At the Hearst Castle, in San Simeon, you get the best of California and Europe- and so much that you can't see it all in a day without a marathon of tours. For five miles from the visitor center the bus winds through beautiful hills where giraffes once roamed. Many other mammals once inhabited the hills, but they are gone. Much is different from the day Errol Flynn and Marilyn Monroe partied at this mansion, built by William Randolph Hearst, but there is so much inside that speaks of history and so many gardens that it's hard to feel that you are missing anything the billionaire enjoyed.
Palms trees and statues from Italy line the walks and the poolsides, and flowers that bloom throughout the year. Some of the nicest guesthouses flank the mansion, where the sun shines in the morning when fog hides the hills below. That made the early morning swim all the better for Mr. Hearst and his wife- or paramour. Swimming is prohibited today, but just walk inside the living room of the mansion and your head will swim when you see the paintings from the Middle Ages and Renaissance, and in the dining room, the Spanish choir seats lining the walls and the Louis XIV-style banquet setting. There is so much detail and depth in these rooms that just the first tour can satisfy those who have made this trip for the day all the way from San Francisco- five hours.
The Imax movie is interesting, giving information on the Hearst family's arrival in California, and offers views from the sky, but after the first tour($14) I dozed while watching this exciting movie. Two tours, the first and another, are recommended, but try one in the morning, and one in later afternoon or evening or you might get sleepy.
Go see the elephant seals six miles north of San Simeon. That and lunch in Cambria- a classic California coastal town with saloons and lovely modern buildings with second floor porches and walkways- would suffice as a rest before heading back to the gardens or libraries of the Hearst Castle.
Tickets: Experience Tour $14.00 $7.00
Tours 2-3-4 $10.00 $5.00
Evening Tour $20.00 $10.00
Reservations are recommended, not necessary.
Domestic: 800 444-4445
International: 1-916-414-8400 ext. 4100
Hours of Operation: tours are offered daily, except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. The four daytime tours begin at 8:20 AM daily (December start times may vary). The last tour starts at 3:20 PM in winter, later in summer. Evening Tours start just before sunset.