Visiting the Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California was one of the things I’ve wanted to see for years. And this was one of the major stops we wanted to make on our Pacific Coast Highway trip last weekend.
The Hearst Castle is out in the middle of nowhere which means it’s not necessarily close to anything else you want to see. It’s an ideal stopover, though, on the road between Santa Barbara and Big Sur. We left Malibu on Friday morning after checking out the Malibu Pier and headed up the 101 to Santa Barbara to grab a quick lunch and explore the town. In retrospect, we regret not spending more time in Santa Barbara. We hurried through Santa Barbara to drive to Solvang (the Danish community) because I’d heard it was cute and charming, but to be honest? It was kind of a tourist trap. Blergh. Live and learn.
In order to give us adequate time to tour the castle and not feel rushed, we spent the night in nearby Paso Robles at the dreamiest little inn and vineyard (only 7 rooms total – but they were amazing!).
The next morning, we got up and made the 45-minute drive to the Hearst Castle for our 10:20am tour. I won’t bore you with the history (although it’s a pretty fascinating story if you like that sort of thing) and I was particularly intrigued with the fact that the castle was designed by a female architect, a pretty rare feat in the 1920s. We booked the Upper Rooms tour (includes bedrooms & Hearst’s private library as well as the pools) but I wish we’d booked more than one tour because we really loved what we saw. It left us wanting more!
It’s deceptive from this photo to see how close the ocean is. In reality, the castle sits pretty high up in the mountains. Visitors park at the base of the hill right by the ocean, and take a bus to the top of the hill. Be prepared to climb LOTS of stairs.
Tassels hung off of every single lantern in the entire estate. I’m now going to have to recreate this. Simon was like “I’m sure you will.”
Hearst’s private office. Can you even?
Sadly the outdoor pool was under renovation and subsequently drained. But it was still spectacular to see nonetheless. We were also surprised at how deep it was.
The craziest part of our tour was when one of the guys in our group was leaning out of one of the balconies and accidentally dropped his iPhone about 50 feet. We all watched in horror as it went sailing out of his hands and he cried “Nooooooooo.” But surprisingly the phone survived! #otterbox
Our absolute favorite part of the tour was the indoor pool. With over a million mosaic tiles, it was an absolute show stopper. It lies underneath the tennis courts, and is surrounded on 3 sides with windows to allow natural light in. There’s also a set of glass bricks inset into the floor of the tennis court above that allows light into the rear of the pool.
Unbelievable. I hope we can come back someday and do another set of tours — the 3 outdoor “cottages” are all so spectacular and totally worth a visit. But we had things to do and places to see, so we hit the road north to Big Sur around 1 in the afternoon.
WHAT TO KNOW IF YOU GO
Stay at: Calipaso Inn & Winery, Paso Robles
Eat at: Il Cortile (Paso Robles – try the grilled octopus and squid ink fettuccine!)
Don’t miss: the elephant seals at the beach north of the Hearst Castle. Literally a thousand seals all sunning themselves on the beach!
Plan on: ordering your tickets online in advance so you can get the right time & tour you want. Go early for less crowds. OR if it’s available, I’d try to do the evening tour. Super dreamy in the golden hour.
Next on our tour: Big Sur & Carmel