Heading into our weekend exhale with a final stop at Hearst Castle

Earlier this week I shared bits and pieces of biographical color to give a sense of the powerful and influential newspaper and publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst.

Hearst Publishing-imp

As much as I’m in awe of the Castle he called his “ranch home,” I’m much more interested in the people than I am the building. I am currently reading an excellent Hearst biography, “The Chief,” written by David Nasaw and I have another sitting here waiting for me that will delve into the fascinating life of Hearst’s architect, Julia Morgan.

I’ll add a few links at the end of this post for anyone interested in reading more, but for now I’ll just give a little more information to make the photos more relevant.

What are these menagerie cages?


In his day, Hearst had one of the largest private zoos and game preserves in the world. Animals listed in the literature include bison, musk oxen, elk, antelope, giraffes and even camels, all encouraged to roam freely over the ranch lands. The grottos held polar and grizzly bears, lions, tigers, leopards and chimpanzees and other exotics. I came across the mention of an elephant named Marianne.

The field animals were plentiful and gracefully dotted the beautiful hills. The deer, sheep, and zebra are still plentiful and very accustomed to people standing nearby with cameras flashing wildly.

Hearst was proud of his animals and carefully controlled their exercise and  diet with oversight from a staff veterinarian. In 1937 Hearst experienced great financial strain and was forced to cut expenses. The animals were donated to public zoos or sold. It took more than fifteen years to complete the dispersal and when the State of California was given Hearst Castle seven years after Hearst’s death in 1951, Rocky Mountain elk, tahr goats, llamas, white fallow deer, zebras, sambar deer and Barbary sheep still roamed free.

All that beautiful undeveloped land! The Hearst Corporation donated the Castle to the State of California in 1957, but retained the surrounding property and continue to operate as a cattle ranch, just as William’s father George operated when he made the land purchase in 1865.

Referred to as the Piedra Blanca Rancho at San Simeon, the land extends from the inland mountains down to the ocean, with 18 miles of gorgeous coastline.  The 128-square mile property is “home” to more than 1,000 plant and animal species and is an abundant ecosystem.

San Simeon Ranch is preserved thanks to conservation commitment from the Hearst Corporation. This topic made for some interesting reading.  In 2005 the Hearst Corporation partnered with The American Land Conservancy, The California Rangeland Trust and the State of California to preserve the land and protect the scenic coastline, and some vocal opponent organizations fought back for either even stricter restrictions or on the other side, greater pubic access, but I’m just glad that the land will not be used for resorts and private acquisition that could easily change this gorgeous coastline forever.



I can’t conclude this tour without just a mention of the two swimming pools. They are worth the price of admission!

The outdoor Neptune pool is a beautiful feature, and experienced at least three major renovations during Hearst’s lifetime. He enjoyed this pool and was always making what he thought of as improvements.  It is currently drained and undergoing a painstaking tile repair. The original tiles are being preserved while repairing huge leaks. In a state experiencing mega-drought, it is an expedient time to make these repairs.

But the pool to top all pools–the Roman pool–sits underneath the two tennis courts, is lighted by skylights with gorgeous arched windows and tall standing marble lamps. The surfaces, covered with blue and gold mosaic tile give a stunning appearance. Gold leaf is fused with the glass. As our tour guide told us, at Hearst Castle, when it looks like gold–it is!

Well, I think that concludes my tour, except I do have a few more photos you might enjoy. There are a variety of tours available at the Castle, and because we’ve previously toured the “grander” more opulent rooms, we visited Hearst’s private quarters, bedrooms and some of the guest rooms, which I think you’ll see are more personally furnished and have a comfortable feel–well, my whole house could fit in some of these rooms, but they still felt inviting.


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Other photos are included in my previous post HEREand the Castle’s website is full of interesting reading and photos. I highly recommend it!

I hope you have a chance to visit Hearst Castle someday, but wherever you find yourself this weekend, do make the most of what you have available. There are so many interesting places to visit. We are headed out again tomorrow to spend some time just staring at the ocean. That’s still my favorite (and most effective) weekend exhale!

Will you be “de-stressifiying” this weekend?

