You always hear about it but rarely do you make the necessary full day stop to visit the castle with Big Sur just around the corner.
Hearst Castle, located high above the ocean, was the creation of two extraordinary individuals, William Randolph Hearst, and architect Julia Morgan.
They started their quest in 1919 and continued nearly 30 years building the infamous castle.
Julia Morgan had the challenging task of constructing this monstrous 115 room main house, pools, eight acres of cultivated gardens, and additional guest houses, all upon the unstable valleys of San Simeon.
She was the first female architect to graduate from the University of California at Berkely and was the only one up for the task. It was her careful planning and accommodations that led to such a successful partnership between herself and Mr. Hearst.
The grounds themselves are stunning. The landscape is entrenched with artifacts from Ancient Egypt and Ancient Rome, with some of their pieces dating back to 2,000 B.C.
The gardens are immaculate and full of magenta bougainvillea, sweet-smelling hyacinths, orange California poppies (the state flower), fragrant star jasmine and rhododendrons with blooms as big as wedding bouquets. Walking through the lavish gardens hits you with a sensory overload, with colors, scents, and beautiful scenery at every turn.
Before the tours, you will have the ability to watch the Imax movie "Hearst Castle - Building the Dream,” that gives a brief history of how the castle came to be and who William Randolph Hearst was. It is very much encouraged to view this before heading up to the Castle. It is well worth the extra time.
There are four tours that you can take:
- Grand Rooms Tour: This tour brings you to the grand social rooms of Casa Grande-- the largest house at Hearst Castle-- to try and capture the experience of what it was like to be a guest at the hilltop retreat.
- Upstairs Suites Tour: Wind your way up the spiral staircases to the upper floors of this incredible architectural wonder. You will discover the Castles most private rooms including the Gothic Suite and the Library.
- Cottages and Kitchen Tour: This tour brings you to two very different parts of the castle. You will view Hearst's Wine Cellar and then stroll through the historic gardens to the first guest cottages, Casa Del Monte, and Casa Del Mar.
- Evening Tour: Available in the Spring and Fall, the evening tour allows you to view the historic California Mansion at twilight. You will wind your way through Casa del Mar, Casa Grande’s social rooms, guest accommodations, the Main Library and Mr. Hearst’s private Gothic Suite. All of the docents will also dress in 1930's attire.
At the end of each of the tours, you have the ability to walk around the Castle grounds and explore the gardens, the Neptune Pool, a Greco-Roman outdoor pool, and the Roman Pool, an indoor pool lined with Venetian glass and gold.
- You cannot use a tripod (trust me I was yelled at twice by docents for trying it)
- There is no flash photography, which makes it tough to photograph inside of the castle as there is almost no light. You will need a low aperture lens and an incredibly steady hand to try and capture images inside.
- Stay at the front of the group. Tours stack on top of each other, and the only way to capture images without people is to hope that the group in front of you leaves before your tour enters. You can try the reverse, but I had no success with it.
- You can reserve Tours up to 56 days in advance. If you want to attend, multiple tours make sure that you make an advanced reservation as the groups fill up quickly. You can Reserve Here on the Hearst Castle Reserve America Website.
- The Neptune Pool is under renovation and does not have a completion date.
- Canon 5DSr
- Canon 6D
- Canon 24-70mm ƒ2.8 L II
- Canon 70-200mm ƒ2.8 IS II
- Canon 24mm ƒ1.8 I
- Mefoto Tripod
The non-profit highlight is Hearst Castle itself. The castle takes in an enormous amount of revenue that is distributed to California's 200+ State parks. A visit here helps fund and protect the rest of the parks in California!