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