The Ultimate Guide To Hearst Castle
Hearst Castle - A Museum like No Other!
Hearts Castle is a sumptuous and awe-inspiring hilltop estate overlooking the Pacific Ocean located in San Simeon, California.
Hearst Castle is a creation of a man’s vision brought into life by a genius architect! Hearst Castle has more than 150 elegantly decorated rooms, a couple of gorgeous swimming pools, a stunning art collection, and beautiful gardens overlooking the Pacific Coast.
Castles are rare sights in the US, and given the lavish design and beautiful architecture, Hearst Castle is a must-see in California!
It all started with a vision, but it took a lot more to build this enchanting Castle, including thoughtful planning, detailed designs, and several people’s hardship to build this Castle on top of the hill.
Hearst Castle’s History:
Hearst Castle’s foundations were laid in 1865 when George Hearst, father of William Randolph Hearst, purchased a vast ranchland in San Simeon, California. Following his death, William Randolph Hearst inherited this ranchland, and along with architect Julia Morgan, Hearst began building his dream estate he called La Cuesta Encantada – Spanish for “Enchanted Hill.”
William Randolph Hearst was a media tycoon who owned several newspapers, launched his own magazine, and produced several movies. Hearst developed his affection toward European architecture and castles at an early age when he toured Europe with his mother. This affection led to the development of the Hearst Castle.
Hearst hosted and entertained several celebrities of his time in his hilltop estate, including Winston Churchill, Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo, and many others.
After Mr. Hearst’s death, the estate opened its doors to the public sometime around 1958.
Hearst Castle is now a National Historic Landmark, offering guided tours of the Castle, providing an opportunity to explore this man-made marvel!
Here is my ultimate guide to Hearst Castle, featuring the history behind Hearst Castle, Hearst Castle Tours, must-see and things to do in Hearst Castle, along with other things to do near Hearst Castle.
Getting to Hearst Castle
The best way to get to Hearst Castle is by flying into California and then driving to Hearst Castle via the beautiful Pacific Coast Highway.
Hearst Castle is located on California Highway 1, also known as the Pacific Coast Highway, right between Los Angeles and San Francisco. It’s about a four-hour drive to Hearst Castle from either Los Angeles or San Francisco.
I definitely recommend driving to Hearst Castle, but if driving is not an option, you can still get to Hearst Castle using train and bus services or private shuttle and taxis services. Below I have outlined different transportation options, best driving routes, train, bus, private shuttle, and taxi services to get to Hearst Castle.
Timing: Open Daily 9:00 AM
Closed: Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day & New Year’s Day
Hearst Castle Address: 750 Hearst Castle Rd, San Simeon, CA 93452
Hearst Castle Parking fee: Free
You could fly into one of the following International or Domestic airports in California and then rent a car and drive to Hearst Castle.
International Airports Near Hearst Castle: Fresno Yosemite International Airport Fresno, CA (FAT), 150 miles from Hearst Castle, 2 hours 45 minutes drive to Hearst Castle, Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport San Jose, CA (SJC), 198 miles from Hearst Castle, 3 hours 20 minutes drive, San Francisco International Airport San Francisco, CA (SFO) and Oakland International Airport Oakland, CA (OAK) both are about 230 miles from Hearst Castle, about 4 hours drive to Hearst Castle, and Los Angeles International Airport, Los Angeles, CA (LAX), about 240 miles from Solvang, 4 hours 20 minutes drive to Hearst Castle.
Domestic Airports Near Hearst Castle: San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport, San Luis Obispo, CA (SBP), about 48 miles and one hour drive, Santa Maria Public Airport, Santa Maria, CA (SMX), 80 miles from Hearst Castle and 1 hour 30 minutes drive, Monterey Regional Airport, Monterey, CA (MRY), 96 miles and 2 hours 20 minutes drive to Hearst Castle, and Santa Barbara Municipal Airport Santa Barbara, CA (SBA) & Meadows Field Bakersfield, CA (BFL) both are around 140 miles from Hearst Castle and about 2 hours 30 minutes drive.
Most of the US airports have rental car facilities, so you can fly into one of the above airports and then rent a car and then drive to Hearst Castle.
