Hollywood royalty and the political elite of the 1920s and 1930s would arrive at Hearst Castle via the estate’s airstrip, or aboard the private Hearst-owned railcar that regularly made the journey from Los Angeles to the sprawling oceanside estate in San Simeon, California. From Clark Gable to Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill to Charlie Chaplin, the politicians, movie stars, titans of industry, and other privileged guests of William Randolph Hearst were in awe of the jaw-dropping grandeur of the 90,000-square foot estate informally called “the ranch.”
In 1919, on the grounds of the 250,000 acre Hearst family ranch where he once camped with his father, the publishing tycoon began one of the most ambitious architectural endeavors in American history. When complete, “La Cuesta Encantada,” or “The Enchanted Hill,” would feature 56 bedrooms, 61 bathrooms, and 127 acres of pristine gardens. Inspired by the majestic castles Hearst observed on his grand tours of Europe, this Medieval Revival palace had an indoor pool originally lined with Murano glass, a theater for screening films from Hearst’s own movie studio, and the world’s largest private zoo. Visitors to the castle today can still see zebra wandering the grounds, descendants from that original menagerie.
Hearst Castle was designed by architect Julia Morgan, and took a staggering 30 years to complete. It would include iconic bell towers based on the Spanish Church of Santa Maria la Mayor, Egyptian Sekhmet statues, and extravagant furnishings acquired from the most distant corners of the globe.
The owner’s vision for his home was so specific that the famous Neptune Pool was rebuilt three times to suit his exacting and ever-changing tastes. The end result was absolutely breathtaking, with intricate tilework and classical statues designed to highlight the centerpiece of the massive outdoor pool—a facade of an ancient Roman temple imported to this coastal palace all the way from Italy.
The Neptune Pool recently underwent massive renovations. It was closed from 2014-2018, reopening only after receiving $10 million worth of tile replacement and sculpture restoration. After sitting empty for more than four years, the exquisite restorations (all 20,000 marble tiles on the mosaic floor were painstakingly replaced) make walking by the sparkling and impossibly welcoming pool—rather than jumping into the “grand liquid ballroom” fully clothed—a big ask for visitors on warm days.
Here are some tips for visiting the privileged world of Hearst Castle:
- Often called the greatest film ever made, Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane is a must-see before you visit Hearst Castle. The fictionalized account of William Randolph Hearst’s life takes place largely in Xanadu, a palatial mansion based on Hearst Castle.
- Stop in at the castle visitor center to view the included companion film for daytime tours. Hearst Castle-Building the Dream, is a 40-minute movie combining new footage with vintage still images and clips that details the decades of effort that went into designing and building Hearst Castle.
- Bring along a bottle of water, since the castle and grounds can get pretty warm—especially on sunny days, when you’ll also want to carry sunglasses and sunscreen.
- Keep your eyes peeled for “The Fairy Princess,” the famous gold statue in front of Casa del Mar.
- If you find yourself with time to spare after the tour, venture down to Piedras Blancas Beach to watch the crowds of elephant seals that lounge along the rocky shoreline.
Hearst Castle is just one of the sites you’ll visit on YMT Vacations’ Rose Parade & Coastal California Tour. There are a variety of Hearst Castle tours available to visitors to the estate. YMT guests enjoy the Grand Rooms tour, an included tour that takes approximately 60-minutes. See highlights including the stunning indoor Roman Pool, modeled after classical Roman baths and the site of many of the Golden Age of Hollywood’s most legendary pool parties; the assembly room; the refectory; the theater; the billiard room; the Neptune Pool; and of course, Hearst Castle’s expansive gardens.
This 10-day excursion from Los Angeles to San Francisco begins with an exclusive viewing event of the legendary Rose Parade floats, and a guaranteed place on the best grandstand seats for Rose Parade viewing, right on the parade route. To book one of our Rose Parade packages, make your plans to join one of our fully-escorted Rose Parade tours. Call your Travel Consultant or YMT Vacations at 1-888-756-9072.