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Hearst Castle

Hearst Castle: Which Tour to Take + First-Time Guide [2024]

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Hearst Castle is a must-see for any visitors to California.

Nestled in the foggy hills outside of San Simeon, California, Hearst Castle is a massive estate with several guesthouses. Spending an afternoon at Hearst Castle is almost like spending an afternoon back in the 1930s . A museum that doubles as a state park, Hearst Castle is one of a kind.

But with so many different options available, it can be hard to decide which Hearst Castle tour to take. Here’s a guide to help you choose the right tour for your visit.

Hearst Castle, Which Tour to Choose?

In order to enter the property, you must purchase a tour .

Initially, I felt hesitant about being constrained to a tour, but it ended up being totally worth it! The estate became a state park shortly after Hearst’s death, so the early 19th-century vibe is highly preserved.

hearst castle egypt art

If you’re short on time, the Grand Rooms Tour is the perfect way to see the best of Hearst Castle. It includes a visit to the castle’s gardens, pool, and grandest rooms, including the Banquet Hall and Roman Pool. The Grand Tour is the most comprehensive option and includes access to all of the castle’s public rooms.

For this reason, the Grand Rooms Tour is recommended for most first-time guests.

For a more in-depth look at the property, opt for the Upstairs Suites Tour. This tour provides a more intimate look at the castle, focusing on the private rooms used by William Randolph Hearst and his guests. This tour is a good choice if you’re interested in hearing stories about the castle’s famous visitors.

And if you’re interested in learning about the castle’s history, take the Behind-the-Scenes Tour. This tour covers topics like architecture, landscaping, and interior design and includes a visit to the property’s basement and kitchen.

No matter which tour you choose, you’re sure to have an unforgettable experience at Hearst Castle.

closeup of red snapdragon flowers

Is Hearst Castle Worth Visiting?

Contrary to many museums, Hearst Castle showcases one man’s life journey in creating the castle. This results in an incredibly engaging tour because as you get to see more of the grounds, you also get to know more about Hearst himself.

Best of all, Hearst is equidistant from both Los Angeles and San Francisco (and only 3 hours from Fresno !) This central location makes Hearst an obvious choice for any California bucket list.

The highlight of the castle is the hodgepodge of art and architecture from all over the world. You can find an ancient Egyptian statue converted into a fountain, ceilings from European monasteries, Spanish friezes, and Greek marble masterpieces decorating the pool.

It is a little overwhelming that so much history and beauty is crammed into one residence. However, the Amerian Association of Museums vetted the entire collection at Hearst.

hearst castle entrance with mosaic tile art

Hearst Castle Animals

Did I mention that wild zebras roam the property? 

When most people think of Hearst Castle, they think of its lavish style and architecture. But what many don’t know is that Hearst Castle was once home to the world’s largest private zoo.

In the early days of the castle animals including peacocks, ostriches, and even giraffes roamed the grounds, providing a bit of exotic flair. The Hearst Castle zebras are one of the last remaining species after the dismantling of the zoo. If you’re lucky you can still see them from the Pacific Coast Highway as you pass the castle grounds.

zebra at hearst castle

Hearst Castle Tour FAQ

No. Only members of The Foundation at Hearst Castle and their guests can swim in the Neptune Pool.

No, you cannot rent a room or stay on the grounds of the castle. The main grounds are strictly for display, although the Hearst family still has access to a private part of the estate for personal use.

Pictures at Hearst Castle can be taken for private use only. Professional shoots and tripods are not allowed.

Hearst offers 13 different tours including private tours. However, many are available on a seasonal basis and special events are added regularly.

I hope these tour recommendations were helpful to you! If you enjoyed it, check out a video preview of more of my California content on my  Instagram Highlights  and give me a follow. If you ever have a question you can DM me or drop it in the comments below.

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For Cassie, every destination deepens her love for God. Her mission is to inspire that same love in others. Hang around and find something to inspire your next adventure!

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A Complete Guide to Hearst Castle Tours

hearst castle private tour

George Rose/Getty Images

Seven decades after its owner William Randolph Hearst left his California castle for the last time in 1947, it continues to fascinate visitors. Today, it's a state park, and the only way to see the house and grounds is on a guided tour.

What to Expect on a Hearst Castle Tour

All Hearst Castle tours spend about an hour at the house, but that turns into a little more than two hours when you include the bus trip up and down the hill. All tours include the Greco-Roman style Neptune Pool outdoors and the Roman Pool, an indoor beauty lined with cobalt blue Venetian glass and shimmering gold tiles.

On any tour, the guides share stories about life at Hearst Castle. They talk about sending for dishes from the San Francisco house when British Prime Minister Winston Churchill visited Hearst Castle, explain why there are still price stickers on the catsup and mustard on the dining table, and mention the celebrities who visited.

Hearst Castle Tour Options

If you want to take more than one tour, you can stay on the hilltop between daytime tours (or stay after any tour) to enjoy the gardens and visit the Neptune and Roman Pools. Many of them will require an additional fee (from $30 to $100 depending on the tour) and some are only offered seasonally. While walk-ins are accepted, reservations are strongly recommended. Your admission for the grand rooms, upstairs suits, cottages & kitchen, and Designing the Dream tour will also grant access to a screening of "Building the Dream" at the Hearst Castle theater.

The Grand Rooms Tour

An introductory tour of five ground floor rooms in the main house, the Roman pool, Neptune ppol, and house gardens, as well as admission to the "Building the Dream" film. The route includes 140 steps, both up and down, and a 2/3-mile walk.

Upstairs Suites Tour

Focusing on architecture and art in the main house, this tour takes you upstairs. You'll see the Italian-style Doge's Suite, Duplex bedrooms, the Celestial Suite, the gardens, pools, and the library. The route includes 367 stairs (up and down), 322 of which are on a spiral staircase, and a 3/4-mile walk.

Cottages and Kitchen Tour

This 60-minute outdoor tour focuses on the gardens and includes the wine cellar, Casa del Mar (where Hearst lived his final years), Casa del Monte, the gardens, pools, and the kitchen. The route includes 193 stairs, up and down, and a 3/4-mile walk.

Designing the Dream

Get an overview of how the Castle was built on this 75-minute tour from its earliest construction in the 1920s, through the final touches done in the mid-1940s. See the Casa del Sol guest house and the Art Deco-style north wing of the big house, its newest section. The route has 341 stairs and a 1.2-mile walk.

Art of San Simeon

Offered on select dates, this two-hour semi-private tour focuses on Hearst and how he acquired the paintings, tapestries, and other works of art that decorate the estate. The route has around 740 stairs.

Hearst and Hollywood Tour

This two-hour seasonal tour goes through the connection between Hearst and Hollywood. The semi-private tour gives guest access to any area of the estate shown on daytime tours, with commentary from a knowledgeable guide. There are approximately 750 stairs on the route.

Julia Morgan Tour

The newest addition to the slate of tours follows the life and work of Julia Morgan, the chief architect for Hearst Castle. The two-hour seasonal tour follows her life as the first female certified architect in California. Stops take guests to lesser-visited portions of Hearst Castle and include displays of her architectural drawings, family pictures, and personal effects. The route has around 750 stairs.

Evening Tour

This 100-minute tour combines elements of daytime tours, with stops at Casa del Mar, the refectory, library, Gothic suite, assembly room, kitchen, and billiard room along with the gardens, Roman pool, and Neptune pool. It's given spring and fall, most Friday and Saturday evenings. The costumed docents and nighttime views of the estate make this tour especially magical. There are 303 stairs on the and 3/4-mile route.

Holiday Twilight Tour

From late November until just after New Year's Day, Hearst Castle offers the Holiday Twilight Tour, where you can see the castle decked out for Christmas. The tour is 75 minutes long with 190 stairs and a 2/3-mile walk.

Accessibly Designed Tours

It's sometimes difficult to tour an older structure like Hearst Castle, but Hearst Castle offers modified tours that accommodate all kinds of accessibility issues. They offer accessible versions of the Grand Rooms Tour, Evening Tour, and Holiday Twilight Tour. Brochures are available in most common languages and in Braille. You can visit Hearst Castle in a wheelchair, but you need to call at least 10 days in advance to reserve one.

Getting Tickets for Hearst Castle Tours

  • You can buy tickets for Hearst Castle tours at the castle visitor center or  reserve online at Reserve California . If you want to take more than one tour, allow 1 hour 20 minutes between their start times. 
  • On a busy day, you could easily arrive at Hearst Castle in mid-afternoon, only to find the next available tour is not until the following afternoon. Save frustrations and reserve your tours in advance. 
  • To avoid long waits or even sellouts, reservations are essential for the Grand Rooms Tour, especially during summer and long holiday weekends.

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Visit Hearst Castle with 165 rooms and over 127 acres of gardens, terraces, pools and walkways. View massive 3-ton elephant seals battle for mates while females give birth to their young on the beaches. Bring your group for a tour of the State Capitol Museum and surrounding historic sites.


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Visiting Hearst Castle: An American “Castle” along California’s Central Coast

Last updated: June 3, 2022 - Written by Jessica Norah 27 Comments

Hearst Castle, a hilltop mansion built by William Randolph Hearst, is located along the beautiful Central Coast of California in the tiny town of San Simeon.

The infamous newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst with the aid of San Francisco architect Julia Morgan began construction of his dream mansion in 1919, a project that would continue for the next 30 years. Hearst named the property “La Cuesta Encantada” (Spanish for “The Enchanted Hill”).

The architecturally eclectic property, now known as Heart Castle, had a private airfield, two giant swimming pools, a movie theater, tennis courts, over 100 acres of gardens, two greenhouses, and the world’s largest private zoo. The property was once open only by invitation to A-list celebrities and politicians, such as Clark Gable, Joan Crawford, Charlie Chaplin, and Winston Churchill.

But today Hearst Castle is a historical landmark offering tours to the public. We’ll tell you everything you need to know about how to visit Hearst Castle, how to buy tickets, what tours to take, tips for making the most of your visit, and things to do near Hearst Castle in the area.

Casa del Sol Hearst Castle San Simeon California Central Coast American Castle William Randolph Hearst home La Cuesta Encantada

Table of Contents:

Brief History of Hearst Castle

This history of Hearst Ranch begins with William Randolph Hearst’s father, George Hearst . George Hearst was born in Missouri in 1820 on a small farm, eventually heading west to California as part of a small wagon train crossing the California Trail in 1850 during the Gold Rush. Hearst was one of the lucky ones, striking it rich and eventually becoming a wealthy businessman and politician.

In 1865, George Hearst purchased 48,000 acres of the Piedra Blanca Rancho from José de Jesus Pico in 1865. Over time, he would purchase more land in the area and by 1886, the Hearst Ranch had 270,000 acres of land! The land would be primarily used for ranching and stud farming.

George Hearst did have a 18-room Victorian ranch house built in 1878 on the property, which is still standing today and still used by the Hearst family. But he left most of the property undeveloped and it would stay this way until it was later inherited by his only child, William Randolph Hearst.

William Randolph Hearst & His Dream

William Randolph Hearst became well-known for his participation in politics, use of yellow journalism, extensive artwork collection, and his long-term affair with actress Marion Davies. But perhaps his most lasting legacy is his former home, Hearst Castle.

As a child, William Randolph Hearst enjoyed camping holidays with his parents on Hearst Ranch, favoring an area they called Camp Hill. Hearst saw very little of his busy father as a child which likely made these summer camping holidays very memorable.

Because of George Hearst’s great wealth, he was able to send his wife and son on grand tours of Europe. Young William first visited Europe with his mother at the age of 10. This trip, and subsequent trips to Europe, made a great impression on him. He was fascinated with the history, the architecture, the castles, and the art in Europe. As an adult he became an avid collector of art, furniture, and antiquities from Europe.

