Hearst San Simeon State Historical Monument (Hearst Castle)
Hearst San Simeon State Historical Monument (also known as Hearst Castle) is the dream mansion built by newspaper magnate William R. Hearst on “the Enchanted Hill,” as he called it, 1,600 feet above the ocean on his 250,000-acre estate, which encompasses some of the most beautiful and open coastline in the state. The castle is now a popular tourist attraction within the state park system. It was designed by Julia Morgan, and constructed over a period of nearly 30 years beginning in 1919. Its style is perhaps best described as Mediterranean Revival eclectic. There’s no way you can see it all on a single tour. State Parks offers a choice of four different tours, six tours a day; only one is accessible.
The castle complex of four buildings has 165 rooms, with artworks collected by Hearst in every room. It has terraces and two magnificent swimming pools, and is surrounded by 127 acres of gardens. Hearst entertained many luminaries here, including President Calvin Coolidge, Winston Churchill, George Bernard Shaw, Charles Lindbergh, Charlie Chaplin, and many other stars of his day.
You don’t need to pay for a castle tour to stop at the free visitor center, at the park’s entrance. There you’ll find exhibits about Hearst’s public and personal life, and some of his art collection. There's a small admission fee to the theater, where a 40-minute film tells about the building of the castle. A snack bar sells food you can eat at nearby picnic tables. Tours of the main house, grounds, and other buildings depart from behind the visitor center and require a bus ride to the top of the hill.
Tours: While architectural barriers limit access throughout the property, an accessibly designed tour visits several buildings, providing a good overview of the estate’s grandeur. On the main floor of the Casa Grande (main house), you’ll see the assembly room, refectory, morning room, theater, and billiard room or kitchen; you’ll also visit a guesthouse, the gardens, the indoor Roman Pool, and catch a glimpse of the outdoor Neptune Pool.
The lift-equipped shuttle bus from the visitor center to the castle can hold only four passengers, including two wheelchair users. For parties larger than four, the non-disabled guests must ride in the inaccessible tour bus. Upon arrival you will transfer to a ramped cart needed to help navigate a steep section along the tour. Large wheelchairs and scooters may not fit in this cart, so it is advisable to tell the reservation agent the dimensions of your mobility equipment. The accessible tours are popular and their number limited, so order your tickets well in advance of your trip. Sign language tours are available with advance notice, and touchable artifacts and Braille transcripts are available upon request.
The facilities listed below meet all of our access criteria unless otherwise noted.
At visitor center
At visitor center, in back courtyard at castle, on North Terrace (portable unit), and at indoor pool
In courtyard between main building and theater (bees were plentiful during my visit in July)
Other Things of Interest
The doorway into the castle's theater is 28 inches wide. The cart that takes you to various sites on the accessible tour has limited wheelchair space.
A new self-guided garden and vista tour is available Fri.-Sat. at 6 pm, March through September; from the July 4 weekend through Labor Day, it is also available on weekdays at 6 pm.