Designing the Dream, the Hearst Castle Bicycle tour

hearst castle bicycle

Take advantage of the Bridge Street Inn’s unique location by hopping on a bicycle.

Worth the Climb: visiting Hearst Castle

If you have the opportunity to jump on the bike and head out along Highway One on the Hearst Experience, don’t just stop at the top of the hill and buy a postcard from the shop! You can also take advantage of a unique new tour of Hearst Castle, which runs from June 1 through Labor Day.

The California Department of Parks and Recreation is offering the tour, called “Designing the Dream”, which will feature parts of the castle that have been closed to visitors for several years.

The man behind the vision

Hearst Castle was constructed by legendary newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, who had a deep and lasting influence on American journalism. He was the owner and publisher of The San Francisco Examiner, and later The New York Journal. Hearst was also involved in politics, as a Democratic member of the Congress between 1903 and 1907. He made several unsuccessful attempts to become mayor and later governor of New York. His life story was the inspiration for the lead character of Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane.

“The Enchanted Hill”

In 1919, Hearst inherited more than 250,000 acres from his mother and father.  He started searching for ways to transform it into his dream estate, “La Cuesta Encantada”, which translated from Spanish means “The Enchanted Hill”. He realized his dream together with architect Julia Morgan. The San Simeon landmark has 165 rooms and 127 acres of gardens, terraces, pools and walkways. Hearst filled these spaces with his personal collection of ancient art, sculptures, furniture and relics.

In 1937, Hearst started to sell some of his collection due to challenges he was experiencing in the post-depression years. In 1937 alone, sales generated at least $11 million. A few years later, in 1941, a further 20,000 objects were put up for sale, including author Charles Dickens’ sideboard and Thomas Jefferson’s Bible. Incredibly, when the castle was donated to the State of California by the Hearst Corporation in 1957 – six years after its owner’s death – there were still enough items remaining for the whole house to be considered a museum.

Designing the Dream: the tour

The 90-minute castle tour will explore its evolution over several decades. Visitors will see the famous Neptune Pool, which offers magnificent views of the mountains and features an ancient Roman temple facade which was transported from Europe and reconstructed on site. The tour will also take in the estate gardens, the interior rooms of the “Casa del Sol” guest cottage and the North Wing of the “Casa Grande” (big house). The tour will show how styles changed dramatically between the start of construction in the 1920s and the end in the mid 1940s, although it is said that Hearst’s constant amendments and changes meant that the castle was never fully completed in his lifetime.

The tour will end with a behind the scenes visit to the estate’s Roman Pool and its dressing rooms. After that, visitors will be able to stroll around the grounds and enjoy the magnificent view, just as guests such as Charlie Chaplin, Joan Crawford, Cary Grant, Clark Gable, James Stewart, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill did back in the castle’s heyday. The price is $30 for adults and $15 for children.

Cycling: the Best Buddies Challenge

Such is the power and significance of the landmark estate that it draws some one million visitors each year. This is in spite of the fact that its location is far from urban centers; some 250 miles from both Los Angeles and San Francisco. The estate is located five miles inland in the Santa Lucia range, at an altitude of 1600 feet.

It has also inspired cyclists from near and far. The combination of the mesmerizing scenery along Highway One and the castle made it perhaps an irresistible choice to form part of the route of the “Hearst Castle ride”. The ride, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, is a fundraiser for Best Buddies, an international charity for the intellectually disabled. It gives riders the chance to enjoy 100 miles of spectacular views and uninterrupted roadway from the Monterey Peninsula to San Simeon.

Conditions on Highway One

With tourism to the castle and the importance of the Best Buddies ride on the national cycling calendar, the condition of the Highway One is naturally of paramount importance. In the build-up to the race, which will be held on September 7th this year, all eyes are on Californian road authority Caltrans because it recently sealed 20 miles of the road to the north of Cambria using “chip-seal”. Chip-seal is a type of sealant which uses larger stones and therefore produces a rougher, bumpier ride for cyclists. Concerns have been raised by cyclists and tourist officials alike, leading Caltrans to hire a specialist company to test different ways of fixing the problem. Authorities are confident they will resolve the issue; however, as with most events of this nature, there is always a certain amount of risk involved. Individuals as well as organizations should be advised to prepare for all contingencies.

Nonetheless, if the recommendations of cyclists from previous years are anything to go by, the party at Hearst Castle at the end of the Best Buddies ride is a fantastic finale to the event and not to be missed. It seems whatever your motivation for ascending the hill to Hearst Castle, the climb is always worth it.

Special thanks to Melissa Hathaway for contributing this article.

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