Anza Trail Blog

Stay Where the Anza Expedition Camped

by Gale Randall, blog contributor

Tagged as:   California , Historic Sites , Missions , Monterey County

Moorish Dome at Dusk

There is nothing quite like staying at the Hacienda at Fort Hunter Liggett.

It’s like entering several time warps. For starters, it was near here that the Anza Expedition camped in 1776, en route to founding San Francisco, at nearby Mission San Antonio de Padua.

Before the days of the padres and Anza, the Salinan tribe flourished here. In the early 20th century, it was on a bluff overlooking the mission and surrounding valley that newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst built his imposing white Spanish hacienda for what was then his vast Milpitas Ranch. 

Hearst sold the ranch and hacienda to the U.S. government in 1940, and today they are part of Fort Hunter Liggett.

The Hacienda, a robust example of Mission Revival architecture designed in 1929 by Julia Morgan, oozes character. Hearst did not visit the hacienda very often, but when he did, it was quite festive. He would bring large parties over from his ranch at San Simeon. They would ride horseback to the summit of the western mountains and then be driven over from another Hearst ranch on the eastern side. Hollywood royalty numbered among the guests: William Powell, Charlie Chaplin, Jean Harlow, Errol Flynn, and Will Rogers, to name a few.

Flanked by two towers — one bearing a golden Moorish dome — the Hacienda is so imposing that many people mistake it for the mission when they come upon the valley.

Twelve guest rooms range from small “cowboy” rooms with shared baths to suites of two or more bedrooms. The best are the tower rooms where I stayed. Sporting Morganesque touches, such as wall niches, Moorish woodwork and bathroom stenciling, these expansive rooms also feature a sofa, TV, fridge and microwave, all at a reasonable rate. The place is a little funky but charming.

The former garrison commander’s quarters are also now available for group rentals, with two bedrooms in the upstairs suite with a view of the mission, and three bedrooms downstairs. 

Two attractive murals, adorn the walls of the Hacienda’s lounge and restaurant. They depict the history of the valley: on one side, the mission era, on the other the military era. 

A continental breakfast is served in the restaurant, but dinner is on your own. The dining room hosts events most weekends, like wine dinners and a recent murder mystery dinner theater. Hacienda guests are always invited; be sure to ask when making reservations.

I spent several hours exploring Mission San Antonio, which boasts a charming courtyard and sanctuary, and an unusual music room intended for the mission neophytes. San Antonio — California’s third and one of its most successful missions — was founded by Father Junipero Serra in 1771. It is one of only two missions in California that are not surrounded by modern towns or cities (the other is nearby La Soledad). San Antonio now serves as a parish church.

During my stay I took the winding Nacimiento-Fergusson Highway to the coast, driving through pristine oak-studded valleys and the twisty mountain passes of Los Padres National Forest (the 25-mile drive takes about an hour). At the summit I glimpsed jaw-dropping views of the Pacific and the fog- shrouded Big Sur Coast. The road ends at Lucia on Highway 1, just south of Big Sur.

Low-key Fort Hunter Liggett seemed fairly deserted during my visit, but I saw recruits buying insect repellent in the PX and piling into enormous vehicles for maneuvers in the hills. To be admitted to the military installation, be prepared to show a government-issued photo ID, along with car registration and proof of insurance.

You may contact the Hacienda at 831-386-2900 or 

Editor’s note: Thanks to Susan Clizbe, Fort Hunter Liggett Public Affairs, for additional information about Hacienda.


Moorish Dome at Dusk
The Hacienda at Fort Hunter Liggett (Credit: Susan Clizbe)

Murals Adorn the Hacienda
Credit: Susan Clizbe, Fort Hunter Liggett

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