Living large at ‘the ranch’
November 10, 2006
Winston Churchill and Hollywood’s cream all rose – quite literally – to the top, this fall.
They were among William Randolph Hearst’s guests at the castle overlooking the Pacific.
Or so the National Park Service docents will tell you during an evening tour of Hearst Castle that departs from the visitor center on California’s Highway 1 just before sunset.
You can meet the guests, living history actors impersonating famous people who roam the grounds – and sing in the shower – during your stay.
Every accommodation was made for a Hearst guest, but there were rules. No bringing in your own liquor, no sharing sleeping quarters with someone not lawfully wedded to you – and foremost, you were invited to be entertaining.
Guests were invited to “the ranch” but never asked to leave unless they broke a rule. You knew it was time to go when your place card started moving farther from the head of the massive dining-room table.
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But there is much more than the people one comes to see. Masterpieces line the walls, statues the gardens, urns the bookshelves. It’s more than you can take in on one tour.
One trio of guests during our visit were on their third tour of the day. My husband and I and some friends visited the castle in late September, spending some of the warm fall days on the Harley before the snow flies.
The Parks Service offers five tours of various lengths that take in different areas of the 165-room estate with its 127 acres of gardens, terraces, pools and walkways. The 28 years of construction stopped with Hearst’s departure in 1947. Construction and the art collection are estimated to have cost $10 million. Hearst Corp. donated the estate to the people of California in December 1957.
Hearst’s father, George Hearst, a self-made millionaire, was a powerful miner and rancher throughout the West. He owned interest in some of the most important mining claims in the U.S. – yes the Comstock Lode.
With his wealth he purchased the 48,000-acre Piedras Blancas Ranch at San Simeon in 1865 as a place to retreat with his wife and only son. He later purchased the surrounding properties for a total of 250,000 acres.
If you go
What: Hearst Castle
When: Open daily except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Four daytime tours and one evening tour are available. Day tours usually begin at 8:20 a.m. daily (December start times may vary). The last tour starts at 3:20 p.m. in winter, later in summer. Evening tour start times vary according to the time of sunset.
Where: Hearst Castle is on Highway 1 about six hours south of San Francisco; the nearest town is San Simeon.
Call: (800) 444-4445 for specific times