Pacific Coast Highway is one of the most scenic drives in the US, and Hearst Castle is located along the PCH, right between Los Angeles and San Francisco, making driving the best way to get to Hearst Castle!
It’s about a four-hour drive to Hearst Castle from either Los Angeles or San Francisco, and whichever direction you’re coming from, you will see some gorgeous views of the coastline and get to stop at some great vista points.
You can find more details about Pacific Coast Highway, including major attractions and vista points, in my Ultimate Guide To Pacific Coast Highway.
While there are no direct train or bus services to Hearst Castle, there are a few other options that include a train/bus service to Paso Robles Amtrak Station, the closest Amtrak Station to Hearst Castle, and then taking a cab/taxi to Hearst Castle.
Los Angeles to Hearst Castle by Train & Taxi/Shuttle: Amtrack offers quite a few mixed services, i.e., using trains and buses from Los Angeles to Paso Robles Amtrak Station. Once you reach Paso Robles, you have a few options to get to Hearst Castle: public bus service SLO RTA, Rideshare, and a private shuttle service Ride-On TMA.
San Francisco to Solvang by Train & Taxi/Shuttle: Amtrak offers several mixed services from San Francisco and Oakland stations to Paso Robles Amtrak Station. Once you reach Paso Robles, you have a few options to get to Hearst Castle: public bus service SLO RTA, Rideshare, and a private shuttle service Ride-On TMA.
Things To Do In Hearst Castle
The access to Hearst Castle is only via guided tours that begin at the visitor center and are very well-paced, well-narrated, and very enlightening!
Upon reaching Hearst Castle’s lower entrance, you park at the parking lot near the visitor center and then enter through the visitor center. Here at the visitor center, you can buy your tour tickets and then board the tour bus that will take you to the hilltop estate.
Upon reaching Hearst Castle’s main entrance atop the hill, you will be received by your tour guide, who would walk you through the parts of the Castle, based upon the tour you chose. Towards the end of your day time guided tour, you would be set free to explore places outside the Castle at your own pace.
There are several tours offered at Hearst Castle, and to help you decide, below, I have listed the most popular Hearst Castle tours along with a brief overview and the time required for each tour.
Depending upon how much time you plan to spend at Hearst Castle, you can either do a single tour or multiple tours in a day. If you have time to do multiple tours, I recommend doing one tour in the morning and one in the evening so that you can see the beautifully lit Castle at night.
Grand Rooms Tour: This tour provides an excellent overview of Hearst Castle, and I highly recommend this tour to everyone. Whether you plan to do just one tour or multiple tours, this tour should be there in your itinerary.
In this tour, you will get to explore several rooms in the main building of Hearst Castle known as the “Casa Grande,” including the Assembly Room, Billiards Room, and the Theater. During the tour, you will see several extraordinary pieces of artwork and some masterpieces of carpentry, architecture, and decor. The tour also includes a small movie, “Building The Dream,” played at the end of the tour at the Theater in the Hearst Castle. Time Required for the Grand Rooms Tour: 1 hour.
Upstairs Suites Tour: This tour allows you to explore the upper floors of the main building of Hearst Castle known as the “Casa Grande,” including Mr. Hearst’s suite, the grand library, and other guest rooms. During the tour, you will see some gorgeous decor and thoughtful architecture, however, keep in mind that you would need to climb around 300 steps (up and down). The tour also includes a small movie, “Building The Dream,” played at the Theater in the Hearst Castle. Time Required for the Upstairs Suites Tour: 1 hour.
Cottages & Kitchen Tour: This tour allows you to explore some of Hearst Castle’s more functional rooms, including the famous wine cellar, the massive kitchen, and a couple of beautifully decorated guest cottages. Even this tour includes a small movie, “Building The Dream,” played at the Theater in the Hearst Castle. Time Required for the Cottages & Kitchen Tour: 1 hour.
Evening Tour: This tour allows you to experience Hearst Castle at night. The beautifully lit Castle looks gorgeous at night, and guides dressed in 1930’s attire, is a one-of-a-kind experience! This tour covers several rooms in the main building, including the Assembly Room, Billiards Room, library, Gothic Suite, and the Theater. However, this is a seasonal tour available only in the months of March, April, May, October, and November.
