Hearst Castle pictures are closely guarded by its media department, and you’re only able to publish them with their permission. So I feel lucky to be able to share our two-day visit to California’s spectacular Hearst Castle, complete with photos of the beautiful building and its antique decor.
Californian publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst built his very own palace atop a sizable hill in a secluded area of the coast between 1919 and 1947. It attracted the who’s who, and Hollywood elite would scramble for an invitation to “Casa Grande”, despite the grueling journey to arrive. Hearst Castle and its surrounding bungalows were filled with ancient art, treasures and antique furniture from all over the world.
The Hearst Castle pictures in this post were taken during two tours of the ‘ranch’ (more on that later) – the Upstairs Rooms tour and the Evening Tour (all paid for ourselves). We highly recommend both tours, however, if you’re running short on time or can only afford one tour, the Evening Tour was the best Hearst Castle tour in our opinion. You get a lot of bang for your buck, including the Neptune and Roman pools, one of the bungalows, and many rooms in the castle proper.
Related: The best things to do in Cambria
HEARST CASTLE PICTURES – EVENING TOUR
The Hearst family used to camp on their tract of land between San Francisco and Cambria, until William Randolph decided he wanted a ‘little’ getaway home. Maybe having to drag all of the family’s camping gear up the hill each time they wanted to get away from the world, was getting a bit too much. Or maybe he just liked the beautiful view so much that the logical thing to do was to build a home to give them more protection from the weather. In any case, Hearst tempted architect Julia Morgan to take on the project by telling her she would only need to design a modest bungalow for the family.
The Hearst Castle Bungalows
There are three Bungalows on the grounds – Casa Del Mar (house of the sea), Casa Del Monte (House of the Mount), and Casa Del Sol (House of the Sun). So you’ve probably already guessed that Julia Morgan wasn’t just working on the project for a couple of years to build one bungalow. We visited Casa Del Mar during the evening tour, taking in its eight bedrooms, six bathrooms, five fireplaces and just one sitting room. Seems like a modest bungalow to me.
Casa Del Mar was named as it overlooks the Pacific Ocean , and has a three-storey on that side, but appears as a one-storey bungalow to those viewing it from Hearst Castle. It was only open to family and close friends, and was where William Randolph and his mistress Marion Davies spent the magnate’s final days, when he could no longer get around Casa Grande.
Casa Del Mar became infamous in February 1976, when a bomb blast caused $1 million worth of damage to the bungalow, tearing a hole in one wall. The blast occurred just minutes after tourists had walked through the building. According to the Stanford Daily newspaper, the bomb was dynamite and a timer may have been used in its detonation.
The Neptune Pool
If you time your Evening Tour just right, you’ll be able to watch the sunset over the Neptune Pool, which was hands-down my favourite spot across the Hearst Castle estate. It’s also one of the reasons why I think the best Hearst Castle tour is the Evening Tour. The Neptune Pool holds 1.3 million litres of water (345,000 gallons) and took 12 years to build it. But you won’t be lucky enough to take a dip in the gorgeous Neptune Pool – it’s closely guarded by Hearst Castle staff and had been under restoration for a few years before reopening in October 2018.
We visited the day before its restoration pool party, where people paid more than $1000 for a chance to take a dip in the pool. The restoration project cost $5.4 million and five years to finish, but ultimately stopped cracks in the pool from leaking almost 19,000 litres of water each day. Just imagine that water bill.
It seems fitting for a pool that architect Charles Moore wrote about in Water and Architecture, saying “The outdoor pool was designed as a tribute to Neptune, god of the oceans. In this grand liquid ballroom, Hollywood Olympians lucky enough to be granted coveted weekend invitations swam high above the mortal realm fanning out below. With its antique trappings, the pool recalls the past while the views out toward the infinite skies inspire imaginative visions into the unknown.”
Hearst Castle Pictures (A.K.A. Casa Grande)
We’re finally headed for the main “house”, Casa Grande, itself. One thing you might have already guessed, is that William Randolph Hearst was an antique, art and antiquities collector. His collection had important pieces from all over the world, and his homes were lavished in them. But he was also building his grand castle on property that he inherited from his father George, that was once named Rancho Piedra Blanca, and used as a ranch. While it is an extremely extravagant place to stay, by anyone’s standards, it does have the touches of a ranch spread throughout. Especially in the dining room, which you’ll see a little later.
Casa Grande has 38 bedrooms, 42 bathrooms, 100 telephones, a private theatre, a library, billards room, a grand kitchen and many more rooms to sneak into for a little look around or some quiet time.
