Hearst Castle & San Simeon

Hearst Castle & San Simeon


Lavish to the extreme, the castle on the hill in San Simeon has no equal in the United States. With five guided tours and even a new self-guided tour of the gardens with phenomenal views of the coast, Hearst Castle is always at the top of any visitor’s to-do list. In fact, Hearst Castle is the most popular non-theme park attraction in California and the biggest draw for visitors to the Central Coast. Tour #1, The Experience Tour, is mandatory to orient first-timers to the main building on the property, which was nicknamed the “Big House.” Big it is with over 7000 square feet of living space on the first floor alone. Filled with antiquities collected on numerous European trips, the contents were shipped to William Randolph Hearst’s warehouse in San Francisco. (His collection was so vast that he paid taxes on the shipments, not per item but by the ton.) In 1958 the property was donated by the Hearst family to the State of California as a memorial to the family patriarch and also in the name of Phoebe Apperson Hearst, the publisher’s mother. Plan on spending at least a half-day at Hearst Castle. In addition to the tours, there is an IMAX Theater presentation of the film, “Hearst Castle - Building the Dream,” a gift shop and snack bars. See the section on “Tourist Attractions” for a complete guide to the tours, ticket prices and further information.

San Simeon itself is an unincorporated area and is really just a collection of coastal hotels and motels stretching along Highway 1. Hearst’s father, George, bought the land along the Pacific Ocean in 1865 and it eventually became the area on which the son built his masterpiece mansion. The land was originally part of the Rancho Piedra Blanca Mexican land grant. The best thing about San Simeon, besides of course the great castle on the hill, is San Simeon State Park. Located 5 miles south of Hearst Castle, this is one of the oldest state parks in the system.

William Randolph Hearst Memorial Beach is across Highway 1 from Hearst Castle. The beach is in a cove, which is a safe and free place to enjoy the water. The eight-acre park has picnic tables and is the location of the old San Simeon pier, where ships off loaded Hearst‘s furniture and famed art collection from his warehouse in San Francisco.

Below San Simeon and Cambria, just off Highway 1, is the tiny town of Harmony, population 18, where a community of artists work and sell their creative output. Be sure to stop by and watch the fascinating art of glass blowing being done by masters of the craft. The town is also famous for Harmony Cellars award-winning wines, which can be sampled in the tasting room. There are lovely gardens for roaming and a gazebo for lounging. Enjoy your picnic lunch with a glass of Harmony Cellars handcrafted wine. Little Harmony may be very small but it’s got big impact and style.




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