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San Simeon Hearst Castle Tour Review
Hearst Castle in San Simeon California tours
Years ago, I watched Citizen Kane for the first time, and became a huge fan of Orson Welles movies. Also I became fascinated by the inspiration for the film: William Randolph Hearst.
I was a college student studying to be a journalist and Hearst and Joe Pulitzer were the gold standards for the modern journalist. Living in northern California I had visited Hearst Castle as a child. I only vaguely remembered much of it.
The only thing I could remember was the outdoor Neptune pool, the inside pool and being very bored.
Some two decades later, my interest and passion for the place had matured.
On my 25th birthday I began an annual trek to the castle: The gardens and the artwork were magnificent, and with every subsequent visit the place became even grander and more fantastic. As much as I enjoyed the tours, I couldn't continue going every single year, so I'm glad I took lots of pictures.
I try to make it a point of visiting the castle every chance I get. However; It's been a while since I went there.
But, in the meantime, I decided to share some highlights of my multiple visits there and give a little interesting history about the home that William Randolph Hearst thought of as his favorite place in the world.
Located at 750 Hearst Castle Road, San Simeon, CA 93452-9740, the Hearst Castle San Simeon National Park offers magnificent and majestic tours of Newspaper Magnate William Randolph Hearst’s palatial estate.
Began as a pet project by Hearst 1919 (with construction and planning commencing with architect Julia Morgan) when he inherited the 3 ranchos in central Californiain 1917 from his mother’s will.
The land was a place that he fondly remembered visiting and camping at with his family in his youth.
He wished to build “a little something” on the site and it became his favorite of all his homes. He constantly had new additions and improvements on the estate while hosting both famous friends from Hollywood and important businessmen.
After his death in 1951 Hearst left the castle to the state of California so that all people could visit and enjoy the place as much as he had.
- Hearst Castle
The official web site of Hearst Castle. Includes tour information, historical sketches, news, special events, visitor information and QuickTime VR panoramic tours.
There are many stories and tales surrounding the famous guests; many of them were Golden Age Hollywood celebrities that were personal friends of Hearst’s live-in mistress Marion Davies: Dorothy Parker, Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks, Clark Gable, Errol Flynn and others. (Parker was asked to leave within one day of being there, and there were secret rendezous' in the indoor pool at 2 a.m.).
For most guests at the castle, they were never directly “asked” to leave; they were given subtle hints—the bed sheets weren’t freshly washed every day, or their seat at the dinner table was regularly moved down until it was at the last setting; if that didn't work they had their bags packed for them and a car waiting to take them to the airport.
Nowadays, of course, the castle is open to the general public for regular daily tours.
At the base of the hill there is a Visitor’s Center with a gift shop, food court, ticket booth and a theater. There are four different tours available, but for the most part, the first tour, tour one, is the best to get a good general tour of the entire castle.
At the beginning of the tour (if you get the “first time visitor” tickets—AKA: tour one) you are given the option to view a film at the theater that showcases Hearst's childhood, his early love of historic, european art and the construction of the castle—which he referred to as “The Ranch”.
After that, there is a 15 minutes bus ride up the 5 mile driveway to the top of the hill to the castle (on the bus there is a recording of more history of the castle and William Randolph Hearst.)
On exiting the bus at the entrance of the hilltop estate, you are met by the grandeur of the place.
There at the bottom of a great stone staircase is the tour guide who warmly greets you and, after a few brief touring instructions on proper behavior during the visit (no camera flashes, no wondering off, etc.), you begin the tour at the famous outdoor Neptune pool.
This pool began small (as almost everything at the castle) as a little pool for his children and was expanded into the grand heated Greek bath it is now.
Next to the pool is the changing rooms and two guest houses: Casa Del Mar (house of the sea) and Casa Del Sol (house of the sun).
Both of these homes offer beautiful views of the ocean and are adorned with antique paintings and floor rugs.
At the time they were built, in the 1920’s, they had a wonderful new bathroom commodity: the French Cascade (today known as a shower).
