December 20, 2017

3-day Vintage Christmas at Hearst Castle

9611537122_2bc6a09da3_b-700x527DAY 1 – SOLVANG

Our journey to California’s scenic central coast began on a Tuesday morning with 42 excited tour members and Ernesto as our bus driver.  We drove through smoke from the Thomas Fire burning in the Santa Ynez Mountains above the cities of Carpinteria, Montecito and Santa Barbara.  We were told that local celebrities such as Rob Lowe and Oprah Winfrey were told to evacuate their multi-million dollar homes in the hills above Montecito.

The very Danish town of Solvang was our first official tour stop, and it never disappoints!  Solvang was founded in 1911 by a group of Danes who came out to California from the Midwest, primarily to escape the cold winters. Today the town is home to a number of bakeries, restaurants, and merchants offering a taste of Denmark. The architecture of many of the facades and buildings reflects traditional Danish style, but it didn’t happen by accident.  Initially, most of Solvang’s buildings were built in the same style as other towns in the area, however that was all changed by two men who were instrumental in the transformation of Solvang to the Danish-style village we know today.

25158340_10159499558105417_3818261202010691337_nAfter World War II, Ferdinand Sorensen, after returning to Solvang from a trip to Denmark, decided to build the town’s first Møllebakken, or Danish-styled home.  He then went on to build the first of the town’s four windmills. A few years later, Earl Petersen, a local architect, gave the older buildings a new look, adding facades in the so-called “Danish Provincial” style.

As a result of these two men’s vision and hard work, Solvang has gained a reputation for its old-world charm, and  has become a major California tourist attraction, with over one million visitors per year.  There is even a copy of the famous Little Mermaid statue from Copenhagen. (3:1 scale replica) as well as a museum devoted to Hans Christian Andersen, Denmark’s renowned Fairy Tale Writer.  Another landmark in Solvang is a replica of Copenhagen’s Round Tower or Rundetårn (3:1 scale replica)

Many people come to Solvang to shop for imported Danish items, however I think the town’s unique food offerings are equally enticing!  I always tell my tour members to be sure to try Almond Kringle and the Danish Butter Cookies at one of many of Solvang’s Bakeries. (My favorite is Olsen’s Danish Bakery out on the highway) Solvang Bakery is also famous for their gingerbread houses, and they have a huge online mail order business.  (You can easily spend up to $500 for specially-made gingerbread house!)

25158232_10159499558285417_3431792687847682787_nOther food items to try include the famous Danish spiced pork sausage, and æbleskiver, Danish Pancakes with powdered sugar and raspberry jam which are available at Solvang Restaurant on Copenhagen St. from their take-out window.

When you’re in Solvang, it’s impossible to miss the storks (sculptures) on the roof tops!  In Denmark these birds are believed to bring good luck and protection to any household they nest upon. Danish people would go to great lengths to attract them to their rooftops, putting up stick nests and wheels, hoping a stork would come.

From Solvang, we took the scenic route through beautiful Santa Ynez Valley, filled with vineyards and horse farms made famous in the movie Sideways. Our route took us by the Quicksilver Miniature Horse Farm and the charming community of Los Olivos, home to the Fess Parker Wine Country Inn and Fess Parker Winery. This area was also home to Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch.

apple_farm_innBack on Hwy. 101, we headed through Pismo Beach and enjoyed the always stunning ocean views here before continuing on to our overnight accommodations at the Apple Farm Inn in San Luis Obispo.  People always rave about this place, and for good reason!  The cozy rooms are a wonderful mix of charming old and modern new furnishings and all contain gas fireplaces.  Antiques fill the hallways and the whole place was totally decked out for the holidays.  The hotel has a wonderful restaurant, that includes a bakery with homemade pies, pastries and even gingerbread men.  Their gift shop contains one-of-a-kind items and is a perfect place to do a little Christmas shopping for those hard to buy for people.   Everyone always enjoys the complimentary beverages in the lobby here, including hot chocolate and hot apple cider.  Our included group welcome dinner in the restaurant was very well done and people really enjoyed the food.

25157969_10159503534380417_5790329061869961370_nDAY 2 – SAN LUIS OBISPO, CAMBRIA, HEARST CASTLE

We started our day with a driving tour of San Luis Obispo.  Our first stop was at Bubble Gum Alley, perhaps the city’s most talked about attraction.  In fact, it has been featured on a number of television shows, including the Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson. Known for its accumulation of used bubble gum on the walls, this 15-foot high, 70-foot long alley was supposedly started in the late 1950s as a rivalry between San Luis Obispo High School and Cal Poly students.

Our driving tour continued by the Children’s Museum, the beautiful old Carnegie Library (now a historical museum) en route to the city’s main attraction, Mission San Luis Obispo.

Leaving San Luis Obispo, our route took us along scenic Hwy. 101 past Morro Bay. This town’s most striking feature is Morro Rock, a 576-foot high volcanic plug. Morro Rock stands majestically at the entrance to the harbor and is quite spectacular. There is no public access to the rock itself because it is a reserve for the locally endangered peregrine falcon.

