Up the twisty turny coastal route 1! we stopped by the amazing Hearst Castle and enjoyed the views of the coast. It was a beautiful clear day and the landscape was amazing.
Unfortunately doing schooling on days like these while driving are nauseating! We learned this the hard way. It doesn’t help that the girls and I have colds so we did what we could on parked ground.
The only way to see Hearst Castle is by going on guided tours. When we went they were offering 4 different tours each showcasing different parts of the castle. We chose to do the Grand Rooms Tour since it was recommended as a good introduction to the castle and we were told it moved along fairly quickly through the elaborate entertaining rooms of the castle. It was an hour and a half tour which started when we all boarded a bus to climb the steep mountain on which the castle sits.
A little background on the castle so you have context. In 1865 a man named George Hearst purchased 40,000 acres of ranch land. The family used to camp on the land in the summers. After his mother died in 1919, William Randolph Hearst inherited this (and his father’s fortunes) and purchased more land encompassing over 250,000 acres. William decided to make the family’s camping spot a bit more lavish. With the help of architect Julia Morgan, William Hearst built this castle. The castle was left unfinished, as Hearst left it when he had to leave the land for health issues. It may be unfinished, but it still contains 165 rooms and 123 acres of gardens, terraces, pools and walkways.
On our way up the climb to the castle we learned that Hearst had once owned a fairly large zoo on his land. There was even a polar bear, giraffe and zebras. When he got into financial troubles later in life he sold off the animals to the local zoos. However, not before some of the animals had gotten free. There are still a group of wild zebras in the area who roam the beautiful California hills that came from Hearst’s zoo. Isn’t that wild?!
The castle was amazing to see! The detail in every single yard of this place was incredible! It must take a small army to keep up with the impeccable landscaping. There are trees of every kind and when we visited so many of them were chock full of citrus. It could have fed a whole town!
We were lucky that the main swimming pool, which has been empty for many years, just recently completed repairs and had been re-filled with water. We couldn’t swim in it, but it looked amazing!
Unlike other large houses or castles we have visited in the past, this place had a kind of warm feeling to the inside (though in actuality it was freezing inside! Brr, cold tour.) due to the heavy use of wood and fabric.
Our tour guide told us how the walls for his entrance room had been completed when Hearst requested that that room be expanded by 10′ to fit a tapestry he had just purchased to hang on the wall. So, the walls that were just completed were knocked down to accommodate this tapestry. I bet I could find a better way to spend money. How about you?
One of the neatest things in every room was the ceiling. Each ceiling was unique and 3 dimensional. One wooden carved ceiling was of people holding books and riding horses right out of the ceiling. Another ceiling they have been restoring for four years and still expect to work on it for another six! Picture scrubbing with toothbrushes and Q-tips and that’s probably pretty accurate. The ceiling was black from the soot from the fireplace, people smoking and the kerosine lanterns used.
The statues outside were amazingly white! I wondered what they cleaned them with for them not to have any moss on them.
The last pool we looked at was so pretty. Hearst had the floors of the entire place covered in 14 and 24 carrot gold. Oh my! Our tour guide for the place was an interesting fella. While he gave great information, every couple sentences he would go on loop and start repeating himself. He was an older gentleman and maybe it was one of his first times doing one? We’re not sure. The poor dear was trying so hard, it’s a lot of information to remember, but it was tricky to get the full tour with the loop on. 😛
On our way back down on the bus we saw the remains of an amazing pergola. The structure continued for miles and back in the day when the castle was lived in it was covered in vines. Imagine riding through that on your horse! How amazingly beautiful that must have been. Unfortunately we didn’t get to stay too long because it was a driving day and we were hurrying to get back on the road to get a campsite before evening. I’d love to go back sometime and look around more. It was SO beautiful!
After we visited the castle we were headed to see the elephant seals on the coast. We could hear and smell them as soon as we got out in the parking lot. Those creatures are noisy! December through March the elephant seals come to the beaches to birth, nurse and mate. The “little” ones (60-80 lbs at birth) were a black color (which they will shed around 6 weeks) and cried out to their Mamas as if they were screeching human kids. We also got to see the babies nursing which was so sweet.
We were blown away with how massively large the adult males were! When they moved it was crazy how much body mass they were thundering around. The males can be up to 20 ft long and weigh around 8,800 lbs! An average car weighs about 3,000 lbs. Do you see how crazy that is?! I tell you, these things are massive!! The males were also giving off a sound that can only be explained as an extreme bass note being played at full blast with a brass instrument at the end of a very large, very long tunnel. It is an incredibly powerful noise and also kind of hard to wrap your mind around. It doesn’t seem like an animal should be able to make this sound.
After observing for a bit it was clear who was the dominate male as he kept the others in check by charging, head banging the other males or by making that crazy loud hollow sound. We also observed the seals flipping sand up onto themselves. Maybe as a way to stay a good temperature? Maybe as sunscreen? People aren’t really sure why they do this but it was neat to watch as their flippers looked like webbed hands scooping sand and tossing it on their backs. So fascinating! It was a lively place for sure. We all would have liked to continue to watch the seals but…onward we went.
We had been told at the castle that the road that led north along the Big Sur coast was closed! Thankfully they were incorrect, though it had been closed a couple days prior to us visiting the area. There are so many dangerous mud and rock slides that occur on this road when it rains that they close the road if heavy rain is predicted. Smart! By the time we went through the area the road was opened but only one lane due to the recent mud and rock slides. We saw first hand why you wouldn’t want to be traveling this way in the rain. The mud and giant boulders were covering one lane of the road!
The drive up the coast was very windy as you might expect being right on the water. Luckily Dimes and Wobbles hold up pretty well in the wind so we were safe but it did mean extra concentration on Justin’s part while driving. “Look at that view! …actually, don’t look at that view. Eyes on the road.” is how it went. The views were spectacular! The rocky cliffs with the white capped ocean waves splashing up into a fine mist was just beautiful. From some of the windy corners of the road we were given the vantage point of looking for miles and miles down the craggy coast.
Our plan was to stay at Pfeiffer Big Sur Campground which looked beautiful. However, our little one ended up falling asleep in the car due to a crumby night’s sleep so we had to make the choice to camp here while our little one slept or take advantage of her sleeping and keep driving. With heavy hearts we decided from a sanity point of view we were wise to keep driving as our oldest was still doing great in the car. Tough call but I tell you, if you were trapped in a van with a grouchy 3 year old, you’d do all you could to make the most of her napping!
We ended up at New Brighten State Beach, just south of Santa Cruz. We arrived just after our little one woke from her nap so it ended up being perfect timing.