How to Visit Hearst Castle on the California Coast

What You Need to Know Before You Go

Hearst Castle - Hilltop View
••• Courtesy of Hearst San Simeon State Historical Monument

Hearst Castle is a 60,645-square-foot, 165-room Moorish-style house on the California coast. It's the kind of place that only an insanely rich guy in the early twentieth century could have built, almost as big as modern-day billionaire Bill Gates' Xanadu 2.0 in Medina, Washington.

Hearst Castle also has 127 acres of gardens, terraces, pools, and walkways. It's full of Spanish and Italian antiques and art. The main house is flanked by three large guesthouses. In its heyday, Hearst Castle had a private movie theater, a zoo, tennis courts, and two magnificent swimming pools. Lavish parties were common at Hearst Castle, and movie stars were frequent guests. 

Hearst Castle is also the kind of place that most of us would never get to set foot into. Unfortunately for its original owner, newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst — but fortunately for the rest of us who like to see how the one percent live, it's now a California State Historical Monument. If you take a tour, you can all get a glimpse into the Hearst's opulent lifestyle.

You can get a better idea of what it looks like  by taking this Hearst Castle Photo Tour

What You Need to Know About Going to Hearst Castle

Hearst Castle offers several tours, and you can use this guide to find the best one for you and to find out how to buy tickets ahead of time, so you aren't disappointed. 

The Hearst Castle Theater's 40-minute show tells the story of Hearst Castle. No reservations are required.

The Hearst Castle app gives you an in-depth history and notifies you when important or interesting things are nearby. It also helps you decide what "must sees" at the castle to put on your list before you get there. WiFi is slow at the visitor center, so it's best to download it before you go.

The castle isn't the most interesting place for children to visit. No strollers are allowed on the tour, and there are lots of things that little hand shouldn't touch.

Pets aren't allowed on tours and kennels are not available. 

In the summer, the temperature at the top of the hill can be as much as 30 degrees hotter than at the visitor center. Wear sunscreen and a hat, and take a bottle of water.

The Best Ways to See Hearst Castle

If you've been to Hearst Castle as many times as I have over the past decade and a half, it's easy to get a little jaded. However, the experience has also allowed me to find the best, most enjoyable and fun ways to see the place. They require some planning and are only available during part of the year:

Hearst Castle Evening Tour: The big house is interesting during regular day tours, but can feel more like a museum than someone's home. During the evening tours, costumed players inhabit the place much like Mr. Hearst and his friends would have, giving it a lived-in feel.

Hearst Castle at Christmas: Although there are no special events during the holidays, the house is decorated in seasonal style, giving it a nice look. It's also generally less busy than in the summer.

Details About Hearst Castle

The castle is open daily, except for a few holidays. You can buy tickets for Hearst Castle tours at the castle visitor center or reserve online at Reserve California. The visitor center is at the bottom of the hill and castle is at the top. The only way to get more than a fleeting glimpse of it is on a guided tour, which lasts about two hours.

Crowds are worst in summer, and the hilltop gets very hot. Special Hearst Castle night tours offered spring and fall. The house is specially decorated for Christmas.

The address is 750 Hearst Castle Road. San Simeon, CA which is on California Highway 1, halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

If you plan to travel to Hearst Castle from the north on CA 1, check with CalTrans for road closures. Winter rains and mudslides sometimes close the scenic highway well into summer. You can call them toll-free from anywhere in California at 1-800-427-7623 or check the status on their website at or on their app.

If you plan to drive north right after your tour, it takes three hours to drive the 95 miles to Monterey. Allow time to finish your drive during daylight, so you don't miss an inch of the spectacular coastal scenery.

It takes 6 hours to get to Hearst Castle from San Francisco on U.S. Highway 101, U.S. Highway 46 and U.S Highway 1. To drive all the way from San Francisco to the castle on U.S. Highway 1 will take about 8 hours.

From Los Angeles, it's about 6 hours' drive on U.S. Highway 101 and U.S. Highway 1. From San Diego, the drive on Interstate Highway 5 North to Interstate Highway 405 and onto U.S. Highway 101 adds about 2 hours, making it an 8-hour trip.

As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary admission for the purpose of reviewing this attraction. While it has not influenced this review, believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.