After a wonderful night’s sleep, we awoke to a morning heavy with dew. As we made our way to the main house we noticed that the beach was still shrouded in coastal fog.
Today we were striking out on our own up the coast to visit Hearst Castle built by publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst. We met Brian and Antoinette in the kitchen for a quick breakfast before we all went our separate ways for the day.
From the moment we entered the highway we encountered heavy traffic that continued until we reached our destination. We were also hampered by a heavy mist that shrouded our view of the beautiful California coastline.
Along the way we spotted many bells along a portion of the El Camino Real. According to Randy and what I have been able to research, “The 600-mile trail, stretching from Mission San Diego de Alcalá in San Diego to Mission San Francisco Solano in Sonoma, was created by the Spanish to link the 21 California missions and the associated settlements and presidios. Missions were located approximately 30 miles apart – a long day’s ride on horseback”.
A private group called the El Camino Real Association placed a series of cast bronze bells suspended from 11-foot high posts designed to resemble a shepherd’s crook along this path. The first bell was placed at the Plaza Church in the Pueblo near Olivera Street in Los Angeles in 1906.
We drove along passing many farms and vineyards. As we drove along the coastal range mountains and passed through a tunnel. When we exited the tunnel we were pleasantly surprised to see a sun lit sky.
We finally reached San Simeon and the entrance to Hearst Castle. The welcome center was a busy bee hive of activity as people were lined up to purchase tickets, buying souvenirs and enjoying many of the foods available for snacks. We looked over the tours available and chose the one that suited our time constraints. It was already early afternoon so we chose the 1-hour guided tour of the Grand Rooms. The itinerary for this tour included a guided tour through one level of the main building.
We boarded a bus that traveled the long, winding road up the hill to what Hearst called, “La Cuesta Encantada—Spanish for “Enchanted Hill”. We started our walk around the bottom of the Esplanade stopping first at the guest suites where our guide explained that none of the guest house had kitchens because Mr. Hearst expected everyone to enjoying dining in the main house. We continued our walk over to the Neptune Pool. Unfortunately, it is under repair for a leak. I would have loved to have seen it full.
Then we walked up to the terraced Esplande. The Esplanade is beautiful. The space is filled with beautiful flowers, trees and statuary. And, oh my, the view was spectacular! One piece of art that caught my eye was a sculpture of the Egyptian Goddess Sekmet with some of the pieces dating back over 3,000 years. Beautiful!
The guide then brought our attention to the Casa Grande. He explained that Hearst hired architect Julia Morgan in 1919 to design a main building and guest houses for his ranch. This collaboration lasted for 28 years. By 1947 the estate comprised, “165 rooms and 123 acres of gardens, terraces, pools and walkways—all built to Hearst’s specifications and showcasing a legendary art collection”.
The outside façade of the castle is beautiful and very reminiscent of structures we have seen traveling through the Mediterranean. The architecture of the castle reminded me of a Spanish mission. And, indeed, Hearst got his inspiration from a church in Ronda, Spain.
Our first stop inside was called the Assembly Room. Here everyone who was invited for a visit would gather before dinner for cocktails and conversation. The room was huge with a large fireplace, tapestries hanging along the walls and massive furniture. Our next stop was the Refectory or dining room. Here Hearst and his guests would engage in lively conversations while enjoying a meal.
We continued our tour stopping at the Morning Room, Billiard Room and Theater. As we walked through the rooms my eyes would take in the many pieces of beautiful artwork, drift to the intricately carved and painted ceilings and linger on the many beautiful tapestries that covered the walls. The entire tour was like walking through a museum of antiquities. I loved it.
The exit to take us back to the bus took us through the indoor Roman Pool. Wow, it was beautiful. We learned that the pool, “Consists of more than a million Murano glass tiles, some of which contain a layer of gold leaf inside”. I was fascinated with the marble ladders and the color scheme. All I could think was, “Beautiful, just beautiful”.
We boarded the bus for our return ride down the mountain to the visitor’s center. The earlier mist that hovered over the mountain had dissipated and we could see the castle a little better as we made our descent.
Brian and Antoinette told us of another site we should not bypass before returning home and so we turned north to make our way to Elephant Seal Beach. We were told that peak season for sightings of these beautiful creatures span the months of December to March so we were not sure what we would see.
Randy and I were blown away when we stepped up to the fence and looked down at the beach. The beach was lined with Elephant seals basking in the sun. Every once in a while we would see one flipping sand with their tails to cover their bodies. I suppose that was done to cool down their skin.
As we stood there watching the seals my attention was drawn to the water. I watched as two large elephant seals seemed to be facing off while emitting low guttural sounds. It was all quite fascinating. We stood for quite a while but finally turned our attention to returning home.
We knew we would not make it back to Brian and Antoinette’s in time for dinner so decided try to locate the deli Brian had told us about. With the aid of our GPS we were able to locate DePalo & Sons in Shell Beach. I walked in and was instantly reminded of the deli I used to frequent as a child in New York.
We made our way to the back of the store and ordered a delicious smoked turkey and cheese sandwich and sat at one of the outside tables while sharing our thoughts about our wonderful day before returning to the long trip home. Before retiring for the evening we touched base with Brian and Antoinette sharing our day’s experiences. Today was another wonderful day.
Tomorrow Antoinette is taking us to one of her favorite spots in Carpinteria, Lotusland.