Excursions: Hearst Castle

Hearst Castle

La Cuesta Encantada

Tips to make the most of your visit.

A few of our favorite places to stop along the way.

Test your Hearst Castle with our Trivia Challenge. Good luck!

One of the great things about being on the Central Coast is that Hearst Castle is only about an hour’s drive from The Casitas and the San Luis Obispo area. It makes for a fun, easy day trip.

We’ve been fans of this larger-than-life architectural marvel for years, with its famous Neptune Pool, two-towered Casa Grande, guest cottages, and other buildings collectively known as La Cuesta Encantada (“The Enchanted Hill”).

The Neptune Pool at Hearst Castle is a favorite feature for owners of The Casitas Estate near San Luis Obispo.

Imagined and built by William Randolph Hearst and architect Julia Morgan from 1919 to 1947, the 127-acre estate sits high atop the hill overlooking San Simeon and the Pacific Ocean.

Over the years, we’ve taken many tours at Hearst Castle – even prior to opening The Casitas in 2008. We always love going back – there’s always something new to learn (and see) – and we find that even if it’s a tour we’ve done before, each docent shares new information we didn’t know.

Whether you’re ready to schedule your first tour or you’re an experienced visitor of Hearst Castle, we share our tips for visiting and getting the most out of your experience. Plus, we include a few of our favorite extras to make your day trip even more fun.

And don’t miss our Hearst Castle Trivia Challenge! Let us know how you do.

Travel time:

From The Casitas, it’s 55 miles on the quickest route up Highway 1. Allow 90 minutes travel time for a leisurely trip.

Book a Visit

Tours available (check schedule as tours vary seasonally):

  • Accessibly Designed Tours
  • Grand Rooms Tour
    (a great tour to start with)
  • Cottages & Kitchen Tour
  • Upstairs Suites Tour
  • Designing the Dream Tour
  • Art of San Simeon Tour
  • Hearst and Hollywood Tour
  • Julia Morgan Tour
  • Evening Tour
  • Holiday Twilight Tour

Visiting Hearst Castle: Tips and Tours

Here are a few of our tips to make the most of your visit.

1 - Book a private tour.

If you can assemble a group of friends or lodgers, Hearst Castle offers a private tour for up to 6 guests for up to 4 hours! (How about considering a buyout weekend at The Casitas? Contact us for available dates!) The $1,000 private tour works out to be just $166 per person for a group of six, and you can really customize where your group wants to go! Tony and I were included on one of our guests’ tours a few years ago and it was pretty fabulous!

2 - Make a day of it.

In addition to the castle, Cambria is a smaller town that’s fun to explore, whether on the way up or back. It has many art galleries, some sweet restaurants like Robin’s, and charming gardening and antique shops, too.

Take time to see the elephant seals near Piedras Blancas lighthouse – just another ten minutes north of the castle. This is definitely worth a stop to have their docents share some really cool facts with you.

Art from around the world is on display at Hearst Castle in San Simeon, Calif.

3 - Go early for the movie.

Every guided tour ticket includes the showing of “Building the Dream” on the visitor center’s five-story theater screen. If you haven’t seen the film before, it really gives you a good history of William Randolph Hearst’s formative years and passion as a collector of art. It creatively combines original cinematography and vintage clips showing a lot of the construction and history. If you can’t see it before the tour, do try to see it afterwards. The movie runs about 40 minutes long.

4 - Book ahead.

Tours do sell out, so it’s best to book your tour tickets online. As of this writing, you can reserve tours up to 60 days in advance.
Decendents from William Randolph Hearst's original zebra herd still roam the hills around the Hearst Castle.
Grazing Time (🦓 Sundry Photography)

5 - Bring water.

You can’t eat during the tours, but you can bring a bottle of water. We suggest doing that, as many tours will be meandering outside in the bright California sun (and you can save the $4+ charge for water in the cafe and use it to buy a cool souvenir instead).

6 - Watch for zebras!

As you approach Hearst Castle from the south on Highway 1, keep an eye open for the Hearst herd of zebras roaming the rangeland with the Hearst herd of cattle.

Out & About: Hearst Castle Day Trip Options

To round out your Hearst Castle day trip, we share a few of our favorite places to stop along the way.

Wine tasting at Harmony Cellars

On the way up or back from your Hearst Castle day trip, stop by Harmony Cellars for a tasting flight or a glass of wine. Owners Chuck and Kim come to The Casitas every year for a celebratory anniversary staycation, and we love visiting their tasting room (and recently joined their wine club!).

Located just up the hill from the tiny (and adorable) town of Harmony, the winery creates a range of great wines. Sit outside in the grassy tasting area, or see if you can get a seat overlooking the valley, as we did with our marketing team after our day of castle tours!

