Jake Seiner
Jake Seiner

15 Fanciful Facts About the Hearst Castle

Jake Seiner
Jake Seiner

There's plenty to see as you cruise along California's famed Highway 1. But undoubtedly the most unexpected sight I came upon during a recent road-trip from San Diego to San Francisco was a small group of zebras, looking surprisingly right at home along the side of the road just south of Los Padres National Forest and somewhere north of where we'd spent the night in San Luis Obispo.

I didn't know it then, but the zebras were a sign that I had all but arrived at my destination: The Hearst Castle. Over the course of a guided tour of the grounds and a viewing of Building the Dream, a 40-minute video on the history of the castle that features some great vintage footage, I learned where the zebras came from and much more about the 20th century castle commissioned by William Randolph Hearst.

1. Many specific aspects of the castle were inspired by a trip young William took with his mother around Europe. William was born in 1863; just two years later, his father, George Hearst, purchased 40,000 acres of ranchland in San Simeon using the millions he'd made from a career in mining. The family used the property as a camping retreat. When William was 10, his mother, Phoebe Apperson Hearst, took him on a grand tour around Europe that lasted a year and a half. Although he was quite young at the time, the trip left an impression on William and when he designed the Castle decades later, he incorporated a vast array of different European styles of architecture and artwork.

2. William inherited the land in 1919 from his mother (George Hearst had died in 1891). By then, it had grown to encompass 250,000 acres. He had plans to build a small bungalow on what the family often called "Camp Hill" and contacted the architect responsible for renovating his late mother's home.

3. The architect was 47-year-old Julia Morgan, who was the first woman to receive a certification in architecture from L'École des Beaux-Arts in Paris and California's first licensed female architect. "Miss Morgan, we are tired of camping out in the open at the ranch in San Simeon and I would like to build a little something," Hearst initially wrote to Morgan. But once the two began brainstorming, plans for the Castle—which was called "La Cuesta Encantada," or the Enchanted Hill—grew exponentially.

4. Hearst and Morgan worked for 28 years on the castle, spending $6.5 million on the building and $3.5 million on fantastic art from all over the world to fill the rooms.

5. Fortunately, Morgan had the forethought to use reinforced concrete for the exterior walls, necessary for the building's longevity in such a seismically-active area.

6. The Neptune Pool, one of two intricately-tiled pools on the premises, took 15 years to build. Three different versions were built during that time, each larger than the one before. The other pool is an indoor pool modeled after the Baths of Caracalla in Rome.

7. Hearst loved trees. During excavation for the castle, he had live trees carefully dug up and transported to a new location on the mountain side. As if that wasn't enough, he and his crew planted 70,000 trees on the property during his years there.

8. The outside, with the palm trees and the views of the water, are all California. But the interior rooms are so strikingly similar to European castles that the set designers for Harry Potter used Hearst's dining hall as inspiration for the one at Hogwarts.

9. The walls of the dining hall are lined with 15th century choir stalls, which included an architectural feature that allowed choir boys of yore to slump back and rest their feet while still appearing to be standing. In Hearst's heyday, this feature was greatly appreciated by the waitstaff.

10. In addition to Casa Grande (the main building), which has 38 bedrooms and 42 bathrooms, a private theater, library, billiard room, etc., there are three guest houses on the property: Casa Del Monte (House of the Mountain), Casa Del Sol (House of the Sun), and Casa Del Mar (House of the Sea), where the Hearst family lived for a year.

11. Hearst entertained a number of political leaders, cultural icons and Hollywood's elite at the Castle—all with noted actress (and notably not-his-wife) Marion Davies as hostess. The invitations were often open-ended, but several guests noted that, as their stay wore on, their seat at dinner moved further and further from Hearst himself—a subtle hint that they had overstayed their welcome.

12. Hearst hosted all sorts of theme parties for his famous guests. Clark Gable and Cary Grant, among others, attended a pioneer-themed bash. And for Hearst's 71st birthday, the festivities were Civil War-themed.

13. Ever the businessman, Hearst had 100 different telephones placed around the premises so he was never out of touch. He even had one telephone installed behind a tree along the path, which not only helped him keep up with business matters but also allowed him to wow guests with his ability to conjure up the baseball score mid-horseback ride.

14. Also in the name of keeping tabs on his media empire, Hearst received a copy of each of his newspapers at the castle every day. A private plane that often brought guests along with the papers made the daily trip to the estate's private landing strip.

15. And about those zebras? Hearst established an impressive menagerie, formally called the Hearst Garden of Comparative Zoology, during his time at the castle. You can see the empty cages that once held grizzly bears, lions, tigers, leopards, jaguars, cougars, chimpanzees, orangutans, monkeys, and an elephant on your ride back down the mountain to the visitors center, but most of the animals are long gone. Hearst began selling off the animals in response to financial difficulty during his lifetime. After his death, many of those that remained were donated to zoos. The zebras, however, along with some other species like elk, sheep and goats, were allowed to roam free on the mountainside. Today, descendants of those zebras can still be seen on the property.

All photos courtesy of Jake Seiner

19 Must-Visit Stops on Mexico City's Metro

About 5 million people ride the Mexico City subway every day—but most commuters don’t realize how much there is to do and see without ever having to go above ground. From piano stairs to a space tunnel, exploring the attractions hidden within the metro just might be the most fun you can have for 5 pesos (about $0.25 USD). These Mexico City metro stations settle the old question once and for all; it’s both the journey and the destination.


