Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Visiting Hearst Castle in San Simeon

A couple times a year, I get a request to take visitors on a day trip from San Francisco to San Simeon so they can see the Hearst Castle.  I politely respond by telling the inquirers that, while the Castle is well worth visiting, the drive from San Francisco takes between 4.5 and 5.5 hours.  That usually scuttle their plans, which is unfortunate.  Hearst Castle is magnificent and well worth a visit.  As I wrote in my last post, the drive to the Castle through Big Sur is beautiful and also worth doing.  So Hearst Castle can be visited in a two-day, one-night round trip from San Francisco or on a drive along the coast from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

Most visitors, myself included, take Tour 1, the Experience Tour.  This tour includes a visit to both pools,  some of the large rooms on the main floor of Casa Grande, and Casa del Sol, and includes admission to the film, "Hearst Castle Building the Dream."  This is a terrific introduction to Hearst's country retreat but I had long wanted to take the other tours so I could see more of Casa Grande and well as the other two guest houses, Casa del Monte, and Casa del Mar.

Two weeks ago, I returned to the Castle to take Tours 2, 3, and 4.  Unfortunately, the evening tour was not being offered this spring.  Tour 2 was my favorite as it includes the bedrooms and suites on the second floor of Casa Grande.  Tour 4 includes a walk through the gardens; a visit to Casa del Mar, the largest of the 3 guest houses; and a visit to Hearst's wine cellar.  Tour 3 was my least favorite but was still interesting.  The tour contrasts the 1920s construction of the Casa del Monte guesthouse with the 1940s construction of the North Wing of Casa Grande.  I was surprised to see how simple some of the rooms are in the North Wing.  On this tour, you can see how construction just stopped in 1947.

If you've got the time and have the interest, taking all four tours is worth doing.  Unfortunately, there is no discount for purchasing tickets to more than one tour.  Theoretically, you could do all four tours in one day but you'd probably be numb at the end of the day.  We did one tour per day but you could easily do two tours per day.

Tour 5, the Evening Tour, was replaced this spring with a self-guided tour through the gardens.  The Evening Tour will again be offered this fall.  The guides highly recommended taking the tour between Thanksgiving and New Year when the Castle is decorated for the holidays.  They said tickets sell out fast so book in October.

For a bite to eat, stop by Sebastian's Store in old San Simeon for tasty, and large, sandwiches and salads.  The food is delicious but don't go if you are in a rush as service can be very slow.  You can eat inside, outside, or at picnic tables in the adjacent park.

For more information on Hearst Castle and the tours, click on the title of this post.  To take a tour from San Francisco that includes a visit to Hearst Castle, contact Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel at (866) 326-4237 (toll free) or Rick@BlueHeronTours.com.

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