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Hearst Castle: A must see if visiting California's central coast


Legendary estate of William Randolph Hearst

A trip along the scenic central coast of California is an ideal opportunity to visit Hearst Castle, the legendary estate of William Randolph Hearst.

Forbes lists Hearst Castle as one of America's "10 Amazing Castles." We have no idea what the other nine are like, but we can vouch that Hearst Castle is an extraordinary estate that is a must see if in the region. It majestically resides five miles inland from the Pacific Ocean, situated atop a hill on the Santa Lucia Range at 1,600 feet. The required bus ride up the narrow, cutback road to the Castle is well worth the anxiety.

Hearst Castle is located near the unincorporated community of San Simeon, approximately 250 miles from both San Francisco and Los Angeles. We stayed at a coastal hotel (Sea Otter Inn) in Cambria prior to our Hearst Castle visit. The convenient drive was a mere six miles.

Thanks to the eclectic tastes of its one-time owner, Hearst Castle is enormous - hence the seven tours. William Randolph Hearst and San Francisco architect, Julia Morgan, went to tremendous lengths to acquire some fabulous European architecture, bringing back ceilings from churches and monasteries and piecing them together at Hearst Castle.

Hearst's appetite for decorating the castle was endless, evidenced by the roughly 25,000 artifacts. He and Morgan were on an endless search for nearly three decades (1919 to 1947) and never completed the Castle due to Hearst's declining health. Hearst Castle remained unfinished even though it comprises 165 rooms and 123 acres of gardens, terraces, pools and walkways - all built to Hearst's specifications and showcasing his legendary art collection.

We chose the hour-long Upstairs Suites Tour, which consists of approximately 332 stairs, both up and down. Although not strenuous and our guide moved at a leisurely pace, the tour covers three-quarters of a mile. Highlights included Doge's Suite, Library, The Gothic Suite, Duplex Bedrooms, Celestial Suite, Gardens, Neptune Pool and Roman Pool.

One of the favorite rooms for this former journalist was the Gothic Study. It's the centerpiece of Hearst's private suite on the third floor of "Casa Grande" - the estate's main building. A newspaper mogul, Hearst (and sometimes his staff) previewed his many papers every night before they went off to the printing press. The concrete arches in the Study were decorated by Camille Solon in 1934-35 and the historic Spanish ceiling dates from the early 1400s.

The Hearst Castle guides are extremely knowledgeable and seemingly have an answer to every question posed by the tour. They offer some terrific insights and views regarding Hearst Castle, providing the public with a better opportunity to enjoy and learn about the impressive collections of the iconic Hearst.

Besides a tremendous appetite for collecting, Hearst also loved to entertain. Invitations to Hearst Castle were viewed as a big deal during the 1920s and 1930s. Hearst enjoyed inviting Hollywood and political figures, and typically had them flown into the estate's airfield or provided a private Hearst-owned train car from Los Angeles. Among the esteemed guests were Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, Calvin Coolidge, Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Cary Grant, the Marx Brothers, Charlie Chaplin, Charles Lindbergh, Jimmy Stewart, and Bob Hope.

Hearst would throw elaborate formal dinners each evening. However, while he was off working in the daytime, his guests were free to swim, horseback ride, play tennis, hike, tour any area of the grounds, or simply relax in their fashionable rooms.

Ticket prices for Hearst Castle tours start at $25 for adults and $12 for children. Reservations can be made, changed or cancelled online at or by calling 800 444-4445.

Author Jeffrey Weidel, an award-winning writer from the Sacramento region,  can be spotted skiing the powdery slopes at Lake Tahoe-area ski resorts or trying to lower his handicap at local golf courses. He can be reached at

Follow him on Twitter at @jeffweidel.

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