Although William had great advantages from his father and family wealth, he went on to build a media empire of his own which still exists today. After Hearst married and had his own children, he and his wife Millicent and their children often visited San Simeon to go camping on Camp Hill.

After his mother’s death in 1919, William Randolph Hearst would commission architect Julia Morgan , whom he had already worked with on prior Hearst projects, to build him a house on what was then known as Camp Hill. At first, he just wanted a modest bungalow so that his family and friends would not have to sleep out in the open on camping trips.

Heart’s initial ideas became grander and grander over time. Hearst and Morgan started their project in 1919 and construction would continue on the hill until 1947! Camp Hill would be transformed into La Cuesta Encantada, and Hearst would have his very own “castle” filled to the brim with his massive collection of art and furniture.

In the end, Hearst and Morgan would construct one giant house (Casa Grande) and 3 bungalows of varying sizes (Casa del Sol, Casa del Mar, and Casa del Monte). There is a total of 161 rooms across these four buildings!

There would also be 2 giant swimming pools, a tennis court, a wine cellar, a private zoo, a private theater, an airfield, greenhouses, and elaborate landscaped gardens. Not to mention the many ranch buildings they were built elsewhere on the large ranch, which included barns, warehouses, and homes for the ranch employees.

The planned work on Hearst Castle was actually never completed as it was ongoing until Hearst’s health began to decline and he had to leave the Hilltop. Some parts of Casa Grande for instance were left unfinished and undecorated, and plans for a large ballroom and more guesthouses were never begun.

Hearst had his American castle, although he referred to it simply as “the ranch”. In 1919, he stated:  “I would rather spend a month at the ranch than any place in the world.”

Enchanted Hilltop Hearst Castle San Simeon California Central Coast American Castle William Randolph Hearst home La Cuesta Encantada

Hearst Castle as a Hollywood Party Spot

Hearst Castle was initially intended as a family home, but by 1926 he and his wife had separated (although never divorced) and he was living openly with his mistress Marion Davies. Hearst spent most of his time in California in either San Simeon or Los Angeles, while Millicent stayed in New York. She rarely visited the house after 1926.

William Randolph Hearst owned the largest media conglomerate in the world, which included a number of newspapers, magazines, radio stations, and even a film company. He was also very involved in politics, even unsuccessfully running for President of the United States in 1904. This meant he had connections that ranged from actors and writers to senators and presidents.

From the late 1920’s to 1940’s, Hearst and Marion Davies would regularly entertain a stream of the rich, famous, and powerful. Hearst Castle became a popular and coveted getaway for Hollywood celebrities who could enjoy first-rate amenities at an isolated spot far from the paparazzi.

Visitors over the years included Clark Gable, Sir Winston Churchill, Howard Hughes, Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo, Cary Grant, George Bernard Shaw, Jack Warner, Calvin Coolidge, Charlie Chaplin, and Louis B. Mayer. While his guests enjoyed the amenities, Hearst would spend most of his days in his office running his businesses, and then join his guests in the evenings for dinner and entertainment.

P.G. Woodhouse, an English humorist, was a guest at Hearst Castle along with his wife Ethel and dog Winks in 1931. They stayed in the Venetian suite and he wrote the following in a letter to his friend William Townend on February 25, 1931:

“The house is enormous, and there are always about fifty guests staying there. All the furniture is period, and you probably sleep on a bed originally occupied by Napoleon or somebody.”

Future British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his son were guests of Hearst and his wife in 1929, staying at Hearst Castle (in Casa del Mar) for 4 days as well as being Hearst’s guest in Los Angeles. Churchill wrote the following in a letter to his wife Clementine on September 29, 1929:

“Hearst was most interesting to meet, & I got to like him – a grave simple child – with no doubt a nasty temper – playing with the most costly toys. A vast income always overspent: ceaseless building & collecting not very discriminatingly works of art: two magnificent establishments, two charming wives [he met both Millicent and Marion Davies]; complete indifference to public opinion, a strong liberal & democratic outlook, a 15 million daily circulation, oriental hospitalities, extreme personal courtesy (to us at any rate) & the appearance of a Quaker elder – or perhaps better Mormon elder.”

Despite the glitzy house and elaborate parties, Hearst still tried to maintain the ranch atmosphere that he had always loved. He took guests horseback riding and on overnight camping trips (much to some visitors’ discomfort) and had the grand dining table set with paper napkins and ketchup bottles.

In 1941, Hearst and Hearst Castle would not just attract movie stars, but would be the inspiration (partial inspiration anyway) for the film Citizen Kane by Orson Welles. In the film, Hearst Castle serves as an inspiration for Xanadu, the home of Charles Foster Kane. The film enraged Hearst, especially in its poor depiction of his mistress, and he tried unsuccessfully to have it banned and suppressed.

Roman Pool Hearst Castle San Simeon California Central Coast American Castle William Randolph Hearst home La Cuesta Encantada

Hearst Castle as a Tourist Attraction

Hearst left his beloved home for the last time in 1947 because of deteriorating health. He died in 1951 in Beverly Hills. He wanted to donate La Cuesta Encantada to the University of California but they did not accept the gift as they felt they would be unable to manage such a large undertaking.

In 1957, Hearst Corporation and the Hearst family donated the Hilltop and its buildings to the State of California. in 1958, the State of California opened up Hearst Castle to the public as the Hearst San Simeon State Historical Monument. The first regular public tours of Hearst Castle began in June 1958.

Today there are several different tours offered at Hearst Castle along with a large Visitor Center and theater. Over the years, Hearst Castle has become the most visited paid attraction in Central California. It often attracts over 700,000 visitors a year.

Although the Hearst family donated Hearst Castle, the Hearst Corporation still owns Hearst Ranch in San Simeon, which includes over 80,000 acres of land and is one of the largest working cattle ranches in Central California. The Hearst family remain active in the management of the land around the castle and some family members still visit and even stay overnight occasionally (usually in the original Victorian ranch house, not open to the public).

I am not sure what Hearst would make of the hundreds of thousands of uninvited visitors wandering around his home, but it is pretty amazing that Hearst Castle still attracts so many people fascinated with his dream home.

Casa Grande Hearst Castle San Simeon California Central Coast American Castle William Randolph Hearst home La Cuesta Encantada

Planning Your Visit to Hearst Castle

Here is all the information you’ll need to help plan your visit to Hearst Castle and the surrounding area, including how to get there, what tours are offered, how to book tickets, things to do near Hearst Castle, and where to stay nearby.

Where is Hearst Castle located?

Hearst Castle is located along California’s Central Coast in the small town of San Simeon, which is located near the town of  Cambria . It is about halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Address: 750 Hearst Castle Road, San Simeon, CA 93452

How to get to Hearst Castle?

Hearst Castle is most accessible for drivers by car. If you are visiting California, it is a great stop to make if you are driving the Pacific Coast Highway . But you can also get here via public transit, day tour, or taxi.

Hearst Castle By Car

Hearst Castle is most accessible for drivers by car. It is about a 1 hour drive from San Luis Obispo, 3.5 to 4 hour drive (240 miles) from San Francisco, and 4 hour drive (230 miles) from Los Angeles.

There is free visitor parking located at the Visitor Center.

Hearst Castle By Public Transit

You can reach Hearst Castle by bus or a mix of bus and train. It depends on where you are coming from but local buses stop at Hearst Castle and are easy to get from nearby towns such as Pablo Robles, Cambria, San Luis Obispo, and Morro Bay.

The nearest bus stop is Hearst Castle, which is just a 1 minute walk from the Visitor Center. Check local bus schedules and fares here .

If you are coming from further away (e.g., San Francisco, Sacramento, Los Angeles), you’ll probably want to check connections to the area via Greyhound bus serves and/or Amtrak train services and then connect to the local bus network from a place like San Luis Obispo or Pablo Robles.

Hearst Castle by Day Tour

If you don’t want to drive or take public transit, you might consider a day tour, such as this one (transport from Los Angeles) or this private tour from San Francisco .

Hearst Castle by Plane

The nearest airport to Hearst Castle is San Luis Obispo County Regional Airport which is about a 1 hour drive from Hearst Castle.

From San Luis Obispo, you can rent a car, take the public bus, book a day tour, or book a taxi or shuttle to take you to Hearst Castle.

Casa del Sol Hearst Castle San Simeon California Central Coast American Castle William Randolph Hearst home La Cuesta Encantada

What is there to do at Hearst Castle?

The main two things to do at Hearst Castle are visiting the Visitor Center and taking a tour to the hilltop to see Hearst Castle.

  • Stop at the Visitor Center (free) which includes a small exhibit area about William Randolph Hearst and Hearst Castle, a casual restaurant, cafe, and gift shop.
  • Watch a 40-minute film Hearst Castle: Building the Dream  (fee, included with daytime tour tickets) at the Visitor Center.
  • Take one of several tours offered at Hearst Castle; the different tours explore different parts of the estate’s buildings. All tours include a bus ride to the top of the hill and a visit to the interiors of Hearst Castle, the two pools, and the gardens. Tours are offered in the day time as well as in the evenings during certain times of the year.
  • After your tour ends, you have the option to further explore the gardens on your own.

Cost of Visiting Hearst Castle? 

There are a number of guided tours available, and tickets are (as of June 2022) USD $30 per adult and $15 for children age 5-12 for the most popular tour. Children under age 5 are free.

Note that an additional service fee is charged if you wish to reserve tickets in advance.

What Tours are offered at Hearst Castle?

You must join a guided tour in order to visit Hearst Castle. The Hearst Castle guided tours range from about 60 minutes to 2 hours, and all include a visit to the Neptune Pool, the Roman Pool, and time to explore the gardens.

  • Grand Rooms Tour – This 60 minute tour includes all the grand social rooms of Casa Grande (the largest house at Hearst Castle), including the Assembly Room, Dining Room (Refectory), Billiard Room, and Private Theater. This is the most popular tour and is recommended for first-time visitors.
  • Upstairs Suites Tour – This 60 minute tour explores the upper floors of Casa Grande, including the library, guest suites, and Hearst’s bedroom and study. A great second tour to take.
  • Cottages & Kitchen Tour – This 60 minute tour features two of the three luxurious guest cottages near Casa Grande (usually Casa del Mar and Casa del Monte), the Casa Grande kitchen, and the Casa Grande wine cellar.
  • Designing the Dream Tour – This 75 minute tour tells the story of the construction, architecture, and interior design of Hearst Castle, and the collaboration between William Randolph Hearst and Julia Morgan. Features Casa del Sol, the North Wing of Casa Grande, and the dressing rooms of the Roman Pool. Great for those with a passion for architecture and/or interior design.
  • Evening Tour – This 1 hour 40 minute tour is designed to let you more slowly enjoy the Casa Grande in the evening when it is illuminated and filled with guides in 1930’s period dress. Tour includes most of the rooms from the Grand Rooms Tour and the Upstairs Suites Tour. Great for a first or second time visit.

There are also ADA wheelchair accessible versions of the most popular tours available, and there are also special interest semi-private (art, Hollywood, architecture), holiday themed, and private tours available. Check the website for availability.

Assembly Room Casa Grande Hearst Castle San Simeon California Central Coast American Castle William Randolph Hearst home La Cuesta Encantada

How do I purchase tickets for Hearst Castle?

Tickets can be reserved and purchased online at the Hearst Castle website , by phone (U.S.: 1-800-444-4445 International: 1-833-448-7287), or in-person at the Visitor Center. Tickets can be reserved in advance up to 60 days prior to your visit date.

There is a service fee charged for tickets booked in advance, so you can save money by purchasing your ticket in-person. However, as tours do often sell out, especially in busy months, it is recommended that you purchase tickets in advance if you need a particular time slot. You can check the booking calendar before your visit to check ticket availability.

