Hearst Castle was originally built as W. R. Hearst's private estate and housed his art and publishing collections. Today Hearst Castle is a California State Park and the government manages the public access portions of this massive oceanfront acreage. The castle won "Readers Choice Award" for "Best U.S. Monument" by Conde Nast Traveler.
We spent all day here because it was big and interesting enough for 40 year olds like us. There are 4 different tours because the place is so big and each costs $24. Each tour takes about 1.5 to 2 hours and you will walk up between 150 and 400 steps depending on which one you choose.
Incredible indoor reflections swimming pool in Hearst Castle picture
You can take personal pictures and video. Flash photography and tripods are prohibited. The visitor center has free exhibits, a garden to eat in, 2-3 café style restaurants, nice bathrooms, a museum and gift shop, and an espresso bar. Younger people we saw were very bored, and I certainly wouldn't bring kids here, so keep that in mind if you are totally uninterested in history. Some think the tours are not worth $24 each. If I had it to do over again I would take a day for each tour, and pay for and attend them all.
We took the "experience" tour since that is recommended for first time visitors. You park at the visitor center for free, go inside and get all the information on the various options, most of which include a good quality 40 minute IMAX movie that runs on a nearly continuous basis through out the day. I liked the movie as it inspired me to continue pursuing my dreams even though I am 40 now. Hearst didn't start building this place until he was in his mid-50's and never did finish it either. The tour starts out with a scary uphill cliffhanger of a 20-minute bus ride. From the bus you can see various mountains, the ocean, and some wild animals that are part of the ranches "zoological" past like zebras. The ride back down is even worse because they have to ride the brakes nearly all the way down. One little slip up and off the cliff you go. But that is true of many roads all over mountainous regions anywhere in the world.
The tour itself was informative and both my wife and I enjoyed it. We got to see extraordinary eclectic collections of art that was used to create this estate, giant ceilings made of life-size carved statues of people, the most impressive roman style pool complex I have seen outside of Las Vegas, the most incredible intricately tiled indoor reflection pool I will probably ever see, stunning gardens, great countryside and ocean views, cathedral style exterior adornments, carvings and statues, special furniture from places like Catholic cathedrals and Mexican missions, all imported with care and nicely preserved from various countries around the globe.
Massive outdoor pool area complete with mind blowing architecture imported from Europe and hand assembled on this incredible mountain estate.
Obviously we blew nearly our entire days budget here and you could spend much more by taking the other tours if you wished. Overall a unique experience with the closest thing to it that we have ever experienced being San Diego's Balboa Park, Los Angeles Huntington Library, and the historic missions in San Antonio. From a purest point of view this Hearst guy was not all there. It basically looked like he took large chunks of money and bought huge unique collections of things from all over the world with little to no attention to a theme and installed them in one big building after another.
From an eclectic variety standpoint it's great because there is so much to see you never get bored. If they let us loose here outside the tour boundaries we would definitely spend a week or more enjoying the sites and history of Hearst Castle California. See Hearst Castle camping trip for more details.
American Road Trips - reviews & pictures of places we visited on $20 a day - food, gas and lodging.