Hearst Castle: A Stop at San Simeon's Enchanted Hilltop Mansion
The legendary Hedda Hopper once said, "A visit to the Hearst Ranch was a ticket to never-never land. Never has there been such a place and never will we see its like again." If you're taking a road trip along the Pacific Coast Highway, make sure you pencil in a visit to the enchanting Hearst Castle during your journey to experience this never-never land yourself! This magnificent estate, once owned by the media mogul William Randolph Hearst, sits upon a beautiful hilltop in the heart of San Simeon. Some have argued that it is the closest thing to a "royal palace" that we'll ever see in the United States.
After the turn of the 20th century, Mr. Hearst commissioned Julia Morgan, an incredibly talented architect and designer of her time, to bring the house of his dreams to life. The two worked together on the project for over 28 years, and never quite finished due to Mr. Hearst's failing health. However, much of the project was completed in that time allowing for guests to enjoy the property as it is today. The opulent Castle--including its many gardens, pools, terraces, priceless works of art, and 165 rooms--takes up 127 acres of the entire estate. In its prime, Hearst Castle became widely known as a popular gathering place for some of Old Hollywood's elite.
Join along our journey of Hearst Castle so you can properly plan your trip, or just get serious wanderlust looking at the pictures of this incredible estate!
Because of the long lines you may encounter at the Visitor Center of Hearst Castle, I recommend you start planning your excursion before your arrival. Hearst Castle offers a variety of tours, with ticket prices starting at just $25 for adults. Tickets can be purchased on their website here. You can still purchase tickets at the Visitor Center; however, reserving your tour in advance will allow you to save some time and headache when you arrive, especially if a tour becomes sold out.
Hearst Castle offers a variety of tours for guests to be able to enjoy different parts of the estate. Signing up for a tour is the only way you can gain access onto the grounds. Depending on how much time you have for your visit, you can book 1 or as many of the tours as you want! We only booked 1 tour, but wished we could have had time for more!
The main tours of the Castle include the following:
- Grand Rooms Tour: Recommended for first time visitors. This tour provides an experience of Casa Grande (the main house of Hearst Castle) and all of the opulent social rooms.
- Upstairs Suites Tour: Explore up the winding staircases into the Castle's most private rooms, including Mr. Hearst's own personal quarters.
- Cottages & Kitchen Tour: Discover the Castle's surrounding cottages, wine cellar, and enormous kitchen.
- Evening Tour: Turn back time to the 1930s and come experience the house at night! Book your reservation for a night tour, where Living History Docents will be dressed up as if they were heading to an evening soiree at the Castle with Mr. Hearst himself. This tour is the longest tour available and can only be booked at certain times of the year.
*Additional tours, including private and accessible designed tours, may be found on the booking website.
After the tour(s), you're allowed to explore the Neptune Pool, the Roman Pool, and the gardens at your leisure. Unfortunately, you can't gain access into any of the other rooms without a tour, which is why I advise reserving multiple tours if you want to see more rooms! You can purchase your tickets for any of the tours here.
Arriving at Hearst Castle
When you arrive at the estate, you'll pull up to a large parking lot in front of the Visitor Center. Once inside, you will have the option to view "Hearst Castle Building the Dream," which is a 40-minute film about the history of Hearst Castle. It helps set the stage for what you're about to see on the incredible hilltop. You can choose to watch it before or after your tour, but I recommend watching it before your departure. *This short film is included in most daytime tour tickets. Check your reservation to be sure!
Once you're ready to start your journey to the Castle, you'll head to the bus area to catch a 15-minute shuttle ride up the Enchanted Hill. The bus ride, where you'll be able to see thousands of acres of beautiful land, includes an audio narration from none other than Jeopardy's Alex Trebek. You'll learn interesting bits of Hearst history and info as you ascend towards the mansion at the top of the hill.
While You're There
After you exit the bus, you'll be greeted by your tour guide who will take you along your path through the house. Once your tour(s) is concluded, you're able to explore the Neptune Pool, the Roman Pool, and the gardens on your own before heading back to the Visitor Center on the shuttle.
If you're interested in doing a walking tour of your own, download the Hearst Castle app on your smartphone to listen to a guided tour of the grounds! There is a ton of really interesting information that you'll learn about all of the public spaces around the Castle.
Once you're finished exploring, simply head back to the shuttle area to catch a bus back down to the Visitor Center.
Good to Know Information
- Booking your tickets in advance is recommended, but not required. You can select your tour and book your reservation here. You must have a tour reservation in order to gain access to the grounds. *I also recommend booking your ticket in advance because they can sell out!
- As of right now, the world famous Neptune Pool is empty because it is undergoing a massive restoration project. At this point in time, the pool is expected to be completed by Summer 2017.
- You cannot bring any food or drink on your tour of the Castle, with the exception of bottled water. The property can get pretty hot on sunny days, so definitely bring your H2O!
- Download the Hearst Castle App on your smartphone to enjoy a virtual guide while exploring the grounds on your own! We did this and loved it!
- There is a food court available inside the Visitor Center, but you can also pack a lunch or some snacks to eat by your car to save money.
- Movie times for the film "Hearst Castle Building the Dream," vary, so you can plan to see the screening either before or after your tour.
One thing I wish we would have planned for was more time for tours! We only did the Grand Rooms Tour, but would have loved to stay and go through the other ones. You can easily spend an entire day and evening at the castle taking tours because there is so much to see and learn! We're definitely planning on returning for more tours (especially the night tour!) once the Neptune Pool is fully restored!
Have you ever been to Hearst Castle? Comment below with your favorite part of your trip!
750 Hearst Castle Rd.
San Simeon, CA 93452
Thank you to Hearst Castle for hosting our visit. And a special thank you to all of the incredible staff members who made our visit spectacular. All opinions are my own.