Hearst Castle - San Simeon, California
Along the California coast, overlooking the curves of highway 1 and the Pacific, Hearst Castle sits high on a hill, a shimmering white building in the distance, a mirage in white.
William Randolph Hearst was a newspaper tycoon and the loose or not so loose basis for Orson Welle's classic Citizen Kane. Hearst owned 28 newspapers in 19 cities and a fourth of Americans in the 1930's got their news from him. This staggering amount of money coming in made building La Cuesta Encantada (The Enchanted Hill), also called The Ranch, possible. When you tour this incredible place it's hard to wrap your brain around the cost of it all, how could anyone have enough money to buy half of Europe and then ship it to the West Coast to have it reassembled as part of a private residence? Obviously Hearst never had a cash flow problem.
In suggesting gifts: Money is appropriate, and one size fits all. - William Randolph Hearst
The Ranch was designed by architect Julia Morgan and built between 1919 and 1947. It has 165 rooms, 61 bathrooms (Marion Davies, his long time partner, insisted that visitors needed private bathrooms and each bedroom has its own), and 56 bedrooms. There are even the remnants of a private zoo and extensive gardens. There's so much and it's impossible to see everything in one day. From the guest cottages to the upstairs and downstairs rooms in the main house, each is packed with beautiful and priceless things. I sound like a text book here but there's so much information and no way to squeeze in all the facts. It all comes together to form this place that's an opulent one-of-a-kind.
I wonder what it would have been like to come as a guest, to wake up in one of those beds and sit under the orange trees with a book, to watch the sunset over the Pacific.
But I didn’t expect this place to feel so much like home; for a castle on a hill on the California coast to remind me so distinctly of the Spanish coast, for the tall white facade to remind me of Catholic churches with hidden gilded alters. I know that probably sounds crazy, San Simeon is nothing at all like anywhere else I've ever been. But between the smell of oranges and the heat and all the European art it's as close to Spain as I've been since I was a kid. Our upstairs guide (and I wish I could remember her name because she was so amazing) talked about Hearst’s love of Spanish churches, the arches and statues and tall windows. And the building felt instantly familiar.
Between the two tours we took and wandering around the gardens we spent most of our day on the hill.
The Grand Rooms Tour - with the Grand Rooms tour I was expecting to see more. There were only five spaces that and it the area covered was pretty small compared to the upstairs tour. The main living area, dining room, a back entry hall, billiard room, and theater. It was great to see those spaces but if I were to chose between the two tours I would definitely go for the upstairs tour.
The Upstairs Suites Tour - the upstairs tour was much less crowded and not as rushed. We ended up seeing the upstairs first because the downstairs tour had sold out for the time slot we were wanting. I definitely recommend that you buy tickets in advance if you can. It was really nice to walk around with less people and spend more time in each room upstairs, I felt like we got a lot more out of that tour than the Grand Rooms Tour.
With the imposing size of the downstairs rooms I expected the upstairs to be just as large. But the upstairs is smaller, the rooms still opulent and beautiful, but much cozier, if that’s a word that can be applied to such a place. Even Hearst’s bedroom, which I expected for sure to be large and grand, was small compared to the other spaces. The carved wooden panels on the ceiling were painted; men with swords and scroll work covering each one.
My favorite room out of all of them is the Celestial Suite. High in one of the towers, shaded behind Moroccan style window carvings, the room is filled with light and a single golden bed. I can just imagine pink sunsets and stormy skies in that room; I'd never want to leave
Hearst Castle is opulent, full, each surface carved and gilded. The pieces have been pulled from all across the world and what Hearst couldn’t get originals of he had copied by the finest craftsmen. It’s beautiful but I expected it to be, knew it would be. Beautiful paintings hang on the walls, carved jade lamps sit on dressers, and marble sculptures rest on tables and stands throughout.
As I was going through my photos from our visit I was reminded again of how crowded it was. I had to wait patiently to get tourist free photos and even then sometimes it was unavoidable. It's worth it though to wander around with everyone else and enjoy the view of the ocean and the scent of oranges. If you get a chance you should go and be sure to take the upstairs tour.