California Lighthouses

Lighthouses in California


California lighthouses were erected as safety beacons along the rugged coast in response to an increase in population and shipwrecks. Lighthouse keepers would live at the lighthouse with their families to ensure that the light stay lit at all times. Each lighthouse had a Fresnel lens that intensified the kerosine flame into a beam. Fresnel lenses were state-of-the-art at the time and made primarily in France. After the proliferation of electricity, most Fresnel lenses were replaced by modern electronic beacons. It's rare to find a lighthouse with its original Fresnel lens since many were lost or destroyed. These lighthouses can be explored either by self-guided tour or docent-led tours. Most remaining lighthouses are now tourist attractions with some being hostels or vacation rentals. Four California lighthouses offer overnight accommodations including Point Montara, Pigeon Point, Point Cabrillo and Point Arena. Pigeon Point and Point Arena are the tallest lighthouses in California at 115-feet.

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San Francisco Lighthouses

Point Reyes Lighthouse is located at the tip of Drakes Bay between Bodega Bay and the San Francisco Bay. A Visitor Center offers exhibits on the lighthouse and Point Reyes plant & wildlife. Being in an already prominent location 250 feet above the water, Point Reyes is only 37 feet tall. An adjacent building houses the foghorns, compressors and backup generator. Point Reyes first went into operation in 1870 and served a pivotal role at one of the foggiest and windiest locations on the California coast. Getting to the lighthouse requires a long journey from Highway 1 along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. The 2-hour drive is picturesque with many points of interest as it passes through the Point Reyes National Seashore. Access requires a descent down a 300-step staircase from the Visitor Center. Tours are available Friday through Monday. Consider making an appointment for one of their evening events when the lighthouse is lit. During busy whale watching season, a shuttle bus from Drakes Beach may be required to access.

NOTE: The stairs leading to the lighthouse are prone to closure during high winds.

Point Reyes Lighthouse Visitor Center
27000 Sir Francis Drake Boulevard
Inverness, CA 94937
(415) 669-1534

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Point Bonita Lighthouse photo courtesy of the National Park Service

Point Bonita Lighthouse is located at the northern tip of the San Francisco Bay. Point Bonita went into operation at its current location in 1877 and remains active today. Two other lighthouses preceded it from 1855 but the locations were a failure. Access requires passing through a tunnel and crossing a suspension foot-bridge 100 feet above the treacherous waters below. The lighthouse and keeper's home are precariously perched atop a jagged peak. Get there by exiting Highway 1 at Alexander Avenue and heading west from Sausalito. Tours are available Saturday through Monday.

Point Bonita Lighthouse
Marin Headlands Visitor Center
Fort Barry, Building 948
Sausalito, CA 94965
(415) 331-1540

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Alcatraz Island Lighthouse is located on Alcatraz Island in the San Francisco Bay. Constructed in 1854, Alcatraz Island Lighthouse was the first to be built on the west coast. It was replaced in 1909 because of damage it suffered during the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. Alcatraz Island is home to the infamous Alcatraz Prison where notorious criminals like Al Capone, "Machine Gun" Kelly and Robert Stroud "The Birdman of Alcatraz" were once imprisoned. Access to the island is only possible by taking the Alcatraz Island Tour available at Fisherman's Wharf.

Alcatraz Island Lighthouse
San Francisco, CA 94133
(415) 981-7625

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Point Montara Lighthouse is located off Highway 1 approximately 25 miles south of San Francisco. Point Montara was established in 1875 as a foghorn and later underwent many additions including a lantern, makeshift structure with a fresnel lens and in 1928, the tower was built. The grounds include the lighthouse, keeper's home, fog signal building and hostel. Tours are available daily. Consider staying the night at this unique and historic hostel.

Point Montara Lighthouse
16th Street
Montara, CA 94037
(650) 728-7177

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Pigeon Point Lighthouse is located off Highway 1 between Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz. Pigeon Point was lit for the first time in 1872. Being 115-feet tall, it shares the title of California's tallest lighthouse with the Point Arena on the north coast. The grounds include the lighthouse, foghorn building and keeper's home that today serves as a hostel. Tours are available Friday through Monday. Consider staying the night at this unique and historic hostel. Pigeon Point is named after an infamous shipwreck that occurred there.

