The main site that attracts visitors from all over is the famed Hearst Castle. During the 1920’s and 30’s, this was THE place to be for famous movie stars, politicians, and more. It’s a collection of art, history, pop-culture, architecture, and scenic views all rolled into one.
The Castle itself is way up the hill. You must board the appropriate tour bus at the Visitor’s Center in which you will hear an audio tour by Alex Trebeck as you climb to the top. We took the Grand Rooms Tour which is perfect for first-time visitors and those with children. The tour is about 1/2 hour and then you are free to explore the other areas of the property at your leisure (new since June 2011). This was just enough to get a taste of what it was like to be a guest here.
The most photographed area is the Neptune Pool, and for good reason. This enormous outside pool is beautiful with the towering columns and amazingly blue water. It’s a great place to breathe in the fresh ocean air, snap some shots, and rest your feet. Or, you can work hard poolside as my husband and daughter were doing.
One of my favorite areas was the indoor Roman Pool which was built under the once heavily-used tennis courts. The attention to detail was so apparent here with carefully placed mosaics throughout, including the ceiling and pool floor. I would have loved to swim in this pool as showcased in the film we watched previously (I’ll talk about that later). The carved marble was a perfect compliment to the already breathtaking room which seemed to glow and shimmer.
After you park in the lot and enter the Visitor’s Center, you can purchase tickets for the tours. Tours are pretty pricey at $25/adult and $12/child but the only way you can view the Castle. Children 5 and under will be horribly bored but at least their admission is free. For children in elementary school, you may want to stop by the Ranger Station and pick up a Junior Ranger Adventure Guide. It has several activities to keep them somewhat busy and acts as a great school project. When they complete the guide they can get a Junior Ranger pin which is a fun incentive to really put some effort into filling out the guide.
Before going on a tour, though, I would highly recommend first watching the “Hearst Castle, Building the Dream” film in the Hearst Theater. This was suggested to us before our visit and we really appreciated the tip. The film is about 4o minutes long and is played on a monstrously huge screen. We all really enjoyed the film as it covered the history of how Mr. Hearst’s father made his fortune, the childhood that impacted Mr. Hearst, the construction of the Castle, and the guests that stayed there. The film was made to move quickly but was entertaining and education at the same time. Admission to the movie is included with all daytime tours. Don’t miss this film!
All the architecture and room decor are basically recreations of what Mr. Hearst saw when touring Europe. While impressive, everything seemed a bit ‘fake’ and a mish-mash of styles. Everything is cared for well and the docents are knowledgeable. Just don’t expect to be ‘wow’ed and you can enjoy it for what it is – a piece of local history and preservation of a great estate.
That being said, nothing can beat the location. Can you imagine waking up each morning to such a few outside your window? Gorgeous!