California is famous for a lot of things: sunshine, surfboards, and a laid-back vibe, to name a few. Something that most people don’t think of, though, are historic castles — and while it may come as a surprise, the Golden State is home to dozens of stunning and storied works of architecture. Sure, none of them were home to the royal family, but they’re still pretty impressive.
Below, we highlight four of the properties worth planning a trip around.
For a good dose of history: Hearst Castle
Arguably the most notable castle in California, Hearst Castle is a mid-nineteenth century castle and a national historic landmark located in the hills of San Simeon. With a lengthy and fascinating history, the castle features sprawling, design-forward gardens and a few really cool elements, like a theater, two pools, a zoo, and an extensive wine cellar. The biggest draw? Guests can view the 25,000 artifacts and works of art from around the world (ancient Egypt and Rome, for example).
For the royal treatment in Napa: Castello di Amorosa
Castello di Amorosa is just as authentically Italian as it is beautiful to behold. Styled after a classic 13th-century Tuscan castle, it was built by fourth generation Italian winemaker Dario Sattui, who wanted to bring his passion for medieval architecture and Italian winemaking to life. The castle itself spans 121,000 square feet, and the property 171 acres in the heart of Calistoga. Visitors can book the most luxurious and intimate tours and tastings here.
To fuel your Scandinavian wanderlust: Vikingsholm
Nicknamed Tahoe’s hidden castle, Vikingsholm is a little slice of Scandinavia in NorCal. Built on the shores of Emerald Bay, Mrs. Lora Josephine Knight decided that the water reminded her of Scandinavia’s sparkling fjords, and in 1928 she commissioned her Swedish nephew to design the magnificent Vikingsholm. The state of California acquired the home and property in 1953, and is now a part of Emerald Bay State Park. Visitors can tour the property during the summer months.
For a castle in ruins and a stellar view: Knapps Castle
Located less than one hour from downtown Santa Barbara high in the mountains of Los Padres National Forest, castle-lovers can find one of the most interesting pieces of history in California. All that remains of this privately-owned property (built in 1916) are some medieval-looking stone archways and fireplaces, but the ruins still look like something out of Game of Thrones. Plus, from the area surrounding the structure, you’ll get sweeping views of the Santa Ynez River Canyon, Lake Cachuma, the San Rafael Mountains. Knapps Castle is just a 0.8-mile roundtrip hike from the trailhead.