Hearst Castle with Kids
If you’ve ever wondered where some of the rich and famous during the 1930’s-50s spent their weekend getaways and vacation or just want to see gorgeous architecture and opulence, Hearst Castle in the Central California coast is your answer. This magnificent castle is perched on top of the hill in the city of San Simeon was built by publisher magnate William Randolph Hearst and later donated to the California State Parks.
We came here during Memorial weekend in 2010 to show our kids around the Central California region. Tours were offered every 10 minutes but it was best to reserve tickets online especially if you were traveling on a holiday weekend. Their reservation system online had individual time slots and showed the number of available tickets left. Tour 1 was recommended for first-time visitors and was the one we did which took an hour and 45 minutes. Kids 6 and under were free as long as they didn’t occupy a seat on the bus. Kids (6-17 year old) were $12 and Adults were $24. Outdoor parking was plentiful and free.
We went into the visitor’s center to pick-up our reserved tickets. This was also where to buy tickets. Inside were also gift shops, a movie theater and cafeteria style eatery. Tour 1 included admission into the 5 story screen theater to watch the movie “Hearst Castle- Building the Dream”. Unfortunately, we didn’t watch the movie.
The outside area had telescopes (costs a quarter) to see the cows, sheep and zebras (left from Mr. Hearst’s private zoo) grazing on the pasture. Yes, it was a bit surprising to see zebras hanging out in an open field. The lookout was a pretty popular spot for many kids. Beside the door was a fire engine that was also a hit with young ones.
There was a line towards the buses where we had to show the tour tickets but we would have been trapped into posing for the tourist picture with an option to buy later on. We bypassed the ticket checker/photographer and just opened one of the other doors that led to the buses. No one stopped us and we did this a couple of times. Buses had gate numbers to line up for boarding. We were able to go on the tour before our designated time since they had room and we were there early enough. So, ask the bus driver if there’s room for your group.
The bus ride took about 10 minutes to go up the hill. It was not air-conditioned so if coming here in the summer, it will get pretty hot. There was an interesting narrative as we went up the hill on the history of the castle and the castle grounds. We were greeted by our tour guides when we arrived at the castle. One led and did the commentary while the other one stayed at the back of the group to make sure there were no stragglers and wandering tourists.
Our first stop on Tour 1 was an open terrace with gorgeous views of the Pacific. We were lucky it was a beautiful, clear day. Our next stop was the outdoor Neptune Pool. This was just absolutely beautiful with plenty of statues and sculptures surrounding it. It was really what you would expect from a castle pool. The clear, blue water was very inviting.
We went through one of the guest houses, Casa Del Sol, where the bedrooms and bathrooms we were ushered to were living museums of the era. It was very interesting to see how the castle guests were pampered. My daughter actually liked going through the guest house and asking questions on how they showered, etc. and loved the fancy room décor.
The gardens surrounding the house were beautiful and since we went at the height of spring, the flowers were in full bloom. There was a fountain in front of the main house with plenty of koi fish and water lilies. It was a good place to rest and sit and kept the kids entertained for awhile.
We then went into the tour of the ground floor of the main house, Casa Grande. We went through the side door towards a meeting area where guests mingled before dinner. There was a giant fireplace and many large tapestries on the walls that were simply breathtaking.
We entered the huge dining room area which held plenty of functions back then. Pay special attention to the paneling on the side of the room which used to be choir pews in some European church that . We also visited the Theater room built especially for guests. The tour ends with a visit to the indoor Roman Pool with floor to ceiling mosaic tiles and gold on the floor. We found out that the castle staff have swam in it during special occasions. What a perk!
There were some stairs and a bit of walking and standing but our kids enjoyed going to this tour. They found opportunities to sit on by the fountain area and on stair steps. We will definitely be back and explore the other castle tours.
Reserve your tickets online here.
Contact: 1.800.444.4445 Address: 750 Hearst Castle Road, San Simeon, CA