Just note that if you book your ticket in advance, there is a cancellation fee to change the dates or cancel the tickets. So don’t book in advance unless you are sure on your date of visit.

If you are interested in a personalized or private tour, they are available for $1,000 for up to 6 visitors and can last up to 4 hours. Private tours must be booked in advance. Call (805) 927-2070 to arrange a private tour.

Can I do more than one tour in the same day at Hearst Castle?

Yes, you can. You just need to purchase tickets for both of those tours. For example, you might want to do the Grand Rooms tour plus another of the more in-depth tours to another section of the house or to learn more about the art collection.

I’d recommend booking your tickets and having them before your first time begins. You can purchase them in advance online or at the Ticket Office at the Visitor Center. That way, you know you have the times you want for both tours.

Hearst Castle has just recently (as of summer 2019) begun a trial to allow visitors the ability to book tickets for additional tours on the Hilltop. There is currently a kiosk near the bus drop-off point that can sell tickets for additional tours and there is a waiting area for guests waiting for second tour. This is new as previously you needed to return to the Visitor Center to join a second tour.

If you plan to do more than one tour, I’d make sure you have at least 30 minutes in between tours to be sure to catch the second one in time. I’d also ask when you pick up your wristbands, what you need to do and where you need to go to join the second tour.

Is Food Available at Hearst Castle?

Yes, meals are available at the Chief’s Galley Cafe in the visitor center which serves sandwiches, soups, grilled items, salads, and more. You can try the local grass-fed Hearst beef from the ranch here.

If you are looking for a lighter meal or snack, you can stop at La Cuesta Coffee Shop which serves coffee, tea, sandwiches, and snacks. In the summer months, an additional outside BBQ spot is also usually open in the Visitor Center Courtyard.

Note that you can not bring food or drinks (except bottled water) on the tours or to the hilltop, and there is no food available for purchase on the hilltop.

Other Services at Hearst Castle?

Hearst Castle offers a Visitor Center that includes ticket booths, a casual restaurant, a coffee shop, restrooms, an exhibition area, and a book and gift shop. Free parking is located next to the Visitor Center.

The Hearst Castle Theater is also located in the Visitor Center which shows the 40-minute film Hearst Castle: Building the Dream several times a day. The film is included with the price of all daytime tours, and it can be added to most evening tours for an additional fee.

Is Hearst Castle wheelchair accessible?

Hearst Castle is partially wheelchair accessible. The regular tours do require participants to be able to walk up and down some stairs; however, there are special stair-free ADA Accessible Tours (day and evening tours) designed specifically for wheelchair users and those with limited mobility or who can’t stand for long periods of time.

The ADA Accessible Grand Rooms tour covers sections of the garden, the two pools, and the main room highlights within Casa Grande including the Assembly Room, Refectory, Billiard Room, and  the Theater. Please reserve tour in advance to guarantee space.

The Visitor Center is wheelchair accessible and wheelchair accessible toilets are available here.

Wheelchairs up to 28 inches in width can be accommodated at the Castle. Wheelchairs are also available to borrow for those with special needs at no additional charge.

Is Photography allowed at Hearst Castle?

Visitors are allowed to take photos in the house and in the gardens for personal use. Flash photography is not allowed inside the houses. Tripods are not permitted at Hearst Castle.

For commercial photography, please contact Hearst Castle for needed permissions and fees.

gold gilded bronze statue Hearst Castle San Simeon California Central Coast American Castle William Randolph Hearst home La Cuesta Encantada

How Long is a Visit to Hearst Castle?

You’ll want to spend at least 2 hours at Hearst Castle, although I’d plan on 3 hours to give yourself enough time to explore everything. But you can easily spend 4 hours or more here.

Most of the public guided tours are 60 minutes long but some last up to 2 hours. But if you add in the 40-minute film at the Visitor Center, the bus ride up and down the hill, free time exploring the gardens, and a stop at the exhibition and gift shop you can easily spend a full morning or afternoon here. Add additional time if you plan to eat here or take a second tour.

If you are short on time, in 2 hours you can get your ticket, watch the 40 minute film, do the guided tour, and then head straight back down to the Visitor Center. Be sure to check the film and tour timings and plan accordingly.

But we’d recommend allowing at least 3 hours here so you are not rushed and have more time to enjoy the Visitor Center and wander around the hilltop after your tour.

Even if you pre-book your ticket, we recommend arriving at the Visitor Center at least 15 to 20 minutes prior to the beginning of your tour to ensure you have enough time to collect your wristbands and get on the bus in time.

Day Tours to Hearst Castle?

If you are staying in San Francisco or along the Central Coast, you can take a day tour that visits Hearst Castle. If you are staying in Los Angeles, we don’t know of any day tours, but you can book overnight tours that depart from Los Angeles.

Here are some options:

  • This private day tour from San Francisco includes stops at Big Sur, Carmel, 17-mile Drive, and a tour of Hearst Castle.
  • This popular 3 Day Coastal Tour from Los Angeles to San Francisco explores the Pacific Coast Highway and includes a Hearst Castle tour (in Winter month only) as well as stops in a number of coastal towns including Solvang, Santa Barbara and Carmel
  • This private full day tour from San Francisco includes the Grand Rooms tour at Hearst Castle plus stops in Santa Barbara and Solvang. The tour includes a tour guide and transport to and from San Francisco in an air-conditioned vehicle.
  • This small group wine tasting tour picks up visitors from Pismo Beach  and visits 2 local wineries and Hearst Castle.

Note that tour itineraries can change so do read the latest full tour description prior to booking to ensure it includes a visit to Hearst Castle.

Best time of year to visit Hearst Castle?

Hearst Castle is open daily year-round; it is closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. So you can visit Hearst Castle at any time of year.

The summer months and around holidays are the busiest times of years, so I would avoid these if you want to go when there are fewer crowds. Summer is also the hottest time of year in this part of California whereas the winter months are the coldest. Winter is perhaps the worst time to see the gardens; however, winter months are often the least crowded, especially if you avoid the holiday season.

The evening tours are only offered in the Fall and Spring months, so visit then if you are interested in taking one of the 1930’s themed tours at night. Special holiday tours are offered around Christmas and other holidays.

What else is there to do near Hearst Castle?

There are a number of things to do near Hearst Castle and it is easy to spend a day or two exploring San Simeon, Cambria, and the local coastline here.

For more to do in this area, see our article about things to do in Cambria , but here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Elephant Seal Rookery – There is a viewing area at Point Piedras Blancas where you can usually see elephant seals down below on the beach. Sometimes there are a dozen and sometimes there are thousands here, depending on the time of the year. You can learn more about these amazing creatures here . This area and many more along the coast are part of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and you can learn more by visiting the Coastal Discovery Center in San Simeon.
  • Piedras Blancas Light Station – A lighthouse was first completed here in 1875 and a fog signal building in 1905. Today visitors can learn more about the history of this light station and the lives of the lighthouse keepers and their families by taking a tour. Guided tours are offered 3 days a week.
  • Wineries – Hearst Ranch has its own winery, and you can taste the wine at the nearby Sebastian’s in San Simeon. There is also the Stolo Winery in Cambria as well as a number of wine tasting rooms. For those wanting to do wine tasting in the popular Paso Robles wine area, you might consider a wine tasting tour such as this one that includes transport to and from Cambria or San Simeon.
  • Beaches – There are a number of beaches in the area including W.R. Hearst Memorial State Beach, Ragged Point Beach, and Moonstone beach.
  • Cambria Historical Museum – Learn about the area’s local history at this small museum located in one of Cambria’s oldest buildings.
  • Nitt Witt Ridge – A home built by an eccentric man in Cambria named Arthur Harold Beal of found objects which include everything from beer cans and toilet seats to tiles from Hearst Castle. House is privately owned but tours are given most days at 10am, call the owners (phone: 805-927-2690) in advance to schedule a tour.
  • Scenic Drives – This is a beautiful part of California and you can take a scenic drive along the coastline and drive along Highway 1 to explore part of the Pacific Coast Highway .

For those planning to explore further in California, check out our Pacific Coast Highway road trip guide and our suggested 2 week California itinerary for more ideas.

Elephant Seal Rookery San Simeon California

Where to Stay near Hearst Castle?

If you want to stay overnight near Hearst Castle, we recommend looking for accommodation in San Simeon (town where Hearst Castle is located) or Cambria (town south of San Simeon). There are hotels, motels, apartments, and bed-and-breakfasts in both towns.

This is a popular area to stay the night, so be prepared for higher than usual prices, especially in the summer and around holidays.

  • Quality Inn in San Simeon – This 2-star good value motel offers comfortable rooms, free continental breakfast, an outdoor heated pool, and hot tub. Located only 4 miles from Hearst Castle.
  • Cavalier Oceanfront Resort in San Simeon – This 3-star beachfront resort-style hotel offers heated outdoor pools, hot tub, on-site full service restaurant, and 24-hour reception desk. Some rooms have fireplaces, patios, and ocean views. Family and dog friendly. Only 4 miles from Hearst Castle.
  • El Colibri Hotel & Spa in Cambria – This 3-star boutique hotel offers an on-site wine bar and spa, and each guest room includes a deep soaking jet tub, lounge chair, and flat screen TV. Walking distance from Moonstone Beach. We’ve stayed here and can recommend; great for couples. Located about 8 miles from Hearst Castle.
  • Cambria Shores Inn in Cambria – This 2-star property is just across the street from the boardwalk and beach. Hotel offers continental breakfast, and all rooms include fireplaces, microwaves, and flat-screen TVs. This property is family and dog friendly. 8 miles from Hearst Castle.
  • J Patrick House Inn in Cambria – This 5-star bed-and-breakfast includes a free wine hour, fully cooked breakfast, and shared lounge area. Each room includes a fireplace and free spa toiletries. Perfect for couples. 10 miles from Hearst Castle.
  • If you are looking for a hostel, the nearest one we know of is Hostel Obispo which offers budget prices, starting at about $30/night. Dorm style rooms and common rooms include lounge, kitchen, lockers, and laundry facilities. 42 miles (1 hour drive) from Hearst Castle.

For those looking for rooms or apartments, you can check the local listings on Vrbo and other vacation rental websites .

Where can I find out more information about Hearst Castle?

Heart Castle is owned by California State Parks and they have an excellent informative website where you can find more information, see tour times, and book tickets.

If you want to learn more about the castle, there are a number of books about Hearst Castle, William Randolph Hearst, and architect Julia Morgan, which you can see here . One author to check out is books by Victoria Kastner , who was the official historian for Hearst Castle for over 20 years and has written several books.

If you want to watch the video, Hearst Castle: Building the Dream,  shown at Hearst Castle in the theater, you can actually purchase it online here . The film tells the story of William Randolph Hearst and his building of Hearst Castle with some wonderful scenery.

And of course, if you’ve never seen Citizen Kane , you should definitely watch this black-and-white masterpiece before or after your visit. The film by Orson Welles is a satirized version of Hearst’s life and Hearst Castle was the inspiration for the fictional Xanadu.

Casa del Sol Hearst Castle San Simeon California Central Coast American Castle William Randolph Hearst home La Cuesta Encantada

Our Visit to Hearst Castle

I have visited Hearst Castle twice and since I went with two different people we did the Grand Tours tour both time. This is the most popular tour and the one that is recommended for most first time visitors as it includes the grand public rooms on the main floor of Casa Grande, which is the largest house on the hilltop.

I first visited Hearst Castle in Spring 2011 and then a second time several years later. Both times, we reserved our tickets online and then brought our printed voucher to the ticket window to collect our tickets and wristbands.

