William Randolph Hearst told architect Julia Morgan that he wanted to built "a little something" on the California coast. Three decades later, Casa Grande (commonly called Hearst Castle) crowned La Cuesta Encantada, Hearst's "Enchanted Hill" above tiny San Simeon. It's a 165-room Moorish castle with 127 acres of gardens, terraces, pools and walkways, furnished with Spanish and Italian antiques and art, flanked by three large guest houses. In its heyday, Hearst Castle had a zoo, tennis courts and two magnificent swimming pools.
Today the state Park Service preserves Hearst Castle as a State Historical Monument, and we can all enjoy a glimpse into the Hearst's opulent lifestyle.
Scenes from Hearst Castle
Enjoy our best shots in a Hearst Castle Photo Tour
Things You Need to Know about Hearst Castle
Hearst Castle offers several tours. Tour One is most popular with first-time visitors.
Before or after your tour, visit the Hearst Castle Theater to see their 40- minute show that tells the story of Hearst Castle in a larger-than-normal format. The theater's screen is eight times the size of a conventional movie screen and it is equipped with 7-channel, digital surround sound. No reservations are required.
- All tours include a half-mile walk and 150 to 400 stairs.
- It's not unusual to find tours sold out, especially in summer. Avoid disappointment and delays, buy tickets in advance using the link or telephone number above. If you can't reserve ahead, go the the ticket office as soon as you arrive, even if you don't plan to take the tour until the next day. Learn how to make California state park reservations.
- Pets are not allowed on tours, and kennels are not available. Please make arrangements before you arrive and don't leave your pet in your vehicle.
- No strollers are allowed on the tour, and there are lots of things that little hand shouldn't touch. Be sure the kids are fed and rested so they are able to keep quiet.
- In summer, the temperature at the top of hill can be as much as 30 degrees higher than at the visitor center. Wear sunscreen and hat, and take a bottle of water.
The Three Best Ways to See Hearst Castle
If you've been to Hearst Castle as many times as I have over the past decade and a half, it's easy to get a little jaded. However, the experience has also allowed me to find out the best, most interesting and fun ways to see the place. All three require some advance planning and are only available during part of the year:
- Hearst Castle Evening Tour: The big house is interesting during regular day tours, but can feel more like a museum than someone's home. During the evening tours, costumed players inhabit the place much like Mr. Hearst and his friends would have, giving it a lived-in feel.
- Hearst Castle at Christmas: Although there are no special events during the holidays, the house is decorated in seasonal style, giving it a nice look. It's also generally less busy than in the summer.
- Hearst Castle During SAVOR the Central Coast: You'll have to do a daytime tour to see the inside, but there's no better way to enjoy the lovely Neptune Pool and the castle's gorgeous location than by attending SAVOR's kickoff event. With all the guests decked out in cocktail attire, live music playing and great food and wine everywhere you turn, you'd be excused for wondering if you fell into a time machine that took you back to a really great party during Hearst's day.
We rate Hearst Castle 4 stars out of 5. It's a fascinating look inside the life of Hearst, one of America's richest men, and the night tours are outstanding.
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- Hours: Open daily except Thanksgiving, December 25 and January 1
- Reservations: Recommended. Reserve online or call 800-444-4445
- Cost: Admission charged
- Location: San Simeon, CA, halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. See directions below.
- How Long: Tours last about two hours. Allow extra time to see the movie.
- Best Time to Visit: Crowds are worst in summer and the hilltop gets very hot. Special Hearst Castle night tours offered spring and fall. The house is specially decorated for Christmas.
Getting to Hearst Castle
750 Hearst Castle RoadHearst Castle is on California Highway 1, halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles.
San Simeon, CA
If you plan to travel on CA 1, check with CalTrans for road closures. Winter rains and mudslides sometimes close the scenic highway well into summer. You can call them toll-free from anywhere in California at 1-800-427-7623.
If you plan to drive north right after your tour, it takes three hours to drive the 95 miles to Monterey. Allow time to finish your drive during daylight so you don't miss an inch of the spectacular coast scenery.
From San Francisco
- Via US 101: 6 hours. US 101 south to CA 46 west, CA 1 north about 13 miles. 245 miles (392 km).
- Via CA 1: 8 hours. CA 1 south from San Francisco, a scenic (albeit slower) route. 205 miles (328 km).
- Via US 101: 3.5 hours. CA 68 east to Salinas, US 101 south to CA 46, West to CA 1 and north about 13 miles. 165 miles (264 km).
- Via CA 1: 4 hours. CA 1 south. 95 miles (152 km)
From Los Angeles: 6 hours. US 101 north to San Luis Obispo, CA 1 north about 40 miles. 254 miles (406 km).
From San Diego: 8 hours. Interstate Highway 5 north to Interstate 405, US 101 north to San Luis Obispo, CA 1 north about 40 miles. 364 miles (582km). 8 hrs
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary admission for the purpose of reviewing this attraction. While it has not influenced this review, About.com believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest. For more information, see our ethics policy.