Hearst Castle August 2014 Trip Report
© August 2014 Adam Helman

Mouse-click most images for detail.


My mother Blossom did not enjoy a vacation in over a decade as she took care of her husband as he slowly succumbed to the ravages of Alzheimers disease. With his passing in January she now allows herself short trips of mutual interest - and Hearst Castle near the central California coast comes to mind since I have never been there.

It is a two day journey from Sunday through Tuesday morning. We stay at her favorite hotel, the Apple Farm in San Luis Obispo, with its obvious apple theme throughout both public spaces and the private rooms.

Roman-style pool at Hearst Castle.

Sunday, August 24 - Drive to San Luis Obispo

at Hearst Castle

I arise at 6 and drive north from San Diego to retrieve mother at her San Fernando Valley home. We stop for brunch at the Pepper Tree Inn's restaurant in Santa Barbara, familiar to us from many trips a long, long time ago. The huevos rancheros dish is good - yet the huge cinnamon roll served hot with butter and stuffed with raisins is exceptionally delicious.

We check-in early and enjoy the free Happy Hour with wine and munchies from 4 to 5:30 - followed right away by supper. Our shared dessert of peach/pineapple pie with vanilla ice cream was particularly good.

Mother sleeps by 7 p.m. seeing as she arose at what even for her is early - 1:30 this morning! The television is remarkably insipid - there is literally NOTHING WORTHWHILE watching among the dozens of channels. It's useless, and I posit that networks intentionally provide mind-numbing programs on the standard cable channels so that one is forced to purchase the more expensive "extra" cable channels. I cannot believe there are actually people so stupid as to watch and enjoy the drivel currently available.

I of course cannot sleep at 7, and split my time between the impossible task of trying to sleep before midnight and doing Email at the lobby computer. There is music blaring from a wood loudspeaker box - right next to the terminal so I cannot think properly. The box is turned downward to the floor for the duration of my typing session.

Monday, August 25 - Hearst Castle

visitor center
visitor center façade

We arise at 5 a.m., and after cookies with hot cocoa drive northwest on Route 1 to Hearst Castle a quarter after 7. It's a state park which charges $25 for the round-trip bus ride and 40 minute tour of the mansion. Fortunately the visitor center and museum are free.

Despite the elaborate visitor center facilities, complete with embedded restaurant, there is no publically accessible bathroom! They've been closed. It's assuredly nuts, to have a multimillion dollar construction without a single restroom for the hordes of tourists - some coming from China and Japan as this is a world-class destination.

Hearst Castle: a gated entrance
(mouse-click for exquisite detail).

Instead, there are about half a dozen outhouses near the front entrance.

What's going on here? What kind of madness is this?

The only reasonable hypothesis, unconfirmed, is that the State of California is trying to save a few gallons of water as unflushed toilets.

Talk about being "penny wise and pound foolish"!! There are literally thousands of gallons of water used for maintaining the castle's grounds - and likely millions of gallons are wasted daily through evaporation, lawn watering and car washing across the state.

Some day a tourist will become severely ill from this absence of hygiene. Only that will force a re-think of this absurd policy.

dining room
Dining room - note the tapestry.

William Randolph Hearst was a remarkable individual. We all know him as a billionairre newspaper tycoon. But he was much, much more than that - and his life is amply delineated both on the walking tour and in the 45 minute film provided at the visitor center after returning there from his hilltop castle.

The tour guide was extremely knowledgeable - indeed, I claim his recall of historical facts places him in the category of savant with the peculiar talent of remembering everything he reads!

The castle is ridiculously ornate with all manner of imported artwork from Renaissance Europe and earlier still. His love of western culture shines through everywhere one looks.

Even the billiards room is ornate -
with a pre-French (ca 1420) tapestry.

We purchase items in the gift store, including for myself an assortment of pretty rocks with every color of the rainbow.

We return the 43 miles to San Luis Obispo just after noon - yet stop just outside the park to admire zebras on the nearby grass! Mr. Hearst maintained a zoo during his abode's heyday; and these animals were set free after he could no longer afford that luxury.

Having eaten there many years ago, we have sizable lunches at the Big Sky Café in downtown San Luis Obispo. My appetizer is Turkish Muhammara - a red pepper and walnut dip served with grilled pita. There follows a New Mexico pozole: a spicy, earthy stew of hominy, tomatoes, tomatillos and peppers with roasted cumin and coriander - garnished with pumpkin seeds, cilantro, queso fresco and chips.

tour guide
Tour guide and mother in discourse.

However our shared dessert of sweetened flan with mandarin orange slices is the best of all.

After a brief visit to the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art we return to our room by mid-afternoon. It's actually a venue for advertising and selling the work of local artists, with little of note in my view.

Later we have just a pair of desserts in the hotel restaurant: berry pie à la mode and a mini mocha cheesecake (also with vanilla ice cream).

Television again disappoints, and I read a few magazines before sleeping at a more reasonable 9:30 p.m.

Zebras near the road
(mouse-click for stripes).

Tuesday, August 26 - Return Drive

I time our departure for after 6 a.m. so that morning rush hour in Los Angeles is avoided: with 3 hours to mother's home and an hour for breakfast I will pass through after ten o'clock.

Today I learn firsthand that Denny's makes such delicious chocolate milkshakes. I enjoy my "usual" cheese omelet, with an English muffin replacing toast. The fresh fruit replaces hash browns as a far healthier alternative.

Mother is deposited around 10:15 a.m. and I negotiate not-that-bad traffic - arriving home about 1 o'clock.


Mother had a wonderful time! We will visit Yosemite National Park in early September.

The trip odometer reads 701.6 miles upon returning home.

castle and clouds
Hearst Castle amidst the clouds.