Hearst Castle
Hearst San Simeon State Historical Monument

San Simeon, CA 93452

November 09, 2000

We traveled south along California's coast on Hwy. 1 to Monterey Bay from Oregon. After staying in Monterey Bay for awhile, we decided it was time to move further south and contemplated continuing our journey on Hwy. 1. However, we met a local man that said taking a fifth-wheel along that stretch of road was not a good idea since the roads were so twisting and narrow. So we opted instead to take Hwy 101 to Pismo Beach State Park, just south of San Luis Obispo. Since everyone we met told us that we just couldn't miss the Hearst Castle we drove our truck up Hwy 1 from our campground and enjoyed the beautiful scenery on the way. I certainly could understand what they meant about not taking a trailer or fifth-wheel on this stretch of road. The roads were certainly spectacular but had to be some of the most twisting, narrow roads we have seen. I think in the entire U.S., Hwy 1 along the west coast has to be my favorite. The views from the roadway overlooking the Pacific Ocean are breathtaking. Arriving at the entrance to the Hearst Castle we pulled in and drove up their driveway to the parking lot. At this time all we could see was the visitors' center (opened in April 1988) and just a tiny glimpse of the top of the Hearst Castle. This site has been taken over by the State of California Department of Parks and Recreation. We were told that it created so much revenue from the numerous visitors (over 800,000 each year) that the State actually lowered the tour fees. That is something that is very unusual anywhere. Usually if something is making money they keep the rates the same or want to raise them. From the visitors' center you take a bus to the castle.
Anyway, the visitors center presented a number of things. They had a gift shop, where you could get any number of items with the name Hearst Castle on them. Then there was a Museum Shop that offered authenticated reproductions of actual architectural details, art pieces and furnishings that make Hearst Castle truly a treasure. In addition they had a snack bar and an espresso bar. There was also a National Geographic large format I-WERKS theatre which featured the film "Hearst Castle-Building the Dream" which augmented the guided tours of the Hearst San Simeon State Historical Monument. There was also an excellent exhibit that presented the story of the multi-faceted William Randolph Hearst and the estate he created. Sectioned into segments addressing Hearst's life as a builder, collector, producer, politician and host, the renovated exhibit featured artifacts, historic and modern photographs, showcase rooms, a video presentation, interactive displays and a Treasure Hunt for children. Decorative architectural elements were created especially for this exhibit
in the Castle's own mold shop, just as items were made by craftsman on-site for specific uses in William Randolph Hearst's era. At the east end of the complex there was an observation deck that offered a wonderful vantage point from which to view the spectacular Hearst Castle on the crown of a mountain 1,600 feet above the Center. The Conservation Room offered the opportunity for visitors to observe collections maintenance staff and conservators at work, preserving or restoring artwork and antique furnishings. There was no charge for any of the above. After seeing all of this, then came the hard decisions as the Castle was divided up into five different tours. Tours 1 through 3 were offered daily. Tour 4 - which included a great deal of the gardens and grounds was only offered April through October. And the final tour which was an evening tour and living history program was available Spring and Fall only. This offered highlights of tours 1, 2, and 4 took 2 hours, and 10 minutes. It was presented by docents in period dress. It was intended to take visitors back to the Castle's 1930s heyday.

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