What is there to say about the magical castle nestled on the hills of San Simeon that hasn’t been said one thousand times before? I won’t try to say it myself as you can read about it on countless books and websites; I will however share some photographic inspiration that will hopefully inspire you to go out and explore this beautiful and historical spot on the California coast yourself. Here is all the information and a boatload of photos, have fun. 🙂
- Cost: $25 a person, book tickets in advance
- Time: Plan a half day
- Location: 750 Hearst Castle Rd, San Simeon, CA 93452
- They have a new Holiday Twilight Tour you can read about here
- 15 years to build
- 770,000 people visit it a year
- Summer is 4,000-5,000 people a day, winter is 400-500 a day, so visit in the winter
- 115 rooms in the main building, 46 in the guest houses
- Neptune pool holds 345,000 gallons and indoor pool holds 290,000
If you are interested in the all of the history I would recommend you check out this site. That being said you can show up with very little understanding of the area and learn a ton on the tour and by watching the IMAX movie. The thing I found most interesting was that it was donated to the state of California, with all furnishings and art, in 1958 about 6 years after William Hurst died. It was donated to fulfill a stipulation in his will to leave something that honored his mother. You will learn all of this and more while you are there.
When you drive up to the parking lot for the visitors center, you have to take a shuttle to get to the park, be sure to watch for zebras as they are often grazing the hills near the center.
After grabbing your tickets I would recommend watching the IMAX movie. Normally I am not a huge fan of museum movies but this one is really well made and gives a lot of history, as well as beautiful views of the area. After watching the video you will board the tram for the 15 minute ride, narrated by Alec Trebek, up to the castle.
Depending on what tour you book it may or may not include all of the pieces mentioned here. Also, we went in November, which is why you will see Christmas trees in a few of the pictures.
Right when you get off the bus you will see the main staircase that leads you up to the property. This staircase created a feeling of anticipation for me as I imagined what would greet me when I got to the top.
The Neptune Pool
Unfortunately, due to the drought, the Neptune Pool was completely dry. This is one of the best areas to see on a tour of the castle so it was a bummer to not see it. I fully understand though as the drought has hit California hard, especially this area.
The Guest House
On the right when you come up you will see the first of two guest houses. If you saw a photo of this place, not know what it was, you would swear it was the mansion not just a guesthouse. Complete with a two-story fountain, golden door and ocean views, it is a pretty amazing place. We didn’t get a chance to go inside but the outside was cool enough.
Above the guesthouse is the main gardens that fill the courtyard leading to the house. This area is full of sculptures, art, beautiful plants and immaculate views of the main house itself.
After your tour is over you can walk around this area to take it in more as well.
After exploring the grounds you will be ready to enter the house itself. The house has over 100 rooms and on the tour you only see a half-dozen or so, but this is enough to get a good feeling for what the castle was like.
The Main Room
This is the first room we went into and it was the room that the guests waited in before Mr Hearst came and let them into the dining hall. This room features an amazing stone fireplace, lots of tapestries and multiple Christmas trees (we went in November).
The Dining Room
From here we headed into the dining room which is pretty awe-inspiring when you see it. The room is very long and features a table down the middle that looks like it could hold 50 people. Again there were tapestries and Christmas decorations here as well.
While not as massive as I anticipated, the kitchen does have ample room for preparing epic meals. I was surprised that it actually looked quite modern as well.
They had a lot of unique pieces in here such as spoons used for bone marrow and chicken faucet handles (we should start this trend back up again).
The Wine Cellar
Depending on the tour you book you may also go down into the wine cellar. This two room cellar features many of the wine bottles that were present when Mr Hearst passed away.
Fun Fact: You can’t donate alcohol to the government, so technically the Hearst family still owns the wine in here.
The theater was said to have shown a lot of the movies from the famous guests that spent time at the castle. It could easily hold 50 people so I am sure it was a fun spot to watch a movie.
The Billiards Hall
I imagine this room has a lot of fun stories it could tell since everyone from Clark Gable to Charlie Chaplin spent time in this house.
The Tennis Court
The tennis court was another popular attraction at the house. The glass windows that go down the center add light to the indoor pool below.
The Indoor Pool
Of course one of the main attractions on the tour is the indoor pool which is just as amazing as you would anticipate in person. The way the reflections play off the still water is mind-blowing, and the inlaid gold that is all over the pool and walkway is something you won’t forget.
The pool is much bigger then I anticipated, with a section that T’s off to the right creating even more room. I wish I was able to swim in this pool as I bet it would be ridiculously fun.
If you book a private tour you can sometimes go and see the back area of the pool, including the high dive itself. I was able to do this, but this is not standard on most tours.
This is one of those areas where you just can’t stop taking pictures. Every angle looks better than last and I walked away with way more pictures than I needed to.
The Dressing Room
Some tours also include access to the dressing room, which has eight rooms for changing and getting ready to experience the pool. I liked the old look of this room and thought it was preserved really well.
The bus then picks you up from the exterior of the indoor pool and takes you back down to the visitors center. The bus comes every 15 minutes or so so you can take your time exploring and leave when you are ready.
As I am sure you already know, Hearst Castle is a really fun stop on Highway 1 and a unique piece of California history you really should explore. If you are in the area be sure to check out the poor mans Hearst Castle in Cambria and to see the elephant seals as well. Let me know your favorite spot at Hearst Castle in the comments.