We arrived about an hour before our tour and watched the 40-minute film Hearst Castle: Building the Dream which provides a very good overview of the construction and building of the castle, and includes some vintage film clips from the 1920’s and 1930’s. We recommend watching this before your tour if you have time, but you can also watch it after your tour.

There is also a free exhibition at the Visitor Center, and parts of it change over time with rotating collections. When we visited there was general information about William Randolph Hearst and Hearst Castle along with several objects on display.

Hearst Castle film projector 1939 Super Simplex Film Projector with 35 mm lens was used by William Randolph Hearst.

The Bus Ride to the Hilltop

Then we got in line for the bus that drives you up the 5-mile route to the castle. The buses were clean and comfortable enough for the short ride. It takes about 10 minutes.

There are some nice views to enjoy from the window as you wind your way up the hilltop. You can also learn more about the property by listening to the recorded narration provided by the late Alex Trebek of Jeopardy about the property and grounds along the way.

Keep a look out for zebra! William Randolph Hearst had one of the largest private zoos in the world in the 1930’s, and a few free roaming animals still remain from the zoo, most notably a herd of zebra. You may get lucky and see them as we did, a bit odd to see zebra along the California coast!

In the past, invited guests would arrive by private plane, train, or car. Upon entering the gated estate, they would have commonly been driven past animals such as bison, camels, zebra, ostriches, and elk on their journey up to the house.

After the bus arrives at the Hilltop, you’ll be sorted into the appropriate group based on the tour ticket you purchased. Then you’ll be introduced to your tour guide and given an introduction about the rules of the tours and the building of the property.

The Grand Room tours often have about 20 people per group, but the more specialized tours often have smaller groups.

bus ride Hearst Castle San Simeon California Central Coast American Castle William Randolph Hearst home La Cuesta Encantada

The Hearst Castle Gardens

The first thing you’ll probably notice are the esplanade and beautiful gardens. I loved the scent from the orange trees my first trip up to the hilltop.

Although Hearst Castle is best known for its buildings, particularly Casa Grande, the gardens were also planned in elaborate detail by Hearst and Julia Morgan and attended to by a large team of gardeners.

The lovely gardens are mainly Mediterranean in influence and you’ll see Spanish and Italian influences throughout the design of the gardens. There are a wide variety of flowers, fruit trees, palm trees, and succulents here.

You’ll also find a number of fountains and statues on display throughout the gardens. This includes the oldest antiquity in Hearst’s collection which are granite figures and heads of the Egyptian goddess Sekhmet dating to the 18th and 19th dynasties (approximately 1550 BC to 1189 BC).

There are also some amazing views from the various parts of the gardens and terraces here over the estate and the Central Coast. You can see all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

You will see only a few highlights on the tours, but after the tour you are welcome to explore the gardens on your own at your leisure. The gardens, terraces, and pools make up about 125 acres of the estate, so there is a large area that you can explore.

Casa del Sol Hearst Castle San Simeon California Central Coast American Castle William Randolph Hearst home La Cuesta Encantada

The Grand Rooms Tour at Hearst Castle

The exteriors of Casa Grande and the guest cottages have strong Spanish and Mediterranean influences, particularly Spanish Colonial Revival and Mediterranean Revival. But the interior designs and art collections inside Casa Grande are much more eclectic.

As you walk through the rooms, most of the rooms are furnished and set up as they would have been during Hearst’s occupancy in the early twentieth century. You’ll learn that entire rooms (including the walls and floors) were sometimes taken from monasteries, churches, and castles and transported to California to be reassembled.

Hearst had warehouses full of treasures—ancient statues, rich tapestries, Roman mosaics, beautiful paintings, priceless furniture—and many of these are still showcased at Hearst Castle.

While it is great to see, it’s also a bit disheartening to think about some of the beautiful places that were torn apart and treasures sold likely for the need of some quick money rather than these treasures staying in their homeland.

As noted, we did the Grand Rooms Tour at Hearst Castle. This tour explores the main public rooms of Casa Grande, which are some of the grandest rooms on the estate. These include the Assembly Room, Refectory (Dining Room), Morning Room, Billiard Room, and private theater.

Casa Grande has 115 rooms, but you see only about a half dozen on this tour. If you want to see more, you might consider also booking the Upstairs Suites Tour or doing the Evening Tour (includes the rooms of the Grand Rooms and Upstairs Suites tours).

With a larger group, it can be a bit crowded inside the buildings since at times you have to walk almost single file to stay on the tour carpeting to prevent damage to the original floors and rugs. But it was manageable and we had time to see everything in each room.

Our guide was very knowledgeable and provided a very good narration along the way and was able to competently answer questions from visitors. We found if we wanted to best hear the guide and ask questions, it was best to try to stay near the front.

Here is a brief overview of the highlighted rooms of the tour inside Casa Grande:

The Assembly Room

The Assembly Room is the largest and grandest of the public rooms, and it was here that Hearst and his mistress (or wife) would often greet their guests. It was also used for evening cocktails, conversation, and reading.

The room contains beautiful walnut paneling, a ceiling from an Italian palazzo, a fireplace from a French chateau, a set of four tapestries believed to be designed by Giulio Romano , large marble medallions, a painting of the Annunciation by Spanish painter Bartolomé Pérez de la Dehesa, and a number of neoclassical sculptures. Among these sculptures is the Venus Italica by Antonio Canova , one of Hearst Castle’s most treasured pieces.

There is also a sentimental Victorian era piece in the room that may look a bit out of place; it is called the Orchid Vase lamp. The base is a vase created in 1889 by Tiffany & Co. that won honors at the 1889 Paris Universal Exposition. Hearst’s mother Phoebe purchased it and had it converted into a lamp, and later William Hearst kept it here as a tribute to his mother.

The room is a bit overwhelming to try to admire all the art, furniture, and decorations, and the guide helps direct you to the most important pieces. The Assembly room also holds secrets such as a hidden door that allowed William Randolph Hearst to come and go as he pleased with little notice.

Assembly Room Casa Grande Hearst Castle San Simeon California Central Coast American Castle William Randolph Hearst home La Cuesta Encantada

The Refectory (The Dining Room)

Now you head into what resembles a Gothic dining hall from the Middle Ages. This is what Hearst and Morgan intended and it was referred to as The Rectory, which is the term used for a dining hall in a monastery.

The room is lined with wooden choir stalls and is is framed by colorful silk banners from Italy. It has high windows and a beautiful carved Italian Renaissance ceiling. The long table in the middle, from an Italian monastery, is set with lots of fine silver candle holders and silverware.

The opulent silver collection stands in contrast to the paper napkins and bottles of mustard and ketchup Hearst often had at the table. These were the simple nostalgic touches Hearst liked in order to keep things bit more informal at his ranch.

Overlooking the Refectory is a minstrel’s gallery or Musician’s Loft as it was called by Hearst and Morgan. Here music would be piped in during dinner. One rare occasions, it was used for live music performances—Roy Rogers and the Sons of the Pioneers played here at least one.

P.G. Woodhouse wrote the following to his friend William Townend about his experience dining at Hearst Castle in February 1931:

“Meals are in an enormous room, and are served at a long table, with Hearst sitting in the middle on one side and Marion Davies in the middle on the other. The longer you are there, the further you get from the middle. I sat on Marion’s right the first night, then found myself being edged further and further away till I got to the extreme end, when I thought it time to leave. Another day, and I should have been feeding on the floor.”

Although Hearst and Marion Davies were clearly hosts who knew how to show their guest a good time, guests were expected to not wear out their welcome!

The Refectory Dining Room Hearst Castle San Simeon California Central Coast American Castle William Randolph Hearst home La Cuesta Encantada

The Billiard Room

The Billiard Room, originally a breakfast room, was a popular spot for guests. Here they could enjoy games of billiards and pool and there was also a small sitting area where they could relax and read.

Some notable things in the Billiard room are the 15th century painted Spanish ceiling, the French fireplace, the 15th century Flemish tapestry depicting a hunting scene, and the frieze over the door decorated with 16th century Persian tiles.

Billiard Room pool table Hearst Castle San Simeon California Central Coast American Castle William Randolph Hearst home La Cuesta Encantada

The Theater

Next, we were led into Hearst’s private theater. Initially, films were shown outdoors to guests, but soon Hearst had his own indoor theater built. The theater was built to hold 50 guests, and was used to both show films and to host amateur theatricals put on by the guests.

Hearst would show a full-length film and newsreel almost every night at Hearst Castle. A driver would often bring a new film each day from Los Angeles for the enjoyment of the guests. Later, this practice would spread and hosting film screenings at private homes would become very popular in Hollywood.

Not surprisingly, many of the films shown at Hearst Castle starred Marion Davies and were produced by Hearst’s own Cosmopolitan Studios. But he also often chose movies that starred or were directed by one of the many guests at the castle.

In 2015, the film Citizen Kane was shown in the theater at Hearst Castle for the first time with permission by the Hearst family. The money benefited the San Luis Obispo International Film Festival and the Friends of Hearst Castle preservation group

We were shown a short film with clips of Hearst and his guests spending time at Hearst Castle in the early 20th century. This was a good way to end the inside part of the tour.

Hearst Castle private Theater cinema Hearst Castle San Simeon California Central Coast American Castle William Randolph Hearst home La Cuesta Encantada

The Hearst Castle Pools

Next we headed out of Casa Grande to see the swimming pools and also take a peek at the tennis court. Hearst had both an indoor swimming pool and an outdoor swimming pool built on the property, both on a gigantic scale.

Interestingly, the staff actually gets to swim in and enjoy the pools once or twice a year—what a pool party! Members of the Hearst family also occasionally use the house, and Lydia Hearst held her bachelorette party at Hearst Castle in 2016 which included time in the Roman Pool.

The guided tours visit the pools and give you a good overview of them both, but as with the gardens, you can revisit the pools after your tour ends if you want to spend more time looking at them or taking photos.

Neptune Pool

The Neptune Pool is probably one of the best known outdoor features at Hearst Castle. The Neptune Pool was the very first pool built at La Cuesta Encantada and it is located along the edge of the hilltop. The first pool was built because Hearst’s wife and kids wanted a swimming pool.

Although the first pool here was completed in 1924, Hearst kept wanting to expand it in order incorporate statues and antiquities that he wanted to display as part of the pool complex. It would be enlarged twice more and would reach its current size in 1936.

Today the pool is 104 feet long and holds up to 345,000 gallons of water! There are also showers and dressing rooms here.

The Neptune Pool is lined with marble tiles from Vermont and is decorated with a number of statues, many made by French sculptor Charles Cassou. In the center is a Roman temple, partly an actual original Roman temple and partly constructed of other elements from structures Hearst purchased in Europe.

The pool was drained and underwent amassive 10 million dollar restoration in 2014 as major cracks and leaks were discovered. The pool was re-opened and refilled again in the summer of 2018.

Neptune Pool Hearst Castle San Simeon California Central Coast American Castle William Randolph Hearst home La Cuesta Encantada

The Roman Pool at Hearst Castle is a heated indoor pool decorated with beautiful tiles and eight marble statues. The pool was built between 1927 and 1934 and it is designed lo look like an ancient Roman bath such as the Baths of Caracalla. It is located behind Casa Grande.

The Roman Pool is decorated from top to bottom with 1-inch square mosaic tiles made of Murano glass. The tiles were designed by Camille Solon and were inspired by the 5th Century Mausoleum of Galla Placidia in Ravenna. Most are blue, orange, or gold. The ceiling is particularly beautiful with its night blue tiles with stars.

The eight marble statues around the Roman Pool were created from Carrara marble by Italian sculptor Carlo Freter. They are all based on ancient Greek and Roman statues of gods, goddesses, and heroes.

The Roman Pool is 1,665 square feet, and it can hold 205,000 gallons of water. It is up to 10 feet deep. There are also dressing rooms located here, and behind the pool are the tennis courts.

