Kept closed first by a global pandemic and then by weather damage, the famed Hearst Castle is slated to reopen to guests on May 11, marking the first time people will be able to visit the iconic California landmark since March 2020.
On a hilltop in San Simeon, a Central Coast community just north of Cambria and San Luis Obispo, the opulent 127-acre estate was erected by media mogul William Randolph Hearst and designed by architect Julia Morgan. Over the course of roughly 30 years (starting in 1919), a 115-room main house was built, as were separate guesthouses, pools, terraces, and elaborate gardens. After Hearst’s passing, his family entrusted the castle to the California State Parks. In 1957 the property was opened to the public.
Initially closed in response to the spread of COVID-19, the plan had been to reopen the castle in spring or summer 2021. However, the reopening was further delayed after rainstorms severely damaged the steep and winding road that buses use to shuttle visitors to the hilltop residence. Workers had to reconstruct and reinforce much of the upper half of the five-mile road, 10 months of repairs that ultimately cost $13.7 million.
The lavish property is one of the busiest sites in the state’s 279-unit park system. According to California State Parks, in normal years, the castle sees between 1,500 and 5,000 people per day coming through—the busiest year saw about 860,000 visitors.
“Where else in California can a person today actually immerse themselves in history in a setting that has remained unchanged for so many years?” the park’s superintendent Dan Falat told AFAR.
Falat notes that what makes the estate so remarkable is that it has been preserved to look and feel just as it did when celebrities, heads of state, authors, art experts, and others visited as guests of Hearst. To this day, all of the original 20,000 works of art and furnishings, ranging from ancient Egyptian to art deco pieces, remain on display.
Some highlights of the property include the indoor Roman Pool, with its blue mosaic tiles and statues depicting Roman gods and goddesses, and the Grand Assembly Room, with its walnut paneling, Renaissance and baroque tapestries, and neoclassical sculptures. Most property tours include visits to both.
With the reopening, Hearst Castle plans to change its pricing structure. According to Falat, ticket prices will be between $3 and $6 less per person, depending on the tour. The process will be simplified (previously, the tours and fees were listed separately, but it’ll be a single sum). For example, the Grand Rooms Tour used to cost $25, plus an $8 fee, but now, it will cost a flat $30. Advance reservations aren’t required, but given how popular the Hearst Castle is, Falat strongly recommends them.
Previously, guests were offered guided tours of the house and then were allowed to explore the gardens, art, and outdoor architecture at their leisure. Going forward, “Estate visitors will be personally welcomed by one of our highly trained museum tour guides and provided a comprehensive guided group tour from the moment they exit one of our motor coaches to the moment they reboard the coach to return to the Hearst Castle Visitor Center,” Falat said. Guests can still roam the grounds on their own post-tour, should they desire.
To visit the building and its grounds, guests must be part of at least one tour group. Thirteen tours (including one private option) will be available to visitors. Tour options include the Grand Rooms Tour (recommended for first-time visitors, it encompasses the social rooms, like the Billiard and Morning Rooms within the castle) and the Upstairs Suites Tour (which, true to its name, focuses on guest accommodations and Hearst’s own suite, all at the top of a 322-step spiral staircase). The one new tour this year (the other 12 were previously offered) is a two-hour exploration honoring Julia Morgan, Hearst’s collaborator and the first certified female architect in the state. Tour prices range from $30 per adult (and $15 for children 5–12) for a one-hour tour up to $1,000 per group (up to six people) for a private tour experience that can last up to four hours. Guests under age five are free.
Reservations open at HearstCastle.org on March 31. People can also purchase tickets by calling 800-444-4445.