If you want to visit a castle and not leave the U.S., Hearst Castle is your place. Although not old compared to the castles of Europe, Hearst Castle reminded me of those magnificent structures and for good reason.
Hearst Castle is now a California state park. The setting is superb, in the hills overlooking the California coastline, near the small town of San Simeon, about half way between San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Much of the interior décor was imported from Europe and the mansion is essentially a museum with priceless works of art from all over the world.
William Randolph Hearst (1863 – 1951) was a publishing magnate (newspapers, magazines) and spent a good part of his vast fortune building Hearst Castle on property where he had spent his youth camping with his family. His desire to build the castle began early. At about 10 years of age, he accompanied his mother on a year-long trip to Europe and gained a love for and fascination with European architecture, art and culture.
Unusual for the time, he hired a woman, Julia Morgan as his architect to design and oversee construction of the castle. Construction started in 1919 and continued for almost 30 years—to this day it is not complete. Hearst kept changing his mind and expanding his vision of what the castle and grounds should be. The engineering and logistics required to build the mansion in these hilltops and in this relatively remote location boggle the mind.
He even built an airstrip to make it easier to bring in supplies and guests. Hearst hosted the elite of Hollywood, political leaders and many others here. It was an incredible honor to be invited to Hearst Castle during its heyday.
Information on the castle can be found here. There are 3 main tours offered. Although the location is somewhat remote, Hearst Castle receives (and is prepared for) hoards of visitors. They have a large visitor’s center, museum and huge IMAX theater with a film about the building of the castle. Your ticket provides a specific time for your tour and buses take you from the visitors center up the road (about 15 minutes) to the castle. Plan on 2-3 hours for your visit. Also, about 3 miles north of San Simeon is a elephant seal beach area, where we saw probably 30 or more seals enjoying the sun and sand. It’s well worth the 10-minute drive to see these huge creatures laying on the beach enjoying the comfortable surroundings.