This is definitely the most beautiful indoor pool we’ve ever seen!

tennis courts Hearst Castle San Simeon California Central Coast American Castle William Randolph Hearst home La Cuesta Encantada

Eating at the Visitor Center

After visiting both pools, we were able to wander around the gardens as long as we wanted. The buses back down the hill leave about every 15 minutes, and you just need to make sure you catch one before the last one of the day leaves for the day.

After the bus ride back down to the Visitor’s Center, we grabbed some food at the cafeteria style dining area called Chief’s Galley Cafe at the Visitor Center. I’ve eaten here twice.

The food is a bit overpriced as you would expect, and the first time the food was pretty mediocre and unmemorable. The second time we tried the hamburgers with the local Hearst Ranch beefs and these were pretty good. Still a bit overpriced though.

We also checked out the gift stop and found that they had a good selection of books. If you are interested in learning more about Hearst or Hearst Castle after the visit, some great books and videos are for sale here.

hamburger Hearst Ranch beef Hearst Castle San Simeon California Central Coast American Castle William Randolph Hearst home La Cuesta Encantada

Overall Thoughts on Visiting Hearst Castle

Overall, we really enjoyed the tour, the scenery, and walking around the gardens. The film was interesting and our guides on both visits were very professional and knowledgeable. The food was OK but overpriced, but this was really the only downside to our visit.

Some of the highlights for us were the gardens which were very pretty in Spring, the two stunning swimming pools (the outdoor Neptune Pool and indoor Roman Pool), the Assembly and Refectory rooms of Casa Grande, and being able to watch some short film clips in the private theater at Casa Grande.

Although the architecture and design may not be to everyone’s tastes, it is amazing what Julia Morgan and Hearst were able to create together. The art and decorative elements in the buildings are amazing. It can be a bit overwhelming to try to take it all in and so it was great to have the opportunity to visit more than once.

The Grand Rooms tour is a great introduction the house. We’d love to visit again to see the Upstairs Suites and other areas of the house on a future visit. I’ve always wanted to do one of the seasonal evening tours that include a longer guided tour at night with docents dressed up in 1930’s clothing enacting life as it would have been during the time period.

The California Parks seems to be doing a very good job in maintaining the property and offering professional tours to the public. There are very few places like this in the United States and we believe this is a place worth seeing at least once.

Hearst Castle San Simeon California Central Coast American Castle William Randolph Hearst home La Cuesta Encantada

Tips for Making the Most of your Visit to Hearst Castle

Here are some reminders and tips for making the most of your visit to Hearst Castle in San Simeon:

  • We recommend booking your tour tickets in advance if you can. This is particularly important during the busy summer months and holidays when some tours may book out in advance.
  • Be sure to plan to arrive at the Visitor Center at least 15 to 20 minutes prior to the beginning of your tour to ensure you have enough time to collect your tickets, get your wristbands, and make it on the bus in time.
  • We recommend watching the film at the Visitor Center prior to your tour if you have time as it provides some good background information. But if you don’t have time before, we recommend watching it afterwards.
  • Baby strollers, luggage, chewing gum, food, and tripods are NOT allowed on the tours. Please leave these things in your car.
  •  The temperature may be hotter or colder on the hill than at the Visitor Center, so dress in layers. Bring a hat and sunscreen if it’s sunny as you will be spending a bit of time outside during the tour.
  • There is no food or drinks sold on the hilltop, so plan meals and snacks accordingly. Bottled water is OK to take on the tour, but no other drinks, food, or gum is permitted. We recommend bringing a reusable water bottle with you for the tour, especially if visiting in summer.
  • There are bathroom facilities in the Visitor Center. There are toilets on the hilltop if you need them, but it is best to use them at the Visitor Center before or after your tour. Note that during periods of drought in California, portable toilets (porta-potties) and chemical toilets are often used to conserve water.
  • If you have difficulty climbing stairs, note that the regular tours include 150 to over 300 steps and require quite a bit of walking and standing. If you have mobility issues, we recommend considering one of the stair-free ADA Accessible Tours.
  • The tours at Hearst Castle are not well-suited for some young children. They are all guided and timed and children will need to be supervised during the tour to keep them from touching or damaging the art and furniture as most things are not roped off. The length of the tours (60 to 75 minutes) can be difficult for some young children, and parents should consider if this is a good fit for their kids or not. Strollers are not allowed at Hearst Castle.
  • If you have flexibility over the timing of your visit, we recommend trying to visit during good weather so you can better appreciate the garden and the views of the undeveloped land and ocean surrounding the property.
  • If you book more than one tour in the same day at Hearst Castle, you’ll probably need to take the bus down the hill after the first tour before the start of your new tour. This is done to better control visitor numbers and keep track of groups. Be sure to ask where you need to meet when collecting your tickets.
  • For more things to do in the area, be sure to see our guide to things to do in Cambria and San Simeon to plan a full day of sightseeing in this scenic area.

So that is our guide to and tips for visiting Hearst Castle in San Simeon! Hopefully this has helped you plan your own trip to this special American Castle on the Central Coast of California.

Planning a trip to Hearst Castle? You may want to PIN this article to Pinterest to read later:

A comprehensive guide and tips for visiting Hearst Castle, a hilltop mansion built by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst & architect Julia Morgan along the beautiful Central Coast of California in the tiny town of San Simeon. Once only open to the rich and famous, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about how to visit Hearst Castle, tips for making the most of your visit, and things to do nearby. #HearstCastle #SanSimeon #California #castle #travel #Cambria #PacificCoastHighway

So what do you think, do you think Hearst Castle is worth a visit? Have you visited Hearst Castle—we’d love to hear your thoughts and any other tips you may have for those planning a visit. Just let us know in the Comments section below.

As always, feel free to ask us any questions you may have about visiting Hearst Castle or things to do in Central California.

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cathleen R corell Post author

November 2, 2021 at 8:35 am

Hearst castle has been shut downsince march 2020. There is no date to reopen..

Jessica & Laurence Norah Post author

November 2, 2021 at 9:33 am

Hi Cathleen,

Yes, Hearst Castle is currently closed due to road repairs (damage caused by a bad storm in Jaunary 2021) and the work began in July 2021 which is expected to take 6 to 9 months according to their website. Hearst Castle is expected to reopen in Spring or Summer 2022 to visitors, but as you note no date has been set.

We will make this clearer in our article and post this information at the top in red so this is more obvious to readers. Thanks for pointing this out.

If you haven’t had a chance to visit yet, I hope you get to do so once it reopens!

Best, Jessica

June 3, 2022 at 6:24 am

Hearst Castle reopened to the public on May 11, 2022. So it is now open to visits and most of the tours and facilties are exactly as they were two years before its closures due to road repairs and COVID-19.

Melody Svennungsen Post author

June 9, 2016 at 12:57 pm

Instead of gifts, we try to give each of our 5 grandchildren an “experience” for their birthdays. Since we live near San Simeon, the 9th year is a trip to Hearst Castle .. .. .. 4 down and one kid to go, we will take him up the enchanted hill next week. As we were leaving the castle a couple years ago, we were looking out at the gorgeous ocean view when our “princess” g-daughter sighed dramatically and said, “Oh, I just wish I could live here.”

travelcats Post author

June 13, 2016 at 6:51 am

Hi Melody, I think that is a great idea to do something experiential for your grandchildren. I think kids especially remember the trips to the park, zoo, castles, theme park, beach, etc. with their family when they grow up and look back on their childhood rather than toys or clothes. Thanks for taking the time to comment and I am sure your granddaughter will love the trip to Hearst Castle! San Simeon and Cambria are situated in a beautiful part of the world. ~ Jessica

Lorraine BertoniIl Post author

July 5, 2015 at 12:55 pm

I am planning a vIsit to Hearst Castle in August 2015 with my daughter. I would love your advise as to how many different tours we should book in one day. Is one sufficient or should we pick two? If you suggest two, then which ones should they be? Thank you for any help and planning ideas.

July 5, 2015 at 9:24 pm

Hi Lorraine,

I love Hearst Castle and I have visited twice. On the first trip in 2013 I did a tour called “The Experiences tour” (no longer one of the options) and the second time we did the tour called “The Grand Rooms”. For first time visitors, “The Grand Rooms” is the recommended tour by the castle staff and I would agree as it covers the grandest and most opulent rooms. On my first visit, I also got to tour through a couple of the “cottages” but these are not nearly as well-decorated or grand as the rooms in the Casa Grande. If I were to choose a second tour, I’d probably recommend the upstairs tour as it includes the opulent library, bedrooms, and views from the top floor which are not included on “The Grand Rooms” tour. The evening tours sounds wonderful, but it won’t be running during your visit. Honestly though I think if you don’t want to spend the money for a second tour, “The Grand Rooms” are probably a highlight for most visitors, along with the beautiful gardens and pools which are included in all tours. After each tour, you can explore the gardens, outdoor art, and two pools at your leisure so I would definitely make time for this and there are great views from the top of the hill. Before or after your tour, also make room for the free 40-minute film in the Visitor’s Center (just keep your ticket) as it is excellent and definitely adds something to the experience. August is a busy time and I would recommend booking your tickets ahead as some times slot often sell out in advance during high season. I hope you and your daughter enjoy your visit! ~Jessica

Megan C. Stroup Post author

March 25, 2014 at 7:14 am

I think the tour you took is now called the “Grand Rooms” – that was also the tour I did on my first trip there. You look like you had gorgeous weather; unfortunately, both times I went it was rainy and cloudy (typical for that area of the coast), but I will probably go back again one day to do the cottages tour, and hopefully it is sunny then! 🙂

March 25, 2014 at 10:59 am

Yes, it seems that they keep changing up the tour names and what is included in each one. Yes, the weather was great during our visit, it is definitely more pleasant to take in the gardens and outdoor views when the weather is clear and nice. But the inside is wonderful regardless and glad you’ve enjoyed your tours so much. We’d like to return and do one of the evening tours at some point.

Dana Post author

February 4, 2014 at 4:40 pm

We saw zebras grazing as we drove past the property on our way down the coast – unbelievable! We didn’t stop with the kids though – too pricey for an attraction they weren’t interested in. So I loved seeing your photos, and hope one day my husband and I can go back and take the tour.

February 4, 2014 at 7:42 pm

Dana, wow, that is wonderful that you got to see the zebras! I would definitely recommend going back at some point for a tour of Hearst Castle. It really is a well-done and organized tour, although better for older kids and adults. Go in nice weather so you can spend extra time wandering around on your own outside, the gardens are really pretty in the Spring and Summer.

David Post author

October 2, 2013 at 6:28 am

Nothing against Hearst castle, but I’m glad you mentioned the elephant seal rookery. It is so cool, very much worth a visit, and not nearly as well known as the castle.

October 2, 2013 at 12:30 pm

Indeed, interesting and free:) I think the whole rocky, undeveloped coastline in this area is just wonderful.

Melissa Post author

September 19, 2013 at 2:08 am

This article saddens me, but only because it points to what I missed while I lived in San Francisco. The pictures and the descriptive details whisks me into a 20th century fantasy – if only the Hearst Castle walls could talk! The Roman pool is amazing and wow, I would love to be among the staff for one of those pool parties! Next time I’m in California, I’m going to visit Hearst Castle and put your tips to work! Now, I need to re-watch Citizen Kane…

Thanks for the great article!

September 19, 2013 at 7:48 am

Melissa, I hope you get the opportunity to visit Hearst Castle some day. Although in France, there are so many castles you can visit until then!

