1930s Again: Evening on the Enchanted Hill

The after-hours tours have returned to Hearst Castle.

DOWNTON DAYDREAMING: Don't try, for a minute, to tell us or anyone that you don't imagine yourself as a resident of a certain idyllic (if drama-riddled) abbey on a particular series where the clothing is period, the grounds are sweeping, and the flatware-to-table's-edge distance is measured with a straight ruler. It can be easy to get lost in "Downton Abbey," even if you don't necessarily desire the characters' humdinger problems. It can, in fact, be easy to get lost in any drama set in a past time, when cocktails were served extra chilled and absolutely on the hour of eight o'clock, when croquet mallets and swimming caps dominated the recreational pursuits, and when tuxedos were worn to play cards. There is a way to go through the television screen, for a night, and be in that world, or at least a version of that world, high up on the Enchanted Hill. Hearst Castle, after all, rather dominated the '30s social calendar, or at least was a powerful player in the West Coast swan-about-and-socialize scene. That vibrant, drop-waisted, martini-riffic time comes to real life, via real people, during the Evening Tours at the San Simeon landmark. And they recently opened again, for a fall run, so if you're keen to soak up more of that era...

STEP INTO THE 1930s: You'll saunter, as one must, in that decade, in Hearst Castle's Casa del Mar, the Library, the Gothic Suite, and other areas, all the while encountering "guests" of the publishing magnate who famously built the fabled spread. The gloamy, evening-falling atmosphere brings the play-acting to life a bit more vibrantly than under the brighter sun of day, and, for a moment, you could pretend that you'll retreat to your suite later that night, after you go for a dip in the Neptune Pool. Tickets? They're $36 for adults. You tying a scarf around your head and knotting it to one side, like a starlet might? That can only add to the general conviviality. That soft just-after-dark air that falls on the hill, something daytime visitors don't always get to bask in? There's no television magic to that; it's enchanted alright, and if you end up really stepping into the 1930s, a la Brigadoon, be glad you've worn a jaunty scarf and are semi-dressed for the part.

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