Mansions are a dime a dozen in California, with movie stars and tech power brokers building palaces and adding wings, pools, and yoga pavilions with abandon. But nothing comes close to Hearst Castle in San Luis Obispo County. Lavishly designed by Julia Morgan, California’s first female architect, as the private residence of publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst, the complex, completed in 1947, is an extraordinary temple to opulence and excess. Now one of California’s most visited state historical monuments, it is an eye-popping extravaganza with a 165-room castle, 127 acres of terraced gardens, sparkling fountains, towering palms, and, to top it all off, wraparound views of the sunny Central Coast. (Ed. note: “Is Hearst Castle open?” is one of the most often asked questions on the Central Coast lately. After nearly two years of being closed—first due to the COVID-19 pandemic and then because of damage sustained to the roads by storms—the castle was finally able to reopen on May 11 of this year.)
Tours of Hearst Castle
It’s easy to spend a full day or more exploring the castle and its environs in San Simeon. The seaside town has a nice range of places to stay, from mainstream to majestic accommodations. Start your visit with one of Hearst Castle’s wide array of tours, which include the Grand Rooms Tour, the Upstairs Suites Tour, the Cottages and Kitchen Tour, and a seasonal tour that focuses on the life of Julia Morgan. Come in November or December to see the estate dressed up in its very festive holiday decor.
Every tour provides visitors with an opportunity to spend time marveling at the residence’s two lavish pools. The outdoor Neptune Pool, 104 feet in length, is heated through an oil-burning system and framed with marble statues of Neptune and Nereid guarding over the aquatic paradise. The indoor Roman Pool has the look of a decadent Roman bath, with rich details including cobalt blue and gold smalti, or glass tiles. Look up to see intricate mosaics depicting a star-filled night sky, spreading across the roof and dome.
Things to Do Near Hearst Castle
There are plenty of other things to do and see while in the area. Take a walk in the surf or on the pier at William Randolph Hearst Memorial Beach, go see the sea lions and the lighthouse at Piedras Blancas Light Station, or go for a hike while your eyes peeled for whales at Fiscalini Ranch Preserve. Take a break from the great outdoors with a visit to San Simeon’s Hearst Ranch Winery, cofounded by William Randolph Hearst’s great-grandson Steve. The tasting room along the Pacific Coast Highway offers Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Chardonnay, and more, alongside sweeping views.