San Simeon - Image kittycooper.com
Last time I was in California we had taken the Pacific Coast Highway from Oregon down to Los Angeles, going past San Simeon on the way. This time, we did that section of the trip in reverse primarily because we wanted to fit in a visit to the famous San Simeon.
San Simeon, or the Hearst Castle as it is commonly known, is located on the Pacific Coast Highway about half way between Los Angeles and San Francisco (approximately 200 miles south of San Francisco). The closest large down is San Luis Obispo, which is about 1/2 an hour south of San Simeon.
San Simeon was the dream of publishing baron William Randolph Hearst. Originally envisioned as a modern style bungalow, the dream quickly took on a life of its own. Today, it's not just a mansion or castle; it's more of a small village, with a number of large and small residences and guest houses on site, in addition to the various recreational facilities. The residences are built in a Spanish Renaissance style with some Gothic influences. The large outdoor pool, however, has more of a Greco Roman facade. Hearst took a lot of his inspiration from the art works he had collected throughout his lifetime, and which now adorn the castle.
Interestingly, Hearst, who was not a trained architect, had much to do with the design of his dream. To help him out, he employed a very talented (and patient!) person, the San Francisco architect Julia Morgan. Morgan was not only a trained architect, she was also the first female architect licensed to work in the United States - as well, she was also a trained Civil Engineer. Quite the lady! And all that training came in handy, as the site, far atop a hill, miles and miles from any town (and supplies) had more than its share of challenges. Hearst, too, could be a challenge to work with - his ideas were constantly changing, which meant that the buildings had to change, too. Together, Hearst and Morgan built San Simeon for seventeen years (1922 to 1939). Construction was halted right before Hearst's death; however, some buildings remain uncompleted to this day.
San Simeon was famous for its parties; Hearst enjoyed surrounding himself with famous people, and Hollywood provided plenty of potential guests for him. The guests were flown in on Hearst's private plane, and were treated like royalty. Not only were the accommodations and views spectacular, but guests were provided with anything they needed - even bathing suits. There were both indoor and outdoor pools, tennis courts, a movie theatre, and hundreds of thousands of acres upon which one could ride. Hearst even had a five mile long pergola erected so that his guests were able to ride in the shade. He had also had the world's largest private zoo, with over 300 different animals. Nice place to go for a weekend - or two.
Following Hearst's death, San Simeon was donated to the State of California. It now operates as a State Park, and as such, offers tours year round. There are five different tours to choose from (prices are $24/person; $12 for children) and pre-booking is strongly advised. In fact, we had pre-booked but due to an unplanned stop at Santa Monica beach on our way out of town and a two hour traffic jam through Santa Barbara, we ended up missing our tour! By the time we arrived, all tours had been sold out for two hours - but the staff was very, very kind and managed to fit us in with another group. Whew!
If you're in the area, I strongly recommend a trip to this historic site. And even if you're not in the area, do what we did and take the detour. It's well worth it.