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An afternoon at Hearst Castle

Posted on by Mary Heather

 
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During my trip to visit my family in California, my mom treated us all to a tour of Hearst Castle, the incredible/ridiculously ostentatious home of William Randolph Hearst, designed by California's first female architect, Julia Morgan. Hearst Castle is right off Highway 1 in San Simeon, so we decided to do the tour on our way back north from the wedding in Santa Barbara. 

(Whenever photos are displayed in a grid, you can click on a picture to bring up a larger version and scroll through that particular mini-gallery. If you're viewing in a feed reader, the photos will all be larger - you may want to click through!)

You can't drive right up to Hearst Castle: there is a visitor's center down below with a gift shop, little restaurant, and a place to catch one of the busses that drive up the (narrow, very windy road) to the top. During the bus ride, they play a little informational tour narrated by Alex Trebek (?), who, by the way, gets really into the pronunciations of Spanish words. (La Cuesta Encantada! Rancho Piedra Blanca!  He was feeling it.) The castle winds in and out of view above, and the ocean does the same below - the beauty of the area and the perfect weather we had definitely contributed to our enjoyment of the day.

We did the "Grand Rooms" tour, which led us through the main sitting room, the billiard room, the dining room, and the movie theatre. Coming in from the beautiful sunny day, I was struck by how small the windows were, and how little natural light there was inside. It made it hard to take pictures (obviously flash isn't allowed) and gave the home a slightly creepy vibe (I'm a delicate flower and need my sunlight!), but I'm sure all the people in charge of conserving the antiques are very happy that there is so little sunlight streaming in. For fiber folks, the tapestries alone are well worth seeing. Absolutely gorgeous. 

Our guide pointed out that Hearst was a collector of many things, so rather than just paintings, he had filled his house with paintings, tapestries, woodwork, tiles, statues... basically he had expensive tastes and bought whatever he wanted. I loved the statues (inside and out).

After the tour, we were free to wander outside. The main building and guest "cottages" are surrounded by many acres of ranchland - evidently there are still wild zebras roaming around, from the menagerie that Hearst kept on the grounds when he lived there. The Neptune Pool is something to behold (again, you can click on the pictures to make them larger!):

As we were going down the stairs, approaching the pool, my brother Brian said "you know, it's debatable whether or not it would be worth it to get arrested just to have the chance to dive in there. I think it would almost be worth it!" Ha. (We did not dive in.) Apparently they do open it up for swimming once a year, just for the staff and volunteers who work there.

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We set up for a family picture by the pool, with the beautiful rolling hills of the ranch behind us. My camera self-timer takes 10 pictures in one setup, so of course we snuck some goofy ones in.

We explored for quite a while, enjoying the sculptures, the gardens, and the gorgeous views. It was a real treat to visit this place on such a lovely day!

(P.S. definitely don't touch the pillars by the pool, as pictured above - we didn't realize that you are absolutely not supposed to do that, and quickly got told to stop by one of the guides there. Ha/oops. Don't do it!)  The bus to go back down to the visitors' center loads up just behind the indoor Roman Pool, which was the perfect way to end the tour. It's incredible! The gold in the tile is actual gold, fused under clear glass.

It's definitely over the top and particularly ridiculous that this place was built partially during the Depression... contrast this house to the thought of how so many people were struggling at that time (Debbie Downer, I know, I know... I can't help it!) and it starts to seem, well, kind of gross, but hey, it's indisputably beautiful! Hopefully he paid his workers a fair wage? Anyway, pretty pool! Fun tour! Yay family time! I'm so happy that I finally got to see this beautiful place - it's been on my wishlist for years. Thanks again, mom! <3