We lived in Southern California for six years. I was a graduate student at USC, my husband worked at Edwards Air Force Base as a civilian engineer and both our children were born in Lancaster during those six years. Clearly we were busy and in way over our heads with life in general. Still, before all that wonderful chaos we managed to visit the Hearst Castle in San Simeon. Fast forward 20+ years and I can honestly say I remember very little of that initial visit. We decided to take a refresher tour and were just as amazed as the first time we saw the hilltop house, it is breathtaking in that over-the-top, wanton excess kind of way that makes one wonder “what were they thinking?” It is truly one of a kind that will never be politically correct to replicate in the future. If you get the opportunity to see it, you definitely want to grab it!
We began by entering the visitors center and purchasing our tickets. They have several tours to choose from and you will not have the opportunity to see the whole estate in one viewing. I wanted the tour that led throughout the three guest cottages and the kitchen, but that was sold out, so we selected the Grand Room tour. We boarded our designated bus for the 15 minute ride up to “the enchanted hilltop” as they called it. Along the way we saw cattle grazing on the slopes and a variety of fruit trees while Alex Trebek informed us of the basic facts about the construction of the estate. We caught a few glimpses of the structure as we approached the top.
Just a note, this estate is far too vast to capture with one camera and you can go to the website for panoramic shots. I tried to focus on details that really demonstrated the attention to detail that impressed me the most.
The view from the hilltop was incredible, even on a cloudy day like the one we experienced.
The tour began outside where there were plenty of sites to absorb.
This marble carving was at the base of the grand staircase
Another carving marked the base of a light fixture, one of a dozen identical lights. The Neptune pool, which can be seen in the background, was under repair and not part of this tour.
Another example of a light base with a stone carving, several of these lined the stone wall border
The surface of the walkway was not overlooked by the designers.
This pattern covered the entire terrace
This is a single square that you see repeated in the floor covering above.
We made our way up the grand staircase and additional sculptures, buttresses and embellishments were visible.
Even the staircases had amazing details.
This golden statue had the best view of all!
We continued our ascent to the front door. Not just any front door!
A statue of Cupid pointed the way
See the gold door at the top of the stairs, to the left?
There are two statues on either side of the door
This is the “wild man” on the left side, half man half beast
Directly above the center of the door is a Madonna and child
Above the Madonna is an intricately carved wooden ledge that covers the balcony. Zoom in and you can make out the variety of animals carved from the wood.
Remember the cottage tour I wanted to take? This was as close as I could get this time. There are three guest cottages on the property. Each a small home in itself at 2,000, 3,000 and 5,000 square feet!
It was finally time to enter the great hall, where there is no flash photography allowed.
Sculptures on both sides greet guests as they enter
This is the first image seen as you walk straight into the room. On the right is the fireplace with a huge mantle that runs, almost to the carved ceiling, and on the left a glimpse of the tapestries that adorn the entire great room.
I love ceilings, and the details on this one are beyond stunning!
a close up of one of the panels, these are not repeating images, they are all different!
From here we went into the dining hall.
Who doesn’t need a table that seats 22 guests?
These are choir seats, found throughout many of the rooms. These are not meant for additional seating, Hearst just liked how they looked.
Another amazing ceiling!
The detail is exquisite! No wonder it took 28 years to complete this estate.
After dessert was finished, the guests would retire to the Morning Room to relax.
Another impressive fireplace. See the row of choir chairs off to the left again?
Then it was on to the billiards room. This room was particularly dark and hard to photograph. Just a couple of images from this one.
Then the guests would be treated to a movie in the theatre. This is not your media room at home! It was a full theatre with seating for a small city. It was also dark so only one picture.
This was one of the dozen or so carved beams that ran floor to ceiling. Impressive to say the least.
The Roman Pool was the final stop on the tour, and my favorite site (beside the ceilings).
The light you see from above is from the tennis courts located on top of the pool house. The balcony in the middle is the high dive
This is the bottom of the pool, the picture is taken from above, through the water.
We had the option to tour the grounds, gardens and other walk ways in the public areas, but it was cold! So we boarded our bus and returned to the visitors center. Our ticket included a 40 minute video on the building of the estate, but we were hungry! We made it back to our resort just in time for sunset.
A great end to a perfect day, on to Chandler Arizona!