A Complete Guide to Hearst Castle Tours

Restored Neptune Pool at Hearst Castle
Restored Neptune Pool at Hearst Castle.

George Rose/Getty Images

Seven decades after its owner William Randolph Hearst left his California castle for the last time in 1947, it continues to fascinate visitors. Today, it's a state park, and the only way to see the house and grounds is on a guided tour.

What to Expect on a Hearst Castle Tour

All Hearst Castle tours spend about an hour at the house, but that turns into a little more than two hours when you include the bus trip up and down the hill. All tours include the Greco-Roman style Neptune Pool outdoors and the Roman Pool, an indoor beauty lined with cobalt blue Venetian glass and shimmering gold tiles.

On any tour, the guides share stories about life at Hearst Castle. They talk about sending for dishes from the San Francisco house when British Prime Minister Winston Churchill visited Hearst Castle, explain why there are still price stickers on the catsup and mustard on the dining table, and mention the celebrities who visited.

The Roman Indoor Pool at Hearst Castle
 George Rose/Getty Images

Hearst Castle Tour Options

If you want to take more than one tour, you can stay on the hilltop between daytime tours (or stay after any tour) to enjoy the gardens and visit the Neptune and Roman Pools. Many of them will require an additional fee (from $30 to $100 depending on the tour) and some are only offered seasonally. While walk-ins are accepted, reservations are strongly recommended. Your admission for the grand rooms, upstairs suits, cottages & kitchen, and Designing the Dream tour will also grant access to a screening of "Building the Dream" at the Hearst Castle theater.

The Grand Rooms Tour

An introductory tour of five ground floor rooms in the main house, the Roman pool, Neptune ppol, and house gardens, as well as admission to the "Building the Dream" film. The route includes 140 steps, both up and down, and a 2/3-mile walk.

Upstairs Suites Tour

Focusing on architecture and art in the main house, this tour takes you upstairs. You'll see the Italian-style Doge's Suite, Duplex bedrooms, the Celestial Suite, the gardens, pools, and the library. The route includes 367 stairs (up and down), 322 of which are on a spiral staircase, and a 3/4-mile walk.

Cottages and Kitchen Tour

This 60-minute outdoor tour focuses on the gardens and includes the wine cellar, Casa del Mar (where Hearst lived his final years), Casa del Monte, the gardens, pools, and the kitchen. The route includes 193 stairs, up and down, and a 3/4-mile walk.

Designing the Dream

Get an overview of how the Castle was built on this 75-minute tour from its earliest construction in the 1920s, through the final touches done in the mid-1940s. See the Casa del Sol guest house and the Art Deco-style north wing of the big house, its newest section. The route has 341 stairs and a 1.2-mile walk.

Art of San Simeon

Offered on select dates, this two-hour semi-private tour focuses on Hearst and how he acquired the paintings, tapestries, and other works of art that decorate the estate. The route has around 740 stairs.

Hearst and Hollywood Tour

This two-hour seasonal tour goes through the connection between Hearst and Hollywood. The semi-private tour gives guest access to any area of the estate shown on daytime tours, with commentary from a knowledgeable guide. There are approximately 750 stairs on the route.

Julia Morgan Tour

The newest addition to the slate of tours follows the life and work of Julia Morgan, the chief architect for Hearst Castle. The two-hour seasonal tour follows her life as the first female certified architect in California. Stops take guests to lesser-visited portions of Hearst Castle and include displays of her architectural drawings, family pictures, and personal effects. The route has around 750 stairs.

Evening Tour

This 100-minute tour combines elements of daytime tours, with stops at Casa del Mar, the refectory, library, Gothic suite, assembly room, kitchen, and billiard room along with the gardens, Roman pool, and Neptune pool. It's given spring and fall, most Friday and Saturday evenings. The costumed docents and nighttime views of the estate make this tour especially magical. There are 303 stairs on the and 3/4-mile route.

Holiday Twilight Tour

From late November until just after New Year's Day, Hearst Castle offers the Holiday Twilight Tour, where you can see the castle decked out for Christmas. The tour is 75 minutes long with 190 stairs and a 2/3-mile walk.

Accessibly Designed Tours

It's sometimes difficult to tour an older structure like Hearst Castle, but Hearst Castle offers modified tours that accommodate all kinds of accessibility issues. They offer accessible versions of the Grand Rooms Tour, Evening Tour, and Holiday Twilight Tour. Brochures are available in most common languages and in Braille. You can visit Hearst Castle in a wheelchair, but you need to call at least 10 days in advance to reserve one.

Getting Tickets for Hearst Castle Tours

  • You can buy tickets for Hearst Castle tours at the castle visitor center or reserve online at Reserve California. If you want to take more than one tour, allow 1 hour 20 minutes between their start times. 
  • On a busy day, you could easily arrive at Hearst Castle in mid-afternoon, only to find the next available tour is not until the following afternoon. Save frustrations and reserve your tours in advance. 
  • To avoid long waits or even sellouts, reservations are essential for the Grand Rooms Tour, especially during summer and long holiday weekends.
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