Pigeon Point Lighthouse
210 Pigeon Point Road
Pescadero, CA 94060
(650) 879-2120

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Los Angeles Lighthouses

Point Vicente Lighthouse

Point Vicente Lighthouse is located on the Palos Verdes Peninsula just south of Hawthorne Boulevard. The Point Vicente began operation in 1926 and is still functioning today. The U.S. Coast Guard operates and maintains the 67-foot tall lighthouse and grounds. Tours are available every second Saturday of the month except March when it coincides Palos Verdes Whale Day. The lighthouse is situated next to the Point Vicente Interpretive Center which features exhibits, a whale viewing stadium and nature trails.

Point Vicente Lighthouse
31550 Palos Verdes Drive West
Rancho Palos Verdes, CA 90275
(310) 541-0334

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Point Fermin Lighthouse

Point Fermin Lighthouse is located at the end of the 110 freeway in San Pedro. Built in 1874, Point Fermin is perched in a cupola atop a beautiful Victorian mansion that was once the lighthouse keeper's home. The light was extinguished in 1941 due to the threat of enemy attack during WWII and was never relit. Situated in Point Fermin Park, tours are available every day but Monday. Other nearby attractions include Fort MacArthur and the Korean Friendship Bell.

Point Fermin Lighthouse
807 West Paseo Del Mar
San Pedro, CA 90731
(310) 241-0684

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San Diego Lighthouses

San Diego Lighthouse

Point Loma Lighthouse is located on the north point of San Diego Harbor. The Old Point Loma Lighthouse is situated high on a peninsula with Cabrillo National Monument overlooking all of San Diego. Cabrillo National Monument features the lighthouse, Cabrillo Monument and a museum with interpretive exhibits related to the military history of Point Loma and the historic landing of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo at San Diego Bay on September 28, 1542. It was first lit in 1855 but was extinguished in 1891 after realizing the location was too high to be effective in fog. Head down Cabrillo Road to see the New Point Loma Lighthouse and explore the beautiful shoreline. Visitors have access to the monument, museum and can join tours daily.

Point Loma Lighthouse
1800 Cabrillo Memorial Drive
San Diego, CA 92106
(619) 557-5450

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Central Coast Lighthouses

Santa Cruz Memorial Lighthouse

Santa Cruz Lighthouse is located at Lighthouse Point in Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz, also known as the Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse, is attached to a building which houses the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum. Off the southeast side of Lighthouse Point is 'Steamer Lane', one of the most renowned surf breaks on the entire west coast. Santa Cruz was first lit on New Year's Day in 1870. It served until 1941 when the area was prepared for military defense during WWII. The original wooden structure was eventually dismantled and destroyed. In 1967, the parents of Mark Abbott, who had drowned at a local beach two years earlier, built a new brick lighthouse as a memorial to their beloved son.

Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse
701 W. Cliff Drive
Santa Cruz, CA 95060
(831) 420-6289

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Santa Cruz Harbor Lighthouse is located on the west side entrance to Santa Cruz Harbor. Although a light beacon has been at this location since 1964, the current lighthouse was erected in 2001 as a community improvement project. It stands over 40 feet tall and resembles a classic design. It was renamed the 'Walton Lighthouse' in honor of a merchant marine that died during WWII.

Walton Lighthouse
616 Atlantic Avenue
Santa Cruz, CA 95062
No Phone

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Point Pinos Lighthouse is located west of Monterey in Pacific Grove. Point Pinos began operation in 1855 and is the oldest continuously operating lighthouse on the west coast. It even has the rare distinction of containing the original Fresnel lens. Interesting stories surround its former light keepers including one that was killed pursuing an outlaw as part of a Sheriff's posse and another that received mention in a writing by Robert Louis Stevenson. Tours are available Thursday through Monday.

