250 miles S of San Francisco (via Hwy. 1); 250 miles NW of Los Angeles
Few buildings on Earth are as elaborate as Hearst Castle. The 165-room estate of publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst, high above the village of San Simeon atop a hill he called La Cuesta Encantada (the Enchanted Hill), is an ego trip par excellence. One of the last great estates of America's Gilded Age, it's an over-the-top monument to wealth -- and to the power that money brings.
Hearst Castle is a sprawling compound, constructed over 28 years in a Mediterranean Revival style and never fully completed. The focal point of the estate is Casa Grande, a 100-plus-room mansion filled with art and antiques that you have to see to believe. Hearst acquired most of his collection via New York auction houses, where he bought entire rooms (including walls, ceilings, and floors) and shipped them here. The result is an old-world-style castle in a mix-and-match style. You'll see 400-year-old Spanish and Italian ceilings, 500-year-old mantels, 16th-century Florentine bedsteads, Renaissance paintings, Flemish tapestries, and innumerable other treasures.
Three opulent "guesthouses" also contain magnificent works of art. A lavish private movie theater was used to screen first-run films twice nightly -- once for employees, and again for the guests and host.
And then there are the swimming pools. The Roman-inspired indoor pool has intricate mosaic work, Carrara-marble replicas of Greek deities, and alabaster globe lamps that create the illusion of moonlight. The breathtaking outdoor Greco-Roman Neptune pool, flanked by marble colonnades that frame the distant sea, is one of the mansion's most memorable -- and photographed -- features.
In 1957, in exchange for a massive tax write-off, the Hearst Corporation donated the estate to the state of California (while retaining ownership of approximately 80,000 acres). The California Department of Parks and Recreation now administers it as a State Historic Monument and officially refers to it as the rather unpoetic Hearst San Simeon State Historical Monument.