What is Hearst Castle?

Sheri Cyprus

Hearst Castle is one of the most well-known California landmarks and tourist attractions. It's an extremely large estate once owned by wealthy publisher William Randolph Hearst and donated to the State of California by his family in 1957. William's father, George, purchased the land that eventually became part of the state historic park in 1865. Designed by civil engineer Julia Morgan, the first woman to graduate with an architecture degree from Paris' prestigious Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Hearst Castle was built on the property in the 1930s. Different tour options are available at the castle's location near the city of San Simeon, California, which is close to San Luis Obispo.

Hearst Castle is near San Simeon, in San Luis Obispo County, California.
Hearst Castle is near San Simeon, in San Luis Obispo County, California.

All of the tours include views of both swimming pools at Hearst Castle. The Neptune is the name of the property's outdoor pool, while the Roman is the castle's indoor swimming structure. Greco-Roman columns and statues decorate the Neptune in grand style, while opulent gold and Venetian glass adorn the Roman swimming pool. As an indication of the immense size of everything at the castle, including the swimming structures, Neptune Pool alone has 18 dressing rooms.

William Randolph Hearst's estate was designed by Julia Morgan.
William Randolph Hearst's estate was designed by Julia Morgan.

In addition to the main house, the outdoor pool and numerous flower gardens, the exterior property features tennis courts, a zoo and an airfield. There are also separate buildings that were used as guest houses. The Casa Del Sol guest house has 18 rooms and overlooks the Pacific Ocean. The main house at Hearst Castle, called Casa Grande, features many beautiful spaces that include a games room with two 1920s billiard tables and a library with more than 4,000 books. The wine cellars are stocked with Californian, as well as rare European, wines.

All tours are about an hour or two in length; making reservations as well as checking ahead for tour days and times is recommended. While the several different interior tours offered are all guided, the outdoor garden tours may be self-guided. The guides mention how life was when the Hearst family lived at the estate, such as what the many different buildings were used for as well as the origin of their different tapestries and valuable art pieces.

Patty Hearst, now Patricia Hearst-Shaw, the granddaughter of William Randolph, was involved in one of the biggest news stories in American history when she was kidnapped by the radical group Symbionese Liberatation Army (SLA) at age 19. Patty wasn't taken from the Hearst Castle property, but rather from the Berkeley, California, apartment she shared with her fiance at the time. What made the story especially remarkable is that she was said to have had Stockholm syndrome, which occurs when the victim sympathizes and bonds with his or her captors. Hearst was jailed for two years for robbing a bank with members of the SLA. The 39th and 42nd American presidents, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, helped get Patty Hearst a commutation from her jail sentence.

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