July 30, 2018

3-day Hearst Castle & the Gold Coast

Day 1: Santa Barbara

Day one of our 3-day journey to “La Cuesta Encantada” better known as Hearst Castle started with our first stop of the day in the picturesque city of Santa Barbara. I had many passengers on board that were going to be seeing Hearst Castle for the very first time and they were all looking forward to this trip. The weather was beautiful, we got our typical parking spot right near the Visitors Center and The Fishouse Restaurant where some of my passengers chose to have lunch. We had a little over two hours for lunch and shopping and taking in the beautiful ocean views along Cabrillo Avenue at Stearns Wharf. There were many options for lunch within walking distance of the bus or you could hop on the Shuttle that takes you up State Street right up to the very first shopping center in California. Some of my passengers chose to walk up State Street as did I and I found a great new Mexican restaurant called Santo Mezcal. It was just a few blocks away and they had indoor or outdoor seating. I thought I would be adventurous and try a new place and I was not disappointed. The way their food is described on their website says, modern contemporary Mexican cuisine, rooted in Mexican flavors and traditions that also celebrate local and seasonal ingredients from the Santa Barbara and surrounding regions”.

When it was time for everybody to board the bus again we were off to visit the historic Santa Barbara County Courthouse. It is a fully functioning court house dedicated in 1929 and was called “the grandest Spanish Colonial Revival Structure ever built” by the architect Charles Willard Moore. There is plenty to see inside and outside. The grounds have a collection of palms and other trees that are from more than 25 different countries. There are hand painted ceilings, imported tiles, wrought iron chandeliers and giant murals. Most of us ventured up to the 4th floor which you can now reach by elevator all the way to the top for that 360 degree view of Santa Barbara to view the ocean to the west, the Santa Ynez Mountains to the east and we even caught a glimpse of the Santa Barbara Mission in the distance which just happen to be our next stop.

We were back on the bus heading a short distance over to what is known as “The Queen of the Missions” founded in 1786 on the feast of Saint Barbara by the Spanish Franciscans. It is the 10th of our 21 Missions in California and is the only Mission with the two towers on either side. Saint Junipero Serra had planned to build this Mission but he died two years before it was built. The building is similar to the buildings built in the country side of Mexico in the early 1800’s. There is a self-guided tour you can take to see the inside of the church and the cemetery where approximately 4,000 Indians are buried, including Juana Maria, the lone woman of San Nicolas Island. Her life was portrayed in the book, “Island of the Blue Dolphins” and she was buried at the Mission in 1853. It is also the final resting place of many of the Franciscan Friars and other people who were part of the early history of California.

Before we knew it, it was already time to board the bus and start heading to San Luis Obispo to check into our lovely hotel. With the exception of one passenger and myself, it was the first time passengers were staying at The Apple Farm Inn. The only way I can describe The Apple Farm Inn, is a cozy Victorian style hotel. Each room is uniquely decorated. There is a restaurant where we had our welcome dinner and our breakfast, a bakery, a Millhouse with a water wheel, (that Barbra Streisand duplicated on her Malibu property because she loved it so much) a two-story gift shop where you can purchase their famous apple butter, jellies, wine and more. The Apple Farm Inn is by far one of my favorite places to stay. And did I mention the fresh warm chocolate chip cookies for each passenger? The hospitality is warm and friendly. They make you feel like you are right at home. After our welcome dinner passengers were on their own for the rest of the evening for a little shopping in the gift shop or a swim in the pool. We had an early wake up call so most of us called it a night to be ready for day-2 of our journey to Hearst Castle.

Day 2: Bubblegum Alley & Hearst Castle

The next day after our hearty morning breakfast we were on the bus heading into downtown San Luis Obispo to make two quick stops that are a “must” if you are visiting San Luis Obispo. Our first stop was to the strangest landmark they have called Bubblegum Alley where we could create our own bubblegum graffiti on the wall. It’s not for everybody but many of my passengers had a lot of fun blowing bubbles and partaking in the “rite of passage” so to speak. It’s a great place for a “selfie”. There are a couple of stories of how the tradition was started. Some say that it was started by the local high school after graduation ceremonies and others as a rival between the high school and Cal Poly students. Well, no matter how it started it is here to stay. Local businesses tried washing the gum off the wall but it wouldn’t last long so I guess they gave up.

Next up just a few blocks away was our visit to Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa built in 1772 by Saint Junipero Serra named after Saint Louis of Anjou, the Bishop of Toulouse, France. Like many of our Missions it is an active church today. At this particular Mission, if it is open you can go inside the church and walk the gardens free which many of us took advantage of. We were all in awe of the grapevines hanging above us and we could tell that they were old by the thickness of the roots in the ground. The grounds were beautiful like all of our Missions. After our visit to the Mission we were headed north to spend a little time in the quaint town of Cambria. As we were making our way to Cambria I pointed out Morro rock, a volcanic plug in Morro Bay that connects to the shore so they call it a “tied island”. It’s a massive rock that has been seen by explorers dating back as early as 1542 by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo. It is also considered a sacred site by the Chumash Indians who don’t believe it should be climbed. It is illegal for the general public to climb it but the Salinan tribes climb it, much to the dismay of the Chumash during their biannual solstice ceremonies.

