Hearst Castle

Our weekend in Paso Robles/San Luis Obispo ended with a drive home on the iconic Pacific Coast Highway or Highway 1, with a stop at Hearst Castle. We were not exactly on our travel game for Hearst Castle and could’ve improved our experience by planning ahead.

#1 sightseeing tip: Always make reservations in advance for popular sites!

#2 sightseeing tip: Arrive as close to the opening time as possible!

We neglected to do these things, and by the time we arrived at the castle around 11:30 A.M. we weren’t able to get into a tour until 2:00. Doesn’t seem like that big of a deal but when you’re traveling with kids, timing is everything.  2:00 happens to be right at the time of day our daughter normally naps. So we were faced with the dilemma of keeping her up vs. try to squeeze in a short nap and having to wake her mid-snooze. Oh, and we also needed to fit lunch in somewhere.

We decided to drive a few miles down the road to find a restaurant to eat at. By the time we got there, our daughter was asleep. We thought it best to let her sleep as long as possible so we got in the car and drove a few miles north of the castle to an elephant seal viewing area. We took turns getting out of the car to look at the seals who were sunbathing close to the viewing platform. I was able to snap a couple pictures before our next travel mistake…full memory card.

#3 sightseeing tip: Always make sure your memory card and battery are squared away before you leave!

We should’ve had an extra memory card with us, but we didn’t. So we had to resort to scanning through pictures and deleting unnecessary ones in the car on the way back to the castle for our tour. Therefore, we really didn’t have any great pictures of the seals on the beach. Fail.

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Here’s the one photo I was able to snap.

We made it back to the visitor center of the castle and had just enough time to grab lunch at the cafe inside. Nothing much to write home about here. Burgers, hotdogs, chicken fingers, and $8.00 slices of pizza…ouch! Eating before your tour is important though because there is absolutely no food or drinks at the top of the hill where the castle is. We also made sure to allow enough time to view the movie Hearst Castle: Building the Dream in the 5 story theater at the visitor center.  Viewing the movie before your tour will help you build an understanding of William Randolph Hearst, the man who built the castle.

Then it was time to board our bus to take us up the hill to the estate.  The bus has a narration by Alex Trebeck letting you know what you’re seeing on the way up.  Watch for animals as there are still a special type of deer and zebras roaming the hills below the property.  Once atop the hill, which is more than a hill but less than a mountain, you are greeted with the gorgeous spanish style mansion and gardens.  You will meet a tour guide on the stairs immediately after disembarking the bus.  The whole bus full of people is your tour group, so if you’re looking for a small, intimate tour-think again.

This was our first tour in a while, most of the tours we did in Europe were when our daughter was at an age where she was happy to sit quietly in her stroller.  I will never forget the tour guide at the Houses of Parliament in London praising her at 5 months old for being “the most well-behaved child on a tour EVER.”  Well gone are those days.  Now she is an active and mobile 2 year old who has her own opinions on what to do.

If you plan to bring young children to Hearst Castle I will just warn you not to let them touch the pond!  There are handlers placed in the courtyard for the sole purpose of making sure no one touches the marble pond.  Challenging when the pond is ground height and has fish swimming around in it,  tempting even the most well-behaved children to lean in and take a look.

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Do not touch or lean on the surrounding marble in any way! You will be called out if you do (or if your child does)!

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Here I am struggling to keep our daughter off the marble while my hubby sets up the camera for a family shot. I’m sure I was yelled at 0.5 seconds after this was taken.