The Assembly Room
The Assembly room stretches almost as far as the eye can see, and is packed to the gills with curiousities. You’d think that such a fancy place wouldn’t hold the reigns very tightly when it came to parties and alcohol, but William Randolph had other ideas for his guests. While he continued to serve alcohol to them during the prohibition era (from 1920-1930), he insisted that the wine cellar be locked behind iron doors. Having said that, Hearst and his newspapers preached temperance, and frowned upon anyone who had more than two drinks. He didn’t like heavy drinking and wasn’t a fan of spirits either. Guests knew not to bring their own tipples to the castle either, for fear of being asked to leave.
Guests would gather in the large room for a cocktail before dinner, to read one of Hearst’s many newspapers, play cards, and to chat. The room is lined with 15th Century Spanish choir stalls, brought over from a Cathedral in Catalonia, more for their decorative charm than for sitting, since they would have been quite uncomfortable.
The Refectory (Dining Hall)
This is where the true “ranch” style of living really showed itself. If you look down to the set end of the dining table you’ll notice that the glasses have paper napkins in them. What you might not be able to see though, are the bottles of tomato sauce and mustard set at intervals along the table. Dinner was to be an informal affair, and Hearst was sure to set that tone.
As you can see, the Refectory also had a bit of a middle ages feel to it. From the furniture to the high silver candlesticks and silk banners hanging from the high windows.
It is just the one kitchen, but it does feel like cheating to say that, considering it’s so cavernous. They’re a cross between a restaurant kitchens of today, and beautiful, homey kitchens of the 1920s and 30s. Complete with countertops made of metal alloy, and early forms of refrigerators, Hearst Castle’s kitchens are a cook’s dream come true.
I suggest not visiting the kitchens on an empty stomach though, apart from all of the delicious treats on display and “cooking” on the rotisserie, the smell of baking bread and cinnamon waft through the kitchen.
The Main Library
Sure, there are other parts of the house where William Randolph kept his book collection, but the large library holds a fair number of his tomes. But let’s start with a tale that doesn’t involve books at all. One cheeky guest decided that the room wasn’t exciting enough, just being filled with books and antiquities, so he took it upon himself to move all of the priceless bits and pieces out of the way and perform back flips down the considerable length of the library.
If you look up around ceiling height, you’ll see another signal of William Randolph’s love of history and antiquities. The 24-metre room (80 foot) is lined with 150 ancient Greek vases, which are each more than 2000 years old. Talk about a priceless collection!
The Gothic Suite
The Gothic Suite takes up the entire third floor of Hearst Castle, and was where he and Marion Davies lived and worked. The Gothic study was the room that William Randolph would retire to after dinner and maybe a quick conversation with his guests. Even though they were on holiday, he was still the head of a newspaper and radio empire, and had work to do. I call it a room, but it’s really so much bigger than the normal ‘study’ you could imagine.
William Randolph surrounded himself with his most prized possessions in the Gothic Suite, including some books that either didn’t fit in the main library, or that he didn’t want mysteriously disappearing with one of his guests. The study was where he would sit up each night, previewing his newspapers before they were sent off for printing.
William Randolph & Marion Davies’ Living Quarters
Actress Marion Davies met William Randolph’s in 1918, 15 years after he had married Millicent Veronica Willson. Davies was appearing in a film that the media tycoon was bankrolling, and their relationship quickly grew. They lived together until William Randolphs death of a heart attack in 1951, but never married.
Not that the pair did not want to marry, but Millicent would not grant him a divorce without a settlement that he deemed too high. So instead, he busied himself with promoting Marion’s film career and investing in her movies. The couple had separate bedrooms, joined by a sitting room in the middle, where they could spend time alone together.
In contrast to the rest of the estate, William Randolph’s bedroom was actually pretty small, although that may have been to accommodate the Spanish ceiling that he had installed there. The ceiling dates back to the 15th century and is probably from the Palacio de los Sanchez Munoz.
Photos of his parents flanked his bed, and Willam Randolph was said to be particularly close to his mother. They travelled Europe together, and much of the inspiration for Hearst Castle came from that trip.
The Billiards Room
Back down the stairs from the third floor to the ground, where the large billiards room. Even this room had a Spanish ceiling, and was popular with guests who wanted to relax with a game of pool or billiards. The room is decorated in kind of a country theme – with scenes of hunting adorning the walls, plus a Flemish tapestry off to the right.
