Hearst Castle – San Simeon, California - Atlas Obscura
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San Simeon, California

Hearst Castle

The unbelievably opulent home built for an infamous newspaperman. 

William Randolph Hearst, the sensationalist newspaper magnate who shaped the course of journalism (for better or worse) in the 20th century and served as inspiration for Citizen Kane, was showy and flamboyant in his personal life, and his magnificent castle on the central California coast was no exception.

Though it was originally conceived as a modest bungalow atop the hilly ranch land his father purchased in the 1860s, W. R. Hearst’s home grew into a mansion of epic proportions. He and the architect, Julia Morgan, settled on a vaguely medieval Iberian style, with vaulted ceilings and lavish cornices adorned with cherubs. Hearst’s modus operandi was quality over quantity when it came to collecting art, so the rooms were designed in a pastiche of styles and eras to suit the precious sculptures and paintings they held. 

La Cuesta Encantada (“The Enchanted Hill”) was informally known as “the ranch,” an almost comical understatement of the house’s size. By the time it was finished it contained over 165 rooms and 127 acres of gardens and terraces. There were multiple libraries, an exotic zoo, tennis courts, numerous guest cottages, stables where Arabian horses were bred, a wine cellar, a medieval-style banquet hall, an airstrip, an indoor pool, and an outdoor pool. The outdoor Neptune Pool was built, then remodeled three times to suit the authentic Roman temple facade Hearst shipped in from Italy. No expense was spared to create the magnate’s paradise: a power plant was even constructed nearby to supply electricity to the remote castle. 

Hearst lived in the home, hosting lavish parties throughout its construction until his failing health forced him to relocate in 1947, at which time construction ceased. He died in 1951, and in 1958 the palatial estate was designated a California State Park. Little has changed inside the castle since then. Descendants of the zebras and rare deer in the private zoo still roam the grounds. Today, just as then, people are eager to catch a glimpse of how the world’s most notorious newspaper magnate lived in glamour while the rest of the country suffered the economic devastation of the 1930s.

Know Before You Go

The visitor center is located just off Highway 1, where you can take a bus to the castle grounds. Special holiday tours are offered from the end of November through December when the castle is decorated in holiday decor and a lighted garden tour is included. The actual castle is located at 35.686075°, -121.169600° ... if you want to attempt an independent wander.

  • I was a Guide at The Castle for 25 years. The monument opened for the public in 1958. The place is oppulent, heavy handed and ultimately never finished.BUT! To think of it as a silly self-absorbtion would be doing it, and the man, a disservice. As simply as I can state--W.R. Hearst was intensely proud of being a Californian--a Westerner. He built the home on a hilltop he camped on as a child, so there was no mistake in its placement, Befitting the burgeoning recognition of the mediterranean climate, the southern european influence in setting and style, and the desire on Hearst's part to make a statement in his home state--all contributed to the look of the estate being a hilltop village surrounding a church on top of the hill--all decorated with a world class collection of fine and functional art--over 22,000 pieces. Bottom line: it was not lost on W.R., as one example, that his guest library showcased a collection of Greek pottery--most pieces approximately 2,000 years old--which looked out on a view of what I used to call "The newest part of the New World". Hearst was hep to that paradox, which ALWAYS gave me a sense of legitimacy to the the entire project. It is quite a setting, ripe with stories, myths and fabulous names to drop! I shook Cary Grant's hand on the hilltop in 1984! A helluva work site!
  • https://www.fcc.gov/media/radio/dms-decimal
  • googlemaps.com
  • www.heartscastle.org
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hearst_Castle#Design
  • http://openbuildings.com/buildings/hearst-castle-profile-6607