A castle on an Enchanted Hill, Hearst Castle was built to showcase William Randolph Hearst’s legendary art collection, and ended up becoming a work of art itself.
In 2010, my trip to Hearst Castle began my obsession with counting castles. The castle is located halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco in the Pacific Coast town of San Simeon. It’s a winding five-mile drive up the steep Enchanted Hill to the house itself.
Hearst Castle History
America’s most famous castle is a fitting start for my castle count. William Randolph Hearst inherited the land the castle sits on in 1919. He set to creating a retreat he called La Cuesta Encantada that would be more comfortable than his usual camping.
He enlisted the help of architect Julia Morgan. Together they created elaborate ideas that switched from Japanese and Korean themes to Spanish Revival, Renaissance, and Baroque examples from southern Spain.
By 1947, the estate consisted of 165 rooms and 127 acres of gardens, terraces and pools. The design of the castle is eclectic. The house was more built around Hearst’s private art collection rather than the art bought to suit his home. The private cinema has walls lined with rare books. The proportions of the Main Building was dictated by the size of the centuries-old ceilings Hearst purchased. And since Hearst continuously tinkered with design changes, the estate still remains incomplete.
Touring Hearst Castle
The Estate Grounds
Hearst Castle’s grounds consisted of two pools, lush gardens, a private airstrip, and the world’s largest private zoo.
Hearst tinkered with the Neptune Pool the most. After three reconstructions, the Neptune Pool finally took up the entire space initially allotted for a “Temple Garden.” This version is 104 feet long, 58 feet wide and 95 feet wide at its alcove. Marble decorates the pool floor and sides as well as the colonnades and 17 c. Italian bas-reliefs. Its design resembles an ancient Roman bath.
Hearst imported the Roman temple front from Europe and reconstructed it at the castle. The Neptune Pool sits near the edge of the hilltop, offering an expansive view of the mountains, ocean, and the estate. Many of the tiles are infused with gold, and the statues that surround the pool are copies of ancient Greek and Roman statues.
Hearst loved animals, and the winding drive to the castle used to be through fenced fields with animals roaming free, from deer and sheep to camels and zebras.
The more exotic animals lived in menagerie cages. These included various bears, monkeys, coatimundis, and elephants. Hearst dismantled the zoo in 1937, donating animals to zoos, but the dispersal was never entirely completed.
You can still find zebras and deer, among others, roaming the hillside today.
Tour the Castle
Hearst Castle offers numerous tours. Guests can tour the grand social rooms, imagining what it was like to be an invited guest to the hilltop retreat. This tour covers the ground floor of Casa Grande, taking you through the assembly room, refectory, billiard room, theater, gardens and the pools.
The upstairs suites tour ascends the winding staircases to explore Hearst’s personal rooms, including the bedrooms and suites and the library with its secret passage.
The cottages and kitchen tour takes you to the expansive wind cellar, industrial-sized kitchen, and Casa del Monte, the estate’s first guest house.
For those wanting a little more, the Evening Tour invites you to travel back in time to the 1930s. View the mansion just as Hearst’s party guests would have. Docents in period clothing bring the castle to life.
Visiting Hearst Castle
Tours at Hearst Castle range from $30-$100 for adults depending on the tour. The most common tour, the Grand Rooms Tour, is typical for first time visitors. Admission for this tour is $30 for adults, $15 for children.
Tour times vary by season. Most tours start a 9 a.m. throughout the year, and the last tour times vary by day.
So why does this castle count? When you visit Hearst Castle, look up. Many of the ceilings were imported from European castles and cathedrals. This is one of the best examples of the American mock-castle: it is so styled after traditional castles, that it is literally made from pieces of European castles. Not to mention it has an art collection fit for royalty.
Ready to visit Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California? Plan your trip with these tips.
- Book your flight: Find the cheapest flights using Skyscanner, my favorite flight search engine.
- Find accommodation: You can find top hotels near Hearst Castle or top hotels in San Simeon using Hotels.com.
- Get packing: Make sure you’ve packed everything you need with my packing list resources.
Have you been to Hearst Castle? Tell me about it in the comments!