While we did walk through Cinderella’s Castle at Disneyland, the next stop on our Road Trip of 2010 was found in San Simeon, CA – Hearst Castle. It’s about a 5 hour drive from Anaheim but it’s along the beautiful California coastline, so how can you really complain?
I had heard of Hearst Castle for many years but had never been to it or ever thought that I might visit it. In my head, I had envisioned just a big California mansion with a massive pool. But when I checked the website to see what to visit and where, I had no idea that there were no less than FIVE tours just to see portion of the compound! Regardless of that fact, I still wanted very much to see this part of American history and to grasp just how much a major newspaper publisher pulled in back in the early 1900’s.
You enter the Hearst Estate and check in at the “stables” where you purchase your ticket for a tour. We were very lucky that they had two tickets left right at the time we arrived for Tour 1 which takes about an hour and 45 minutes and is the perfect intro for newbies to the Hearst Castle area. You climb into a bus and you ride forever–up a steep, winding hill that overlooks the ocean. It seriously takes about 10-15 minutes to get to the top and I kept wondering, ‘How in the heck did he build such a huge estate all the way up here?’
As you climb up to the “main house” and “guest house”, the bus driver spouts all these details about the grounds, how Mr. Hearst used to have zoo animals ( tigers, zebras, even polar bears) wandering the grounds for miles and miles…90,000 acres to be exact.
When we got to the top of the hill, we were greeted by a cheerful docent who led us through the guest house and then on into the main house. For our tour, we only saw the main floor of “Casa Grande” (the main house, very Spanish influences in name and design); you had to purchase a different tour to see more of the house. I don’t know how many tours it would take to see everything available and open to the public considering there were 56 bedrooms, 61 bathrooms, 41 fireplaces, a library with over 5,000 books, and details, details, details.
Before we walked into either house, I shot a million photos of the incredible outdoor pool. It still boggles my mind that somebody actually lived there since it looks just like a museum with artwork from the Renaissance period. WOW.
Caden kept asking me if he could go swimming. I told him only if he wanted to freeze his little arse off as the water was frigid with a capital F.
I loved all the little details surround the houses, the ornate doors, crests, garland, and cool door knockers. Once we were inside, you were not allowed to use a flash with your camera so some of my pictures didn’t turn out as well as I had hoped. I wish I would’ve brought a different lens…
The other part I loved about the interior was the way they had it decorated for the holidays. The large banquet hall had giant Christmas trees placed around the room with lighted garland draped here and there. Not to mention these huge flags that flanked opposite sides of the hall.
The docent mentioned that Mr. Hearst loved to have good conversation at dinner. The table normally seated around 40 guests and the most interesting people were placed next to him. It was said that you knew when you had overstayed your welcome at the castle because your position on the table would move further and further down the table. Apparently, Cary Grant was a frequent visitor and when his place card began to move more than a few spaces down from Mr. Hearst (who sat in the middle), he picked up and left. He never wanted to get to the end of the table.
Cary Grant was just one of many celebrities known to visit the estate. Mr. Hearst had a huge theater room where we got to watch some of the old home movies of him and his famous celebrity friends playing tennis or chilling around one of the pools. And the coolest part of the house also was a main attraction for several celebrities after the movie viewing–the indoor, gold plated/Venetian glass lined pool that was 10 ft deep from end to end. It was a bit of a rendezvous spot, shall we say. But oh my goodness, by far this pool was mine and Caden’s favorite part of the tour. Breathtaking just doesn’t seem to enough of the right word to describe how awe inspiring it truly is.
Overall, a trip to Hearst Castle was definitely worth the effort. Caden loved it, I loved it, and I think I might like to go back one day to view more of this incredible place!