Lunch stop at The Cruiser food truck

Thursdays to Mondays from 11:00 to 3:00, don’t miss The Cruiser food truck that sets up outside the Hearst Ranch Winery in San Simeon. Operated by Field to Table Catering & Events, they turn out delicious, fresh, and creative sandwiches, tacos and burgers.

Lunch or dinner in Cambria or Cayucos

These fun, artsy towns have several good restaurants worth exploring. We recommend Robin’s in Cambria & Lunada’s in Cayucos.

Moonstone Beach walk in Cambria

If you have time for a beach walk, Moonstone Beach in Cambria is a treasure to explore. Known for its pebbly sand and sea glass, the waves are wild. Or, check out the boardwalk that runs north-south along the cliffs with great views of the ocean.

Moonstone Beach near Cambria, Calif. is a hidden gem along California's Central Coast.
Moonstone Beach, Cambria

Hearst Castle Trivia Challenge!

In 1919, William Randolph Hearst and architect Julia Morgan began the dream of building a fabulous estate on his family’s ranchland overlooking the village of San Simeon. Named “La Cuesta Encantada” (Spanish for The Enchanted Hill), by 1947 the hilltop complex included a twin-towered main building, three sumptuous guesthouses, and 127 acres of terraced gardens, fountains, and pools.

Test your Hearst Castle with our Trivia Challenge. Good luck!

1 - The surface around the Neptune pool is made from a combination of marble and which California state rock?

A. Limestone
B. Serpentine
C. Sandstone
D. Agate

ANSWER 1. B. Serpentine
The Neptune pool was an engineering marvel, being suspended rather than sunken; and in 2019 due to leaks and cracks, it also made the restoration project that much more difficult. But the state found the original Vermont quarry to source new marble and serpentine to bring this beauty of a pool back to its original glory.
The Neptune Pool at Hearst Castle with marble and serpentine stone patios, marble statues and stairs leading to Casa Grande.

2 - What is the oldest art piece that William Randolph Hearst collected and has displayed at the Castle?

A. Venus Italica
B. Sekhmet goddess sculptures
C. Rest on the Flight Into Egypt
D. the Deeds of Scipio Africanus tapestries

The Sekhmet goddess sculptures are the oldest works present at Hearst Castle, dating to 1550 BCE.
ANSWER 2. B. Sekhmet goddess sculptures
The oldest works present at Hearst Castle are these four sculptures, carved from diorite (dark granite). They date from the New Kingdom of Egypt, circa 1550-1070 BCE (“Before Common Era,” the non-secular equivalent to BC, “Before Christ”). Sekhmet translates to “the powerful one,” and this goddess is displayed with the body of a woman and the head of a lion, the bloodthirsty daughter of Ra, the sun-god.

Although they were sourced separately, Hearst suggested combining them into one location. Julia Morgan created this impressive grouping on the esplanade of the Enchanted Hill set in the lovely gardens surrounding it.

3 - What year was Hearst Castle completed?

A. In 1947, when Hearst’s health was an issue and he left the castle for the last time.
B. In 1951, the year William Randolph Hearst passed away.
C. In 1958, when tours officially began and the Castle was turned over to the state.
D. never

Lush landscaping is part of the Hearst Castle experience.
ANSWER 3. D. Never
This is a bit of a trick question. While construction began in 1919, and was under construction for almost 30 years, it remains unfinished (neither the family nor the state would want to take on that cost!). The good news about this is that you can see how the facades were constructed and get a glimpse of the clever construction a la Julia Morgan!
Beautiful gardens are part of the experience of visiting Hearst Castle.
Art from around the world is on display at Hearst Castle.
The grounds at Hearst Castle in California include three guest houses.

4 - What room in the castle is bigger than most American houses?

A. The assembly room
B. The dining hall
C. The movie theater
D. William Randolph Hearst’s bedroom

ANSWER 4. A. The Assembly Room
The Assembly Room, where guests congregated and mingled while awaiting dinner in the adjoining dining room, is the largest room in the Castle measuring 2,498 square feet. Dining guests could talk by phone placed at either end of the room, rather than taking a long walk across the room to converse! In comparison, Hearst’s own bedroom was very small, but still spectacular with its one-of- a-kind 14th century Spanish ceiling!

5 - What was the only film made at Hearst Castle?