53 thoughts on “Heading into our weekend exhale with a final stop at Hearst Castle

  1. Catherine Wade

    Thanks for sharing Debra. I always enjoy reading your posts, regardless of the subject matter. You encourage me to get out and explore. Maybe I’ll go for a ride this weekend. I’ve been interested in finding out what;s at the end of the road that leads up to the mountains near my house.

  2. Does the tour include a dip in one of the pools? I love the cobalt blue and gold photos so over the top! I didn’t know about all the animals…I wonder if Michael Jackson was inspired by Hearst Castle when creating his grand old nest.

    1. Wouldn’t it be a treat to get in that pool? It’s really spectacular. Lady Gaga paid a hefty fee in February for permission to use the Neptune Pool in one of her music videos. If I have the story correct she also made a PSA for water conservation. LOL! I haven’t seen the video, but I hope to at some point. And your thought about Michael Jackson and Neverland is a good hunch! It never occurred to me, but I think you could definitely be right about that…it stands to be a good hunch! Enjoy your weekend, Cristina. It should be beautiful down your way. 🙂

  3. Thanks for sharing the tour with us, Debra. Like you, I’m glad that the land has been protected from development by Land Conservation Trusts.

    I think it’s great that the Zebras have a place to roam. With no lions to mow them down. 😛

    1. Isn’t it fun to see zebras that roam free–in California? LOL! I smile every time I see them, and always wonder about tourists who may not know the story or a thing about Hearst, and I wonder what they do when they first see them from the highway! They are such a surprise. I sometimes wonder if I really remember more animals when I was a child, or just imagine them. But I know we visited when I was still very young and it seems to me that many of the grazing animals would still have been fairly plentiful. I’d love to have a private tour of those beautiful grounds. Who knows what we’d find in those back hills! 🙂

  4. Thank you so much for the tour, Debra. Facts about the private zoo were fascinating, and the ceilings in that place are stunning, simply stunning. We have a low-key weekend planned. Today is a national holiday here.

    Hugs from Ecuador,

    1. Aren’t those ceilings wonderful,Kathryn! The ceilings and the floors were works of art. I think you’d have really enjoyed this place. He was very eclectic in his tastes, and took complete control over the building and the decorating. If he liked something he’d have a whole room themed around the one piece of art, or a particular antique. He also used a lot of tile and wood right alongside gold and gilt! It was just a feast for the eyes. See? I can’t stop talking about it. LOL! I hope you’re continuing to get settled in your new home. Thank you for taking the time to stop by. ox

    1. I tried so hard with my photography to really capture the beauty of that Roman pool, but it is so enormous I couldn’t completely capture the full scale. I’m glad you got a good sense of it, though. The blue tile with gold leaf—it would be interesting to me to know what it would cost to complete today! I hope you have a very nice weekend. 🙂

  5. It’s unbelievable. I had no idea the castle was on so much land and that he had all those animals. With so much going on, no wonder he had financial difficulties. The swimming pools are incredible, particularly the Roman looking one. All those tiles and columns and gold. This has been a fascinating tour, Debra and I hope to be able to see this castle for myself one day.

    1. I’m so glad you enjoyed “the tour,” Charlie. It really is a very magical “fantasyland” for adults. 🙂 Children tend to enjoy it, too, perhaps mostly dreaming about getting into those swimming pools! It is worth the effort if you ever have the opportunity…I’m just going to say “when” you visit, not “if.”:-)

    1. I think a lot of that money must have been amassed pre-income tax! He owned so many newspapers in his own right, making money out of his own ventures, but he inherited great wealth. The family has been very wise with their money also, from what I can tell–but I don’t’ think they have opulent lifestyles to rival their grandfather! 🙂 It’s very fortunate that the State now owns the Castle, and it is one of the few state parks that is so popular that ticket sales support it almost entirely. It is very popular. I’m so glad that you have visited before. I’m sure it left an impression!

  6. i second your motion to encourage others to visit this fascinating place. BTW … the day we were there, the staff was setting up for a private party around the outdoor pool that evening … and odds are good it was a family event.