Another note of interest along the way was the very small town of Harmony population 18. Yes, you read that correctly. It’s only 2.5 acres and basically one street long. It was founded in 1869 as a dairy settlement and there use to be a creamery until it closed in the 1950’s. William Randolph Hearst and other celebrities would stop for buttermilk and cheese before they made their way up to the castle. The town was purchased a few years ago by a graduate of Cal Poly who plans to turn it into another tourist destination. I’m looking forward to that. Well, we arrived in Cambria a little before 10:00am, where my passengers were on their own to shop and visit the Cambria Historical Society which happens to be open on Monday’s so we got lucky. It is Cambria’s oldest home built in 1870 named after the two families that occupied it. The Guthrie-Bianchini house. There changing exhibits, a gift shop and some original furnishings to the home. The friendly docents are eager to tell you about the history of the home and the town of Cambria. If you like history then it’s a must visit. There is a restaurant in town called Linn’s where you can purchase one of their famous Olallieberry (pronounced oh-la-leh) pies. A fruit grown locally on the Linn farm. It’s a cross between a Loganberry and a Youngberry that was first developed in 1949 at Oregon State University. I have yet to try one but I understand they are very good.

While some passengers chose to stay in Cambria for a little bit longer my other passengers had the option of going down to Moonstone beach which wasn’t too far of a drive to search for those beautiful Cambria Moonstones. The tide was perfect for a search through the sand. I gave everyone a small plastic bag to collect any that they could find. The Cambria Moonstones are a different mineral than the genuine Moonstones found in places like India, Sri Lanka and other parts of Europe. Those are made up of a mineral called Feldspar. The Cambria moonstones are made of a mineral called Chalcedony. They both have a transparent look with a cloud like type center and come in different colors. If you are not able to find them on the beach you can buy some in one of the local stores, as many passengers have discovered. I did have a few passengers find stones that looked very close. Some passengers took advantage of the beautiful scenery of the coast line, taking photographs and video. We even saw a few seals bobbing in the water. It was an absolute gorgeous day with spectacular views.

My driver Ernesto went back to Cambria to pick up the rest of our passengers and then we all headed over for lunch at the Cavalier Ocean Front Resort in San Simeon. After lunch we were back on the bus heading to the Hearst Castle Visitors center just down the road where all the tours start. First thing on the agenda, watching the movie “Building the Dream” in the IMAX theater. Spectacular scenery as if you are actually flying over the hills as you watch on the screen. It’s just a 40-minute film and then we all headed to the line for our tours. Passengers had a choice of going on the Grand Tour, the Cottage & Kitchen tour or the Upstairs Suite tour. There is a shuttle bus that takes you up the hill from the visitors center which is about 6 miles. Today’s Visitors Center is where the airplane hanger use to be. In 1947 the air strip was moved about a mile north and is still used by the Hearst family today. And only used by the Hearst family.

As you ride in the shuttle up to the castle you can hear the voice of Alex Trebec explain some of what you are saying as you make your way to the top. He talks about all the animals that use to make up the world’s largest private zoo and mentions names of celebrities who would have made the same journey that we were taking. George Hearst, Williams father purchased the land in San Simeon back in 1865 starting with around 43,000 acres. It eventually grew to 250,000 acres. George made his fortune in mining but never on the land that he purchased in San Simeon. He owned interest in some of the most important claims in the U.S., including the Comstock Lode in Nevada, the Ontario silver mine in Utah, the Homestake gold mine in South Dakota and the Anaconda copper mine in Montana. The Comstock, Homestake and Anaconda claims would become three of the largest mining discoveries in American history.

When George died, his wife Phoebe (Williams mother) inherited the land and when she passed away in 1919 it was passed on to their only son William Randolph who dreamed of building a “little something” as he once said on the hill where he use to camp as a boy with his parents. They all loved San Simeon and even though he had six other mansions, Hearst Castle was his favorite. He simply called it, “The Ranch”. He started building Hearst Castle in 1919 until 1947 with architect Julia Morgan. It was actually never finished. He loved to tinker and he would change things on a whim. He would also buy art with no real plan of how it would fit into the design of the castle. He would say to Julia Morgan, “here I bought this, see how you can fit it somewhere”. She was happy to oblige him. After his declining health he left Hearst Castle for the last time in 1947 to live out his days in Beverly Hills with his companion, the actress Marion Davies. That is a whole story in and of itself. Basically he was married and had 5 sons with Millicent who never would grant him a divorce. He openly shared his life with Marion Davies and she once wrote him a check for $1 million dollars when he found himself in debt. They were together for 32 years.

