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California: San Simeon/ Hearst Castle

Situated along State Route 1 and approximately halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, San Simeon is a small historic beach town and former whaling village that was once frequented by the newspaper magnate, William Randolph Hearst.

William Randolph Hearst

William Randolph Hearst

Millicent Wilson Hearst, the wife of William Randolph Hearst

Millicent Wilson Hearst, the wife of William Randolph Hearst

In the 1860s, Hearst’s father, George Hearst purchased over 250,000 acres of land in San Simeon after a drought had forced the ranchers to sell their land. After his passing in 1919, his only son, William Randolph Hearst, inherited all the land his father had purchased. But it wasn’t until 1947 when the Hearst Castle was completed that San Simeon really came to life, hosting hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.

Hearst Castle

Hearst Castle

The mansion, a National and California Historic Landmark, which features 56 bedrooms, 61 bathrooms, 19 sitting rooms, 127 acres of gardens, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, tennis courts, a movie theater, an airfield, and the world’s largest private zoo was designed by architect Julia Morgan between 1919 and 1947. The outdoor “Neptune Pool” was rebuilt three times to suit its owner’s tastes. Hearst formally named the estate “La Cuesta Encantada” (“The Enchanted Hill”), but usually called it “the ranch”.

The Neptune Pool

The Neptune Pool

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One of the guest bedrooms

One of the guest bedrooms

The indoor pool

The indoor pool

Hearst Castle was the site where actress and Hollywood’s premiere hostess, Marion Davies, threw lavish parties attended by dignitaries, Hollywood stars and famous athletes. Invitations to Hearst Castle were highly coveted during its heyday in the 1920s and ’30s. Charlie Chaplin, Cary Grant, the Marx Brothers, Charles Lindbergh, Joan Crawford, Clark Gable, James Stewart, Bob Hope, Calvin Coolidge, Franklin Roosevelt, Dolores Del Rio, and Winston Churchill were among Hearst’s A-list guests. The estate’s theater usually screened films from Hearst’s own movie studio, Cosmopolitan Productions which he had formed with his constant companion and confidante, Marion Davies.

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In Miss Davies’ biography, it is said that she gave Hearst a check for one million dollars when his company, The Hearst Corporation fell on hard times in the late thirties. In 1947, Miss Davies and William Randolph Hearst left San Simeon and moved to her home in Beverly Hills where Hearst died four years later.

Hearst and Marion Davies

Hearst and Marion Davies

Following his death, The Hearst Corporation donated Hearst Castle to the State of California. Today, the estate along with its considerable collections of art and antiques is open to the general public for viewing. The site attracts approximately 1 million visitors a year. Further, the Hearst family donated plots of land, which would later become the area’s state parks, beaches and preservation sites.

Just four miles north of the entrance to Hearst Castle beside State Route 1 is the rookery of elephant seals. These two-ton mammals migrate along the shoreline and are joined by sea lions and sea otters. Visitors can view these magnificent animals from a designated viewing area.

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Located one mile north of the rookery is the Piedras Blancas Light station. The lighthouse which was built in 1875 is an outstanding scenic spot. The tower of the Piedras Blancas lighthouse was the third of its kind to be constructed on the Pacific Coast. Guided tours of the lighthouse are offered year round.

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Five miles away from Hearst Castle is Sebastian’s General store, a state historic landmark and the hub of the once thriving whaling village.

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San Simeon Pier was used by WR Hearst to bring in building materials, furniture and the world-famous art collection that is housed in the mansion today. The Pier continues to serve the area’s commercial and sports fishermen and offers an exceptionally beautiful site of a white crescent beach sweeping around to San Simeon Point.

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