I used to be indecisive…

…but now I'm not so sure

Hearst Castle


Hearst Castle at San Simeon, California is a National Historic Landmark.  The mansion was built by the media magnate William Randolph Hearst (1863 – 1951) and is described in my Lonely Planet guide book as ‘a wondrous, historic, over-the-top homage to material excess, perched high on a hill’.  I couldn’t have put it better myself!


I was keen to visit Hearst Castle when we were in California and was looking forward to seeing the famed opulence and excess and I wasn’t disappointed.  The inside of the house was divided into separate tours, so to see the whole of the interior would have required going on three different ones, each of which was quite expensive, so I decided on the Grand Rooms tour, which was recommended for first time visitors and would give a flavour of what it would have been like to have been a guest at the house.

So, without further ado, let’s set off and have a look around.  Access to the mansion is by bus from the Visitor’s Centre. The journey up the hill took about ten minutes, but the weather was clear and the views over the countryside and to the sea were stunning.  We had a guide with us who would be taking us inside the mansion before allowing us to wander around the terraces and gardens for as long as we liked.  First he explained to us how Hearst had an idea for a holiday home to be built on the family ranch where they used to camp in the summer holidays.  He employed an architect (the first licensed female architect) to design a modest house, but he kept changing his mind about what he wanted and she had to change the designs to accommodate his ever-growing art collection – the spoils of his European shopping sprees where he purchased everything from artefacts from antiquity to parts of medieval monasteries.

Moving into the building, the rooms we saw were filled with priceless tapestries, works of art, statues and beautiful furniture.  Despite the opulence of the surroundings, Hearst liked to live simply when he was there as evidenced by the bottle of tomato ketchup on the dining table!

We were part of quite a large tour group so it was very hard to stop and take pictures of things as we walked round the grand rooms.  If I stopped to take a picture (without lots of people in it!) I would miss the next part of the explanation of the items we were looking at.  To try and explain what was in the grand rooms, in the absence of photos, imagine the entire contents of a several-hundred-years-old National Trust stately home all crammed into one room.  And we saw several such rooms – each one full to bursting with treasures.

Once we were outside again we were left to our own devices and there was plenty of time to walk round and look at everything.  The views from the terraces were magnificent.


The terraces were immaculately kept and had sculptures, small pools and fountains (most of them empty because of water saving measures that were in place at the time) around every corner.

From the terraces we could access one of the things I was most looking forward to seeing – the famed Neptune pool. This is what I was hoping to see –


Photo credit: hearstcastle.org

This is what I actually saw – the pool drained for repairs.


Neptune pool

My disappointment was considerable but, as our guide said, we were amongst a very small number of people who would see the beautiful mosaic tiles on the floor of the pool.

Walking on around the terraces we came to the building which housed the indoor Roman pool.  It was beautiful, and full of water!


Roman Pool

After we had finished our walk around the terraces and gardens we headed for the bus which took us back to the Visitors’ Centre.  On the way back we passed the ruins of what was, in Hearst’s day,  the world’s largest private zoo. When he died, most of the animals were sold to other zoos, but the zebra were set free and now thrive in the pastures around the estate – we saw them when driving along Highway 1 the following day.

I finished the visit by going into the Theater to watch the fascinating 40 minute film about the building of the mansion and what led up to it.  I’m very glad I watched it because it gave a real insight into the history of the family, the story of Hearst’s life, the reasons for his magnificent art collection and clips of the Hollywood stars who used to stay in the castle.

I’m linking this gentle, opulent walk with Jo’s Monday Walk.


17 thoughts on “Hearst Castle

  1. How lovely and amazing pictures! Love the pool tiles, and I would bet a lot of people hasn’t seen it like that. I love the information about the animals. Zebra running free would be amazing to see everyday 🙂 Thanks for sharing.

  2. Wooo-hooo! Here come the CA posts! An excellent beginning too! I originally had this on our list too, but when I read about the drought and that the pool wouldn’t be filled, it kind of killed it for me. I should show you my pix of the Venice Canals – very little water, more like the Venice mud divots! LOL. Sounds like you and I look forward to the same things. Love your pix and you did a fab job narrating us around the house/grounds.

    • You gave me the nudge to get on with the California posts! I hadn’t read that the pool would be empty, so that was quite a big disappointment, but I was still pleased with the visit overall. Venice Canals with very little water – it’s hardly imaginable!

  3. When we visited several years ago, the pool was filled, and every bit as gorgeous as the photo. I was overwhelmed by the opulence, and the lack of feeling of warmth – it was fun to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there.

    • I wasn’t overwhelmed by the opulence inside the house because we have so many places here in the UK which are full of similar things, but I really enjoyed the general opulence of the outside of the building and the grounds – and just the idea that he could have all of that stuff. I think I would have loved to have a holiday there, even if only to swim in the pool and enjoy the marvellous views.

  4. How disappointing. I know how you feel, because in several places in England scaffolding covered lovely buildings we had looked forward to seeing. On the bright side, you now have three very good reasons to return – two more tours to do and a full pool to see!

  5. Well I did see the pool with water in it and we did the same tour as you, but you at least got to see the views. It was pouring with rain on our visit and we could see nothing at all! The following day was fine though, but of course you have to book ahead for the tours and we had to carry on with the drive anyway. Looking forward to more CA posts 🙂

    • I think it is fair to say that the beautiful blue skies and clear views added enormously to my enjoyment of the visit. Had it been a dull, wet day then I’m not sure that me feelings about the visit would be so positive – and the lack of water in the pool would have been the last straw!

  6. Totally beautiful, Elaine, and thank you for the link. I have scheduled a post- of sorts- for tomorrow because my Dad died while I was in the Algarve. It includes your St. Andrews walk. Can I keep this one next week please?

  7. Pingback: Jo’s Monday walk : Alternative Ayamonte | restlessjo

  8. oh I had the same experience not at Hearst but in Washington DC with Lincoln’s Memorial Reflecting Pool . . . . .and that doesn’t have stunning tiles to take away a little bit of the disappointment!
    Fab post by the way 🙂

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