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What time to book for the Hearst Castle tour?

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Vancouver, Canada
posts: 14,156
reviews: 42
What time to book for the Hearst Castle tour?

Hi, looking for some fairly specific advice. Here's our route for a single day of our upcoming trip:

http://goo.gl/maps/ljaOk

Starting from Morrow Bay (after a two nights, so a full day to explore around there), we are driving up to Marina (where we will be based for another two nights and plan to spend the intervening day seeing Carmel and Monteray). I want to book for Hearst Castle on that day.

Lets assume we get packed up and away by 10 am. Its 1 hr to HC, then about 2.75 to Marina. In theory, we could be at HC by 11. However, what I don't know is if I can anticipate making more stops before or after the stop at HC. Do I want to get to HC early so that we have lots of time for the drive up through Big Sur and related stops? Or do I want to leave some time to see San Simeon etc prior to going to HC and then book for a 1 pm tour at HC?

I'm not too worried about what time we get to Marina and I don't need time for Carmel/Monteray as we'll have the following day for that. (and lets just see what the availability is on those tours too, because if I've left this too late and things are booking out, then the decision will have been made for me!)

Thanks for any advice!

Santa Clara...
posts: 5,214
reviews: 13
1. Re: What time to book for the Hearst Castle tour?

When are you coming? Sunset time will dictate how much time you have. There is NOTHING to see in the actual town of San Simeon. The usual stopping places before Hearst Castle are Cambria and Blancas Pierdras for the elephant seals. I would say get a mid to late after time, leaving at least 2 hrs at HC and enough time for you to drive up the coast in daylight.

Edited: 8:01 pm, July 19, 2013
Grover Beach, Ca
Destination Expert
for Pismo Beach, Cambria, Big Sur
posts: 14,276
reviews: 3
2. Re: What time to book for the Hearst Castle tour?

Actually, the drive to HC from Morro Bay is only about 30 minutes, if even.

The elephant seals are AFTER Hearst Castle, so don't fret if you don't see them en route to HC.

Yes, you want to book HC as early as possible so you have plenty of time for stops along the Big Sur route:

Some possible stops (Other than the seals):

If open, grab sandwiches from Sebastian's General Store on the other side of Highway 1 across from HC.

Elephant seal rookery

Ragged Point (Good spot to enjoy your Sebastian's sanwiches. They have outdoor picnic tables)

McWay Falls @ Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park

The Phoenix Shop @ Nepenthe

Pfeiffer Beach

Bixby Bridge

Point Lobos State Reserve

*Note: You might luck out and see zebras on the east side of the highway between Cambria and San Simeon Acres (Where all the hotels are located)

Edited: 8:43 pm, July 19, 2013
Santa Clara...
posts: 5,214
reviews: 13
3. Re: What time to book for the Hearst Castle tour?

My bad KM! Trying to do things from memory is never a good thing. : )

Grover Beach, Ca
Destination Expert
for Pismo Beach, Cambria, Big Sur
posts: 14,276
reviews: 3
4. Re: What time to book for the Hearst Castle tour?

LOL, chinita. No worries. Been there!

Edited: 8:59 pm, July 19, 2013
Vancouver, Canada
posts: 14,156
reviews: 42
5. Re: What time to book for the Hearst Castle tour?

Perfect! Thanks. Yes, sorry - rookie mistake (which I should know better). Trip starts in a couple of weeks.

Ok, sounds like an earlier tour is better then. I checked the website and there's still plenty of spaces. KB - thank you SO much for that list of stops. Once I got all the accommodation and overall route and schedule planned out for this trip, I totally ran out of steam, and I just haven't done much work at all on the day-to-day details. Its not a really big deal - we can just take it as it comes - but I hate finding out about something great we should have seen AFTER we've been through. I can't tell you how many time's that has happened. Its one thing to know about a place and choose not to see it because you really don't have the time, but to not even know it was there is just frustrating.

Copperopolis...
posts: 819
6. Re: What time to book for the Hearst Castle tour?

The information I have about Hearst Castle reservations is that IF you want a specific time or a time range for a tour on a specific date, it is best to make tour reservations not less than 3 days prior.

