Set in San Luis Obispo County just off of Highway 1, Hearst Castle stands as an architectural gem among the coastal hills. This national and California state landmark is known for both its refined beauty and idyllic location. You’ll find it a little over 5 miles north-east of the village of San Simeon, and conveniently, it’s about a 4-hour scenic drive from either San Francisco or Los Angeles.
William Randolph Hearst was a publisher who founded the nation’s leading newspaper chain. With his wealth, he set out to build a true American castle upon a 250,000 acre estate that was originally purchased by one of his ancestors in 1856. The ornate mansion’s design and construction began in 1919, with architect Julia Morgan leading the project. It continued for another 28 years, finally ending in 1947.
Despite continuously being built upon and improved, it only took a few years for the main buildings of Hearst Castle to be ready for entertaining society’s elite. Stars like Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo, and Clark Gable, as well as leaders such as Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, all flocked to the estate for lavish dinners and days of respite. With a theater, private zoo, lush gardens, and art sculptures throughout the property, a stay at Hearst Castle was more luxe than at the state’s finest resorts. When the castle’s construction was complete, it had a total of 165 rooms and 127 acres of pristinely manicured landscapes.
Now, guests can tour its grand halls and take in all the sights of the 20th century’s golden age. Tickets can be reserved in advance online, and start at $25 per adult, $12 per child. Children under 5 are welcomed free of charge. Tickets can also be purchased at the visitor’s center, which is located at the bottom of the hill. A complimentary bus takes visitors up to the castle grounds, where they can then begin one of many specialized tours.
One can visit the castle’s “Grand Rooms”, where Hearst entertained his many celebrity guests. These rooms are some of the most impressive. Tours of the upstairs suites, as well as the cottages & kitchen provide guests with a more intimate view of the personal spaces where Hearst and his closest family and friends spent their time. If looking out upon the ranchlands, guests are sure to spot the descendants of the former zoo inhabitants: zebras, Barbary sheep, and Sambar deer.
Before or after exploring the mansion, guests can watch a historical documentary of the castle’s construction at the theater in the visitor’s center, and even dine at one of the property’s multiple establishments. A gift shop also sells many souvenirs. Also make time to visit the nearby William R. Hearst Memorial State Beach and other San Simeon area beaches.
If you’re taking a road trip on Highway 1 and passing through San Luis Obispo county, don’t miss this site of American history. Hearst Castle is open year round from 9:00 am to midnight, with the exception of major holidays (Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day).
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