The Cambrian

Hearst Castle lengthens guided tours

Jiana Jaeger, 12, works on a drawing of the Egyptian statue Sekhmet during a plein air painting exercise with Pleasant Valley School students April 2 at Hearst Castle. The three main guided tours at the Castle are getting longer, which will allow visitors to spend more time in the interior.
Jiana Jaeger, 12, works on a drawing of the Egyptian statue Sekhmet during a plein air painting exercise with Pleasant Valley School students April 2 at Hearst Castle. The three main guided tours at the Castle are getting longer, which will allow visitors to spend more time in the interior. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

Visitors taking Hearst Castle’s three most popular tours will have 50 percent more time with their trained guides, who now can give tour takers more in-depth interpretation, and more opportunities to view the artwork, architecture, soaring spaces and minute details of the historic house

museum.

The guide-led portions of the three tours have been expanded to 60 minutes each (from 40 minutes), a move that was the “brainchild of Ty Smith, our chief of museum interpretation,” said Doug Barker, district services manager at the State Park historic house museum.

Routes of the “Grand Rooms,” “Upstairs Suites” and “Cottages and Kitchen” tours also were revised to make the historic outdoor stairways easier to navigate. Guests still will have time to wander on the grounds on their own.

The change marks a partial return to a previous practice, and a blend of old and new tour styles.

Smith, a Cambria resident, wrote in an email interview that the change is “a fine tuning of a popular format,” which, overall, “allows for a richer and more textured interpretive and educational experience” at the former estate of media magnate William Randolph Hearst.

He said that in the past, when a visit to “Hearst Castle was a completely guided experience, all tours were 75 minutes long.” Tour takers weren’t allowed any time on their own on the hilltop.

But in June 2011, Castle officials tried something new: Tours were guided for 40 minutes, and then self-guided and virtually unlimited. After the guided tours concluded, visitors could roam at their own pace, soaking up the Castle’s ambience and deep sense of place and history.

The change was well-received.

“Visitors enjoy being able to explore the grounds at their leisure, and they will still be able to do so,” Smith said.

He added, “In listening to our guests, however, we discovered that many of them wanted more time within the interior spaces of Hearst Castle.”

Visitors wanted to be “more fully immersed in the history and gardens,” said Brooke Gutierrez, acting superintendent of the State Parks district that includes the Castle. For many, that immersion requires details only a trained guide can provide.

With the change that took effect Nov. 2, Castle officials added 20 minutes to each of the three tours, Smith said, “to allow for more time at each of the interior tour stops and more information at some important exterior areas, as guides lead visitors throughout the hilltop estate,” Hearst’s former “ranch.”

Guides will have more time to share their enthusiasm and knowledge with the public, Gutierrez said.

“There will be some additions to the individual tours,” Smith said, “but the biggest change, in general, will be the ability for guests to spend more time at each individual stop. No rooms, for example, will be added to the ‘Grand Rooms’ route,” but “visitors will have more time to take in the spaces and hear more stories about the art collection and the social history of the Castle.”

The “Upstairs Suites” tour “route will remain largely the same,” Smith said, “but we will be adding the Celestial Suite,” on the fourth floor of Casa Grande, the Castle’s main building. “The tour will stop in the South Celestial Bedroom, which is located at the base of the bell tower.” The tour also will stop in the Celestial Sitting Room.

(The suite areas have been off the tours for some time.)

The order of stops has changed on the “Cottages and Kitchen” tour.

“Visitors tour two of the guest cottages, then the kitchen and end with the wine cellar … the tour will feature more explanation of the grounds and the development of the estate as a whole,” Smith said.

Other Castle tours continue to vary in length. The “Designing the Dream Tour” has been 75 minutes long since it began three years ago. Evening tours are 90 minutes long.

If you go

Pricing for each of the three tours remains the same, with adult tickets at $25 and children ages 5 to 12 at $12. Advance reservations are recommended by going to hearstcastle.org or calling 800-444-4445.

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