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. 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/51 hectares of terraced gardens, sparkling fountains, towering palms, and, to top it all off, wraparound views of the sunny Central Coast.
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 daily tours of the main house, or special tours of the cottages; 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/32 meters 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.
Top off a visit to San Simeon’s Hearst Ranch Winery, co-founded 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.