The Private Theatre
You can’t own a media empire, and have a film star as a partner without including a cinema room in your castle. It’s just not done. Each night, guests were treated to a film in the theater, usually one of William Randolph’s choosing, as well as a newsreel. As a guest on the evening tour yourself, you’ll get to see a newsreel and a piece-to-camera by Hearst himself. The theatre isn’t just a little cinema room – the walls are covered in red patterned wallpaper and there are two Hollywood-esque gold statues holding lamps in the back of the room.
From here, the tour takes you out to the indoor Roman Pool, and then onto a bus back to the visitor’s center and car park. But I’m skipping that at the moment and will add it at the end of the Upstairs Suites tours instead.
HEARST CASTLE PICTURES – UPSTAIRS SUITES TOUR
All tours of Hearst Castle start at the Neptune Pool (detailed above in the Evening Tour description), and ends at the Roman Pool. You’ll find information and pictures of Hearst Castle’s Roman pool at the end of the the Upstairs Suites tour description. Some rooms that we visited in the Evening Tour, were also on the Upstairs Suites Tour, so I’ve skipped them here.
Once you’ve made it through the Neptune Pool area and through the front garden inside Casa Grande proper, you’ll find yourself in a guest room.
The Doge’s Suite
I wouldn’t blame you for thinking that you were staying with royalty, or that you actually were royalty, if you were lucky enough to nab this “suite” at Casa Grande. William Randolph was well known for being an antiques and art collector, to the point where he even bought pieces of other majestic buildings in Europe, to install in Hearst Castle. In fact, he also hired a team of artisans from Oakland, to modify these pieces (such as the Spanish ceilings), so that they would fit properly in their new home.
The suite is actually made up of two guest bedrooms, connected by an adjoining sitting room. Named after Venice’s famous Doge’s Palace, after which it was modelled, the Doge’s Suite’s sitting room comes equipped with a painted antique ceiling, marble balcony, and enough chairs to seat you and most of your friends from school.
This is the room to visit if you’re craving Italian Renaissance decoration – from the ceilings to the rugs. That magnificent ceiling was actually purchased from an estate sale of American architect Stanford White. White had sourced it straight from an Italian Palazzo. Both bedrooms have matching ceilings, however one is a replica to match its counterpart.
These were the rooms that guests vied for, as they were some of the most prestigious in the building. It has been said that you knew that you had “made it” when you were invited to stay in the Doge’s Suite.
From here the Upstairs Rooms Tour carries on through the main Library and the Gothic Suites, all of which are detailed above, so we’ll carry on to the Duplex Bedrooms.
The Duplex Bedrooms
The Duplex bedrooms were the brain guild of architect Julia Morgan, who was trying to keep up with William Randolph’s requests for more guest rooms to house his growing list of friends, acquaintances, and the Hollywood elite. Morgan made use of high ceilings to split the rooms in half horizontally, so that the balcony above would be the ‘bedroom’ while the floor below housed the sitting rooms.
Unfortunately (for some guests), the bathrooms were also on the “ground” floor, off the sitting rooms. The upstairs was connected via very narrow, steep spiral staircases – not exactly ideal for a late night bathroom run when you’re half asleep. If you look to the right of the above picture, you can see the banister of the staircase.
The Celestial Suite
The Celestial Suite was probably best reserved for the ‘morning people’ amongst William Randolph’s guests. As you can see the bed’s headboard is flanked by a wall of window that reminds me of where stained glass would go in a church. The circular room is covered with these same windows, almost on every side, letting the sun stream in from quite a few angles, hence the room’s clever name.
The suite is way up on the fourth floor, so be prepared to climb quite a few flights of stairs to get up there. There are two Celestial Suites, which are nestled just below Hearst Castle’s bell towers. You might think that they’d be the noisiest rooms in the house, but actually they’re not as loud or disturbing as you would expect them to be.
Hearst Castle Gardens
Not being a garden aficionado myself, and possessing what is best described as ‘black thumb’, I can’t really do the Hearst Castle Gardens as much justice as they deserve. Also filled with antiquities collected by William Randolph, the gardens sprawl over the Enchanted Hill and are full of native plants to the region and rare flowers.
If they aren’t enough to impress you, there’s always the view from atop the hill out to the ocean to marvel at. You can sort of see it in this sunset shot, that I couldn’t help but snap. It was lighter in real life. And prettier.
Why settle on one magnificent, jaw-dropping pool when you can have two? Obviously, William Randolph was thinking “but what if it’s raining? Where will my guests swim?”. In the undercover Roman Baths of course!
Covered in thousands of mosaic tiles, these Roman baths are decorated to make you feel like you’re on the bottom of the ocean, looking up. If that wasn’t enough, there are eight marble sculptures depicting ancient Roman and Greek deities and athletes.