Visiting Hearst Castle: practical information and guided tour

Hearst Castle in San Simeon is one of the nicest sights along the coast between Los Angeles and San Francisco. The ‘Versailles of California’ has not stolen its nickname. The imposing castle with its more than a hundred rooms and immense gardens is breathtaking. The two swimming pools, such as the stunning Neptune Bath, are also worth a visit. William Randolph Hearst, a shrewd businessman, press mogul and eccentric figure, built Hearst Castle in the first half of the twentieth century. During a fascinating tour you can discover everything about the castle and its history. What should you not miss when you visit this nice place?

  • Who was Hearst?
  • The power of Hearst
  • Visit Hearst Castle in San Simeon (California).
  • The visitor center
  • Guided tour of the castle
  • Hearst Castle: practical information

William Randolph Hearst / Source: Skeeze, Pixabay

Who was Hearst?

Youth and studies

William Randolph Hearst was a media mogul. He was born in 1863 as the only son of George Hearst, a Californian gold prospector. His father had a flair for business and became a billionaire. William inherited a great passion for art from his mother Phoebe.
He studied at Harvard but was too busy and was expelled. He then started working as a journalist at the New York World. At twenty-five, he asked his father to put him in charge of the San Francisco Examiner, then a popular newspaper on the West Coast.

Private life

His private life was not without reproach. He married an ex-dancer from New York and had five children with her, but at the same time lived openly with his mistress Marion Davies.
He was a fervent anti-communist and an admirer of the authoritarian regimes of the period between the world wars. Moreover, he had a few peculiar traits: Hearst thoroughly hated drunkenness and guests were under no circumstances allowed to talk about death. Hearst died in 1951. Six years later, in 1957, the fifty-acre castle and garden were transferred to the state of California.
Marion Davies, Hearst’s mistress / Source: Skeeze, Pixabay

The power of Hearst

Hearst subsequently built an immense empire. Ultimately, he owned no fewer than 42 newspapers and magazines, 11 radio stations, 5 news agencies and a film production house. Hearst’s power assumed enormous proportions and he even became a presidential candidate in the US twice.
Yet Hearst always remained a mysterious figure. Friends and employees called him the Chief. The films and tours portray William Randolph Hearst as a sympathetic art lover and visionary, but according to other sources he was an unscrupulous businessman who did not hesitate to antagonize his opponents.

Visit Hearst Castle in San Simeon (California).

Hearst Castle sits high on a hill above the Pacific Ocean and the rugged Californian coast, with the Santa Lucia Mountains in the background. It is sometimes called the Versailles of California, which may be a bit of an exaggeration, but when you visit you will still be impressed by the flamboyant building.

Construction of Hearst Castle

Hearst inherited the territory upon the death of his mother and decided to expand the ranch. Cost or difficulty were no objections for Hearst and he called on architect Julia Morgan to build a palace along the Californian coast. Since this region is sensitive to earthquakes and shocks, the building was constructed from reinforced concrete. Hearst was not easily satisfied: only the best was good enough, both in terms of art and technology. Over the years, an impressive building was created with Roman mosaics, Flemish Gothic, Art Nouveau and Spanish Renaissance. Construction began in 1919. Construction was halted in 1947, but it was still not completely finished.
Hearst Castle in San Simeon (California) / Source: Sarangib, Pixabay Casa Grande
The main building Casa Grande has an area of 6000 square meters. Julia Morgan built it on the model of a Spanish cathedral. You will find 115 rooms, 41 bathrooms, a theater room, three guest houses, a beauty salon and two breathtaking swimming pools and an animal park. Hearst was an avid collector of art and the castle contains a collection of antiques that you would rather expect in a museum.

Celebrate

Hearst Castle was the setting for many meetings and parties for high-ranking guests in the 1930s. Many politicians and actors came to visit. Hearst continued to live there until 1947.

The visitor center

You can buy tickets for a visit to Hearst Castle at the visitor center. Here you will also find a cinema room where a historical film is shown about the castle and the Hearst family. This forty-minute film is included with the tickets for the castle tours. At the back of the visitor center you will also find a museum: it is worth taking a walk around and taking a look.

Guided tour of the castle

You can choose from various guided tours of the castle. Each tour lasts one and a half to two hours. Whichever option you choose, you will pass the impressive Greco-Roman Neptune Bath with its marble statues, temple and columns and the Roman swimming pool with its gold mosaic.
The route of the guided tours varies. Make a choice based on your interest.

Tour 1 (‘Grand Rooms Tour’)

Is this your first visit to Hearst Castle and you know little about the place? Then the first tour is your best choice. You will discover the Casa del Sol, a guesthouse with numerous spaces and rooms, but also the ground floor of the Casa Grande, a stunning environment that defies all imagination. The facade alone resembles a cathedral with Gothic portal, bells and gargoyles. You will also pass Roman mosaics, an impressive dining room with wooden ceilings from Italy and a billiard room with Flemish tapestries from the sixteenth century. The cinema room is also included on the tour.

Tour 2 (‘Upstairs Suites Tour’)

Here you see the upper floors of the Casa Grande. These are not discussed in tour 1. Highlights include Hearst’s private suite and immense kitchens. You will also see the press magnate’s room, study and library.

Tour 3

On this tour you will see the Casa del Monte, a guest house. The north wing of the Casa Grande is also reviewed. Here you see the beautiful guest suites.

Tour 4

This tour runs from April to October. The highlight is a visit to the Casa del Mar, the most important of all guesthouses. You will also see the wine cellars, the gardens and the Neptune pool with its colorful frescoes.

Evening tour of Hearst Castle

On some evenings, especially during the Christmas period, guided tours with extras take place. These tours take bits from each of the four tours. The evening tours have a special atmosphere and take you back in time to the bygone glory days of evening parties in the castle.
Indoor swimming pool in the castle / Source: Sarangib, Pixabay

Hearst Castle: practical information

Visiting Hearst Castle in a nutshell:

  • Allow at least half a day for your visit
  • Price: $25 per tour (1 to 1.5 hours) (children 5 to 12 years: $12 and under 5 years: free)
  • Address: 750 Hearst Castle Road, San Simeon
  • Guided tours: daily between 8:20 am and 3:20 pm (until 4 pm in summer)
  • Tip: Book your tour two days in advance, especially in summer
  • Website: hearstcastle.org

 

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