America doesn’t have many castles. Not like Europe does. And only a few are open to the public.
That’s why Hearst Castle, built by 20th century newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, has been attracting visitors for decades. Situated high on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean south of San Francisco, the castle provides a close-up look at what money can buy. And Hearst, quite obviously, had a lot of money.
One could spend a full day at Hearst Castle, taking the various tours that, combined, provide total access to all of the estate’s public areas. But we suggest enjoying a more diversified day — half a day at the castle, and the other half indulging in nearby wine experiences.
Arrange your Hearst Castle tour in the morning, and then head south on California Highway 1. You’ll pass through the town of Cambria and then, a few more miles down the road, you’ll come to the town of Harmony. The two-street town was the subject of a 1979 song called “Harmonizing in Harmony Population 18,” although the population today is only half that.
Begin by visiting Harmony Cellars, where you can taste any six of 12 available wines for $7. For $3 more, you can keep the winery’s logo glass.
Harmony Cellars hosts an intimate concert series each summer. Each Friday from 5-7 p.m., guests can enjoy music, wine, plus tasty fare from local food trucks. There are two concerts left in the 2015 season: Tim Jackson this Friday, and Nataly Lola on Sept. 25.
Next, head over to Harmony Glassworks, where you can view live demonstrations of glassmaking. Among the unique products are wine bottle toppers that include one-of-a-kind glass designs. There’s also a giant wine glass that has a $3,000 price tag, bringing new fear to the phrase, “You break it, you own it.”
Continue south on California 1 to Morro Bay, where you can enjoy a leisurely meal at Stax Wine Bar. Choose from a selection of crostini, panini, meats plates and salads, and also enjoy well selected wines by the glass, bottle or flight. At five tastes for $10, the flights are a bargain, and a great way to experience the wares of several local wineries in one sitting.
On the way in or out of Stax, be sure to check out the windows, where you’ll find decorated bricks depicting hand-painted furry friends in a variety of wine-related poses.
A leisurely, scenic drive along Highway 41 will take you back to the 101 freeway, where you can head north toward Monterey and San Francisco, or south toward Santa Barbara and Los Angeles — having been well entertained, filled with good food and good wine, and feeling like the king or queen of a castle.