Hearst CastleSan Simeon, CA

As part of our Highway 1 (Pacific Coastal Highway) road trip series, my husband and I took an overnight trip to visit the elegant Hearst Castle located atop one of the highest peaks of San Simeon, CA. Read about our Pacific Coastal Highway (PCH) road trip to Monte Rio, CA and a separate trip to the Pacific Northwest on these links!

Day 1

San Simeon is about a 5-hour drive south coming from Sacramento. Though the drive heading there only briefly passed through Highway 1 (PCH), passing through Highway 46 is just as amazing. The western part of state route 46 is filled with hilly curves of vineyards and wineries. With the wet cold front we’ve been experiencing in California, I was delighted to see the sprawl of perfectly-lined vines on this sunny day.

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Highway 46 West
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Vineyards on Highway 46

I would’ve loved to stop by a few of these wineries but we were trying to get to Hearst Castle before they closed. Perhaps next time! Note to self, leave earlier! Needless to say, we made it to Hearst Castle at around 1 PM with plenty of time to explore as they close at 4 PM daily. Before heading to our Grand Room tour ($25 per person), we had time to watch a movie (free with the tour) following the evolution of the owner and builder William Hearst. He was the first modern-day media magnate with businesses ranging from newspapers to magazines to various Hollywood movies.

Displayed inside the Hearst Castle Theater.
Don’t forget to watch the movie about William Hearst on this theater. It comes FREE with the tour!

Originally called La Cuesta Encantada, William Hearst, referred to this massive property as a ranch. It was later called Hearst Castle by the State of California upon its induction as a National Historic Landmark. Built at 1,600 feet high, it boasts one of the best views of the Pacific Ocean in the central coast area.

This is one of my favorite views on the entire property! Sometimes, the fog is thick covering the sight of the ranch and the Pacific Ocean.

William’s mother was an avid traveler and often took him with her to explore the world. Much of the designs of Hearst castle is reminiscent of the places he’s visited as a child.

View of the Casa Grande, the main house on the property with 38 rooms.

After watching the movie, we took a 15-minute, 5-mile bus trip inland and up the hill of Santa Lucia Range. We were met by our tour guide at the courtyard.

William Hearst still had plans on improving the flooring on this courtyard but with his health declining, he never got to finish his 28-year project!

More than just it’s architectural grandeur, Hearst Castle is a living museum. At one point, Hearst owned a quarter of the world’s European and Mediterranean art collection displayed both indoors and outdoors.

The top patio is the room where William Hearst stayed later in his life.
The intricate design of the Assembly Room where his guest often meets for cocktail hour before dinner.
Partial view of the gardens.

As we proceeded to tour the Grand Rooms of the castle, Mr. Hearst’s character became an enigma almost immediately. Eccentric. His inspiration spans from the Rennaisance to the Spanish and Mediterranean Revivals to the Medieval Age. Each room we visited had a different theme and the only factor they had in common is that everything is intricately grand! He was very involved during the 28-year build-out and was known to change the final designs last minute. An invitation to stay at his ranch was coveted among Hollywood’s elite as his parties were unparalleled.

This is an entrance to one of the houses on the property. The State of California discovered an entire room underneath the stairs. It is believed that Hearst changed the design after it was constructed.
This Middle-ages inspired room is called the Refectory, the castle’s main dining room.

William Hearst sat in the middle of this table and guests’ seating arrangement were done in order of Hearst’s favor. A comedian was seated in the farthest seat from Hearst but was moved next to him after entertaining the party the night before.

There were other paid tours available but we didn’t have enough time for it. So, if you plan on visiting, plan for a whole day’s trip! Finally, on our way back to the bus was the massive indoor pool.

The Roman Pool is decorated with 8 statues of Roman gods and goddesses.
The pool’s design was inspired by ancient Roman baths.

What impressed me the most about Hearst Castle is the 360° vista. It was utterly beautiful! Visiting on a sunny spring day made it all the more enjoyable!

The tour and the drive took about 2 hours. And by the time we arrived back at the visitor center, we were hungry. So before heading to our hotel, we grabbed fish and chips from a nearby restaurant and capped off our day! Our stay at the Days Inn along Highway 1 was quiet and comfortable.

It’s only fitting to order fish and chips at a restaurant located right next to the ocean!
The view from our hotel patio is Highway 1 and the Pacific Ocean.
Queen Room with a patio, Days Inn.

Day 2

Before heading back to Sacramento, we visited the Elephant Seal Vista in San Simeon. It was fascinating to watch these Elephant Seals lounging all day basking in the sun while others swim into the ocean. If not for our schedule, I could easily spend a day watching them!

A few of the elephant seals basking in the sun.
The Elephant Seal Vista does not have direct access to the beach where the seals are.

We also visited the Moonstone Beach and took a quick cinnamon roll pit stop in the very charming town of Cambria!

A closer look at the pebbles of the Moonstone Beach.
The colors of the pebbles aren’t seen unless examined closer.
A walk through the Moonstone Beach boardwalk.
Downtown Cambria
We took a quick cinnamon roll stop!

Now heading back east, there were beautiful rest stops (on the east side) that we missed on our way to San Simeon. These were taken at one of the highest parts of Highway 46.

Highway 46 Eastside
On the left corner is a massive fog behind the hills!

As we slowly inched back towards Highway 101, I can’t stop thinking of William Hearst. Why did he feel the need to build such a massive home with the project extending to 28 years? Before his death, he was heavily in debt in part because of this huge project and the other because of his businesses. He reminds me of Sarah Pardee of the Winchester House and Jay Gatsby of the Great Gatsby. What moved him? I can never know!

Rolling hills of vineyards!
Weekday road trips look like this! Empty!

Overall, we had a wonderful time! Located on the central coast of California, Hearst Castle is 4 hours away from both San Francisco and Los Angeles. It makes for an excellent getaway with the beautiful drive through Highway 46 and Highway 1 and it’s 360° panorama! Cheers!

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