Tuesday - Hearst Castle & Detours
Morning dawned cool and relatively sunny. We piled ourselves into the car (making a mental note to hit the Flying Dutchman
on the way home for more dumplings) and headed on up the 1 towards San Simeon.
Or, as it's more commonly know, Hearst Castle.
It was only about thirty miles of winding Pacific Coast Highway until we reached the turn-off and pulled into the parking lot of the Visitor's Center. The "Castle" itself was just visible, perched on the mountains about five miles to the east. We picked up our tour tickets and wandered around the Center for about half an hour until our tour-bus left.
The Visitor's Center has a small museum of Hearst memorabilia, information on the history of San Simeon, and artwork. It also, of course, has the usual overpriced gift shop and a remarkably reasonably
priced art shop. Both were something we planned to check out more after our tour.
There's four different tours of San Simeon
(or five or six, if you throw in the evening tour and the odd special) and we choose the first one – the "starter" tour – as this was my first time to San Simeon and Dee Dee hadn't been in, well, decades.
The bus ground its way up the five-mile long driveway as it wound around the hills on its climb to the Castle. Dee Dee studiously avoided looking out the window that faced away from the mountainside, as there were quite a lot of spots where you're sorta perched right on the edge of a several hundred foot drop. Okay, it's a nice, green, grassy
several hundred foot drop – you still get way too close to the edge of it for most.
San Simeon once sat in the center of the 260,000+ acres of Hearst-owned ranchland that made up much of the Central Coast. These days, the ranch is down to a "mere" 60,000+ acres – owned by the Hearst Corporation rather than the family directly – and San Simeon itself, along with a few acres around it, was donated to the state back in the 1950's (basically, because the Hearst Corporation got tired of paying for the upkeep on it). What you're driving through on the way to the hilltop, though, is still a working ranch – though lacking most of the exotic animals Hearst had on the grounds back then.
Fifteen, twenty minutes later, the bus pulls up at the top and you get off to begin your tour.
"Hearst Castle" – in spite of its unofficial name – is actually not all that castle-y. In fact, what Hearst wanted (and basically got
) was a copy of a small Mediterranean village. It's made up of several small "villas" and the main building – "Casa Grande" – which looks nothing so much as like a church.
In a lot of ways, San Simeon is only as "real" as Disneyland. The huge "stone" walls of Casa Grande, fer example, are really just concrete made to look
like stone. Amongst all the real statuary and artwork (dating back to Ancient Egypt, fer Pete's sake!) are dozens of copies – also made of concrete, created right there at the site.
Hearst had acquired literally tons of architectural bits from Europe and these are mounted all over the buildings – old church entryways, Roman mosaic floors, fireplaces from English castles, ceiling beams, and so forth. It sounds
like it ought
to look hideous – or at least, very tacky, like some of the less well thought out mansions being built today (okay, like most
of the mansions being built today...).
But, somehow, it all works
. Julia Morgan
, Hearst's architect, managed to take a couple of millennia's worth of decorations and a basically Disney-esque idea for a home, and somehow
make an absolutely gorgeous series of buildings out of it.
Heck, she even managed to pull off the ostentatiousness that is the "Neptune Pool" (the one everyone sees when someone talks about Hearst Castle) and make it look good
rather than look like, say, a chunk of "Caesar's Palace" in Las Vegas.
Last stop was the "Roman Pool," an absolutely wonderful indoor pool (built under the tennis courts!) done all in royal blue and gold mosaic tile-work, with clever bits of lighting coming from light-wells in the tennis court. Then you get back on the bus and head down to the Visitor's Center and your car.
After we got back (and visited the museum!) we went across the highway to old San Simeon, a small village and pier that was once home to most of the workers who built the "Castle," and still has several old buildings from the turn of the century.
I also tried to fly my kite by the pier – with about the same success as I had back at Morro Bay.
This was a quick stop, however, and soon we were getting ready to turn back onto Highway 1.
At this point a bug showed up in our trip plan. We were going
to head up the 1 to Monterey – about ninety miles of nice scenic coastline – but we kept passing signs saying that the road was "closed north of San Simeon" (okay, it was 35 miles
north of it, still...). Now, there aren't what you'd call a lot of "cross streets" connecting the 1 inland between San Simeon and Monterey and "none" is the number of those between San Simeon and where the road was closed (by a landslide – a rather common occurrence on the 1
So we had to back track south and detour on the 46 eastwards to the 101, then head north to Monterey that way. Mind, the 46 through the Coast Range is a nicely scenic little trip itself, but it's no Pacific Coast Highway, and the detour added about a couple of hours to our trip.
The 101 through the Salinas Valley is, well, it's no scenery-deficient "5-through-the-San-Joaquin-Valley" (where at night you tend to hallucinate trees just to have something to look at), but it is
basically just a hundred miles of farmland. And I've seen it many times. It didn't help that the snack we picked up in Paso Robles was not
agreeing with me and I spent that next hundred miles or so with a majorly upset stomach. This explains, of course, why Dee Dee did all the rest of the driving that day.
Finally we hang a left at Salinas onto the 68 and are heading to Monterey. 'Bout an hour later, we're driving about playing "where's the motel?" Monterey has this bad habit of changing street names (at least, on streets we
needed!) every few blocks and finding a route from Where We Were (near the Wharf) to Our Motel (a Days Inn on Munras – about two miles south and inland from there) proved to be tricky – especially since the directions I'd pulled off the net for the trip had assumed we'd be coming in north on the 1 rather than west on the 68 (see "the Detour" above).
Still, we found our motel, checked in and – too tired even to head out for dinner – ended another day.
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