Posted by: cvancil | May 13, 2009

Spotlight: Hearst Castle

Hearst Castle from the air (courtesy Hearst Castle website)

If you haven’t been to Hearst Castleand you’re planning a trip to SLO, then this tourist destination is an absolute must!   A little history from the website:  

In 1865, George Hearst, a wealthy miner, purchased 40,000-acres of ranchland that included the Mexican Ranchos of Piedras Blancas, San Simeon and Santa Rosa. In 1919, his only son, William Randolph Hearst, inherited the land from his mother, Phoebe Apperson Hearst. By then the ranch had grown to encompass 250,000 acres.

Originally known as “Camp Hill,” its wilderness offered a place for family members and friends to “rough it” on camping trips. Despite elaborate arrangements with separate sleeping and dining tents, Hearst envisioned more comfortable accommodations. His simple instructions to famed San Francisco architect Julia Morgan in 1919: “Miss Morgan, we are tired of camping out in the open at the ranch in San Simeon and I would like to build a little something”

Hearst and Morgan’s collaboration was destined to become one of the world’s greatest showplaces. As they were planning and constructing his dream home, Hearst renamed the rocky perch from which it rose “La Cuesta Encantada” – The Enchanted Hill. By 1947, Hearst and Morgan had created an estate of 165 rooms and 127 acres of gardens, terraces, pools and walkways.

The estate’s magnificent main house, “Casa Grande,” and three guest houses are of Mediterranean Revival style, while the imposing towers of Casa Grande were inspired by a Spanish cathedral. The blending of the architectural style with the surrounding land, and Hearst’s superb European and Mediterranean art collection, was so seamless that world-renowned architectural historian, Lord John Julius Norwich, was moved to say that “Hearst Castle is a palace in every sense of the word.”

Hearst Castle is just amazing.  I lovegoing to historical places.  I am not a history buff by any means, but to actually go somewhere that history happened, to see a place that is so absolultely fantastical and real, it’s beyond my imagination.  The private zoo, the rich tapestries that hang from the walls, ornate chandeliers and decorative sofas…the incredibly huge dining rooms, the elegant and cozy cottages…to be there is to experience what it must have been like to be one of Mr. Hearst’s guests.  And the view…  The view of the Pacific Ocean and San Luis Obisbo County is enough to make me want to go back again and again.

There are many tours to choose from, each varies in cost and in what part of the castle you’ll see.  (Most tours operate every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years.)  Here are the details from the website (Note that some are only seasonal tours so be sure to read the full description):

Tour 1:  The Experience Tour
Experience Tour – the main tour of the Castle, recommended for the first time visitor. The least strenuous of the tours, provides a broad overview of all facets of the Castle. It also includes a ticket to the National Geographic Movie – Hearst Castle Building the Dream.
Prices: Adult: $20.00, Child: $10.00

Tour 2:  Upper Floors of Casa Grande
Upper Floors of Casa Grande – focuses on architectural elements of the main house (Casa Grande) and the art collection. Includes Hearst’s private suite and the kitchen.
Prices: Adult: $20.00, Child: $10.00

Tour 3:  North Wing of Casa Grande
North Wing of Casa Grande – provides an overview of the construction and development of the Castle by contrasting the earliest guest house with the most recent work on the North Wing.
Prices: Adult: $20.00, Child: $10.00

Tour 4:  Garden Tour
Garden Tour – includes the estate’s botanical gardens, terraces and walkways. Also includes the largest guest house (Casa del Mar) and a close look at the wine cellar.  Garden Tour is offered April through October.
Prices: Adult: $20.00, Child: $10.00

Tour 5:  Evening Tour
Evening Tour – Allows visitors to experience the Castle at night as a visitor to the Castle in the 1930s might have. Features highlights from the Experience, Upper Floors of Casa Grande, and Garden tours.
Evening tours run from March through May and September through December 30 on most Fridays and Saturdays. Additional nights are added during holiday periods and during the month of April will run every night April 6-18 with the exception of Sundays. Also there will be NO evening tour May 22, 23, September 12, 26, Oct 2 and Dec 5 2009.
Prices: Adult: $30.00, Child: $15.00

Tour 6:  Accessible Experience TourAccessibly Designed Tour includes the movie Hearst Castle Building the Dream and is available for the ground floor only. Tour may be modified to accommodate visitors during inclement weather. Outdoors, the tour includes gardens, views of guest cottages and a glimpse of the outdoor Neptune Pool. Indoors, the tour visits a guesthouse, the ground floor of Casa Grande and the indoor Roman Pool.  Capacity – 2. Additional party members not needing accessible accommodations may wish to book a concurrent Experience tour, and the entire party will see the Castle ground floor together.
Prices: Adult: $20.00, Child: $10.00

Tour 7:  Behind The Scenes Tour:
The tour begins with the cast stone and tile workshops, and then the indoor Roman Pool alcove, dressing rooms, historic filtration system, and past the archives where some of architect Julia Morgan’s full-size drawings are displayed. Then climb 64 stairs in the Service Wing to visit a typical household employee’s quarters and descend into the basement vaults and conservation rooms where textiles and other artifacts undergo restoration. Rarely seen guest room, followed by viewing the East Gothic study and book vault. Tour ends at the outdoor Neptune Pool.  Behind the Scenes is offered on selected Sundays in March, May and November.
Prices: Adult: $75.00

Private tours and specialty tours are also available.  If you just want to watch the movie, you can buy tickets at the visitors center. 

I’ve been on Tour 1 twice and it was amazing each single time.  I hope that next time I can go on the Evening Tour (#5) or the Garden Tour (#4) so I can see more of this fantastic place!


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