    1. You mention the Hearst family perhaps having an event at the Castle, Frank. I wonder what the younger Hearst family members think when they see that place…they come from such wealth themselves, but no one lives like that today. I actually hope they are allowed frequent access. It only seems right. 🙂

      1. I recall our guide saying the family still entertains there … besides, don’t they still own the ranch? After all, I think the state of California only has the Castle, and access to it.

  7. Fascinating, as always, Debra; the opulence, of course, is wondrous to gawk at, and gawking I am, but, the character Hearst was, his penchant for women, the safaris and zoo, his politics, and the Hearst publishing empire – all color his life and the era he lived in, with long ranging effects, even now. I will gladly read more, dear friend.

    1. I hope sometime you’ll find the time to read more about Hearst, Penny, as I think you’d find it so interesting. He wasn’t the least bit uncomfortable with his ostentatious behaviors. He was socially and politically so well-connected to the major players of the day–politicians and celebrities. I really am finding it fascinating. I’m glad I could renew a little interest in this fascinating man. I hope you have a great weekend, my friend.

    1. Yes, you’re right, Colleen. There isn’t much to say! There was so much to see and we didn’t begin to see it all. I’ve been several times since I was a child and I will definitely return. There’s something new every time! I’m glad I could introduce it to you. 🙂

  8. The pools are by far the most fascinating features… obviously a keen swimmer or enjoyed the water as a relaxation…. the blue on is magnificent…. This Hearst fellow sure was a man of note and I seem to remember a Patty Hearst who faked a kidnapping and was involved in a bank robbery, if my memory serves me correctly…. I wonder if she was family to this man as I remember her coming from a rich background…. wow that was years ago now…. and I only remembered it now and not whilst reading the last post…

    1. Yes, I almost mentioned Patty Hearst, but thought that it might be too hard to give a snippet–it was another very big story. She didn’t fake her kidnapping at all, Rob,although you are right that she went on to be convicted of a bank robbery. There was a lot made at the time about Stockholm Syndrome…later, President Gerald Ford pardoned her. She was William Hearst’s granddaughter and is about 60 years old now…she was a college student when kidnapped–early 1970s. The pools are really spectacular, I agree. I don’t know much about his swimming, but he was such a big entertainer that I’m sure he was always thinking “grand scale.” We learned on our tour that at one time he went against the advice of all the professionals and insisted on salt water in the Roman Pool…it did ruin all the plumbing and had to be entirely overhauled. There are just so many stories. I do find him so interesting…but glad I didn’t work for him! 🙂

      1. I must Google Patty and read up on her… she was just a memory flash when the name rang the bell…. couldn’t remember all that much… she just seemed so far away and not really our concern in those days of no internet and all you got was what you read in a news paper…

  9. Been there several times, Debra, and each visit yields something new, something not noticed or learned before. It’s truly a magical place. My two favorite “sees” are the grand dining room and the Neptune Pool. Despite the beauty of his indoor pool, it’s a little too dark for my tastes. 🙂 What a great focus for a post. Thank you!

  10. dandyknife

    We’ll be stressifying, but better days are ahead…
    Eighteen miles of waterfront on just under 82,000 acres. Now THAT’S a backyard!

  11. Thanks for ‘nudging’ me, Debbie. I probably would have gotten here eventually but the memory is a bit sieve like these days 🙂 I could just sit enraptured by that pool all day! What a creation! I didn’t know about the zoo but I agree with you that preservation of the land is the main thing. There’s plenty of coastline for strolling, isn’t there?
    Have a happy carefree weekend! 🙂

  12. I like that Hearst allowed animals to be free, along with paying a veterinarian to help keep them healthy. I enjoy tours of famous places, this was fascinating and luxurious! I enjoyed seeing the Ringling Brothers home in Florida, a long time ago, as a child. It had some of the same features, expensive details and I remember a black and white tiled outdoor area, which made me think of clowns and jack in the boxes. Funny, how the memory plays it game with what reality is!

