William Randolph who? Documentaries? Priceless art I cannot touch? And what do I even know about it? I think I had a story tucked away in my brain about Patty and some awesome 70s stuff, and something about Orson Wells. Hmmmm. Even worse. This was not going to fly well with children, I thought to myself the entire way. But ever since that day my mom kept on driving up the PCH into the sunset as I whined we weren’t going inside, I’ve been determined to take the tour. So in we go. Here are the highlights and low-lights of visiting this Central Coast location with kids in tow.
1. Everyone identifies with “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”
We all like to wind our way through the hills, watching the ocean, and looking out for zebras. If I were the wealthiest man in the country, would I have a zoo? A trampoline park? A view of the ocean? Is that real gold? What about that? What about that?
The kids got into this imagining, and were inspired to preserve some of the sights on camera.
She snapped this one:
2. Many (but not all) kids can handle the tour-y portions of the tour.
Our tour guide catered to the kids, and as they kept asking questions in every room, eventually she looked to them for the honest answers when no one else was asking. Is this gold? Is that gold? What.in.this.room.is.gold?
3. Plenty of unstructured time
We do better off the tour, and could wander around looking for the stuff Soren chose to complete in her Scavenger Hunt, wooed by the promise of a surprise prize at the end of the tour. However, Alice was right: the scavenger hunt was intense, and Soren looked down more than up on the tour. She was ok with this, since a prize was involved, but I feel like the scavenger hunt targets a pretty narrow range when they’re still interested in being mini-rangers but are actually darn literate and diligent. Maybe 7-9? Definitely not the kids you’re worried about taking off across the carpet and disrupting the talks.
The tour itself was short and sweet (I think) and gave us some time to look at the outdoor sights on the grounds on our own, and catch the return bus leisurely. Win-win for all types of families traveling with kids.
THE BOTTOM LINE
I wouldn’t have wanted to do this tour with two kids pre-kindergarten, but at 7 and 8, we were fine. The kids actually seemed to lap up the history, had tons of wonderful questions that made them the darlings of fellow tour-goers, and managed to stay quiet and still enough to not cause trouble. There are zebras living here, so come on. Who do they want on these tours? It’s great for elementary-aged kids. Kids who cannot stay on the carpets (and i’ve been there, I feel your pain) or stand still for 4-ish minute mini-lectures in the rooms should consider postponing taking a tour for another year.
As an alternative, the castle visitor center has a big IMAXy film, and can just be used as a pit stop to walk around, look up at the castle, but a nice souvenir spoon, and move along ’til the kids are older. If some members of the family are committed to seeing the house, you can consider buying a ticket for the little one, taking the bus ride up, and then just having one older member stay in the outdoor areas. There’s lots to see atop the hill, and it doesn’t have to be so structured. This is one of the biggest advantages of this tour.
Water bottles are allowed on the busses, and we sneaked a Sweettart or two on our way in and out. Some smaller kids may not be able to heed to no-food rule. No-touching is even harder. Especially anything gold. And the pools look mighty inviting on a hot day.
All in all, we had a great time and would do it again. I could have made it even more fun by giving the kids a little background on the famous guests and old Hollywood folks that went over their heads, but we were right on the cusp of making this attraction go from “no way” to “fun.” A great warm-up and test case for the longer, more tedious (but weirder!) Winchester Mystery House a bit farther up the coast.