After a few nights in Carmel, we packed up the rental car, and made our way down the coast, arriving at Hearst Castle early in the afternoon. We’d stopped here a few years ago, but didn’t have the energy to actually take a tour. We’d spent the few days prior extensively wandering around San Francisco and we were unbelievably exhausted. A word the the wise: when you’re visiting San Francisco, if you see a really big hill and want to go up, take a cable car or taxi. Don’t try to walk it – especially in 3 inch heeled sandals. Your body will thank you later.
We were in better shape this time.
Hearst Castle was built for William Randolph Hearst, who’s best known for being a publishing magnate, although he also dabbled in politics and film production. He was kind of a big deal in the early half of the 1900s. My generation might know him better as the grandfather of Patty Hearst, the kidnapping victim, turned urban guerilla terrorist.
The castle was built on the hill of a ranch owned by the Hearst family since the mid 1800s. Construction began in 1919 and continued until the late 1940s, when Hearst moved to his other insanely huge California mansion in Beverly Hills. By then he was in his 80s and needed health care not accessible from the castle. San Simeon was, and still is, quite remote. He died in 1951.
When he originally consulted with his architect, he’d planned to build a modest bungalow, but somehow ended up with a 165 room castle. Anyone who has ever done any kind of home renovation can understand how these things can get out of hand – am I right?
Incidentally, the castle was never completely finished.
Now, THAT I can relate to.
The castle is set back from the highway.
It’s about a 10 minute shuttle ride to reach an altitude of 1600 feet.
To decorate his new place, Hearst took advantage of the European aristocracy’s post WWI fire sale. Mantels from Belgian castle’s, pews from Spanish churches, 300 year old tapestries and other miscellaneous bits and pieces, furniture and priceless works of art clutter up this joint. I can appreciate it as an art gallery, but as a home, it’s a dark gaudy mess and it offends my minimalist sensibilities. Still, it really something that must be seen.
Apparently, designers used this dining room as inspiration for the Harry Potter films.
To call this place ostentatious is an understatement. This is what happens when you have more money than you know what to do with and not much taste.
The view is incredible though.
Aside from the tacky statues everywhere, the property itself is beautiful.
Hearst loved to entertain here and gave the property a resort-like feel.
There are guest cottages…
…and a pool.
Even though it wasn’t particularly warm the day we visited, the pool still looked refreshing.
Too cold for outdoor swimming?
There’s an indoor one too!
It was hard to resist the urge to cannonball into this one.
This pool gets it’s daylight from glass tiles in the tennis courts above.
In it’s heyday, there was even a private zoo on the property. The animals were sold off in the 1930s when Hearst fell on hard times. You can still see some of the enclosures though, and there’s still Zebra’s, descendants of the original herd, running wild on the property According to our guide, they sometimes graze with the cattle (the property is still a working ranch). We didn’t see them though.
Maybe next time.