    1. I am so glad you enjoyed the “tour” of Hearst Castle and a little of the story of a very interesting man! I really enjoyed sharing it. And I’ve heard of the Ringling Brothers home and would love to see it one day. I was a child when I first visited Hearst Castle and I nave always remembered how impressed I was that first time. I can particularly remember my impression of the swimming pools and wondering what it would be like to have the Castle as my home. 🙂 Thank you so much for stopping by and sharing how the Castle brought back some fun childhood memories. That’s always fun! 🙂

  13. I don’t know if the animals or the mansion have more grandeur!! I think as beautiful as the animals are, the level of intricacy in the house’s design is too beautiful! Thanks for the amazing tour 😀

    Choc Chip Uru

    1. I think of all the laws and restrictions today that would surely make it impossible for anyone to have a private zoo with so many exotic animals. From what I’ve read Hearst really did his best to care for the animals as long as his fortune was steady, but eventually he had to downsize and the animals had to go–that’s when you wonder about the ethics of collecting animals in the first place. I don’t really want to know what happened to the ones he had to sell. 😦 Thanks so much for coming along on the tour…I enjoyed your company. 🙂

  14. Dear Debra, such beautiful lamps in the rooms you saw this time on your visit. I don’t know whether stores call lamps “furniture” or “accessories” or what, but they are favorites of mine. I have several quite lovely ones that I bought almost forty years ago and they still give me pleasure when I look at them or reach over or up to click them on. Peace.

    1. We have a love of lamps in common, Dee. That’s why I took some of those particular photos. I just loved the ones in the Hearst private quarters. I have some lamps that belonged to my grandmother that aren’t valuable, but I think they’re beautiful and not too common. Today people are more inclined to go to Ikea or Target and buy their lighting, which is fine, of course, but I am glad to have some with a little character–and sentimentality. I think those of us who are readers think about lighting quite a bit. 🙂 ox

  15. Great post, Debra. And like you I am more interested in people than buildings. But Hearst Castle is something very special – although in my eyes it feels quite misplaced and inept. It feels like it’s trying to fake something the building isn’t. Love you images from the trip.

    1. I think you’re certainly correct, Otto, that the Castle is indeed out of place. Hearst was definitely a man with huge appetites and the Castle was a playground for the rich and famous. I think the Castle was right along with his taste for Hollywood–fantasy! He was a very interesting man–not with a really admirable character, but a lot of fun to read about. 🙂

  16. Wonderful post, Debra. I’ve missed these tours and California “chronicles”. Your love of your home state rings clear in each of them. We in this country will probably always debate whether it is “right” for people to amass wealth as great as WR Hearst enjoyed. Yet, that beautiful property would be in a far different state had the Hearst family not bought and preserved it. As for the home, well, the place can justifiably be called a castle. That about says it all, doesn’t it?
    Thanks for taking the time to research, photograph, organize, and publish these posts. I love ’em. 🙂

    1. I’m so glad you were able to visit today, John, and I’m also delighted you appreciated the mini-Castle tour as I have enjoyed sharing what I’ve been able to about Hearst as the publishing magnate and businessman/politician. And to address your thought about whether or not individual wealth on Hearst’s scale is ethical, I’m learning what a scoundrel he really was. Of course I think he was in good company with other scoundrels similarly motivated by power and greed. He makes a colorful character and I have been shaking my head as I read his biography being reminded that our current media streams and political dysfunction aren’t unique or new. I think that people who just visit Hearst Castle and don’t know much about the man are really missing a good story! 🙂 I am so glad you enjoyed it, too.

  17. Absolutely fascinating journey through the castle – thank you for being my guide 🙂 You have some fantastic images from the swimming pools – well captured!

    As for being rich – people get rich by exploiting others (been happening from the dawn of humans and exists in the natural world too… Don’t let people like Hearst surprise you – they only get rich by being first in a given situation and exploiting the people around them. Some rich people will leave a good historical legacy (Wilberforce knew slavery was wrong and did something about it) – others will fight to maintain the status quo (slavery is good because I’m making money out of it!) You know what the civil war in the US was about so why am I telling you about it? Talking to Granny about sucking Eggs 😉 Apologies Debra!

  18. Pingback: California wildfires. Enough already…but we’re just getting started! | breathelighter

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