A castle, a boardwalk and some seals

Travelling around an unfamiliar country means you aren’t sure what you should go to see and should miss out. To be honest I’d never heard of Hearst Castle before researching this trip but as it was basically on our way up the Coast we decided to give it a visit.

The morning was foggy as we drove into the already fairly full car park. We bought tickets and got on a bus, having no idea that the castle was high on a hill. As we drove up, the excellent recorded commentary started to weave a magical story of a castle, a zoo, acres of gardens, and of William Randolph Hearst’s desire to create something perfect from a childhood memory (Citizen Kane anyone?).

To be honest we were expecting something a bit tacky, but as the first glimpses of the castle were revealed we realised this was way more than we had been expecting. We emerged from the mist into a perfect sky marred only by a hint of smoke from the forest fires devasting the area.

We spent an enchanting hour touring the castle and its magnificent art works. Hearst had bought whole ceilings from 16th Century Italian and Spanish churches and installed them here. Crazy arrogance but ironically now available for countless visitors to come and marvel at.

 It wasn’t hard to imagine it as it had been when Hearst entertained the powerful, the beautiful and the famous. The renowned Jupiter pool had been drained for repairs but the stunning indoor pool with its gold and Murano tiles more than made up for it.

We came down feeling that we had had a glimpse into a world that no longer exists. A well-chosen stop!
A couple of miles down the Coast and we took a brief stop to marvel at the elephant seals basking in the warm sand. Such a contrast to the manicured opulence we had just left.

Then on up the endlessly winding and spectacular Pacific Coast Highway. It was still very foggy (and smoky) but we were treated to glimpses of the craggy shoreline and endless crashing surf. On the way we passed several fire staging areas and saw fire fighters merging from the forest from time to time. It was a very sobering thought to think that not too far away from where we were driving people were losing their homes.

We were planning on spending some time in Carmel-by-the-Sea but had managed to chose the week of the Monterey Car Show. After a slightly nerve-wracking drive through the narrow streets trying to avoid Lamborghinis, Maseratis and Aston Martins, we grabbed a quick burger and heading back onto the relative peace and quiet of the open road. We arrived in Santa Cruz for one night in a delightful renovated Victorian Villa. Gorgeous. 

I knew that Santa Cruz had a board walk so we ventured out to see it. I was thinking of a boardwalk like back home – a nice walk along the beach, maybe see some more seals and other wildlife. To my delight it was a completely over the top carnival space – wooden roller coaster, merry go round, gondola, sideshows, arcades, lights. I love stuff like this! It was like being transported  back a hundred years.

A delicious cioppino at a funky restaurant on the wharf – fresh lobster, mussels and crab and I was in a very happy (if messy)place.
We walked back though the now packed board walk, resisted the urge to try and win an enormous teddy bear, grabbed a root beer float and decided we liked Santa Cruz very much. 

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