As you walk through the house on the tour and listen to the docent describe the art and tapestries you are seeing, the gigantic fireplaces, 61 of them I think you just start imagining what it must have been like for all those celebrities to arrive and how they would have spent their time. They would have been in awe just like us I suppose and they looked up the hill to see this grand castle unlike anything else in America. It truly is a site to see and not just the main house but the outside gardens and the indoor Roman pool as well. They are still repairing the outdoor Neptune pool which they hope to have repaired and filled with water very soon. There is plenty to see though on the tour. If you have never taken a trip to Hearst Castle I recommend going with DayTripper Tours so you can leave the driving to us. The tours last about 1.5 hours and then we had time on our own to walk around in the gardens, take in the view and just imagine that we were just a guest at this magnificent castle on the hill.

Heading back down the hill to the visitors center you see some of the left over enclosures from the some of the animals that Hearst had on the property. He wanted his guests to be able to see them up close. As our bus got closer to the visitors center we were able to see about 30 zebra that still roam the property today. They are the descendants of the animals that once roamed the property long ago. Once we got back to the Visitors Center there was time for shopping in the gift shop to pick up a souvenir or two and then we were back on the bus heading back to The Apple Farm Inn for our second night where everyone was on their own for dinner.

There were several options for passengers for dinner. Some chose to eat at the hotel in the restaurant. Others took an Uber to the Madonna Inn just the next exit off the freeway. I met some of my passengers in the lobby and we walked to Gino’s Pizza. They deliver to the hotel and seniors get 10% off so a few passengers who were too tired to walk chose that option. There are several restaurants within walking distance from the hotel. Gino’s was the closest and it was a good choice. The food was very good. There was also the Splash Café famous for their clam chowder and Frank’s famous hot dogs well known in San Luis Obispo. It was a nice evening for a walk and after dinner we all retired to our rooms or did a little more shopping the cutest gift shop you will ever see. Funny store about the gift shop. The singer Josh Groban once stopped there with his tour bus and went in the gift shop to buy a cigar. He discovered he didn’t have any money so he went out to his bus and borrowed his brothers credit card. Just one of many celebrity stories that I know about the Apple Farm Inn.

Day 3: Solvang

Well, our last day of the tour started with another hearty breakfast and the group photo before we were on the road again heading back to San Diego. But the trip was over yet. As we headed south on the 101, we exited the freeway and drove through the small town of Los Olivos where scenes from the 2004 movie Sideways were filmed. Also home to the Fess Parker winery. You may remember Fess Parker played Davy Crockett in the Daniel Boone Disney series. Fess and his wife Marcella lived in Santa Barbara for 30 years. He passed away in 2010 but his family still carries on his legacy and love for wine making today. We continued a little further stopping for a photo op at the Quick Silver Miniature Horse ranch. Everybody loves to see the miniature horses. They are very cute. They weigh between 100 and 200 lbs. and can be seen in the Rose Parade every year. They are also used as therapy animals for those who suffer from PTSD and anxiety. Although they make great pets, it’s not legal to have one in your own backyard in California so their owners board them here at the farm and come visit twice a month. It’s always a quick stop for us but a popular one.

We soon arrived in Solvang for passengers to have time on their own to walk around this cute Danish town which means “Sunny Meadows” founded by three Danish men from Iowa back in 1911. I pointed out to my passengers where they could find a time capsule that will be opened in 2061 on the 150th anniversary of its founding. It’s is very close to the public restrooms. You will have to look for it the next time you are in Solvang.

After our time was up in Solvang we headed just across the freeway to the town of Buellton where we had lunch at Pea Soup Andersons. Famous for their Split Pea Soup. They have been around for 94 years and our very much a part of the history of the Santa Ynez Valley. A very popular place to stop to eat if you were heading to San Francisco from Los Angeles perhaps. My grandparents who lived in San Jose use to stop there every time for their Split Pea Soup. The restaurant was started by Anton and Juliette Andersen. Anton was born in Denmark so it has that Danish flare inside and out. They have a huge gift shop where you can buy some of their Split Pea Soup and take it home with you. Folks going up to visit Hearst Castle would also make a stop there. In its heyday many of the Hearst writers and reporters would stop for a bite to eat and would write about it in their newspaper columns.

We definitely did not go hungry on this trip. We were well fed and after lunch we were back on the bus and heading back home to San Diego. Our driver Ernesto did a great job, as always getting us home. We even got home 15 minutes ahead of schedule. We made a couple of comfort stops along the way before we made it back to our first drop off location in La Costa. This is one of my favorite overnight tours. Even if you have already seen Hearst Castle you can always try a different tour the next time around and get a different experience with different passengers. You never know who you might meet along the way. It was a wonderful three days and I look forward to leading this tour again. Maybe you will join me next time and don’t forget to check our catalog for the Hearst Castle tours in December which I have done before too. The castle is decorated beautiful at Christmas time.

Until next time. Happy Trails everyone!!

Donna D’Alia
DayTripper Tour Manager

Tour: 3-day Hearst Castle & the Gold Coast
Date: July 22-24, 2018


Categories: Blog