A. Citizen Kane
B. The Godfather
C. Spartacus
D. House of Gucci

Spartacus Movie Poster (By Reynold Brown)
ANSWER 5. C. Spartacus
Despite Orson Wells’ film “Citizen Kane” being inspired by Hearst, he hated it and it was filmed in Balboa Park and areas of San Diego. “The Godfather” did have a Hearst connection, but it was the Hearst Estate located in Beverly Hills, which recently sold at auction for $63 million and was purchased by Marion Davies for hosting Hearst. (Fun fact: The Kennedys spent their honeymoon there.)
Kubrick’s “Spartacus” was the only film shot at the castle. It was used to portray the Villa of Crassus (Sir Laurence Olivier), and you can see the Neptune pool was used with its Roman architecture.
(Movie Poster By Reynold Brown - Public Domain)

6 - To say Hearst Castle is inspiring is an understatement, with over 23,000 art pieces on display. What famous movie series used the castle’s dining room as a design model?

A. Pirates of the Caribbean
B. Indiana Jones
C. Harry Potter
D. Black Panther
E. Back to the Future

ANSWER 6. C. Harry Potter
The set designers for the “Harry Potter” series used inspiration from Hearst’s dining hall for the Hogwart’s School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
The Hearst Castle dining room was the inspiration for Hogwarts School in the Harry Potter movies.

7 - Which famous actor was kicked out during his stay for having “one too many drinks”?

A. Charlie Chaplin
B. Groucho Marx
C. David Niven
D. W.C. Fields

ANSWER 7. C. David Niven.
The castle was built during prohibition but Hearst made no secret of his anti-prohibition stance. In fact, one of the three requirements to stay at the castle was that you attend cocktail hour. That being said, Hearst did not like people to get drunk. David Niven was caught smuggling liquor on his visit and hiding it under his bed. Despite being a Hearst Castle “Castaway,” Niven managed to keep his cool in the years after as seen here.

8 - Where does Hearst Castle get its water?

A. Deep wells on the property
B. Artesian springs
C. Piped uphill from San Simeon
D. Private reservoir located 6 miles to the east

ANSWER 8. D. Private reservoir
Hearst Castle gets its water from a private reservoir located 6 miles to the east, constructed by Hearst and Morgan. But, of course Mr. Hearst didn’t like it being seen so he planted 7000 Monterey Pines to hide it from view. Many of them are still present today and our docent referred to it as “Pine Mountain.”
The indoor Roman Pool at Hearst Castle with marble and ornate mosaic tile.

9 - How many gallons of water does the Neptune pool hold?

A. 345,000
B. 289,000
C. 518,000
D. 187,000

The Neptune Pool at Hearst Castle during a video with Lady Gaga.
ANSWER 9. A. 345,000 gallons
The outdoor Neptune pool holds 345,000 gallons of water. The indoor Roman pool holds 205,000 gallons. Both were used in 2014 for a Lady Gaga video that got lots of local press here. She had to pay for the outdoor pool to be filled (empty due to drought conditions) and she also “donated” $250,000 to the park service for this privilege.
(📷 @pishposh_josh)

10 - Architect Julia Morgan worked alongside William Randolph Hearst for 28 years creating the buildings and art placements for Hearst Castle. During her career, she also designed:

A. Hearst Greek Theater on the UC Berkeley campus (her alma mater)
B. Bell tower at Mills College
C. Asilomar Conference Center
D. Los Angeles Examiner building
E. all of the above

ANSWER 10. E. All of the above
Architect Julia Morgan designed these buildings and many more during her career as a renowned architect after she opened her architectural firm in 1904 in San Francisco. In addition to being the first female architect registered in California, she was the first female graduate of the Paris Ecole des Beaux-Arts architectural program.

William Randolph Hearst was familiar with Miss Morgan’s work after his mother had hired Morgan to update their hunting lodge estate in Pleasanton, CA. That hunting lodge later became a country club and then a dude ranch and then reverted back to a country club, but sadly was all but burned in 1969.

11. Spread over the 127-acre estate, how many rooms and types of rooms are found in Hearst Castle?

A. Casa Grande: 173 total rooms
B. Guest cottages: 62 total rooms
C. Total number of bathrooms: 35
D. Total number of bedrooms: 58

Answer: 11. D. There are 58 bedrooms throughout the buildings of Hearst Castle
Of those 58 bedrooms, 38 of them are in Casa Grande, the main structure with two towers. The three guest cottages have 20 total bedrooms. To ensure the comfort of guests, throughout the estate there are also 60 bathrooms, 18 sitting rooms, and 41 fireplaces. As the main hub of activity and entertainment, Casa Grande’s 68,500 square feet also includes the Refectory, the Billiard Room, the Theater, Library, Gothic Study, Beauty Salon, Butler’s Pantry, Kitchen, and Staff Dining Room, for a grand total of 115 rooms in Casa Grande.

Come book at stay for your next adventure at the Casitas Estate today!

When you’re looking for a special place to showcase your special day, The Casitas Estate provides the perfect place for your unforgettable day.