We left Malibu and headed to San Simeon State Park. Upon arriving and setting up we encountered something we had not experienced since leaving Houston in November….RAIN! We actually enjoyed listening to the rain on the roof, especially at night as it lulled us to sleep. We used the time inside to work on future reservations. It is amazing how time consuming it is to not only plan out a route, but also find campgrounds along the way. We try to carefully research each campground and read reviews so as not to be surprised or disappointed down the road. We have found that website pictures can be old and/or deceiving and they are not always as they appear on their website. With the rapidly approaching summer vacation travel season, as well as holidays such as Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day, we have to think way ahead and book early. All these wonderful places we want to go are also popular with everyone else!
The rain did stop in time for us to get in some time at the beach before heading to San Simeon State Park on April fourth. The main reason for stopping here was to see Hearst Castle. Our first day at San Simeon we decided to take a drive around the area and made an amazing discovery….an elephant seal rookery. This area along the beach about four miles north of Hearst Castle has hundreds of elephant seals which come to the area beginning in late November and early December to mate and or have their pups. The babies are born in late January to mid February. By the time we arrived the males had left and the females and young pups were still on the beach. The park service has built a very nice boardwalk where you can walk out and view the elephant seals. From the pictures it looks like they are dead, but they are very much alive. They were mainly sleeping while we were there, though occasionally they would use their fins to throw sand on their backs. During this time of year they will begin to molt. The seals first began coming to this area in 1990. One pup was born in 1990 and 5,000 were born in 2013. Most of the rookeries are on islands along California and Baja, Mexico, with the largest rookeries on the Channel Islands off of Santa Barbara, California. Because they were heavily hunted in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries for the oil from their blubber, their numbers were reduced to fewer than 50. They were protected by Mexico and the U.S. in the early twentieth century and the development of kerosene and refined petroleum left them with no commercial value the today the population has grown to approximately 175,000.
The next day we toured Hearst Castle. We bought the tour tickets online and arrived for our 10:00 tour at a very nice visitors center with gift shop, restaurant and small theater. Bill told me we would take a bus to the castle on top of the “hill”, but I had no idea the ride would be 5 miles long on a curvy, narrow mountainous road! These types of roads seem to be my destiny now! In 1919, newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst hired San Francisco architect Julia Morgan to build a “house” on his San Simeon ranch. The project lasted until 1947! At that time female architects were rare but Julia Morgan proved herself to be a very talented and hard working architect. The castle is of a Mediterranean revival design and is filled with art and antiques from Hearst’s personal collection. Everything was very ornate from the wood carved ceilings in the dining room the huge fireplace to the light fixtures The tour guide took us into the theater and we watched a collection of home movies of Hearst and some of his famous guests including Charlie Chaplin, Clark Gable and Carole Lombard. The grounds had beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean with gardens as well as a Neptune Pool on the outside and a Roman Pool on the inside which was 10 feet deep throughout and gold inlaid tile.
After our tour and spending some time enjoying the gardens, we rode the bus back down the “hill” which was even scarier with the narrow road and no guard rails. Once back at the Visitors Center we watched a forty five minute movie on the life of Hearst which was very interesting and talked about how he toured Europe as a small child with his mother which gave some insight into why he built this castle on the hill.
Upon Hearst’s death, his heirs honored his request to share the castle with people, and thereby gave the castle to the state of California in the early 1950’s and today it is a state park and managed by the California park service.