Time Required for the Cottages & Kitchen Tour: 1 hour 40 minutes.
Holiday Twilight Tour: This is a seasonal tour offered during the holiday season, starting the last week of November until the 1st week of January. In this tour, you get to see the grand entertaining rooms in Hearst Castle decorated with several Christmas trees, lights, and other decors. Time Required for the Holiday Twilight Tour: 1 hour 15 minutes.
The Hearst Castle tours are very thoughtfully designed. There are wheelchair accessible tours available for people who have difficulty climbing stairs or walking.
Hearst Castle also offers private, group, and school tours. You can check the tour schedules online at Hearst Castle’s Website.
If it’s your first visit to Hearst Castle, or if you’re short on time and plan to do only one tour, I would recommend doing the Grand Rooms Tours.
Upon completing the escorted tour of the Castle’s interiors, you can remain on the hilltop and continue exploring the places outside Hearst Castle at your own pace!
The panoramic views of the Pacific Coast, beautiful gardens with fountains and sculptures, and the spectacular pools at Hearst Castle make the self-guided tour of the exteriors one of my personal favorites!
Hearst Castle Gardens: There are several beautiful gardens around the Castle. Some overlooking the Pacific Coast offers spectacular views, while other gardens are decorated with sculptures and beautiful fountains.
Neptune Pool: The outdoor Neptune Pool in Hearst Castle is sumptuous and my favorite place in the Castle! The blue tiles, the Italian sculptures, and the beautifully carved pillars surrounding the pool make it look gorgeous. I can simply sit by the Neptune Pool and admire and photograph the pool for hours.
Roman Pool: This an indoor pool, beautifully decorated with sculptures of Roman God & Goddesses and beautifully crafted with mosaic tiles. The pool is said to be equipped with an exercise room and several dressing rooms. However, being an indoor pool and due to safety reasons, you can only see the pool from a designated viewing area and not access the inner sections of the Roman Pool.
Once done exploring the exteriors of the Castle, you can board a shuttle bus at the bus stop located next to the Roman Pool, which will take you back to the visitor center.
Restaurants at Hearst Castle: There are quite a few dining choices at Hearst Castle, including a Coffee & Snack Bar, Chief’s Galley Cafe serving various soups, salads, sandwiches & boxed lunches, and the seasonal Camp Hill BBQ located in the courtyard usually open during summer months.
Hearst Castle Gift Shops: You must take home a souvenir from Hearst Castle! I personally love the miniature replicas of the Castle. But there’re several other beautifully crafted mementos, including mugs, glassware, coasters, and more available in the two gift shops at Hearst Castle’s visitor center – Castle Collection Gift Shop and Assembly Collection Museum Shop.
Things To Do Near Hearst Castle
There are a few other beautiful places near Hearst Castle in San Simeon that you must-see on your trip to Hearst Castle.
Zebras at the Hearst Ranch: There was a time when Mr. Hearst even had a private zoo in Hearst Castle. The zoo was later dismantled, and animals were sold or donated to the public zoos. But even today, along Highway 1, you can see some of Mr. Hearst’s zebras roaming the Hearst Ranch. When coming from Los Angeles, you will see the ranch located on the right side just before arriving at Hearst Castle, and if you’re coming from San Francisco, you will have to go past the Hearst Castle visitor center to see the Zebras in Hearst Ranch.
Elephant Seal Vista Point: Located about 5 miles north of Hearst Castle is the Elephant Seal vista point, here you would find thousands of elephant seals resting at the shore. It’s a one-of-a-kind experience to see so many massive seals all in one place! There is a parking lot and a viewing platform overlooking the beach, from where you can see the elephant seals. If you’re coming from Los Angeles, you would have to go past the Hearst Castle visitor center to get to the Elephant Seal vista point.
Lodging & Dining Near Hearst Castle
While you might not find a fancy resort in San Simeon, but there are still quite a few decent hotels near Hearst Castle.
Cavalier Ocean Front Resort: This is a family-owned ocean front resort with rooms with gorgeous views of the Pacific Ocean. The hotel is about 4 miles from Hearst Castle and is only a 7 minutes drive. The location, the coastal views, and an on-site restaurant make Cavalier Ocean Front Resort one of my favorite hotels near Hearst Castle.
