Hearst Castle will reopen on May 11, after the COVID-19 pandemic and road reconstruction kept the famed landmark closed to the public for more than two years, State Parks officials announced Thursday. The reopening also will bring some changes to tours and ticket prices.
“Hearst Castle is a state treasure, and we are thrilled to reopen this wonder to the public to enjoy in a safe and responsible manner,” State Parks Director Armando Quintero said in a news release. “We are confident that these once-in-a-lifetime repairs and improvements to the road facility will serve countless generations to come.”
Most notable will be a change to listed ticket prices. While the new $30 price for the three main tours may seem higher than the pre-closure cost of $25, they’re actually not, according to Dan Falat, superintendent of the parks district that includes Hearst Castle.
The total ticket cost for all daytime tours and the higher-cost night tours now includes reservation and other fees that had been add-ons before the monument stopped selling tickets, he said. Some special-focus, semi-private tour tickets cost the same as before, but those prices also incorporate the fees.
Also, one popular recent feature of the Hearst Castle tours — the option that allowed visitors free time to walk about the grounds on their own — is on hold for now, he said, but it is expected to return as soon as the state allows it.
There will even be a new Julia Morgan Tour on the roster, honoring the life and career of the pioneering architect/designer, the release said. The tour will include “rarely seen areas of the Castle that highlight her gift for design, and photographic displays of architectural drawings, family photos and personal items.”
For the North Coast, word of Hearst Castle’s reopening is good news for local businesses that have struggled and adapted to weather the pandemic, waiting for the landmark and its 850,000 annual visitors to return.
“They say that the Hearst Castle is a jewel in San Luis Obispo County’s already dazzling crown, and I couldn’t agree more,” state Sen. John Laird said in the release. “Hearst Castle is not only a fascinating place to visit, it serves as a backbone to the North County’s economy. So, I couldn’t be happier about its reopening, with a safer and more rewarding experience for residents and tourists alike. I want to thank State Parks for their diligent work in getting the Castle reopened. The spirits of William Randolph Hearst and castle architect Julia Morgan are surely joyous today.”
Tour reservations — always recommended but now more than ever because of pent-up demand — can be made online starting March 31 at hearstcastle.org or by calling 800.444.4445. Tickets will be available for purchase at the Visitor Center, but “advance reservations are strongly recommended,” Falat said.
Why Is Castle Not Opening Until Mid-May?
Original estimates predicted that Hearst Castle would reopen sooner than mid-May, and Falat said that he and many others had hoped that would happen.
“But we have a date now and a goal that we’re sure we can achieve,” barring weather or other interruptions, he said, adding that he believes that’s a major step. “I’m excited. Staff’s excited to get back to business. And finally, visitors will be able to come back to see the castle, experience it and enjoy it again.
“I’m very happy with the progress we’ve made, even if the opening date is not what we’d hoped for. We had the delays from rain and having to re-engineer the road. Rain is forecast for next week. … But even with that, we believe we can meet the May 11 opening date.”
Gearing back up for a restart on something as complicated as Hearst Castle takes time. The May 11 reopening “allows our partners — Aramark, Lux Bus, Destination Cinema Inc. (the big theater) and Hearst Ranch — time to prepare for the reopening and the changes that will accompany it,” Falat said.
Plus, repairs to the upper 2.25-mile portion of the road between the Visitor Center and the hilltop estate “still need to be finished up.”
The gap between now and May 11 also gives local businesses time to gear up and staff up.
“Hearst Castle is a Central Coast gem and one of the many drivers behind our growing tourism economy,” Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham said. “I am glad to hear that it will be reopening in time for the summer travel season and look forward to visiting again soon.”
When asked if the castle’s reopening might happen sooner, Falat said, “I’m sure it’s highly unlikely. We will continue to evaluate the date, but … right now, May 11 provides us with the assurance that the public will be safe and our visitors will get the quality experience they deserve and that we want to provide.”
While the firm reopening date is good news, the delay will be sad for some Hearst Castle enthusiasts, including those planning to be in the area during spring break and Easter week, or for the Eroica cycling event April 29 through May 1 that’s expected to draw 1,500 riders to the North Coast from all around the world.
Road Repair Project Took 10 Months
Safety was the backbone reason for the lengthy road repairs, Falat has said often. The contract that began in July had to be expanded when more road damage was discovered. Castle tour buses, staffers and contractors use the private access road from the Visitor Center to the hilltop estate.
Lux buses make about 22,000 trips a year, according to the release, as frequently as every 10 minutes during the busy summer season.
“The steep, curvy road rises 1,650 feet over a distance of 5 miles. In the upper sections of the road where the project was located, the road navigates rocky outcroppings and steep canyons by splitting into separate, narrower, one-directional sections for uphill and downhill traffic,” the release said.
During the 10 months of work, “the upper 2.25-mile portion of Hearst Castle Road was reconstructed and re-engineered to provide safe passage for all. Old asphalt was removed and recycled into a thicker, stronger new roadway by a process known as full-depth reclamation.
“New concrete retaining walls were installed and some of the historic stone retaining walls were restored by hand. The storm-damaged, clay pipe culverts dating from the 1920s were replaced and enlarged to withstand modern storm systems such as the atmospheric rivers that recently damaged the road. The total estimated cost of the project is $13.7 million.”
For his part, Falat said he is eager to see guests return to the hilltop.
“We’ve all been closed for more than two years. That’s been a challenge for all of us, given what we’ve all gone through,” he said. “Now, we’re really excited to get back to normal operations, welcoming back our visitors, showing them what we’ve done and accomplished during the closure.”
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