Amy Post author

September 18, 2013 at 10:48 am

I so enjoyed visiting Hearst Castle! It is in such a gorgeous location as well. We visited during elephant seal season so it was fun to see those mammoth creatures before wandering the grounds of Hearst. I definitely need to see Citizen Kane now, too 🙂

September 18, 2013 at 12:38 pm

Yes, I love the rugged coastline in this area and elephant seals are always a great plus:) I wasn’t a huge fan of Citizen Kane when I watched it as a teen, but learning the history of William Randolph Hearst actually made me appreciate it more.

Peter Romwall Post author

September 18, 2013 at 9:12 am

I am a guide at Hearst Castle and enjoyed the description of your visit. I would like to add that Hearst Castle is an accredited art museum and there is some evidence that William Randolph Hearst was intending it to be an art museum. In the 1920’s he wrote to the architect Julia Morgan, “I see no reason why the ranch should not become a museum of the finest things I can obtain.” He told his son, William Randolph Hearst Jr., “We are only borrowing this house until I can make a gift of it to the people of America.” In that sense, it is not different than any other museum in the country that features European art, including The Metropolitan Museum of Art, stocked with European art and architectural features bought and donated by wealthy Americans including J.P. Morgan.

September 18, 2013 at 9:53 am

Thanks so much Peter for stopping by our blog! Thanks for the additional info on the history and Heart Castle’s status as an art museum. Ethan and I would love to return for one of the night tours some day. Do you have any additional tips for readers thinking about visiting?

September 19, 2013 at 9:50 am

Your description and suggestions are really everything that one needs to know to enjoy a visit. The one thing that I might suggest is for visitors to pursue a particular interest. The art is just one part of the story. William Randolph Hearst was probably the most talked about private citizen in the first half of the 20th century and probably the most well-know American in the world after Franklin Roosevelt, and for many, many reasons besides his house at San Simeon. The architect Julia Morgan, the most prolific architect in U.S. history has a fascinating story and is worthy of investigation. The story of the construction of the Castle is mind-boggling for those interested in that aspect. There are many other avenues to pursue. After the 40 minute guided tour, guests have the opportunity to explore all the gardens and terraces at their leisure until the park closes. Climb the outside balconies on Casa del Monte and Casa del Mar and peek into windows. The best view on the hilltop is from the balcony on Casa del Mar which is why Mr. Hearst used that house from 1945 to 1947. His bedroom is the on the south-east corner. The opposite balcony was the bedroom of his companion, Marion Davies. Highly trained, experienced and knowledgeable guides are stationed throughout the park and we are NOT there to be policemen or security guards. We are there to answer your questions and speak with you about any topic or point of interest. A small amount of research before one visits and the willingness to ask questions and interactively participate in the experience can highly enrich one’s visit. And by all means, plop down on a chaise lounge by the Neptune Pool, put your feet up and pretend like you own the place!

September 19, 2013 at 11:13 am

Wow, thank you so much for your detailed and thoughtful response! I appreciate the insider’s scoop on how to make the most of a visit to this fascinating place. We’ll have to plan a return visit soon!

Rachel Post author

September 17, 2013 at 11:59 pm

Wow. My husband is from California but we have never made it to the “Hearst Castle”. I’ll be adding it to my list after seeing this. Thanks!

September 18, 2013 at 9:51 am

Thanks for stopping by Rachel! Yes, it’s a bit out of the way but a fun trip. We did it in conjunction to a visit to some along cities along the Central Coast.

Meredith Post author

September 17, 2013 at 9:33 am

It’s hard to believe that so much world history is assembled in a (once) private home in CA instead of a museum! I’d say the family certainly had eclectic taste 🙂 I’ve heard quite a bit about Hearst Castle (and seen Citizen Kane a few times) and would love to go. Thanks for the run through and the travel tips – no doubt they’ll come in handy!

September 17, 2013 at 11:41 am

Yes, you should definitely head here if you are in California! I should re-watch Citizen Kane as it has been a long time since I saw it.

Louisa Post author

September 16, 2013 at 2:22 am

That is crazy, in an amazing way! A mish-mash of styles and historical eras and artifacts that could only work in this place.

September 16, 2013 at 9:29 am

Yes, it is certainly both an odd and fascinating place!

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Private Hearst Castle Tour, Private Wine Tour, & Hotel Suite

Savor the Central Coast to the fullest with this 3-day package. You will enjoy 2 nights in a comfortable suite at the Oxford Suites in downtown Paso Robles and experience the best of the Central Coast on a full-day Hearst Castle & Wine tour with a knowledgeable guide your second day.

2 Nights Accommodation | Full-day Private Hearst Castle & Wine Tour | 3 days / 2 nights


Hearst castle, wine, and hotel package.

Your tour will be private for your group and customized specifically for your interests and preferences to provide you with a convenient, safe and quality private Hearst Castle & Wine tasting tour on California’s Central Coast.

On the day of your tour, you’ll be making your way over the coastal mountains to the infamous California Pacific Coast Highway (Route 1) for a short drive up to the ornate and luxurious Hearst Castle.

Start your visit with the Grand Rooms tour (not private) of the main house, recommended for first-time visitors & enjoy the awe-inspiring views.

Afterwards, you’ll head to the coastal town of Cambria, where you can grab a delicious lunch and browse the many art galleries, boutique shops and more. After lunch, we’ll drive back to Paso Robles wine country where you’ll visit a winery (tasting fee not included).

We’ll finish the day at a brewery in Tin City, Paso Robles ’ (purchases not included).

  • Breathtaking drive through the mountains and along Route 1 to the magnificent Hearst Castle
  • A guided tour of the Grand Rooms of Hearst Castle (not private, guide provided by the State Park)
  • Time to explore, shop and eat in the charming seaside town of Cambria
  • Visit a winery in Paso Robles
  • Visit Tin City, Paso Robles hippest tasting destination, featuring boutique wineries, breweries, distilleries, a cider house, sheep’s milk ice cream and more
  • Knowledgeable, friendly and experienced local guide
  • Family Friendly
  • Wine shipping boxes available for purchase to get your wine home!

Once you book this package, we will confirm availability at the Oxford Suites in Paso Robles and availability for the Grand Rooms Tour at Hearst Castle.

If they do not have availability on your requested date, we will get in touch immediately to notify your group and discuss options.

Our wine country concierge will get in touch to learn more about your group and start putting together a great itinerary customized specifically for you.

We can also build a customized day just for your group based on your preferences, if you have specific places, wineries, distilleries or breweries you want to visit, we are happy to book those on your behalf, assuming availability.

All tours are a fixed rate depending on the number of people in your group, and you will get a spacious private tour vehicle and knowledgeable tour guide/driver for 9 hours on day 2. Typically tours last from 8:45am until 5:45pm.

  • 2 Nights Hotel Stay in a Suite at the Oxford Suites in Paso Robles
  • 9 hours with a private vehicle and knowledgeable tour guide/driver
  • Hearst Castle Grand Rooms Tour Ticket
  • Complimentary chilled bottled water on the bus
  • We will make all appointments on your groups’ behalf
  • Knowledgeable, friendly, experienced, and professional local tour guide
  • Comfortable, spacious vehicle
  • Tasting fees and purchases at the venues visited (tasting fees can be prepaid to create an all-inclusive experience). Many wineries will waive these fees if a customer purchases wine or joins their wine club
  • Lunch and dinner
  • Purchases in Tin City
  • Extra time with vehicle & guide on day 2
  • Gratuity for your guide

Paso Robles has an Amtrak train station (PRB) and you can visit California’s Central Coast Wine Country by train departing from Los Angeles (LAX) or San Francisco/Oakland (OKJ). 

Tours from Los Angeles

  • Central Coast Hearst Castle & Wine Tour | Round-Trip LA
  • Central Coast Hearst Castle & Wine Tour | LA to SF

Tours from San Francisco

  • Central Coast Hearst Castle & Wine Tour | Round-Trip SF
  • Central Coast Hearst Castle & Wine Tour | SF to LA

Train tickets can be purchased online directly via Amtrak here.

Confirmation will be received within 48 hours of booking, subject to availability

Children of all ages are welcome on the tour though drinking alcohol is not permitted for those under the age of 21. This tour is not recommended for children under the age of 8 years old. Please bring a valid photo ID.

Although dogs are welcome on all our private tours, Heast Castle does NOT allow dogs on their tour and therefor this package is not dog friendly. Wear comfortable shoes and bring layers as the weather is subject to sudden changes. Often, the coastal weather can be cool with some fog and the afternoons can be much warmer with lots of sunshine. It’s also a good idea to bring sunscreen. If you notify us of specific requests after an itinerary has been confirmed for your group, there may be an additional fee to modify the itinerary.

Please note that the rooms booked on your tour are subject to change and may not be identical to those pictured.

hearst castle private tour

Reviews from Our Guests

  • Unforgettable Experience Wow! This trip was perfection and couldn’t be more happy with our experience. Lars was so friendly and so knowledgeable. Every single winery we went to was so tasty and the staff was incredible. I can’t recommend this experience enough! It was our anniversary trip and they made us feel so special at every stop. Kristina planned out our trip perfectly and I can’t wait to come back and do it again. Seriously I can’t tell you how amazing and perfect this trip was and you need to book this trip you won’t regret it. Thank you Lars and Kristina for an unforgettable trip! Simply perfection! Catrina TripAdvisor 10/26/2020
  • We had a GREAT time We had a GREAT time. Kristina was more than accommodating with our requests. She made recommendations based on our preferences of wine and went above and beyond to help he have a great time. We even had our fluffy goldendoodle in tour and she had all our stops dog friendly without a worry for us! She even went above and beyond to give us restaurant recommendations as well!We'll be back! Rebecca P. Yelp 7/05/2020
  • Best Time with Toast Tours! We had the best time with Toast Tours on our visit to Hearst Castle and Paso wine tasting. Lars and Kristina are wonderful tour operators. I am a seasoned traveler and would highly, highly recommend their tours. Rita Yelp 3/01/2020

Frequently Asked Questions

Hotel check-in time is at 4:00 pm. Your luggage can be stored prior to 4:00pm. Hotel check-out time is 11:00 am. Arrangements may be made for late check-out, depending on availability.

Breakfast is included with your hotel stay and is available in the hotel starting at 6:00am Monday – Friday and 7:00am on Saturday & Sunday.

It is a good idea to bring layers and sunscreen. The coastal weather at San Simeon and Cambria can be very cool and foggy, and Paso Robles can be much warmer with sunny hot weather in the summer.

There are extreme temperature swings from day to night, so mornings and evenings can be much colder as well, with a possible 40F degree temperature swing between day and night.

Wear comfortable shoes, as The Grand Rooms Tour is 60 minutes long and includes approximately 160 steps, both up and down, and a 2/3 mile walk.

Absolutely! With our Private Tours, we’re completely flexible on where the tour goes and what you do.

We can organize a number of itineraries that incorporate not only great local wineries, but also distilleries, breweries, olive oil, farm tours and more!

We can also combine some tasting with a fun Paso activity – such as Zip-Lining in Santa Margarita, a private Hearst Castle experience, kayaking in Morro Bay, horseback riding and so much more!

Get in touch with us to discuss what you’re looking for, and we’ll help build your customized itinerary and perfect day.

Yes! We take care of all your itinerary planning and will make any necessary reservations and appointments for your group at no extra charge, so you can just sit back and relax.

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by Courtney Delfino • a San Diego based travel + lifestyle blog inspiring you to travel in style

California , Travel · Last Updated: August 14, 2023

Visiting Hearst Castle: + Choosing The Best Hearst Castle Tour

Everything to know before choosing the best hearst castle tour.

exterior opulence of Hearst castle in San Simeon California

Nestled in the hills of San Simeon California lies the opulent Hearst Castle overlooking the Pacific Ocean. This California icon has a rich Hollywood history and is well preserved from its completion back in the 1940s. It was built by media magnate William Randolph Hearst and his architect Julia Morgan. In fact, Julia was the first female architect in America and was commissioned to build this stunning mansion. Hearst wanted a retreat that was halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

It’s a prime example of the American Gilded Age and Mediterranean Revival architecture. Hearst Castle draws inspiration from various European architectural styles. Including Spanish, Italian, and Mediterranean. The design combines elements from different historical periods and regions. Resulting in a unique and eclectic architectural masterpiece. In this blog, I’m going to outline the best Hearst castle tour for you to take so you’re prepared for your visit.