San Simeon Lodge: Located just one block from San Simeon beach and about 4 miles from Hearst Castle, San Simeon Lodge is another excellent choice to stay near Hearst Castle.
If you’re looking beyond what the restaurants in Hearst Castle’s visitor center offer, I have a couple of recommendations for you!
Cavalier Restaurant: This is a great place to dine while enjoying beautiful coastal views! The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and servers classical American cuisine along with a great wine collection. Located at 9415 Hearst Dr, San Simeon, CA 93452.
San Simeon Beach Bar & Grill: This is a lively place with outdoor seating and a great bar. Located at 9520 Castillo Dr, San Simeon, CA 93452.
Big Sur Restaurant: This place offers excellent service along with great food choices, including burgers, sandwiches, wings, pizzas, and more. Located at 9290 Castillo Dr, San Simeon, CA 93452.
Hearst Castle Trip Itinerary
Given Hearst Castle’s location, right between Los Angeles and San Francisco on the Pacific Coast Highway, it’s a popular day stop for people driving between the two metropolitan cities. It’s about a four-hour drive to Hearst Castle from either Los Angeles or San Francisco, and as most of the Hearst Castle tours take no longer than a couple of hours, it makes Hearst Castle an excellent choice for a day trip.
However, if you have time, I highly recommend spending a couple of days in San Simeon, which will allow you to visit Hearst Castle in the daytime and in the evening, and leisurely explore other San Simeon attractions.
To help you plan your perfect trip to Hearst Castle, I have compiled a sample two day Hearst Castle trip itinerary!
This is a two-day trip itinerary; however, if you’re planning just a day trip, you could still use the Day 1 part of this itinerary. I recommend getting an early start and reaching Hearst Castle in the morning.
11:00 AM – Reach Hearst Castle, purchase your tour tickets, and grab your coffee and breakfast from the Coffee & Snack bar inside Hearst Castle’s visitor center.
12:00 Noon – Board your tour bus, reach the hilltop estate, and complete the guided tour of the interiors of Hearst Castle
1:00 PM – Explore Hearst Castle’s exteriors at your own pace, including the beautiful gardens, Neptune pool, and Roman Pool. Once done, board the tour bus from the bus stop next to the Roman Pool, which will take you back to the visitor center.
2:30 PM – Grab lunch and buy your souvenirs from the several restaurants and gift shops at the visitor center
3:30 PM – Head to the Elephant Seal Vista Point, located just 5 miles north of Hearst Castle. Upon reaching, park your car in the parking lot and spend as much time you want viewing the giant seals from the viewing platform.
4:30 PM – If you’re staying in San Simeon, have dinner in one of the local restaurants and check into your hotel. If you’re planning just a day trip, you can head to your destination after visiting the Elephant Seal Vista Point.
Note – There is no designated stop for viewing the Zebras at the Hearst Ranch. You will see them while you’re passing by the Hearst Ranch on your way.
9:00 AM – Have breakfast in one of the local San Simeon restaurants
10:00 AM – Hit the San Simeon beach and leisurely spend your day at the beach
1:00 PM – Have your lunch at the Cavalier Restaurant while enjoying beautiful coastal views
3:30 PM – Reach Hearst Castle, buy your tickets for the evening tour, and leisurely explore the gift shops
5:30 PM – Board the tour bus, reach the hilltop estate, join your tour guide, who will be with you throughout the tour. Unlike the daytime tours, you’re not allowed to stroll the exteriors on your own due to safety reasons in the evening tours.
7:30 PM – Have your dinner and head to your hotel
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I hope you enjoyed reading the post, The Ultimate Guide To Hearst Castle, and I expect this will help you plan your trip to the Hearst Castle.
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Absolutely stunning! I can’t believe I haven’t traveled here before. There are so many things to see and do here. I’m so glad I discovered your blog. My daughter is going to feel like a princess exploring the Hearst Castle!
I’m sure your daughter will love it there! I would also recommend stopping by the Elephant Seal vista point on your trip to Hearst Castle.