We were leaving LA on Saturday so Claire took us to John Wayne Airport in Orange County where we picked up a hire car. From there Vic navigated us to highway 405 and then on to Highway 1, the Pacific Coast Highway, and from there we drove for around 4 hours to San Luis Obispo where we had booked at room at the Econolodge. The room was great, with free high-speed internet access, two bedrooms, a fridge, microwave and two TVs.
On Sunday we had breakfast in San Luis Obispo and then made our way about 40 miles further on to Hearst Castle, the former home of the multi-millionaire William Randolph Hearst.
After parking at the Visitors Center, we picked up our pre-booked tour tickets. There are 4 daytime tours of the castle and one night-time tour (at certain times of year). Each tour is around an hour and a half long and costs $20 per person.
We caught the bus up to the castle with the rest of our tour group, passing through the enormous grounds of the house which at one time were used as a private zoo with bears, tigers etc. There are still goats, cattle and zebra roaming the estate.
On arrival we disembarked and walked up the steps to the outdoor swimming pool, surrounded by a classical temple building which included some ancient art works collected by Mr Hearst. The pool is built on on a cantilever basis which means that even during an earthquake the structure remains undamaged. From here you can see down to the Pacific Ocean and North to the boundary of the grounds many miles distant.
Next was a tour through one of the guest houses, again richly decorated with art works collected by Mr Hearst. We walked through the garden to the front of the main building, styled like a Mediterranean cathedral, and in through an entrance to the main reception area. This was hung on all walls by huge tapestries and paintings, as well as having statues in each corner. An evenings entertainment at Hearst Castle would have begun here, and the guide listed many of the famous people who had stayed at the castle. The dining room was next, decorated with many works of silver and flags from Europe. Passing through here we went back outside and around under the tennis courts to the huge indoor swimming pool. This was richly decorated in dark blue tiles and gold leaf, and is ten feet deep throughout. There is a diving platform in the middle of the room reached by hidden staircases, as well as a lower diving board at the end of the pool.
That concluded our tour and we returned to the bus and then to the Visitors Center. Other tours include the castle library, the apartments in the main building and a variety of other areas. Our tour gave a good introduction to the building and to the extravagant opulent lifestyle of one of the worlds richest men during the 1930-50’s when he lived there.
Heading off back onto Highway 1, a few miles down the road we spotted a group of people looking over a cliff onto the seashore so pulled over at a parking spot. We were greeted by the sight of hundreds, if not thousands, of elephant seals who come to the area to breed. There were hundreds pulled up on to the beach, some with new-born pups, others flicking sand on themselves to keep cool. There were huge males with large noses fighting for space and status. Around the fence at the top of the cliff, small black birds hopped around close to the visitors, while down on the beach seagulls scavenged for any scraps they could find. An amazing sight to come across by accident and one of the highlights of our Pacific Coast trip.
After that we pressed on with our journey, heading up to the Big Sur area, driving along some beautiful coast line, and catching a fabulous sunset before finally reaching our destination for the night. We had a cabin at Big Sur River Inn, pricey at $125+tax but that included dinner and breakfast at the restaurant attached to the Inn. The room didn’t have a TV, the receptionist said that none of the hotels there had TV as there was no reception, but we found that there was a TV in the restaurant bar, so we’re not sure how that all worked.
The next morning we headed to Monterey, and stopped there for a few hours to watch the sea-lions playing in the harbour and for a spot of lunch. We had a room booked at a Best Western hotel near to San Francisco airport and so arrived there late afternoon on the Monday and relaxed in the very comfortable room.