In between these two beautiful, classic Spanish-style guest houses and the main house (Casa Grande) in the fantastically beautiful Rose Garden.
The Rose Garden
The beautiful Rose Garden is filled with both lovely flowers and beautiful marble statues that give this little garden that great Mediterranean elegance that Hearst vividly and fondly remembered on his European tour with his mother as a child. (In the late 19th century, it was common for wealthy people to “go on tour” as opposed to a vacation that would last months).
His father, George, was a Colorado Silver Mine magnate. This family wealth allowed little William the fantastic luxury of a life filled with wonderment, without the concerns of expense--if he wanted something he could have it.
He even told his mother that he wanted to buy the Musée du Louvre.
Hearst’s newspaper, radio and film monopolies allotted him the finances to create the best parts of European splendor on the Californian coast.
One the more interesting things about the garden, and Heart’s love of artwork, is that during the late 19th and early 20th century people of means could buy ancient statues, pottery and artwork and keep them in their own private collections (such as Hearst’s acquisition of a 5000 years Egyptian obsidian statue that sits outside next the Rose Garden).
Today, this kind of thing is mostly unheard of and most of the ancient archaeological finds are housed in museums and not allowed into privates hands.
The main house, known as Casa Grande, is the largest and most lavishly decorated building on the hilltop. With multiple stories that range from the wine cellar to the duel bell towers, the building houses the main sitting room, the dining hall, a theatre, a huge kitchen and a game room.
The wine cellar wasn’t want I had hoped for; I had imagined some gothic stone work reminiscent of a Vincent Price movie. But the reality was that Hearst didn’t drink much and Marion Davies was an alcoholic. He tried his best to keep her from the drink. So the wine cellar was basically an underground white-walled stucco square room with wooden tables/tray holder varies bottles of local wines. Sad, I hopes for a gothic spectacle were dashed.
However, the rest of the place is beautiful. Directly below each of the grand bell towers are bedrooms known as the Celestial Suites. Below these rooms is the most important level of the building: the third floor. On the third floor is Hearst's bedroom, Marion Davies' bedroom (yes, they had separate bedroom—to maintain a level of modesty), Hearst’s gothic library (which boast the word largest collection of Greek pottery; either private or in a museum) and Hearst's study where he regularly labored on his newspaper empire well into the evening.
Other great commodities throughout the building is a private movie theater where Hearst and Davies would view (with guests) new movies—many of which were Davies’ film (which, of course, where produced by Hearst).
There is also a game room in the back of the house with billiards tables, that looks at onto a huge courtyard where Hearst would hold outdoor parties and luncheons.
Next to Casa Grande is one of the most well-known additions to the castle: the indoor pool.
Situated next to the hill that the main building sits on, the roof of the pool building is actually a large tennis court. Underneath the court, the beautiful pool sits. It has real gold flakes molded onto glass titles in the pool and they reflect natural light in an eerie optical illusion.
Here the tour ends with a grandeur that is equal to any of the other wonderful sites and creations that hearst had built into his private estate.
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The tour of Hearst Castle is fantastic; regardless of the weather or time of year you visit.
During a clear summer day, there is a beautiful warm Pacific breeze and the marble statues glisten in the sunlight (they even seem to come to life).
On an overcast winter's day, the clouds descend onto the castle and bring an eerie and beautiful Hollywood-like fog to the place; making you feel like you're in a film noir or classic period movie.
Either way, it is gorgeous.
Anyone who loves history, art and a beautiful Oceanside vista will fall in love with Hearst Castle. It’s no wonder why this place was William Randolph Hearst's favorite throughout his entire life time.
Without the splendid buildings, the outside Neptune pool or home amenities, the seaside land is wonderful and it is for a nice picnic or camping with friends or family.
With all the modern luxuries, Rancho San Simeon truly becomes that beautiful Mediterranean villa that Hearst envisioned it to become: A place where you can appreciate both natural beauty and man-made beauty in one fantastic place.