Coasting along in California

Hearst Castle was built by media mogul William Randolph Hearst

STEVE ADAMS is touring California in a motorhome for a feature that will appear in Camping & Caravanning magazine later this year. Here’s his latest report from the road.

As media moguls go, I’d take William Randolph Hearst over Rupert Murdoch any day of the week. The eccentric millionaire, often assumed to be the inspiration for Citizen Kane, was the only son of a wealthy family (gold rush money, as well as silver and other precious metals) and went on to run about 30 newspapers as well as have a finger in umpteen media pies, including film and TV.

He’s best known for creating Hearst Castle (he called it simply ‘The Ranch’), an incredible 165-room hilltop property set on 123 acres of land near San Simeon. The absurdly excessive ‘Enchanted Hill’ estate took decades to complete and was inspired by – and contains – an array of treasures seen (and in some case collected) by Hearst during his regular travels to Europe. It’s largely based on a Spanish cathedral, and every room – or certainly the ones we saw during our tour – brims with incredible art. The castle is also surrounded by incredible statues, villas, Roman baths and more, many with views across the hills to the coast.

Hearst entertained an array of Hollywood stars and celebrities here during his heyday in the 1930s and '40s, with everyone from Charlie Chaplin to Winston Churchill enjoying a stay, a meal (the banquet table is still set – and even features antique bottles of French’s mustard and Heinz ketchup, which suggests the meals weren’t necessarily too upmarket) and maybe a game of tennis. It’s a bewildering place and one of California’s main tourist attractions. We were as amused as we were bemused by the whole thing.

From Hearst Castle we took Highway 1 up the coast, negotiating any number of hairpin bends (‘switchbacks’) and catching the occasional glimpse of the Pacific Ocean when not looking out for oncoming traffic. It wasn’t a speedy or relaxed drive but the views (when we pulled over to take a proper look) more than compensated. As did our next stop – the cracking Fernwood Resort in Big Sur. The riverside campsite surrounded by redwood trees is an idyllic spot, with electric hook-up and fine toilet and shower facilities. We splashed out – literally – the extra 50 cents for the nicer coin-operated showers near the entrance (and nearer our pitch), but the free ones were just as good. The site’s facilities also include a general store and friendly bar and grill serving a great selection of food and beer.

The following day we headed north again, through Clint Eastwood’s Carmel and on to Monterey for an all-too-brief visit – I managed downtown on-street parking for the first time – that included a trip to Old Fishermen’s Wharf and a glimpse of its resident harbour seals. After that we headed another 30 miles north to New Brighton State Beach campground, a beautiful state-run campsite overlooking the sea near Capitola, six miles south of Santa Cruz. The site was easily the most attractively located of our trip – which is just as well, as it offered no hook-up or WiFi facilities.

With the sun beating down and the winds thankfully in abeyance we walked along the beach to the lovely seaside town of Capitola, where we found an array of restaurants and shops, mostly within colourful seaside houses. It was a delightful place to stroll to, as well as through, and we enjoyed a fabulous meal at the Paradise Beach Grille, a fantastic restaurant – with delightful owners and excellent service – overlooking the ocean. I really need to find out where to buy mahi-mahi and ahi tuna when I get home…


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