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During my 2001 and 2005 visits, evenings (except Sundays) could be spent in the cocktail lounge, which has an early California look similar to the dining room. There’s a big fireplace and pool table, and space for lots of folks. However, during my visits, it was pretty slow and the patrons included just a couple of guests and a few locals.

In 2001, the base bowling alley (then also operated by the McClendons) and a movie theater were open to nonmilitary guests of the lodge. A couple of families were guests at the hotel during my stay.

After regaling me with stories of catering parties for Army staff at The Hacienda during the 1960s, one of those locals, Richard Pozzi, suggested I take Naciamento Ferguson Road over the mountains to the coast.

“Its about a half-hour over there if you drive flat-out, about 45 minutes if you take your time, which you want to do,” Pozzi, who grew up in the area, told me back in January 2001. It took me over an hour, but then it was my first time and who’s rushing?

A frieze at the Hacienda Guest Lodge room in 2002
A frieze at the Hacienda Guest Lodge room in 2002

One of the few routes to the coast between Morro Bay and Carmel, Naciamento Ferguson zigs and zags over the Santa Lucia Range, the mountains that line this section of California’s sea shore. If you like twisty curvy roads, like I do, this is one for you. Although a bit rough when going through the National Forest lands, Naciamento Ferguson offers great views of the pines and rocky gorges on the east side of the mountains.

At the summit is a ranger station and several trailheads for enjoying the peaks of the Santa Lucia Range. Trails are well marked, but if you’re going to park your car, you’ll need to purchase a Forest Service permit.

Then at one curve, suddenly, there it is… the Pacific. You’re above California Highway 1 at Point Gorda and south of the Sand Dollar Picnic Area. It still a good 15 minutes from the peak down the twisting road, traversing the mostly barren hillsides of the coast, but what a view. On the day I visited, the fog sat on the water, looking like a thick blanket of cotton candy stretching for miles, swirling around the base of the mountains.

Even when fogged in, this part of California is always spectacular. Driving into the fog was even more fun, as the wisps enveloped my car. Still, this wasn’t the pea-soup variety, so I could still see enough to avoid the road’s edge.

I decided to go back over Naciamento Ferguson to the Hacienda, rather than cruise north to Carmel or south to Hearst’s “other” ranch house at San Simeon. Either direction, you’re looking at about an hour to the next road that will take you over the mountains and back to The Hacienda.

Pozzi also recommended I take a drive north from The Hacienda, up Del Ventura Road. In winter, it ends at a locked gate just past the Los Padres National Forest’s Memorial Campground, but is still worth a trip. Much less twisty that Naciamento Ferguson, it gives drivers a chance to enjoy the scenery without having to white-knuckle drive. It doesn’t go to the coast, but does ford a couple of streams.

There are also several well-marked trails on the National Forest land; don’t forget the permit if you plan to park your car while hiking.

North from the Memorial Campground, on a stretch closed when I visited in January, is Indians Road. Pozzi said this is a spectacular gorge, reminiscent of Yosemite Valley. I plan to return to check it out in the spring or summer, after the road has reopened. This route heads north to Carmel through redwood forests.

Mission San Antonio de Padua, one of the least known of the 21 original missions, is right down the road from The Hacienda. Established by Father Serra in 1771, the mission buildings have been rebuilt and are a working Franciscan parish. The usual exhibits on mission life are joined by a quiet courtyard home to peacocks.

East of The Hacienda is the central coast’s wine country. If you head to King City, then north on U.S. 101, or Arroyo Seco Road and Carmel Valley Road, there are more than 20. South on G14 towards Paso Robles you’ll find another dozen. But be careful on the twisty, narrow roads both before and after visiting.

During my 2001 and 2005 visits, there were always questions about the Hacienda’s future as a lodge. The whole future of Ft. Hunter Liggett is up in the air; if you’re interested, do some further research on the Web to figure out the latest.

In the meantime, I’d say it’s worth a visit, but since the management has changed, I can’t testify to what’s going on there. Give them a call and use your own judgment.

A worthy goal, as The Hacienda is one Hearst’s Castle where we average folk can stay.

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  • Originally visited in 2001; updated 2005.
  • 8/12/08: Los Angeles Times visits Hacienda.
  • 10/31/06: There’s a new operator at the Hacienda, who contacted Weekend Driver. The restaurant and pool are closed. As far as I know, the new operator has no web site yet. Roger McClendon, the manager in 2001, is no longer with the facility. I visited again in Summer 2005 and found it just as charming; management has changed again since then.
  • 2/4/12: Comments from a reader who just visited.