater seats 50; Hearst only showed films from his own movie studio, Cosmopolitan Productions. The Grand Rooms tour ends in the theater with footage from Hearst home movies.
Visiting Hearst Castle
The castle sits five miles above the visitor center overlooking the Pacific Ocean. You must purchase a tour to visit the grounds. Check the tour options here. Consider purchasing your ticket(s) online as tours do sell out. Arrive 40 minutes early and view the Building a Dream film before your tour begins. You will also hear commentary during the 15-minute shuttle drive up the Enchanted Hill to the castle. Allow time to explore the gardens and grounds before taking the return shuttle. Download the Hearst Castle App to your phone for a self-guided tour of the grounds. Make sure to stop for photos from the balconies of the guest homes. Water is allowed at the castle; other food and drinks are not. I suggest purchasing two tours and spending a half day at Hearst Castle. Watch Citizen Kane prior to your visit; it is rumored to be based on Hearst’s life and is an American classic.
Don’t miss the elephant seals at Piedras Blancas before leaving the area. The beach is full of newborns in December. Also consider making a stop at Nit Wit Ridge to view a poor man’s castle, tours are by appointment only. Then take a walk along the Moonstone Beach boardwalk or search the sand for moonstones. Finish the day with wine tasting in Cambria.
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