Over 15 years ago Lee got to visit Hearst Castle while he was on a work trip and he has wanted to take me there ever since. So we knew that Hearst was a must do when we were in Monterey and thankfully we had it scheduled on one of the two sunny days we have had here. Slushie and Nick wanted to come because they have never been either, but unfortunately Kay wasn’t feeling that well so she decided to stay home and study. The program here is so intense they do expect they will study on their break, or Exodus as it is called, and since Kay leaves for Keene on Dec 26th she is trying to squeeze in all the studying she can. Very impressed but where was this kid through high school 🙂 So Lee and I drove down the PCH (Pacific Coast Highway) to Hearst. The drive in and of itself was beautiful and at one point we stopped and took some pictures of the Bixby bridge.
And we got to stop at Seal Beach and see Elephant Seals less than 10 yards away!! Really cool. They have built a long pier along the beach to allow for watching without bothering the seals.
So many elephant seals!
We arrived at the Castle Visitors center soon after and met Nick and Slushie. We had bought three separate tours and spaced them out for a break in between. Unfortunately the bus ride to or from the castle is a full 15 minutes so the schedule was going to be pretty tight. Since there is no eating or smoking at the castle we were hoping we scheduled a long enough break for lunch. It also turned out that Christmas is the busiest week of the year so most of the tours were full. This kept the tours a little brisker than we would have liked and Lee’s biggest complaint was not enough time to take pictures. That being said, we took over 400 between the two cameras and I have included some of my favorites below. It was really a neat place and I highly recommend all the tours. I thought the $25 each was a fair price for what we got to see. The first tour we took was the main rooms which included some of the gardens (you can walk these freely between tours) and the inside pool which was my very favorite room. We had people on the tour from numerous continents, which was cool, and even though it had 45 people on it, folks were very well-behaved.
Hearst saw his house as a living museum, but he also wanted it to have the feel of a ranch. People lived in it and visited it, so despite the priceless works of art it was livable. For example in the dining room he had ketchup and mustard on the main table, and many of the famous celebrities who visited commented that they felt at home despite the grandeur. They did complain about the lack of alcohol though. Hearst strictly controlled the hard liquor and wine, but made beer freely available and if you got too drunk in his house you were asked to leave and never invited back.
After the first tour we rushed down and grabbed a quick-lunch. $7.50 for a piece of pizza, yikes, and worse we only had 30 minutes to eat, go to the bathroom, and in our case smoke, then back up to the house for the 2nd tour of the upstairs. This one had a much smaller crowd and since I like antique beds I was thrilled that every single room had an amazing one in it. Plus more ceilings, doors, and of course the art. The best room was an open air circular bedroom that was often used as a honeymoon suite. It was directly under one set of bells, but Heart’s amazing female architect (quite revolutionary for the time) designed it so that the bell sound was muffled. The bells only ring once a day now and we timed it perfectly and got to hear them before our first tour. Oh and I should probably mention that Hearst and his wife separated (she stayed in New York with the five boys) and he lived with his mistress the famous actress Marion Davies. Consequently all of the famous actors of the time came and visited her and Charlie Chaplin, Cary Grant, and many others often walked its halls. Marion definitely ran the house and Hearst (who was a bit of a recluse) stayed on the third floor occasionally coming down to visit. My major complaint about the tours was they focused way more on the famous people’s antics than the architecture and furniture, but I suppose the audience is driving that.
Since the bus ride down and back took so long, we decided to stay up top and explore the gardens in between the final tour. We tried to get an earlier tour but it was full, so just wandered a bit and enjoyed the views. Our final tour cottages and kitchens had the least things interesting things to look at but had the best tour guide. She focused on the architecture more and I thought she did an excellent job. If you can’t afford all three, this is the one to skip, but I thought it was definitely worth doing. One interesting thing is the ornate ceilings, door frames, and furniture were a little overwhelming in the smaller houses. Small is relative though they still were mini-mansions. I felt like I could live comfortably in the big house, but Nick and I both thought the furnishings in the smaller house environments were a bit oppressive. The kitchens were very cool though. State of the art for its time and the bathrooms as well were way ahead of their time with some of the showers having as many as seven shower heads.
I definitely recommend the visit, but also recommend a long lunch break between tours and packing a lunch to eat in your car. $75 was a reasonable price for a days entertainment, but the $33 for lunch was a bit much for what we got. Afterwards we decided to go to dinner before the long ride home and Nick and Slushie found a four-star restaurant nearby on Yelp called Centrally Grown. Usually Yelp is pretty accurate, but we definitely hit this restaurant on the wrong night. Their computer system was down, they were short on staff, and terribly busy. The food was good, when it finally arrived, but the rest of the experience was pretty rough. To sum it up when we went to the bar to pay (after waiting 10 minutes for the check) our waitress said, “So who waited on you?” Our response “you did,’ sort of sums it up. But the company was great and we really enjoyed our double date with Nick and Slushie. So happy we got to spend the day with them and check an item off Lee’s long-time bucket list.
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