On a bicycle tour down the West Coast, like crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, you cannot miss visiting the Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California. After riding down the Big Sur south of Monterrey, a stop at this most visited tourist destination will astound you, amaze you, inspire you, and completely overwhelm you as to human ingenuity, architectural creativity and the power of money.
Most Americans know about Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart, Neil Armstrong, Jane Goodall, Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy and Princess Diana. But how many know about George Vanderbilt, Nellie Bly, Barbara Jordan and Sally ride? Answer: less than one percent of Americans could tell you their identities. At the same time, each changed America in profound ways.
There's another American out there that few remember and fewer still could tell you his accomplishments. Without a doubt, he was the most colorful, arrogant, traveled, renowned and accomplished American ever to step foot on the national stage. He grew up with millions of dollars at his disposal. He enjoyed his parent's money, their fame, and influence. He grew up with a multimillion dollar silver spoon in his mouth.
His name: William Randolph Hearst. Writer, traveler, art collector, businessman, U.S. Congressman, ran for U.S. president, owned six castles, owned 24 newspapers, created numerous magazines still in production today, created comics, political satire cartoons, owned Hearst Television Communications, thrust the USA into the Spanish-American War, built mansions, dated Hollywood celebrities, owned the largest private zoo in the world and influenced American politics for half a century.
No other American lived as colorfully, abundantly and richly as the man who built the $50,000,000.000 Hearst Castle. And for $30.00 and a five mile bus ride up to the Castle, you will enjoy a fairy tale like nothing you've ever seen or experienced before. From the Pacific Ocean, you will travel to an altitude of 1,600 feet, elegant bell towers, enormous castle walls, stupendous art and elegant pools along with statues of gods, princesses, horses, flowers and mythical creatures.
(Outdoor pool at the Hearst Castle)
On my bicycle, I have seen great works of humanity such as The Great Wall of China, Machu Picchu, Roman Coliseum, Eiffel Tower, Berlin Wall, Stonehenge and dozens more. All of them breathtaking! I've seen the Vanderbilt House, which is the largest mansion in America at 179,000 square feet. Richard Hunt designed that elegant monstrosity that no family could ever actually live in…but in fact could get lost in. It's beyond reasonable understanding why anyone would build such a home, but with unlimited money and ego, George Vanderbilt shelled out millions to build it.
Nonetheless, the Hearst Castle must be the most profoundly compelling castle in all of America. No, we don't have kings and queens. Castles dot Europe from centuries ago. But this man, and his five-foot tall architect Julia Morgan built the most amazing architectural wonder in the United States. From 1919 to 1937, she built the castle. Hundreds of workers, materials and gargantuan effort went into that castle.
After locking our bikes to the front of the guard rails, we bought tickets to see the main rooms of the castle. On the ride up, we passed the longest horseback covered trail, called a pergola, in the world. We wound our way to the steps of the castle.
Upon climbing the steps, we stood stunned at the opulence of the statues, flower gardens, guest houses, and…then, the guide took us to the most incredible pool in the world: the Neptune Pool. It's 102 feet long, 7 to 9 feet deep, aqua with black trim on the bottom. It's surrounded by Roman columns at both ends and a fountain with Neptune conquering the entire scene.
"This is the most elegant, profoundly beautiful and ornate pool in the world," I said. "It's beyond imagination into the surreal."
"To think that all the old movie stars swam in it like Clark Gable, Mary Pickford, Henry Fonda, and even the writer, Jack London," Sandi said.
From there, we walked past the enormous iron front door to a side door into the castle. Each room featured arches and a ceiling over 50 feet over our heads. You can hardly grasp the elegance of the paintings, the woven murals, the statues of history's greats. One vase in a corner aged at 3,500 years old. Priceless. Hearst had bought thousands of art items from Europe. He filled four warehouses. He placed hundreds of them in his rooms…all 140 of them.
We entered the dining area that sat over 60 people at one long table. He cleared it to become a dance floor. We followed the guide to the billiards room, also an enormous library, then, sitting rooms. We walked into a large movie theater where all the stars sat to watch over 100 of his movies. After an hour, we enjoyed the tennis courts, and finally an indoor pool with statues, gold tile and extraordinary art works throughout. We could hardly grasp the size, the elegance and the sheer wealth of the castle. There's not one castle in Europe that can compare. Some could argue, but I've seen plenty of them…dark, dank, cold and uncomfortable with no toilets or showers.
Sure, Hearst married a lady from NYC whom he fathered five boys with, but he kept his mistress Marion Davies for all of his life. Yes, plenty of scandal and intrigue! I highly recommend reading his biography. He lived life to the maximum.
Marion Davies, 37 years younger than Hearst, said, "Love is not always created at the altar. Love does not need a wedding ring."
I suspect that some love comes from the size of the man's bank account. Why is that? I've seen some pretty ugly guys with dazzlingly beautiful women.
After exiting the indoor pool, we boarded the bus to ride down past the zoo where he housed polar bears, zebras, seals, kangaroos, buffalo and so many other creatures.
"I'm totally stunned at the enormity and elegance of this castle," Sandi said.
"That makes two of us," I said. "I'm reading his 200,000 word biography titled, The Chief. He was loved and he was hated. Whatever could be said about him, he must be about the most colorful person that ever lived on this planet. All of it began because his father became a $20 million gold/silver baron, and he simply gave it all to Willie. From that fortune, Willie created an American legend."
"We hold that the greatest right in the world is the right to be wrong, that in the exercise thereof people have an inviolable right to express their unbridled thoughts on all topics and personalities, being liable only for the abuse of that right." William Randolph Hearst
The bus took us back to the visitor center. We enjoyed a 40 minute movie of Heart's life. He truly lived larger than life, with great enthusiasm, great artistic expression and uncommon gusto. I suspect if you started out in life with $20 million to spend, you too, would live an amazing life.
"Well, let's get on the bikes and find that campground," Sandi said. "I'm pretty exhausted from all that money, castle and wealth."
"Let's enjoy our simple lives," I said. "And find that campground. Let William Randolph Hearst's spirit inspire us to greater adventure. May our "castle" be a road that leads straight to the horizon."
Sandi and Frosty Wooldridge, on tour, West Coast. The best road is the one that leads straight to the horizon.
(Frosty at Golden Gate Bridge. Riding over it is like riding through a piece of artwork.)