COVID restrictions are over. So why is this California treasure still closed? – Monterey Herald

When the biggest winter storm swept away part of Highway 1 and dumped about 20 inches of rain over parts of the central California coast, it also destroyed another key road – the one leading to Hearst Castle .

Now, that 2.25-mile stretch of damaged pavement keeps the landmark closed until next year, just as the Golden State welcomes the world to its renowned tourist spots again after 15 months of pandemic restrictions.

To adapt, Hearst Castle is turning to Hollywood-themed virtual tours starting July 13, joining Kris Jenner and the Chernobyl Hounds on Airbnb’s online experiences platform.

While guests cannot stroll along the famous Neptune Pool where Clark Gable and Cary Grant swam, a state parks guide will lead visitors through the park – sometimes in period costume – to recreate the experience of the time of William Randolph Hearst.

Hearst Castle tour guide Tracy Kosinski points to gold infused glass tiles at the indoor Roman pool. (Credit: © Hearst Castle® / CA State Parks)

Virtual tours will likely be the castle’s “new normal” until the end of the year – a disappointment for potential visitors clamoring to see the monument, which drew 750,000 visitors each year before the pandemic.

Lorienne Schwenk, executive director of the Cambria Chamber of Commerce, recalled a disappointed couple who had traveled from New York to find the castle was closed – they told Schwenk the castle was the main reason they had come to the seaside village.

“Their feeling was that because everything else was opening, of course, the castle would be open too,” she said.

This reopening may not take place until early 2022. State park officials predict that it will take six to nine months to repair the damaged stretch of Hearst Castle Road, according to spokeswoman Gloria Sandoval.

The timing may come as a surprise to those who oversaw the washing of Highway 1, which reopened in April, nearly two months ahead of schedule after a storm system in late January that ravaged the area, causing flooding and one death. But when it comes to the road to Hearst Castle, repairs can be more tedious. The 27 culverts will need to be repaired or replaced to ensure the road is structurally sound to support the weight of the coaches.

“We recognize that the damage to the road is unfortunate and the patience of the public is being tested,” said Sandoval. “Everyone involved understands the need to act quickly. “

In the meantime, the virtual offer could satisfy some Hearst fans. Tara Stephenson, director of development for the Foundation at Hearst Castle, said she was confident virtual tours would find a market.

“I get phone calls and emails every day from the public asking me when the castle will reopen. “How do I see it, can we get a private tour, are there any videos, what are you doing online?” She said. “We already know the demand is there.

Airbnb spokesperson Liz DeBold Fusco said the virtual tours would open up the castle to the curious who are still stuck in COVID-restricted countries, recounting how she took an Argentina-based tango class via Airbnb from her home in New Jersey.

“It allows people around the world to be part of a piece of history that they might not have known or otherwise could not have enjoyed,” she said.

Smoke from a forest fire rises from a ridge line behind the famous Hearst Castle facade, August 20, 2016 (Joe Johnston / The Tribune (by San Luis Obispo) via AP)

The castle will start by offering eight tours per month, priced at $ 20 per person and capped at 10 people per visit. All ticket revenue will go directly to the foundation, which will help support its conservation and education efforts, according to Stephenson. “It is not at all intended to compensate for the income lost during the closure of the castle,” she said.

In this rugged part of the California coast, Hearst Castle is no stranger to danger. Storms and forest fires are frequent hazards in the surrounding community. Businesses in the region, at least, are not holding their breath to have the road fixed and tours of the castles resume.

Travel has remained fairly stable in Cambria throughout the pandemic, according to Schwenk, although she said some hotels have been affected by visitors canceling or shortening their stay once they found out the castle was closed. .

Bob Benjamin is not fazed. He works at the front desk at Cambria Beach Lounge and says there is more to this breathtaking corner of the California coast than the castle.

“All the hotels here are doing well,” he said. “People just want to leave Bakersfield, LA and San Francisco. It doesn’t have to do with the castle, it has to do with escape.

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