Hearst Castle History

Hearst Castle is an iconic jewel nestled on California’s central coast. It stands as a testament to the opulent legacy of media tycoon William Randolph Hearst. Born from a vision that blended European elegance with American innovation, the castle’s history is a tale of architectural brilliance and extravagant indulgence.

In 1919, Hearst enlisted the remarkable architect Julia Morgan to shape his dream into reality. Over the following decades, the hilltop estate evolved into a masterpiece of design. The castle’s history is intertwined with a legacy of grandeur and the mingling of artistic marvels. Hearst’s insatiable appetite for art and antiquities led to the accumulation of an unparalleled collection. Spanning ancient sculptures, Renaissance tapestries, and Old Master paintings.

As the roaring 1920s unfolded, Hearst Castle transformed into a vibrant social hub, welcoming Hollywood stars, politicians, and luminaries to revel in its splendor. Lavish parties and sophisticated gatherings became the norm, with guests staying in charming guest houses that dotted the estate’s landscape. The Great Depression cast a shadow over the grandeur, causing construction to wane and altering the course of the project.

Nevertheless, the castle’s magnificence endured, eventually finding a new purpose as a California State Park and National Historic Landmark. Today, visitors journey through time as they explore the castle’s ornate interiors, lush gardens, and breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean.

Things to Know Before Visiting Hearst Castle

  • You will need to book tickets in advance to visit and they cost $30-$100 depending on which tour you take
  • When arriving you must park at the visitor center and take a 15-20 minute bus ride up the hill to the castle
  • You are in a group of over 20 people when touring and you must stick to your group
  • They do allow video and photography however they didn’t set aside time for this and you had to rush to get photos while they were doing the tour
  • The best Hearst castle tour for first-time visitors is the grand rooms tour

What is The Best Hearst Castle Tour to Take?

Grand rooms tour + upstairs suite tour ($30 each).

If you’re visiting for the first time I would recommend starting with the grand rooms tour. This guided tour provides an immersive experience through some of the most splendid spaces within the castle complex, revealing the architectural marvels and the extensive art collection that define Hearst Castle’s legacy. The tour takes 70 minutes and you can see highlights such as the gardens, Neptune pool, casa grande, dining hall, movie theatre, and the Roman pool.

You are able to book tours back to back and if you want more of this stunning property consider booking the grand room tour as well as the upstairs suite tour. These two tours go hand and hand. They both last for 70 minutes and the upstairs suite tour includes Doge’s Suite, Library, The Gothic Suite, Duplex Bedrooms, Celestial Suite, Gardens, Neptune Pool, and Roman Pool.

Finally, it’s best to purchase tickets on the California Parks site.

Art of San Simeon Tour + Hearst of Hollywood Tour ($100 each)

Both of these tours are offered seasonally starting on October 1st. Since more than 90% of the objects in Hearst Castle were purchased specifically for the estate. On the two-hour semi-private art tour, your guide will focus on Hearst and how he acquired his paintings, tapestries, sculptures, antiquities, and other fascinating works of art. The group is limited to eight people making it a bit more quaint. You will visit some rooms that are featured in the four standard daytime tours and continue to rooms in the Castle that have never before been included.

The Hearst of Hollywood tour is for all of my Hollywood lovers! San Simeon was the destination of choice for Hollywood’s elite. William Randolph Hearst and his companion, actress Marion Davies, extended coveted invitations to the time-honored greats of the movie industry. Such as Charlie Chaplin, Cary Grant, Greta Garbo, Irving Thalberg, Bette Davis, Clark Gable, and many others. On this semi-private tour, you will enjoy two hours at the Castle with a knowledgeable guide who focuses on Hearst and all things Hollywood.

Can you swim in the Neptune Pool?

The short answer is yes. But you need to pay a pretty penny. First, you need to be a member of the prestigious Foundation of Hearst Castle which costs $500 annually. Then you need to fork over $1000 to partake in the night swimming events which take place during the summer months. It’s definitely a bucket-list experience, however, with that comes a price!

So as you can see there are multiple options to choose from. I hope you gained some insight into which tour is the best Hearst castle tour for you. Thank you for reading and don’t forget to check out more of my California guides .

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Tips When Visiting the Legendary Hearst Castle in California

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High above the hills of San Simeon, California, about a four-hour drive north along the coast from Los Angeles, sits Hearst Castle. Built between 1919 and 1947 by publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst, this 165-room estate is an iconic destination, something lifted from a fairy tale. Visiting Hearst Castle with kids is a great way to give them a glimpse into a bygone era without boring them.

It's technically a museum, but calling it just a museum doesn't do Hearst Castle justice. It's literally a historical experience. The grandeur of the homes and grounds will keep kids (and adults) mesmerized. The architecture, interior design, furnishings and art collection are eye-popping on their own. Add to it that Hearst kept exotic animals on the grounds surrounding the castle and you can still see zebra herds grazing near the park entrance. It's like you've entered another world.

hearst castle private tour

Buy Your Tickets In Advance

Tours are very popular and the number of guests allowed to go on each tour is limited. Your best bet is to purchase your entrance and tour tickets at least one or two months prior to your visit to be sure you get the options you want. Ticket prices start at $25 for adults; $12 for kids ages 5–12 (under 5 are free).

hearst castle private tour

Pick the Right Tour

With more than 120 acres of pools, buildings, gardens and walkways, there's a lot to see, so taking a Hearst Castle tour will help you get a good feel for the property.

hearst castle private tour

We booked two tours back-to-back, and it was just enough without the kids getting restless, though with younger kids one tour is probably enough. Those tours took us about three hours total, so schedule yours based on how your family would handle them. Tour times are located on the website sign-up pages (some are longer than others).

There are many choices of tours depending on your interests, including a tour of the Grand Rooms of Casa Grande, which is the largest house at Hearst Castle. That tour is really a must-see. Other options include the Cottages and Kitchen, a tour for anyone interested in architecture called Designing The Dream and another called the Art of San Simeon. There are also tours specifically for those who use wheelchairs or have trouble climbing stairs.

hearst castle private tour

We enjoyed the Grand Rooms tour and the Upstairs Suites tour. Our kids were mesmerized by the enormous living room -- it has a fireplace so large you could walk right into it. The Upstairs Suites feature the incredible Gothic Suite, the Library and even servant quarters. It was unbelievable to modern eyes to see the way the wealthy lived during the Great Depression and into World War II. Tip: If you are only going to do one tour, the Grand Rooms tour is the most popular tour.

After the tours, guests are welcome to explore the gardens and pools at their own pace.

hearst castle private tour

Dining is a challenge at Hearst Castle because food and drinks are allowed only at the Visitor Center, located downhill from the grounds. So bringing snacks to keep the kids settled isn't an option.

We suggest eating before you get arrive, doing your tours and then grabbing something to eat as you leave. The Hearst Castle Visitor Center has a cafe, coffee and snack bar, and a barbecue area during the summer. The food isn't bad. It's not inexpensive but the quality and choices are family-friendly. Another option: Bring a picnic lunch in a cooler and enjoy a meal before or after you leave. There are some scenic locations along the route, including the beach and pier directly across from the Hearst Castle driveway.

hearst castle private tour

The Coastline

After your tour, or even beforehand depending on your tour time, you can experience the California coastlines. At the base of the driveway of Hearst Castle sits William Randolph Hearst Memorial Beach. The ships that brought workers and supplies during the construction of the castle docked there. A wooden pier still remains along with a long, sandy beach. You'll even occasionally share the sand with a sea lion or two.

hearst castle private tour

Up the coast a few miles is the elephant seal sanctuary at Piedras Blancas. The best views of the seals depend on what time of year you visit. Optimal viewing is in January, April and October, but viewing areas are open every day and there are no fees or reservations required. Seeing these impressive creatures is really something, and if you time it right, you will also see their newborn pups.

hearst castle private tour

How to Get to Hearst Castle

San Luis Obispo Airport (SBP) is 45 miles south of Hearst Castle. A small regional airport, SBP has direct flights from Seattle via Alaska Airlines, Phoenix and Dallas-Fort Worth via American Airlines and San Francisco, Los Angeles and Denver via United Airlines. If you're flying from another city, there are many connecting flights on these airlines.

Flying into Los Angeles and San Francisco are also options as they offer more routes, but the drive is approximately four hours from each. This can also make for a nice road trip along the way.

You'll need to rent a car to get from San Luis Obispo to Hearst Castle. Avis, Budget, Enterprise and Hertz all offer rentals out of SBP. Average rate for full-sized cars, including unlimited mileage, is $42 per day.

hearst castle private tour

Where to Stay

Related: Best Credit Cards for Families for Free-Night Certificates

Hotels nearby typically fall into the budget to moderate range, but definitely vary depending on the season. Fortunately, there are many options for using your Choice Privileges, IHG, Marriott Bonvoy and Hilton Honors points, which can help offset your total vacation cost. Here are our some hotels nearby:

The closest property to the castle for using your hotel points is the Quality Inn Near Hearst Castle. This hotel starts at 10,000 Choice Privilege points a night and is the most budget-friendly option. At less than 10 minutes away, it could be the perfect option if you are planning an early morning tour at the castle. Choice also runs promotions quite often where you can purchase its points at a discount.

Paso Robles

Paso Robles is about a 45-minute drive and will put you more in wine country. The Holiday Inn Express & Suites Paso Robles costs 30,000 IHG Rewards Club points a night, which makes it a great property to use your annual free night certificate from the IHG Rewards Premier Credit Card. Those looking to use their Marriott points can stay at the Springhill Suites Paso Robles Atascadero that costs 35,000 points a night. This is another opportunity to use the free night certificate, which are capped at up to 35k points a night, from the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card.

San Luis Obispo

For those on a California Coast road trip, staying in San Luis Obispo (otherwise known as SLO) can be the perfect stop on your way. If you are driving from south to north, stay in this cute college town the night before visiting the castle. Or, if you are driving north to south, SLO can be a great stop after your visit.

This is where you'll find the famous Madonna Inn although it is not part of a chain hotel. To maximize your savings, you can use your Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card and earn 10x miles by booking through Venture (ends Jan. 31, 2020).

Marriott members will enjoy the Courtyard San Luis Obispo for only 35,000 points a night, while those looking to redeem their Hilton Honor points can stay at the Hampton Inn & Suites San Luis Obispo which ranges between 33,000 and 50,000 points a night. If you are planning on a longer stay, both properties give you your fifth night free when you redeem your points. The only requirement for Hilton stays is that you must have Hilton Honors status.

Related: Which Hilton Credit Card is Best for Family Travelers

Hearst Castle indoor Roman pool

Bottom Line

A visit to Hearst Castle is an education in American history and opulence. The grounds are beautiful, the castle is spectacular and your kids will be amazed by the massive pool. (Just prepare them in advance that swimming is a no-no unless you are a member of the pricey Hearst Castle Foundation.) Plan on spending at least three hours there and coordinate your tour time based on where you stay the night before. I highly suggest allocating a day to the iconic Hearst Castle on your next California vacation.

