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If you need more reasons to visit Hearst Castle.

If you need more reasons to visit Hearst Castle

William Randolph Hearst liked to refer to San Simeon as "The Ranch," but the opulent grandeur of his hilltop hideaway might have drawn the envy of Kublai Khan. The ultimate expression of the legendary newspaperman's personal wealth (and of Julia Morgan's architectural mastery), Hearst Castle was a private preserve from its construction in the 1920s until 1957, when the Hearst family donated it to the state. Since then, guided tours have allowed more than 20 million visitors to glimpse a way of life that rivaled the most extravagant fantasies enacted by Hearst's movie-star guests.

But facilities for people waiting to tour the property were surprisingly crude-- especially considering that the Hearst San Simeon State Historical Monument is the state park system's most profitable attraction. That has changed. A large new visitor center completed last summer now makes the wait more pleasant, and even offers something for drop-in coast-combers when the tours are full.

The new center's exhibit hall opens this month. Graphic displays and memorabilia document Hearst's far-flung interests and pursuits, ranging from politics to art collecting. Original drawings by Julia Morgan suggest the creative process that resulted in "La Cuesta Encantada" (The Enchanted Hill). Also in the exhibit are some fine examples from Hearst's enormous art collection, including an ancient Roman mosaic and two Italian Renaissance paintings.

Across from the exhibit area, a wall of windows lets you look on as experts restore other pieces of art from the castle. A chalkboard identifies work in progress.

Nearby campground is also improved

The state has revamped its campground at San Simeon State Beach, adding rest rooms with showers. The main camping area along San Simeon Creek has sites for recreational vehicles and car camping as well as for hikers and cyclists.

Perched on the hillside above, the smaller Washburn area lacks some of the amenities and landscaping of the lower camp, but offers superb coastal views.

The campground entrance is 5 miles south of the Hearst Castle turnoff on State Highway 1. Fees are $10 a night for the improved sites, $6 for the Washburn sites. For information on lodgings in the area, call the San Simeon Chamber of Cammerce at (805) 927-3500 or the Cambria chamber at 927-3624.

Reserve tours, campsites in advance

Reservations for Hearst Castle tours and the state beach campsites can be made up to town months in advance through Mistix; call (800) 444-7275. Each of the four tours offered costs $10 for adults, $5 for ages 6 through 12. You can also buy tour tickets at the visitor center, but since these often sell out in advance, reservations are strongly recommended.

If you've toured the castle before and would like to see something different, try Tour 4. It focuses on the estate's formal gardens, in full bloom this time of year.

Photo: Neo-mission-style visitor center is new starting point for buses carrying visitors up to ridgetop complex

Photo: Portrait of the tycoon as a young man hangs in Hearst's private Gothic study. Visitors on Tour 2 learn about the room's medieval Treasures

Photo: Cathedral-size Casa Grande was actually inspired by a cathedral converted from a Moorish mosque in Ronda, Spain
COPYRIGHT 1988 Sunset Publishing Corp.
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Copyright 1988 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:California
Date:May 1, 1988
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