Families traveling on a California Highway 1 road trip will want to stop at Hearst Castle State Park, especially if their car-load comprises of school-aged kids, tween, and teens. Visible (and impressive!) even from the highway, Hearst Castle is a half-day stop right outside San Simeon, CA. From the visitor’s center located near the coastline, guests can choose from several tour options before taking a bus up the winding hillside to the estate (approximately 15 minutes). The rangers suggest families start with the Grand Rooms Tour, which takes you through just that…the main rooms of the main house.
This tour takes 45 minutes from the time you depart the bus, and kept everyone from the seven-year-old to the adults entertained. (Children younger than five might be bored, but the tour is still do-able, because of its short length.) Our guide did a good job of giving us details on how William Randolph Hearst entertained his guests in these visually opulant rooms, and the kids enjoyed eying all the fancy tapastries, silver, and oranate decor. I enjoyed learning which of the articifacts had actually been procured from Europe and Asia, and which had been made on-site (both equally amazing). We learned how long it took to build the estate (over 15 years!) and quite a bit about the remarkable architect, Julia Morgan. After the tour, families are set loose to explore the rest of the grounds (outside) at their leisure. We took another hour or so to explore (you definitely want to check out the Neptune Pool and views from the guest houses!). I was also anxious to see the indoor pool, and thought I had lost my opportunity until we were funneled into it en route to the departure buses (so don’t worry, you won’t miss it).
The Hearst Castle staff recommends getting to the visitor’s center 20 minutes before your tour time to catch the bus, and we recommend getting there an hour before that, in order to view the 45 minute IMAX-style movie prior to seeing the estate. It’s very well done, and gives kids a much better sense of who the Hearsts were before they see the rest. (I was in need of the refresher myself.) For our 1 pm tour, we arrived at 11:30, and had just enough time to see the movie and line up for the bus before 1 pm.
Note: You can’t bring food or drinks with you to the estate grounds (only bottled water), so leave the picnic in the car, and be sure to give everyone snacks beforehand. It does get hot on the hill, so bring water!
Date last visited:
Distance from the interstate:
Right off Highway 1.
The Grand Rooms Tour is $25 a ticket for adults and $12 for children (under five are free). Most of the additional tours are the same price, with the exception of the Evening Tour, which is pricier. The ticket price includes the bus ride, movie, and exhibits at the visitor center. Parking is free. Purchase Hearst Castle tickets ahead of time during busy seasons!
Hours of operation:
The visitor center is open whenever tours are offered. (Most days, tours begin at 9 am.) See tour schedule for exact times.
The visitor’s center offers a museum cafe next to the gift shop, but it was such nice weather, we opted to picnic at one of the tables dotting the parking area. (This was more appealing than it sounds…the parking lot overlooks the ocean.)
Signage from Highway 1 in San Simeon takes visitors right to the park, or click for detailed directions to Hearst Castle.