Here are some more vacation ideas in California:

  • Southern California's 10 Best Amusement Parks and Attractions
  • Planning a Family Trip to San Francisco
  • Exploring San Francisco With Kids: Where to Go and What to Do
  • San Francisco on Foot: 5 Fun Hikes for Families
  • Planning a Family Trip to San Diego
  • Things to Do in San Diego With Kids
  • Go Beyond San Francisco: Mendocino Activities for the Whole Family
  • 12 Stops to Make on Your Southern California Family Road Trip

Balmoral Castle Is Open to the Public for the First Time Ever

This might be the closest you’ll ever get to living like a royal.

preview for A Look at All of the King’s Homes

Visitors will be able to take an extensive guided tour of the 167-room castle, including the entrance hall, red corridor, main and family dining rooms, page’s lobby, library, and drawing room. “You will learn about the origins of the castle and how it has been loved by generations of the royal family ,” according to the castle’s website . “Travel through time from the purchase of the Balmoral by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, through to present day, where you can see how rooms within the castle are used today by their Majesties the King and Queen and other members of the royal family.”

Balmoral Castle is steeped in Scottish tradition, with numerous nods to its rich royal history. Prince Albert purchased the land in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, and began building onto an existing castle for his wife, Queen Victoria. Since its completion in 1855, it has been handed down through generations of the royal family. It held a special place in the heart of the late Queen Elizabeth II, who spent nearly every summer of her life on the property. There, she had “the privacy to stroll with her corgis around the gardens, catch up on correspondence…go fly fishing on the river Dee or take in a round of golf on her private course,” as Jill O’Brien wrote for CNN in 2013.

royal family at balmoral

Beyond serving as a retreat from the hustle and bustle of London life, the estate has also been a backdrop for many important moments for the royal family. There, Prince William and Prince Harry learned of the death of their mother, Diana, Princess of Wales. It was also, appropriately, where Elizabeth II passed away in September 2022 .

queen elizabeth receives outgoing and incoming pms at balmoral

Fancy visiting Balmoral Castle? Get in line. Tickets for the guided tours—priced at $125 or $200 with afternoon tea—sold out within a day of being released, reports BBC News . A lucky 40 people a day will be visiting from July 1 to August 4. For everyone else, the castle’s 50,000 acres of grounds, gardens, and exhibitions will be open through August 11. Afternoon tea will also be served in the castle’s restaurant or at one of the five cottages available for rent on the estate’s grounds.

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Rachel Silva, the Assistant Digital Editor at ELLE DECOR, covers design, architecture, trends, and anything to do with haute couture. She has previously written for Time, The Wall Street Journal, and Citywire.

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Hearst Castle

Hearst Castle

hearst castle private tour

Reserve your tickets

Plan Your Visit

Upstairs Suites Tour

Ascend narrow winding staircases to explore the breathtaking libraries, guest accommodations, and hearst's own suite..

hearst castle private tour

Climb the spiral stairs (322 steps) through the upper levels of Casa Grande to admire Mr. Hearst’s own Gothic Suite, the enchanting Celestial Suite in the bell towers’ level, the main library with 150 ancient Greek vases, the della Robbia Room, and a clever Duplex Suite.

TOUR RESERVATION, CHANGE AND CANCELLATION POLICY Reservations can be made, changed, or cancelled at or by calling 1-800-444-4445. Changes to tour date or time: no additional charge if made in advance. A non-refundable registrationfeeper ticket and a $7.00 per cart fee will be charged for cancellations.

Physical Requirements

The Upstairs Suites Tour is 70 minutes long and consists of approximately 367 stairs, both up and down, and a 3/4-mile route to walk. For those who have difficulty walking or standing for lengths of time, we recommend Accessibly Designed Tours .

Visit the Grounds

Doge’s suite.

hearst castle private tour

Main Library

hearst castle private tour

The Gothic Suite

hearst castle private tour

Duplex Bedrooms

hearst castle private tour

The Gardens

hearst castle private tour

Celestial Suite

hearst castle private tour

1 Doge’s Suite

Step into the richly decorated Doge’s Suite—which was inspired by the ornate chambers of Venice’s famed Doge’s Palace. Admire the magnificent painted antique ceiling, marble balcony and mountain views that welcomed guests here decades ago.

2 Main Library

This imposing library, intended for Mr. Hearst’s guests, houses more than 4,000 books, and also showcases one of the Castle’s most treasured collections: 150 ancient Greek vases, all more than two thousand years old. At 80 feet in length and filled with precious objects, the Library makes a grand statement.

3 The Gothic Suite

Hearst Castle’s third floor consists of W. R. Hearst’s private space, in addition to some of his most treasured collections and sacred objects. Wander through the suite’s two bedrooms and private sitting room that he and Marion Davies occupied, after exploring the soaring and mysterious church-like Gothic Study where he worked.

4 Duplex Bedrooms

Proof of architect Julia Morgan’s masterful skill, the Duplex Bedrooms’ two tall sitting rooms topped with loft bedrooms were constructed as open light wells, and transformed later into delightful guest accommodations. Stroll through these charming rooms decorated with tapestries and painted ceilings, redefining open spaces into creative and unique suites.

5 The Gardens

“La Cuesta Encantada”—Hearst’s Spanish name for The Enchanted Hill. Look for native plants, rare flowers and lush foliage that have been at the Castle since Mr. Hearst resided here.

6 Roman Pool

Located where you board the bus to return to the Visitor Center, the intensely decorated indoor Roman Pool is the perfect place to stop and relax. Modeled after ancient Roman baths, this meticulously detailed, majestic pool is tiled from ceiling to floor, and features marble copies of eight ancient Greek and Roman deities and athletes.

7 Celestial Suite

Located on the fourth floor, in the base of the bell towers, the two tower bedrooms and a common sitting room were created out of once-empty space. These rooms were first used in 1932. Much like the guests who stayed there then, today’s, visitors bask in the golden glow of sunlight as it filters into the South Celestial Bedroom and are treated to spectacular ocean views from the sitting room, the highest point within Casa Grande.


  1. Private Tour

    Please call the district office at Hearst Castle at (805) 927-2065 to arrange for this unique and personalized tour experience of Hearst Castle. A minimum of one week's notice is required to book private tours, and these tours can be reserved up to one month in advance. The cost for a private tour is $1000.00 for the entire group paid at the ...

  2. Hearst Castle Tours

    From experiencing what life was like as a guest of W. R. Hearst to exploring his personal collection of rare and ancient works of art, encounter the majesty and beauty of this historical treasure first-hand with a guided Hearst Castle tour. We also offer accessibly designed tours for visitors. Hearst Castle also offers a variety of options for group

  3. Private Hearst Castle Tour & Wine Tastings in Paso Robles

    1 (805) 400-3141. [email protected]. 1722 Stillwater Ct. Paso Robles, CA 93446. Office hours are by appointment only. The Private Hearst Castle Tour & Wine Tour discovers California's hidden-gems with a passionate local guide.

  4. Tour

    Only bottled water may be brought on tour. Please call the district office at Hearst Castle at (805) 927-2065 to arrange for this unique and personalized tour experience of Hearst Castle. A minimum of one week's notice is required to book private tours, and these tours can be reserved up to one month in advance.

  5. Hearst Castle: Which Tour to Take + First-Time Guide [2024]

    Learn about the different tours available at Hearst Castle, a massive estate with several guesthouses and a state park. Find out which tour is best for you, how to get there, and what to expect from this unique attraction.

  6. What to Know About Hearst Castle Tours

    Learn about the different tours of Hearst Castle, the former home of media mogul William Randolph Hearst. Find out how to book tickets, what to expect, and how to access the estate.

  7. California State Parks

    Hearst Castle offers a variety of other tours including Evening Tour, Holiday Twilight Tour, Art of San Simeon Tour (Semi-Private), Julia Morgan Tour (Semi-Private), Curriculum Focus Tour (for CA 6th grade students), and Private Tour. See tour descriptions for more information and check the calendar for available dates and times.

  8. Guide to Visiting Hearst Castle: An American "Castle" along California

    As noted, we did the Grand Rooms Tour at Hearst Castle. This tour explores the main public rooms of Casa Grande, which are some of the grandest rooms on the estate. These include the Assembly Room, Refectory (Dining Room), Morning Room, Billiard Room, and private theater. Casa Grande has 115 rooms, but you see only about a half dozen on this tour.

  9. Hearst Castle, Monterey & Carmel

    112 reviews. Perched along the California Central Coast, Hearst Castle is the ostentatious creation of newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst and architect Julia Morgan. This 90,000-square-foot (8,361-square-meter) hilltop estate comprises 165 rooms and 127 acres (51.4 hectares) of gardens, terraces, pools, and walkways—all open to the public.

  10. Private Hearst Castle Hotel & Wine Tour Package

    Private Hearst Castle Tour, Private Wine Tour, & Hotel Suite Savor the Central Coast to the fullest with this 3-day package. You will enjoy 2 nights in a comfortable suite at the Oxford Suites in downtown Paso Robles and experience the best of the Central Coast on a full-day Hearst Castle & Wine tour with a knowledgeable guide your second day.

  11. Visiting Hearst Castle in California: Everything To Know + Best Tour To

    Learn about the history, tours and tips of Hearst Castle, a former mansion of media mogul William Randolph Hearst. Find out how to buy tickets online, what to expect and what to bring for your visit.

  12. Home

    HEARST CASTLE NOW OPEN FOR TOURS. ... The fanciful Gothic Study is the centerpiece of Hearst's private suite on the third floor of "Casa Grande" - the main building of the hilltop estate at San Simeon. ... The world-famous outdoor swimming pool at Hearst Castle was refilled in August 2018 after two years of restoration and repair. With water ...

  13. Private Hearst Castle Day Trip from San Francisco

    Explore the famous Hearst Castle, including all the gardens, art collections, and mansions, on this private day tour from San Francisco. You won't have to deal with a large tour group or coach. Instead you'll have a private luxury car to ride in both ways with convenient pickup and drop off in San Francisco. Relax along the way and enjoy exploring the castle.

  14. Visiting Hearst Castle: + Choosing The Best Hearst Castle Tour

    Learn about the history, architecture, and art of Hearst Castle, a California icon built by media magnate William Randolph Hearst. Compare different tours, prices, and tips for visiting this National Historic Landmark.

  15. Tips When Visiting the Legendary Hearst Castle in California

    Hearst Castle is one of the most elaborate private homes ever built in California. (Photo by Friday/ ... With more than 120 acres of pools, buildings, gardens and walkways, there's a lot to see, so taking a Hearst Castle tour will help you get a good feel for the property. The living and dining rooms at Hearst Castle are ...


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  18. Tour Hearst Castle

    Explore the historic hilltop estate of William Randolph Hearst with guided tours through Hearst Castle. Choose from different tours, including the Private Tour, to experience the 1920s and 30s grandeur and the natural beauty of the Enchanted Hill.

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  22. Designing the Dream Tour

    With an emphasis on both changing design and architectural styles of the time, and the tumultuous events in W.R. Hearst's own life, this tour spans the entire history of Hearst Castle. TOUR RESERVATION, CHANGE AND CANCELLATION POLICY. Reservations can be made, changed, or cancelled at or by calling 1-800-444-4445.

  23. Discover fantastic Perm during Private Panoramic City Tour by car

    Perm is an administrative center of Perm region (Permsky krai) in Russia. It is situated on the banks of the river Kama, at the foot of Ural Mountains. During this tour you will walk along Sibirskaya street - the Kama embankment. You will visit the "Doctor Zhivago" places, Art Gallery, Historical Museum and famous Museum of Artillery, so ...

  24. Upstairs Suites Tour

    All Tours Include Bus Ride to and From the Castle. Board the Hearst Castle bus at the Visitor Center to start your 5-mile ascent to the top of the Enchanted Hill—a journey narrated by Alex Trebek of Jeopardy!. After you've finished touring, board the bus to head back to the Visitor Center, and experience a new route home, including the vestiges of the "bear pits" that were built for ...