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San Simeon, CA
Photograph courtesy flickr/jimg944
You can’t go to the Central Coast without a visit to Hearst Castle. A plan of action:
Choose: Tours of William Randolph Hearst’s 165-room Xanadu fill fast, so buy tickets ahead of time. The ticket desk tends to recommend the Grand Rooms Tour for first-timers, but the Upstairs Suites Tour is perhaps better edited. (The Evening Tour, offered in spring and fall, sells out early.)
Watch: In the visitors’ center the 40-minute IMAX film Hearst Castle—Building the Dream is corny but pretty good; see it after your tour. Context is everything.
Ask: Where did Hearst buy that Franco-Flemish tapestry in the billiards room? What’s with the ketchup bottle on the dining room table? You paid $25 for this 45-minute tour. Ask questions; the guides don’t always volunteer the details.
Sleep: Stay in quaint Cambria. Little inns and motels cluster along the sweet stretch of coastline in Moonstone Beach (particularly serene in the morning mist). The FogCatcher Inn is friendly and charming, with a more-than-decent breakfast buffet.