The tour of the home itself was about 45 minutes long.  It was informative and often invited you to imagine yourself as a guest of Mr. Hearst and what it might be like.  Hearing the stories, seeing the film, and visiting the property made me think of The Great Gatsby.  It seemed to be a real life version.  My husband didn’t get as much enjoyment out of the tour because he was busy occupying our restless tot.  But they had fun looking at the “scary guys” on walls and finding other fun things to look at.  The tour ends in the home’s theater where you can see some short reels of William Hearst and his famous friends at the house in it’s heyday.  When the tour ends you’re free to roam the gardens and the exterior for as long as you like before boarding a bus to go back down to the visitor center.  Sadly, the exterior pool was drained for maintenance during our visit.  From pictures and what I saw, it would truly be the jewel of the property when it is full and in working order.  HearstCastle1

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The indoor Roman pool, just about the most fabulous pool I think I’ve ever seen.

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All in all it was a fun visit! Hearst Castle is one of the highlights of the Central California Coast.  I would say though not super “kid-friendly” don’t let having kids stop you from making a visit.  Just know your own children and plan accordingly!  We drove home on the Pacific Coast Highway and saw why you hear so much about it.  The views are stunning, and that is an understatement!  So ended our long weekend away.  Our next getaway will be up to Sonoma Valley, and we’re really looking forward to it!  Feel free to leave any Sonoma recommendations in the comments!

San Luis Obispo

We coupled a visit to San Luis Obispo with our time in Paso Robles. The two cities are only about 20-30 minutes apart. Our first stop was actually not in San Luis Obispo, but closer to Avila Beach. Avila Valley Barn is a short drive from San Luis Obispo and a worthwhile stop if you are traveling with young kids. Upon arriving at the farm we jumped right in line for a hayride. A tractor pulled us around a short loop through pumpkin vines and apple trees. Next we hopped off our hay bales and explored the rest of what the barn has to offer.

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The farm had several animals to see and feed.

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Enjoying some live music.

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Having fun with Dad

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This cowgirl was excited for her pony ride.

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Just driving her tractor! There were a couple old tractors out for kids to climb up on.

A couple of the buildings are farm stands selling all sorts of goods. There are all types of produce, baked goods, canned goods, flowers, toys, and candy. I could’ve spent all afternoon perusing the merchandise, but sometimes a crying baby cuts the browsing short! One of the buildings also sells sandwiches, hot dogs, and ice cream perfect for a picnic lunch at the tables outside. We opted for a snack of blackberries and a smoked artichoke with pesto aioli.  The artichoke was so delicious, probably the best I’ve ever had!  And the aioli was so good our daughter was trying to eat spoonfuls of it by itself!avila farm foodavila farm goodsBy this time we had pretty much seen and done everything at the barn. So we hopped back in the car and took a quick drive out to Avila Beach to get a look at the water. Then we headed back to San Luis Obispo. We met up with our friend on Higuera Street which is a fun area of shops and restaurants. Firestone Grill was recommended to us for the tri-tip sandwich. They also serve burgers, fries, pulled pork, and chicken sandwiches. It was cheap, good, and big portions. Then we wandered the rest of the street stopping in at Rocket Fizz for a treat for our daughter and Kreuzberg Coffee Company for a drink for me!  IMG_2624

The mission in San Luis Obispo.

The mission in San Luis Obispo.

Our final stop before returning back to Paso Robles for the night was the famed Madonna Inn. This hotel is a unique place that is ornately decorated and unlike any other hotel I’ve set foot in. Since we had already eaten, we just stopped in to take a look around, but I would’ve loved to sit and have a meal in their pink dining room. It actually looked like the perfect place to take a little girl for her birthday.  Pink, flowers, twinkle lights, colorful glasses…magical!madonna inn

The rainbow of goblets for sale like the ones used in the restaurant.

The rainbow of goblets for sale like the ones used in the restaurant.

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Kissing Daddy’s hand because she was so happy!

Of all the things in the gift shop, our little peanut was most excited over the princess jellybeans. So for $1.25 we made her day. It was a full day of fun for the whole family. We took the scenic route back and enjoyed coastal views and vistas through hills and vineyards. Along highway 46 we saw several more of Paso Robles’ wineries and wished we had allowed more time to go and visit a few. That’s alright though, because it gives us a reason to go back!