Thursday, January 9: After leaving Hearst Castle, I drive to San Simeon where I get blown about by the wind on a bit of California coastline as the sun is going down.
My original plan is to drive to Santa Barbara or Ventura, but as the sun slips into the Pacific Ocean, I figure I may as well stop so I can at least enjoy the drive down the coast in sunlight. As it is, I’m just able to get a peek at Morro Bay’s biggest claim to fame, Morro Rock, a volcanic peak that’s one of the Nine Sisters, a 21-million-year-old chain of rocks stretching all the way south to San Luis Obispo.
It just so happens I find a Hampton Inn at a reasonable price in Arroyo Grande, so I check in there. I ask the hotel receptionist for a good local place to eat, and she recommends Rooster Creek. She tells me I must try the salad: arugula and mixed greens, red and golden beets, sliced apples, goat cheese, shrimp and sherry vinaigrette. I do just that, and I’m quite pleased.
While I’m at Rooster Creek, I post a picture of my dinner on Instagram and Facebook, and I get a comment that while in Arroyo Grande, I must go to Doc Burnstein’s for some ice cream. I don’t usually treat myself to dessert, but how can I miss this enthusiastic recommendation? I enjoy a mini-dip Mexican chocolate on a sugar cone.
Outside of Doc Burnstein’s, I see this pretty church still decked out for Christmas.
I head back to Hampton Inn, which I’ve always found to be a reasonable and comfortable accommodation. This is the only hotel I stay in during my trip to California, as I’m here mostly to visit friends and family.
The next morning, I head down the coast in the sunshine, making my first stop in Santa Barbara.
Thursday, January 9: This morning, I leave Jayne’s house in Danville and drive down Route 101 toward San Simeon. I stop at Hearst Castle where I find I have to wait 45 minutes for the next tour.
On the bus ride up the winding mountain roads, the tour guide tells us something about William Randolph Hearst, art collector and newspaper publisher. The Mediterranean Revival Style estate was designed and built over a period of 28 years, from 1919-1947, by California architect Julia Morgan. William Randolph Hearst referred to Hearst Castle as “the ranch at San Simeon,” as it was a working family cattle ranch since 1865. Hearst formally named the hilltop “La Cuestra Encantada” (The Enchanted Hill) because of his love of the land and the southern European art and architecture which he incorporated into the estate.
Casa Grande, inspired by a Spanish cathedral, contains 115 rooms and was never completed. Guests gathered here for all their indoor entertainment and meals. It has twin bell towers and a carved teak gable. The structure is concrete and steel faced in white limestone, with antique carvings around the entrance.
As we take the bus up the winding mountain road to the 1600-foot elevation, our guide tells us that Hearst Castle was Hearst’s primary residence on the West Coast. The residence welcomed hundreds of glamorous guests in the 1920s and 30s. The hilltop is often sunny and the road to the top is steep.
George Hearst bought the land in 1865 as a cattle and horse ranch, including over 200 head of black and red angus cattle. Precious minerals such as gold, silver and copper are close to the earth’s surface here. Some of the Coast Live Oaks here are over 300 years old.
Willy was the only child and inherited the 250,000+ hilly grass-covered acres. In 1919, when Hearst was 56, his mother Phoebe died and he hired architect Julia Morgan to build “a little something:” an estate worthy of what he’d seen in his European travels, with 165 rooms. He was tired of camping in tents on the property.
The first big challenge was to build a road on the old bridle paths. The road was designed so that the castle atop the hill appears and disappears as you climb higher. Lining the crest of a long hill is the “longest pergola in captivity.”
The Main Terrace serves as the central plaza for the estate, with views not only of Casa Grande, but of the Pacific Ocean to the south and Santa Lucia mountains to the north. The lily pond reflects Coast Live Oaks and Southern Magnolia, and provides the sound of water, an important component of Mediterranean gardens.
William loved animals and created the largest private zoo in America, which included animals such as antelopes, llamas, giraffes, zebras, deer, coyote, foxes, turkey vultures, impalas, wallaroos, wallaby, and goats. He also collected black bears, grizzly bears, sun bears, lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars, cougars, chimpanzees, orangutans, monkeys, macaws, kinkajous, coati mundis, swans, storks, a tapir and an elephant, housed in menagerie cages of various sizes. Diet and exercise were carefully controlled and a veterinarian was on the staff during the 1930s. He never allowed his animals to be used for medical experiments and had signs that said “Caution: The animals have right of way at all times.”
Inside the house, we see where the guests assembled and dined amidst Hearst’s extensive art collection.
Casa del Monte (House of the Mountains) is one of three cottages on the estate named for its view, which Hearst believed to be the most important aspect of the hilltop. These were the first buildings constructed and housed family and guests.
The Neptune Pool was named for the statue of the Roman sea-god atop the temple. Ancient Roman columns dating from the 1st century to the 4th century A.D. support the temple. French sculptor Charles Cassou carved the marble statues of nymphs ad swans around the pool.
The pool ranges from three to ten feet deep and holds 345,000 gallons of water. It was heated year-round until the mid-1970s, and is still filtered using a sand filtering system.
Casa del Sol (House of the Sun) showcases a Moorish theme with its sunken courtyard, lion fountain and Persian tiles in and around the doors. The terrace below Casa del Sol gives a view of the natural San Simeon harbor.
Casa del Mar (House of the Sea) was Hearst’s home until 1928, when he moved into Casa Grande (the Big House).
The Esplanade walkway connects the gardens and structures in what Hearst called “a harmonious whole.” I walk through roses, flowering annuals, perennials, boxwood hedges, citrus tress and many varieties of palms. Native to the estate are Hearst’s beloved Coast Live Oaks.
The Roman Pool was the only part of the gymnasium completed. The pool basin is 10 feet deep and holds 205,000 gallons of heated water. This pool was rarely used by Hearst’s guests.
By the time I leave Hearst Castle, the afternoon is late. I was hoping to make it to Santa Barbara tonight, but as I head down the coastal highway, I decide I’ll just stop whenever I get the urge.