We woke to a cold morning – 35 degrees – brrrrr! We were back into winter weather conditions, although the day was clear and crisp with not a cloud in the sky. After a short trip up the coast to San Simeon we stopped for a tour of the Hearst Castle. The Hearst Castle was built by William Randolph Hearst over a 28 year period beginning in 1919 with the help of architect, engineer and artist Julia Morgan. William Randolph Hearst’s father, who had moved from Missouri to California, had made his fortune by discovering silver near San Francisco at the age of 40. At that time he started to buy up land in the San Simeon area, amassing more than 250,000 acres of land that the family used for ranching and farming. The Hearst family would visit the ranch from San Francisco, setting up tents to live in while they were there. WR Hearst’s father and mother never built on the land despite his urgings (and, in fact, his mother always resisted William’s urging to build because she feared that he would never know when to stop).
In an effort to augment his education, William’s mother and he departed on a one year journey through Europe when he was just ten years old. It was during this trip that William developed a love of art, history, and architecture whose influence can be seen throughout the Hearst Castle. By the time his father died, he was the tenth wealthiest man in the country. William’s mother carefully protected this vast wealth until her death (of influenza) at which time William was 56. By the time of his mother’s death, William himself had amassed his own fortune through his media empire which included newspapers, radio stations, and movie producing.
Within a few weeks of his mother’s death, William began to build his dream house on the property he now owned (he was an only child) in San Simeon. With the help of Julia Morgan (the first woman to graduate with a degree in Civil Engineering from UC Berkeley) he built the extravagant, 70,000 square foot Casa Grande (the main house on the property) as well as two guest houses he named Casa del Sol and Casa del Monte, both of about 3,500 square feet. In addition, the property includes a beautiful, Greek styled pool (the Neptune pool), the Roman Pool - an indoor pool with inlaid gold mosaic tiles, a gorgeous garden area, a lighted tennis court, and 360 degree views of the ocean and surrounding countryside. The Hearst Castle sits 1,600 feet above the ocean and because it is such a long drive from any city it must be a self-sustaining. The property, therefore, included fruit trees, vegetable gardens, milking cows, and beef cattle (and to this day beef cattle continue to graze on the land). In addition, William Hearst had one of the largest private zoos on his property. The zoo included polar bears, giraffes, zebras, tigers, lions, cheetahs, ostriches, elk, and deer. Most of the animals were ultimately given to various zoos in California but visitors may still get a glimpse of elk, deer, and zebras roaming the property.
Mr. Hearst lived at the castle (or “the ranch” as he referred to it) about four to five months out of the year. He entertained many Hollywood and political celebs there including Cary Grant, Charlie Chaplin, Winston Churchill, Howard Hughes, Charles Lindbergh, and Amelia Earhart (the house has its own private landing strip). He left his guests to themselves for the day to swim, horseback ride, play tennis, and visit with the animals; although sometimes guests might be called upon to put on a play for Hearst’s enjoyment on short notice. He was a generally shy many who loved to talk about artwork and would spend his days at the house reading each of the newspapers in his empire (flown in daily) and writing notes to his editors.
The tour took us through the gardens and pool areas, through one floor of the Casa del Sol guest house, through the 2,500 square foot sitting room of Casa Grande where guests gathered for happy hour each evening to await the appearance of Mr. Hearst through a secret entrance from his private office, through the dining room where all guest were expected to dine each evening with their host, and then into the theatre where guests attended screenings for movies and viewing of newsreels each evening after dinner (Casa Grande actually has a total of 165 rooms). The artwork in the castle included beautiful tapestries, paintings, sculptures, mosaic floorings, and marvelous fireplace mantles, while the ceilings in each room were pieces of art in and of themselves. Mr. Hearst loved artwork and picked out each piece in the house himself from catalogs (our tour guide said that had the home shopping network or ebay existed back then she was sure that Mr. Hearst would have been an avid customer).
Although Mr. Hearst and Ms. Morgan worked on the house for 28 years it was never finished. Ms. Morgan described Mr. Hearst as having a “changeable mind”, building and tearing down structures if not completely satisfied. But it was this aspect of it that made the project so interesting for her. The two worked on the castle until 1947 at which time Mr. Hearst left due to illness and never returned. He died in 1951 at the age of 88. The total cost to build the castle was $10 million.
After leaving Hearst Castle we stopped off a short distance away to view the elephant seals that make their home on the beaches nearby. The female seals had left the area to swim up to Canada and over to Hawaii, having just given birth to their pups in December and January. The pups were lying on the beach lazily sunning themselves, occasionally flicking sand onto their backs to keep cool (the cold wind blowing off the water doesn’t affect them like it affects us).
Then we began to wind our way up the twisting, turning, narrow road to Big Sur – which I have to say is quite a feat when you are lugging a 30 foot camper behind you. The views were magnificent as ocean meets sea along the jagged California coastline. Mark and I had to keep an eye on the parents to ensure they were not nodding off in the back seat – after all, this was one of the most exciting parts of the trip! Each twist and turn of the road provided a new and ever more dramatic view of the coastline as we crawled our way to our campsite outside of Monterey. The photos will never do it justice, but we tried as best we could to capture the beauty and rawness of the area.
Our campground was in a town less than 10 miles north of Monterey called Marina (remember, this was the place we saw the highest gas prices online a week ago; but we realized once we got here that it was actually for full service gas). The campsite was the largest site we have had since our trip began and included plenty of privacy bushes, a fireplace and large backyard. The beach and sand dunes were a short hike away from our campsite and the bathrooms were the cleanest ones ever (in fairness, this was also the most expensive campground we have ever stayed in - $65/night; but in this area we did not have much to choose from). Although we were close to the highway, traffic noise was minimal and no lights disturbed our sleep.