Talisman station (line 4) has a mammoth logo for a reason: Mammoth fossils were unearthed during construction of the metro, and you can see the bones—which date back to the Pleistocene—on display there.


space tunnel at La Raza station
Sharon Hahn Darlin, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

How do you make a long transfer fly by? Transform it into a walk-through space tunnel illuminated by a glow-in-the-dark night sky, the highlight of the science museum located within La Raza station (lines 3 and 5).


Viveros (line 3), a station named for the nearby nursery, is in full flower: It was recently given a jungle makeover complete with imitation palms, jaguars, and snakes to raise awareness for the preservation of southern Mexico’s Lacandon Rainforest.


Complement your day trip to the pyramids at Teotihuacan with a stop at the Pino Suarez station (lines 1 and 2), where you can see a 650-year-old pyramid dedicated to Ehecatl, the Aztec god of wind. Tens of thousands of users go through the station daily, making the pyramid one of the most visited archeological sites in Mexico. (Though it's referred to as Mexico’s smallest archaeological zone, the National Institute of Anthropology and History doesn't consider it a "proper" archaeological zone "due to its size and the fact of being located in a Metro Transport System facility.")


Hidalgo (lines 2 and 3) may be the most miraculous of all of Mexico City’s metro stations: In 1997, someone (possibly a street vendor) discovered a water stain in the shape of the Virgin of Guadalupe in one of its floor tiles. The apparition attracted so many pilgrims that metro authorities eventually had to remove the tile, which is now enshrined just outside one of the exits (follow the signs for Iglesia), near the intersection of Paseo de la Reforma and Zarco. And if you happen to visit this station on the morning of the 28th of any month, you’ll be swarmed with pious commuters carrying figurines of Saint Judas Thaddeus—patron saint of delinquents and lost causes—who is venerated at the nearby San Hipolito Church.


No time to visit the vast National Museum of Anthropology? You can still catch reproductions of Mesoamerican statues at the Bellas Artes (lines 2 and 8) and Tezozomoc (line 6) stops.


miniatures on the Mexico city subway
Randal Sheppard, Flickr // CC BY-SA 2.0

Miniature maniacs shouldn’t miss the scale models of Mexico City’s main plaza at the Zocalo stop (line 2). They depict, in tiny form, the metamorphosis of the capital from the Aztec Templo Mayor to the present-day Metropolitan Cathedral. (And bonus points to anyone who can spot the cat who lives in this station.)


The music-themed Division del Norte station’s (line 3) free karaoke corner draws a crowd gathered to watch fellow riders belt out boleros and ballads on their way to work. The unassuming abuelitas laden with bags from the market always have the most impressive pipes.


piano stairs at Polanco station
Victor.Aguirre-Lopez, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

Don’t take the escalators at Polanco station (line 7), because the stairs are a giant musical piano keyboard. Finally, here’s your chance to live out Tom Hanks’s piano dance scene from the movie Big.


The Guerrero stop (lines B and 3) is a tribute to the legends of lucha libre, with costume displays and murals dedicated to 45 of Mexico’s finest masked fighters.


The largest bookshop in Latin America can be found in the long passage between the Zocalo and Pino Suarez stations. The underground emporium known as Un Paseo Por Los Libros sells titles from textbooks to manga and also hosts free workshops, lectures, and movie screenings.


murals in the Mexico City subway
Thelmadatter, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Any visitor to Mexico City should check out Diego Rivera’s murals—but on your way, don’t forget to look up at the murals that decorate many metro stations. Particularly impressive are Guillermo Ceniceros’s ambitious chronicles of art through the history of time on the walls at the Copilco (line 3) and Tacubaya stations (lines 1, 7, and 9). On the kitschier side, see how many famous faces you can pick out in Jorge Flores Manjarrez’s I Spy-style mural of pop stars at the Auditorio stop (line 7).


A museum of caricatures located inside the Zapata stop (line 12) is an homage to Mexican cartooning, including plenty of satirical interpretations of the mustachioed revolutionary who gives the station its name.


If Chabacano station (lines 2, 8, and 9) feels unsettlingly familiar, it might be because it was used as a shooting location for the subway chase scene in the Arnold Schwarzenegger film Total Recall. Legend has it you can still spot splashes of fake blood on the ceiling.


Museo del Metro de la Ciudad de México
ProtoplasmaKid, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

Has this metro adventure turned you into a super fan? Do a deep dive at Mixcoac station’s (line 12) sleek Metro Museum, where you can learn even more fun facts about the subway’s 50 years of history while you wait out rush hour.

Pop Chart Lab
150 Northeast Lighthouses in One Illustrated Poster
Pop Chart Lab
Pop Chart Lab

Some of the world's most beautiful and historic lighthouses can be found in the American Northeast. Now, Pop Chart Lab is releasing an illustrated poster highlighting 150 of the historic beacons dotting the region's coastline.

The 24-inch-by-36-inch print, titled "Lighthouses of the Northeast," covers U.S. lighthouses from the northern tip of Maine to the Delaware Bay. Categorized by state, the chart features a diverse array of lighthouse designs, like the dual towers at Navesink Twin Lights in New Jersey and the distinctive red-and-white stripes of the West Quoddy Head Light in Maine.

Framed poster of lighthouses.
Pop Chart Lab

Each illustration includes the lighthouse name and the year it was first lit, with the oldest lighthouses dating back to the 1700s. There's also a map in the upper-left corner showing the location of each landmark on the northeast coast.

Chart of lighthouses.
Pop Chart Lab

The poster is now available to preorder for $37, with shipping set to start March 21. After memorizing every site on the chart, you can get to work exploring many of the other unique lighthouses the rest of the world has to offer.


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