World famous Neptune Pool at Hearst Castle open — for a price

The Neptune Pool is shown at Hearst Castle at San Simeon. Contributed photo

You, too, can swim in one of the most glamorous pools of all time 

A rare opportunity has opened up to the public: A chance to take a dip in the opulent Neptune Pool at Hearst Castle in San Simeon. 

Visiting tourists to the historic site could once only dream of jumping into one of the most glamorous swimming pools of all time. Now, on Aug. 19 and 26, Hearst Castle is opening its famous Neptune Pool, but only to members of the Foundation at Hearst Castle. Membership is $500. Then a reservation to swim is an additional $1,000. 

Only 50 guests are allowed to partake in the event on the 19th. That affair is being dubbed “Hollywood at Hearst Castle Neptune Pool Swim.” The event begins with a scenic ride up through the bucolic ranchland leading to what’s known as “Enchanted Hill.” Swimmers will be allowed to use historic dressing rooms, just as guests of the married Hearst and his mistress, film star Marion Davies, did to change into their bathing suits. Guests will be provided special cabana towels for the occasion as they were back in the castle’s social heyday from the 1920s through 1930s.

The newspaper magnate would host his glamorous Hollywood friends, including Charlie Chaplin, Greta Garbo, Cary Grant, the Marx Brothers, and more, at his castle. Small bites, desserts, and craft beer and wine will be served. Keeping with the theme, a star-studded celebrity guest list is expected to appear. 

The Aug. 26 event is limited to 40 guests and is advertised as a “regular” swim day with no celebrities in attendance. A regular swim day in the Neptune Pool is actually an understatement. The pool, one of the largest ever built, is surrounded by a Greek Revival temple façade, sculptures, fountains, ornamental pools, marble pavilions, and alabaster lanterns.

The magnificent Hearst Castle estate began construction in 1919 and continued to 1947. The castle, designed by architect Julia Morgan, includes a 115-room main house filled with a world-renowned collection of art and architectural artifacts incorporated into the building. The newspaper tycoon was once called the “Great Accumulator,” acquiring art, antiques, statuary, silverware, and textiles on an epic scale as was satirized in the 1941 Orson Welles movie masterpiece “Citizen Kane” and depicted to some extent in the 2020 film “Mank.” William Randolph Hearst, who made his fortune in the newspaper business, called his estate “La Cuesta Encantada,” Spanish for “The Enchanted Hill.”

The elaborate mosaic-tiled Neptune Pool underwent a $10 million restoration from 2016-18. Three hundred forty-five thousand gallons of water was drained from the nearly 100-year-old elegant structure for repairs on more than 9,000 marble tiles. Thousands of new tiles were sourced from the same quarry in Vermont that originally supplied them. It took three days to refill it.

Funds raised at the events benefit the foundation’s STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math) program intended for underserved middle schools.

In 1947 when Hearst’s health was failing, he and Davies decamped to Los Angeles. They often stayed at their “Beach House” as it was dubbed that he had Morgan design in 1929. The Beach House, originally called “Ocean House,” was a 110-room mansion on Santa Monica’s Gold Coast that sat on five acres of shorefront. Thirty-two servants attended to the property that included gardens, tennis courts, and a 110-foot heated saltwater pool lined with Italian marble. Silent film star Colleen Moore is said to have called Ocean House “the biggest house on the beach — the beach between San Diego and Vancouver.”

The Beach House’s luxurious pool survives and is now the featured attraction at the Annenberg Community Beach House in Santa Monica where for a nominal fee a dip in that pool is open to the public.

The opportunity to swim and frolic in the Neptune Pool is rare. Over the past two decades the chance to dip your toes in the pool’s glimmering waters was for sale mostly yearly by auction or ticketed through the Foundation at Hearst Castle. Even the estate’s indoor Roman Pool featuring exquisite gold mosaic tiles was opened to a limited number of guests in 2019. Funds raised from those ticket sales were used for the castle’s art conservation and education programs.

Hearst Castle is operated by California State Parks that also sells tickets for tours. Tickets for the swim events are 95 percent tax deductible. 

By the way, the Neptune Pool is unheated.