25354139_10159499559155417_1480581375463463670_nWe made a brief drive down the main drag of tiny Harmony, CA (population 18), a town that was originally settled by Swiss-Italian dairy farmers. The Harmony Valley Dairy Co-op was founded in 1901 and, at its peak, the creamery employed 10 workers, producing high quality dairy products that gave Harmony name recognition statewide. Tourists traveling Hwy 1 often stopped for fresh buttermilk and famed publisher William Randolph Hearst stopped often in Harmony on his way to his opulent home in San Simeon, 12 miles northwest, as did many of the Hollywood celebrities who were frequent guests of Hearst.  After the Hearst era, the town fell onto hard times but was rediscovered in the 1970s by California’s young counter-culture population.  Today a small group of artisans keep Harmony alive, with retail shops selling art objects, locally hand-blown glass and pottery, and there is also Harmony Cellars which produces quality local wines.

Coastal Bluff Trail Wildflowers Cambria California 3We stopped for lunch and some shopping time in charming Cambria, which started out as a mining town back in 1862 with the discovery of cinnabar, the mineral in which quicksilver is found.  It became a boom time for a while, before the price of mercury declined.  A second boom happened in the early 1900s with the building of nearby Hearst Castle. Cambria provided supplies, services, and accommodations for many who came to build the Castle, creating prosperity in the town. Today, the primary economic activity of Cambria is tourism, and there are many wonderful shops and restaurants to choose from as well as charming hotels and bed & breakfasts.  Without a doubt, everyone’s favorite restaurant in Cambria is Linn’s, which is most famous for their Olallieberry pie. The olallieberry is a cross between the loganberry and the youngberry which was developed in 1935 by the USDA and Oregon State University.  The best way to enjoy this pie is warmed up with ice cream melting on top.  Many of my tour passengers opted to forego lunch and go straight to dessert!

15590518_1590454684301640_6953881066153477172_nNone too soon, it was on to the tour’s main attraction, Hearst Castle.  There is lots of great shopping and a wonderful film at the visitor center here, which we enjoyed before boarding park service buses for our 5-mile journey up La Cuesta Encantada, or the Enchanted Hill.

This spectacular mansion was designed by architect Julia Morgan between 1919 and 1947 for newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst.  In 1957, the Hearst Corporation donated the property to the state of California.

When Hearst originally approached Julia Morgan and told her that he would like to build on the hill at San Simeon, he actually had something simple in mind.  As a child he had camped here, but told Morgan that he was getting too old to sleep in tents and that he would like to build something that was a little more comfortable.

What he ended up with was a 90,000 sq. ft. castle with 56 bedrooms, 61 bathrooms, 19 sitting rooms, 127 acres of gardens, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, tennis courts, a movie theater, an airfield, and the world’s largest private zoo!  Zebras and other exotic animals still roam the grounds.

hearstchristmastreeInvitations to Hearst Castle were highly coveted during its heyday in the 1920s and ’30s. The Hollywood and political elite often visited, usually flying into the estate’s airfield or taking a private Hearst-owned train car from Los Angeles.

On our “Grand Rooms Tour” we got to get a little taste of what it would have been like to be a guest at the castle.  We could not have had nicer weather and the late afternoon sun cast a beautiful glow on the castle, which was perfect for picture taking.  Outside the castle, we saw the fabulous Neptune Pool which was a popular gathering place during the day for Hearst guests.  Inside the castle, our tour visited the evening reception room where guests would have gathered before dinner as well as the formal dining room, which was beautifully decorated for the holidays. The tour ended in Hearst’s own private movie studio, where we watched silent film footage of Hearst himself entertaining his A-list guests.  Our exit back to the bus was via the indoor Roman pool which is truly spectacular.

This evening’s accommodations were in nearby San Simeon at the oceanfront Cavalier Resort.  Many enjoyed a stroll along the beach before enjoying an included dinner.


A beautiful and clear weather morning was in store for us at spectacular Moonstone Beach.   We combed the beach looking for moonstones and walked on the scenic one-mile boardwalk along the rocky coast.  Some of our group saw some sea otters and sometimes when we visit here, we also see whales and dolphins.

Moonstone is actually sodium potassium aluminum silicate and is an igneous rock that comes in many different colors, although it’s the milky white translucent stones which seem to be the most coveted.

Moonstone has been used in jewelry for millennia, including ancient civilizations. Romans admired moonstone, as they believed it was born from solidified rays of the Moon.

Our last official tour stop of the tour was at beautiful Mission Santa Barbara, called the Queen of Missions for its graceful beauty. The mission was the 10th of 21 built up the California coast, and was founded by Father Fermin Lasuen. Mission Santa Barbara’s name comes from the legend of Saint Barbara, a girl who was supposedly beheaded by her father for following the Christian Faith.  The mission continues to serve the community as a parish church.

The drive along the coast was beautiful and, all too soon, it was time to head back to San Diego with many happy memories of our 3-days of exploration.

25348410_10159504586350417_2822144666949076192_nMark Jacobson
DayTripper Tour Director

Tour: Christmastime at Hearst Castle
Date: December 12-14, 2017


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