The 240.2 miles drive takes about 3h 47min via US-101 S. It’s worth taking a weekend away here, as there is plenty to do in San Simeon besides the castle visit. The property overlooks the ocean from its hilltop perch – William Randolph Heart called it La Cuesta Encantada, the Enchanted Hill.
Once you have completed a tour there is no need to leave – stay for a meal at either the Chef’s Galley Café, La Cuesta Coffeehouse or the Camp Hill BBQ which served grilled meats in the visitor center courtyard, mainly in the summer months. The estate has over 25,000 artifacts spread through its 165 rooms and 123 acres of terraces, waterfalls, pools and fountains and exquisite gardens. Wander through the gothic style study, the reception rooms, and admire the lavish decoration, and the museum filled with Roman, Greek and Egyptian antiquities. Here you will see paintings, sculptures, and decorative art from European masters as well as Chinese and Eastern art.
Where: 750 Hearst Castle Rd, San Simeon, CA 93452
Hours: Daily 8 am to 4 pm.
Phone: (800) 444-4445 for tour reservations.
Cost: Tickets start from $25 for adults and $12 for children aged 5 – 12, children under 5 free.
An hour and 20 minutes from San Francisco is the Castle Amarosa in the Napa Valley where you can experience the grandeur of a 13th Century Tuscan castle painstakingly built in the style of Romanesque castles of the time. Rising grandly above the surrounding vineyards and Lake Mario, the castle is the perfect place for wine tasting and meals.
The Great Hall has painted frescoes, a fireplace brought over from Tuscany and hand carved tables that stretch the length of the room seating up to 140 people. The room is for food and wine pairings, special wine club events. There are other rooms for smaller more intimate tastings and you won’t want to miss the vaulted cellar with its antique handmade bricks where the wine is stored. The courtyard hosts wine and food pairings al fresco.
Where: 4045 Helena Highway, Calistoga, CA 94515
Hours: Daily 9:30 am to 6 pm from March to October and 9:30 am to 5 pm from November to February.
Phone: (707) 967-6272
Cost: General Admission $25 per person (Premium Tasting of 5 wines); $35 per person (Reserve Tasting of 6 wines, including Reserve wines); $15 per minor* (ages 5-20) (includes juice). An adult must accompany minors over 21. You can opt for tours that include wine tasting with chocolate for an extra $5. There are also other tour options that include meals. It is best to book online as the castle may close its great doors if there are too many people.
Also known as Spencer House or Spencer mansion this is another built in the Queen Anne style in 1895 on Haight and Baker Streets – close to Buena Vista Park. The home was used as a bed and breakfast in the 1990’s but was sold in March 2000. It is now a private residence, as it has been for most of its history, comprising 11 bedrooms and 10 bathrooms. The exterior is easily spotted with its distinctive corner turret and witches cap roof. A large amount of redwood and Douglas fir was used in the interior and exterior wooden detailing.
Just over an hour away from San Francisco is the Ledson Winery and Historic Castle Vineyards. The Ledson home didn’t start out as a castle but as a family home – they had already planted 17 acres of Merlot and thought it would be convenient. Then as the turrets rose, the slate roofs went on and the fountains and landscaping took shape people started noticing and referred to it as the castle. Then the family decided to change tack and rather than keep it as a private residence to share it with those with an interest in touring the grounds and doing some wine tasting – the vines meanwhile having produced some really quality harvests and so the winery and tasting venue was opened in 1997.
Where: 7335 CA-12, Kenwood, CA 95409
Hours: Daily 10 am to 5 pm.
Phone: (707) 537-3810
Cost: $20 – $30 for public tastings, $50 for private tastings with a wine connoisseur. Tastings take place in the Oak Grove, the verandah overlooking the vineyard or in private suites – as the weather dictates.
Chateau Montelena looks like a typical castle with its little conical roofed towers, vast doors, and crenellations on the top of the stone castle tucked into the side of a hill. The castle has massive walls varying from 3 to 12 feet thick – insulating it well from heat and cold and faces lush grounds and a small lake with shady tree lined avenues. Originally it was built as a barrel aging facility in 1888 with one large space inside and a second floor into for crushing the grapes. A second-floor apartment was constructed in 1960 so it can be used as a home. The large room underneath remains as a tasting room.
Where: 1429 Tubbs Ln, Calistoga, CA 94515
Hours: Daily 9:30 am to 4 pm.
Phone: (707) 942-5105
Cost: $30 per person for the current release tasting. Walk in are welcome but if you are in a group of 8 or more rather call ahead to arrange a group tasting. $50 per person for the winery tour at 10 am from Mon to Thurs. Seasonal vineyard tours are conducted but call ahead to check availability.