How would you like to make a splash in the famous Neptune Pool at Hearst Castle, on a hilltop above California’s Central Coast and legendary Highway 1? While zebras graze on the nearby pastures, you now have a chance to swim in the famous, and exclusive, Neptune Pool.
During four dates this year, members of the Foundation at Hearst Castle (FHC) will have the opportunity to swim in this glorious pool, just as movie star Carole Lombard, billionaire Howard Hughes, and Charlie Chaplin once did. The 104-foot-long pool is a brilliant stretch of sparkling blue water floating over thousands of marble tiles. It’s bright and eye-catching—just as architect Julia Morgan intended.
Commissioned by newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst in 1924, at the height of his enormous wealth, this 345,000-gallon, Italian-inspired masterpiece is 3.5 feet deep and 95 feet wide at its alcove. Giant white sculptures of Venus, swans, and nymphs by Parisian artist Charles-George Cassous grace the scene, balanced against sky and mountains, swathed in sea air.
After its multi-million dollar restoration, FHC will open the Neptune Pool up to its members for the following dates in 2019: July 6, August 4, August 24, and September 21. The catch? A minimum donation of $950 per person is required—in addition to the $500 foundation membership. Visit the FHC website starting July 1 to participate. Spaces may go fast, since only 40 people per date get to take the plunge. A limited number of FHC members will also get the chance to swim in the indoor Roman Pool on October 20 at the same donation level.
I was initially charmed by the party invite posted on the foundation website: “Begin your experience with a scenic ride up the iconic road leading to the Enchanted Hill. Then, head to historic changing rooms located off the Neptune Terrace to prepare to swim in the newly-refurbished Neptune Pool. Stroll spectacular surrounding terraces, take in the view and music, and relish a fabulous selection of fancy foods, as well as the Central Coast’s finest wines and craft beers.”
Touring Hearst Castle
Since my husband and I couldn’t afford to be bathed in that much luxury, we were happy to see the castle on our own. More than 700,000 visitors per year board a bus for the zig-zag ride to the estate, which is now a state park.
Like most first-timers, we took the “Grand Rooms Tour,” which took us inside Hearst’s 115-room main house, Casa Grande, to explore the very formal Assembly Room, the Refectory, Morning Room, Library Room, and Theater. At $25 per person, the tour is slightly more affordable than a swim in the Neptune Pool. The castle also offers an evening tour and access to other rooms, depending on time of year.
After our tour concluded, we were free to return to the pools and explore the surrounding gardens on our own. We learned that the Hearst pools were designed to be both practical and luxurious.
“It gets very hot up here on the mountain top in the summertime,” our guide explained. “Remember, there was no air conditioning. So guests needed a way to cool off, and the pools provided that.” In fact, she said, Hearst commissioned the Neptune Pool because his wife and children asked him to.
“Mrs. Hearst and the children are extremely anxious to have a swimming pool!” Hearst wrote to architect Morgan in 1924. She got started right away, but the construction went on until 1936, as plans became ever more extravagant.
While we didn’t get to dive into the Neptune Pool, we did get to see how the rich and famous live. We were happy and content.
If you go:
Hearst Castle is open daily from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Reservations strongly suggested. Book at Hearstcastle.org. For events, including the Neptune Pool Swim Experience, book at Foundation at Hearst Castle.