Holidays in San Simeon Are Merry and Bright: Hearst Castle Offering Evening Tours Now Through Year's End
Visitors to Hearst Castle can view the palatial estate after sundown during the final Evening Tour series of the year, an annual program which features not only an extended viewing of the mansion's buildings and grounds but also tableaus by Living History Program volunteers playing social guests and house staff. Currently running only on Friday and Saturday nights, during the last three weeks of December the after-hours add-on will be operational every night through December 30th, with Christmas décor in full effect.
At one hour and forty minutes -- though Castle staff advise planning for more than two -- the Evening Tour is more than twice as long as the regular daytime excursions offered at the former home of newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst, and guests are guided through areas not shown together in any other one tour, including guest house Casa del Mar, the kitchen, library, theater, and Hearst's private Gothic Suite in Casa Grande, the main house.
In their authentic 1930s costumes, actors in the Living History Program add an element of theatre unique to the evening tours as they lounge poolside, play cards, or manage the kitchen as the Castle's chefs. The Living History Program is one of a handful of volunteer opportunities the Castle offers and organizes, and participants are employed both on-site during the Evening Tour seasons as well as occasional off-site events.
Evening tours have been offered at the Castle since 1989 and are intended to expand visitor's experiences beyond simply seeing the estate's opulence by emphasizing the unique social scene over which Hearst presided. Coming by plane, train, or automobile, Hollywood glitterati like Greta Garbo and Charlie Chaplin regularly rubbed elbows with political game changers such as Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt at the Ranch, Hearst's affectionate appellation for the 90,000-plus square foot property. Built over a period of almost thirty years beginning in 1919 and completed just a few years before Hearst's death, the Castle is now recorded on both state and national registers as a historic landmark. It is the namesake of Hearst San Simeon State Park, which includes the nature preserves and campgrounds in the surrounding areas of the Castle, as well as the elephant seal breeding ground at Piedras Blancas beach.
Although this summer's drought caused a draining of the outdoor Neptune Pool, one of the Castle's signature sites, and a substitution of portable toilets for the real thing in the welcome center, the Castle has hosted more than 36 million tourists since opening its doors to the public in 1958, so the staff's biggest advice for seeing an Evening Tour during the holidays may be no surprise: get your tickets early as they tend to sell out.