As the tour bus navigates yet another twist in the winding road, Hearst Castle and far-reaching Pacific Ocean views pop in and out of sight on the left, the right and to the left again. Traveling nearly one-third of a mile up a hilltop in the Santa Lucia Range, the elaborate bell towers of the 165-room mansion are being described in an audio narrated by Alex Trebeck, the voice of “Jeopardy.” It’s no surprise that a commonly asked question at Hearst Castle is, “How did it get here?”
The answer is revealed by, “Hearst Castle – Building the Dream,” a very well-done IMAX cinematic presentation in the 500-seat theater at the entrance to the National Historic Landmark. The Mediterranean complex that bears the name of its benefactor was built and evolved over the course of 28 years beginning in 1919. Son of a mining millionaire, newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst’s artistic sensibilities were heightened at the age of 10 when accompanying his mother on a grand tour of Europe. “Mother, may we buy it?” a young William is said to have asked while admiring the Louvre Museum.
W.R. Hearst later employed the leading female architect of the 20th century, Julia Morgan, to partner with him in his vision for what Hearst called “the ranch.” No simple feat, the project began with building the five-mile dirt road, weeks of blasting, earth-moving machines and the challenges of transporting water to the remote hilltop. A lesser duo would have been undone by the feat, accomplished with recent lessons learned from San Francisco’s Great Earthquake and Fire of 1906.
Wander by dozens of lemon and orange trees, sumptuous guest houses, terraced gardens, statuary, fountains, ancient Egyptian artifacts. Beyond the patterned white marble floor of the 104-foot-long Neptune Pool, undergoing several years of meticulous restoration, the incredibly stunning ocean views answer another question, “Why here?”
Approach the massive gilded gates of “Casa Grande,” for one of the several interior tours, such as Grand Rooms or Upstairs Suites, enjoyed by three-quarter million visitors per year. In the high-ceilinged main reception room, designed around a massive fireplace mantle and hung with 17th century Flemish tapestries, are the very sofas where world leaders and Hollywood A-list guests relaxed: Clark Gable, Cary Grant, Charles Lindbergh, Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, James Stewart, Bob Hope, Calvin Coolidge, Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill and many more of the rich and famous.
The next surprise is through a hidden door into the neo-Gothic dining hall, dominated by the largest of 38 fireplaces, more Flemish tapestries and bursts of color from Italian heraldic flags overhanging a rare refectory table. After dinner, guests were treated to films screened in Hearst’s plush jewel box of a theater deep inside the castle walls.
Which of these celebrity house guests might have leapt from the diving platform into the cobalt blue and real gold shimmering glass-tiled Roman Pool? Surrounded by eight classical marble statues of gods and goddesses, some say this is the mansion’s most memorable spot.
Others are impressed by a close-up examination of Mr. Hearst’s 10,000-bottle private wine cellar, included on the Cottages & Kitchens Tour. Spy 19th century labels among world-famous wines and spirits. A moderate drinker with a dim view of excessive behavior, Hearst published his disapproval of Prohibition (1920-1933), offering a $25,000 reward for any reader with a plan to repeal it. He wrote: “I consider the Eighteenth Amendment not only the most flagrant violation of the basic American principle of personal liberty that has ever been imposed on the American public, but the most complete failure as a temperance measure that has ever been conceived and put into impractical operation.”
What about those zebras? More than 100 of the striped descendants of the original W.R. Hearst private zoo now enjoy the 82,000-acre ranch surrounding the castle, which is closed to the public. Look closely and, if you’re lucky, they’ll wander into view.
Paso Robles Historic Town Square
Hearst Castle is located halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, making it an overnight getaway to combine with sightseeing and wine tasting in the glorious countryside of Paso Robles in San Luis Obispo County, 39 miles from San Simeon on the California coast.
Put on your walking shoes and have some fun exploring the personality of downtown with the Urban Adventure Quest app. Take a lunch break at Panolivo Family Bistro, where you’ll not want to miss the owners’ homemade French patisseries…they’re from Paris, and you’ll taste it. Sample a flight at Taste in the Alley where 500 wines are offered by the glass. Paso’s only wine tasting room is tucked into Norma’s Way, named for a beloved local personality with a lifetime of service running events from the Downtown Main Street Association. Don’t miss a visit to the cool retro art gallery in sun-splashed space crafted from a former car parts dealership. Studios on the Park, a nonprofit organization, is the best place to delve into Paso Robles’ renowned artist community.
Wines of Paso Robles
The rise of Paso winemaking is central to the story of the California Central Coast, considering only 20 wineries existed in Paso Robles as recently as 1990. Named Wine Enthusiast Magazine’s 2013 Wine Region of the Year, 11 distinct AVAs support 40 varietals at 200-plus mostly small, family-owned wineries. See the full list online at Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance to choose your focus among signature heritage Zinfandel, Rhône-style wines, well-liked blends and more.
With 35 years of outstanding production making this a nationally recognized brand, the locals call Gary Eberle the “godfather” of Paso Robles wine. An outdoor deck adjoining the Eberle Winery tasting room looks out over hills of vines, a small boar mascot in bronze awaits visitors and a cellar tour is on offer as well.
Everyone in Paso Robles is pleased that Derby Wine Estates successfully renovated the landmark almond processing and storage building with its four-story tower. Opened in 2014, the room with 360-degree views is open to visitors for a reserve library wine tasting on Saturday afternoons. At other times, tastings are held downstairs.
Where to Stay
Continue the art appreciation theme staying at the Tuscan-inspired Allegretto Hotel & Vineyard Resort by Ayres Hotels in nearby Paso Robles. Designed as a 172-room, 20-acre landscaped destination resort opened in October 2015, guest rooms and suites enjoy private terraces onto a central courtyard with fountain, outdoor sculpture, swimming pool and cabanas, fire pits, bocce courts, a freestanding chapel. Add a health spa, restaurant, wine bar and tasting room, dining room, library and meeting rooms to understand just part of the story. The rest has to do with an original art collection collected and commissioned for the public’s appreciation, strategically placed through the property. Rates at the pet-friendly hotel are from $299.
A handy hotel option beside the town square is Paso Robles Inn, a re-modeled Spanish mission-style set in landscaped gardens and a member of Historic Hotels of America. Soak up the atmosphere here; natural hot springs feed the inn, providing sulphur mineral water directly from under the property’s grounds. Check out the inn’s famous “Weather Station” for a giggle.
For boutique luxury a block away, Hotel Cheval’s 16 rooms are set around a lovely interior courtyard with fire pit, where the dedicated s’mores butler serves up complimentary perfection off his cart every evening. Don’t miss the French zinc-topped, horseshoe-shaped bar, where fine local wines are poured at the Pony Club.
A 60-room deluxe property, La Bellasera Hotel & Resort is home to Enoteca, which lives up to its “hidden gem” description, recommended for a reliably good Italian-inspired meal in very pleasant surroundings.
Paso Robles also has plenty of comfortable accommodation in moderate chain hotels, some with pools, including Hampton Inn & Suites, Courtyard by Marriott and Best Western Black Oak.
For further information when planning your visit, go to TravelPaso.com.