Just do the introductory tour. I think they will be half interested.
Nearby at the state beach are the elephant seals. They take about 20 minutes to see. I think the kids would be interested if the seals, which are huge, are calving or fighting.
Without knowing what your children are like, it's hard to say whether or not they'll enjoy it. I would have been bored out of my mind if my parents took me there under the age of 10.
Another thing to keep in mind is that Hearst Castle is a formal setting. Children must be under parental control the entire time. It's not a place where kids can run around and roam freely.
I doubt they'll be interested at all. Save the money and use the time along the highway.
The probably like the views on the pools and garden best.
The pretty Neptune pool has been drained of water due to the drought. They used the water on the landscaping.
The indoor pool is pretty cool. But 3 kids under 10 means the youngest is what? 5-6 at most? I think the whole process of getting the bus up the hill and back and then the tour is asking a lot of a 6 year old.
We did two separate tours of Hearst Castle, and on one of them the guide was really particular about where we actually put our feet in some of the rooms. We were told we had to stay on the carpet or mat trail (whatever it was covering the floor) and if someone stepped off that they were reminded quite sternly to be more careful where they walked. The other guide merely told our group at the beginning to please be mindful of where we walked and what we touched so that the rooms could be preserved for all to enjoy. Don't know how easy it would be to monitor the littlest ones and still enjoy the tour--you know your kids and how they behave. While we found the information and anecdotes shared by the guides to be very interesting, I don't think most kids under the age of 10 would.
Re the bus ride--you board the bus at the time the tour is listed, and it takes about 15 minutes to ride up to the castle. There is a taped narration playing for most of the ride, so everyone would have to be quiet and listen. Once the bus arrives at the castle, your guide is right there to meet you as you get off the bus. You are led inside and the tour begins immediately. At the end, you are escorted out of the castle and are free to spend time walking around seeing the gardens and the pools. You cannot re-enter the building. After you see all you want, you make your way to the bus stop and get on the next bus back to the visitor center--another 15 minute ride.
The suggestion about the elephant seal rookery near by is a good one. That's a fascinating place. Also, Hearst used to have a private zoo on the castle grounds, and there are still zebras roaming around the huge property. We got lucky and saw five of them standing in a field very near the fence by the road on our way back to Cambria after our tour. Surreal--ocean on one side and zebras on the other.
My under-10 niece and nephew enjoyed it, but they visited on a day trip from Pismo. I don't think sis & b-i-l would have attempted it in the middle of a long drive.
Before I retired I ran a historic house museum... (not Hearst Castle) We had at least one tour each day where the group had to include a child under 6, and were liberal about young kids on any tour... we found that some children really liked our old house, and some didn't .... we had more problems with grumpy adult volunteers worried about children that with kids... I once did a program that brought 300 three year olds through our fully furnished Victorian house over two days as part of a "tiny tot" program... The house survived very nicely, and the kids had a wonderful time...
You know your children better than we can... We told the little ones were were going to explore the house... and they generally did and liked it...
Hearst Castle has wonderful spectacular spaces.... nice gardens... I would think its a place that a child could find exciting... talk to them about it in advance... telling them what they will see helps... Look for the hold zoo cages on the drive up and down... maybe make your visit a hunt to see things they have heard about...
I once took my then 13 year old son to Falling Waters for the early morning "everywhere tour".... the guide was concerned at first then got excited when he asked "good" questions...
My two children are now grown... but I will have a young pair, a great neice and a great nephew here soon, and we might go on a house tour... If we were near Hearst Castle I would take them there... But I will prep them first...
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