The information I have is that it is common for tours to be completely full especially in the afternoons on any given date. Also 10:00 in the morning seems to be a popular time. This is from advance reservations and also from people who drove to the castle and got tickets once they arrived. Depending upon how many people are ahead of you in securing tickets, this will determine the availability of tickets for various tour times.

You might want to consider checking the Hearst Castle web site every few days to see how fast or how slow a specific tour time/s is filling up.

Cambria, California
Destination Expert
for San Simeon, Cambria
posts: 355
reviews: 9
7. Re: What time to book for the Hearst Castle tour?

Earlier the better, in my book, to get up and running. You could drive 10 minutes north of Morro Bay and have breakfast at SKIPPERS, an old-time coffee shop on the northern-ish end of Ocean Drive in Cayucos (off at Cayucos Drive from Hwy 1 then left turn - it's on the right). You might also want to take a quick right and peek at Harmony (population 18) which is a quick right turn off Hwy 1 just before the Highway 46 junction.

No offense, Kibblesmom, but it's a little over 30 minutes to HC from Morro Bay, especially if driving behind a motor home. Just wanted to mention in the event you're cutting timing close. It's a good idea to book your tours in advance to ensure you don't get there and find out there is still availability but not until later in the day than you want - summer is a very, very busy time.

Old San Simeon and picking up a bottle of vintage-style soda pop is worth a stop at Sebastions in old San Simeon (and maybe a walk on the pier) before heading north to the rookery at the Piedras Blancas lighthouse and then up to Marina. You WILL make many stops along the way, so I'd allow at least an extra hour for that...more like two.

FYI, they are completing work on a bridge and you will have, at most, a 20 minute delay in Big Sur as it's one way traffic for a short stretch. Also FYI, fill up with gas in Morro Bay because as you go north, it only gets to be fewer stations and much more expensive until you reach Monterey.

Vancouver, Canada
posts: 14,156
reviews: 42
8. Re: What time to book for the Hearst Castle tour?

All excellent advice, thank you. I've booked for 10:50 at HC, so that's done. We aren't all that good at getting going in the morning and I want to have time to tour the visitor centre before our tour. Rather have to hang around a bit than rush everyone. That should get us back on the road by....12:30? I do tend to linger. I find for local attractions where other people say they got around it in an hour, I need three. But I'm not really one for gardens and I suspect that once we are done the tour, we won't spend a lot of time outside the castle...or am I wrong.

Ok, so that should leave us with about 5 hours to meander up the coast, with about 3 hours of that being driving and two hours to enjoy some stops. I think that will work nicely.

Houston, TX
posts: 3,041
reviews: 25
9. Re: What time to book for the Hearst Castle tour?

When you arrive at the visitor's center you will use your confirmation email to obtain wristbands which will have your tour name or time on them. If you booked for 10:50, that's when you will be on the bus. It's a 15 minute bus ride to the castle. When you arrive at the castle, your guide will be waiting where the bus stops. The tour begins immediately. The guide will lead you into the house and stays with you the entire time. Most tours last 45 minutes. At the end of the tour the guide will escort you back outside--you may not re-enter the house on your own. You are then free to walk around the gardens near the house and spend time seeing the two pools. When you are done you get back on the next bus to arrive and take the 15 minute ride back to the visitor center. Even if you aren't much for gardens, do take the time to see both pools, especially the indoor one. It's right by where you get back on the bus anyway, so pop in for a look.

If you have the time, the movie at the visitor's center (which is included with your admission) is worth seeing IMO.

Vancouver, Canada
posts: 14,156
reviews: 42
10. Re: What time to book for the Hearst Castle tour?

Yes, on reading previous threads, I went with the 10:50 tour (10:40 was the one I wanted, but already sold) so that we could arrive in plenty of time to see the visitor centre and get organized before getting on the bus. I just hope we don't feel overly rushed going up that beautiful section of coast. We are booked for that night, so we can afford to arrive late in the day and take our time heading north. I'm hoping for some time for a walk somewhere in there (an hour or so). I don't want to rush!