Point Pinos Lighthouse
60-72 Asilomar Avenue
Pacific Grove, CA 93950
(831) 648-3176

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Point Sur Lighthouse is located on the Big Sur Coast approximately 25 miles south of Monterey. Poised atop a 350-foot headland, Point Sur began operation in 1889. It was one of the more remote lighthouses on the coast and therefore needed to be somewhat self sustaining. Supporting structures still standing on Point Sur include a barn, blacksmith shop, water tower, lightkeeper's home, assistant keeper's home, garage, barracks and more. Docent-led tours are 3-hours long on select days and start at the gate off Highway 1.

Point Sur Lighthouse
Highway 1
Monterey, CA 93940
(831) 625-4419

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Piedras Blancas Lighthouse

Piedras Blancas Lighthouse is located off Highway 1 approximately 6 miles north of Hearst Castle. Piedras Blancas went into operation in 1875 and is a classic structure. Unfortunately, an earthquake in 1948 damaged the glass cupola which has since been removed. The original Fresnel lens is on display on Main Street in Cambria. Guided tours are available Monday through Saturday. An Elephant seal colony is located just a short distance south.

Piedras Blancas Lighthouse
15950 Highway 1
San Simeon, CA 93452
(805) 927-7361

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Point San Luis Lighthouse is located south of San Luis Obispo off Highway 1 on Avila Beach Drive. Built in 1890, Point San Luis is perched in a cupola atop a beautiful Victorian mansion that was once the lighthouse keeper's home. The original Fresnel lens is housed in the adjacent foghorn house. Follow Avila Beach Drive past Avila Beach and the oil pier. Before Harford Pier, make a right on Wild Cherry Canyon Road and park in the dirt lot. Docent-led tours are available on select days and include a trolley ride from Wild Cherry Canyon.

TIP: Consider a kayak trip from Avila Beach to the lighthouse with Avila Beach Paddlesports.

Point San Luis Lighthouse
1 Light House Road
Avila Beach, CA 93405
(805) 540-5771

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Point Conception Lighthouse is located off Highway 1 at the point south of Lompoc and west of Santa Barbara. The first Point Conception Lighthouse was built in 1856 and was later rebuilt at a lower location in 1882. It resides in a very remote region of coastline and is inaccessible to the public.

Point Conception Lighthouse
Lompoc, CA 93436

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Anacapa Island Lighthouse is located in Channel Islands National Park on East Anacapa Island. The Anacapa Island Lighthouse was built in 1932 after several failed attempts of a less-permanent versions. The original Fresnel lens was replaced in 1989 with a modern lens and continues to operate today. The original lens is on display at the Anacapa Island visitor center. Getting to Anacapa Island requires a boat ride from Ventura Harbor and Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard. Activities on the island include hiking, camping, kayaking, diving, wildlife viewing and more.

Anacapa Island Lighthouse
Channel Islands National Park
Ventura, California 93001

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North Coast Lighthouses

Battery Point Lighthouse photo courtesy of the National Park Service

Battery Point Lighthouse is located off Highway 101 from Front Street in Crescent City. Battery Point was built in 1856 and served until 1965. In 1982 it was relit as a backup to the modern navigational beacon at the tip of the harbor jetty. Situated on a rocky outcropping, Battery Point is separated from shore during high tides. Tours are available every day year round when tides permit for crossing the 200-foot sandbar. Limited to weekends during winter months.

Battery Point Lighthouse
577 H Street
Crescent City, CA 95531
(707) 464-3089

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Trinidad Memorial Lighthouse

Trinidad Head Lighthouse is located off Highway 101 from Main Street in Trinidad. The original Trinidad Head Lighthouse began operation in 1871 at a rugged cliff-side location. By 1947 the Fresnel lens was replaced by a modern beacon that continues to operate today. In 1949, the original Fresnel lens was placed inside a replica closer to town at Trinity & Edwards Streets. It overlooks Trinidad Bay and is known as the Trinidad Head Memorial Lighthouse. The original lighthouse can be viewed from a distance on the Trinidad Head Trail at the end of Edwards Street.

Trinidad Head Lighthouse
Trinity Street
Trinidad, CA 95570

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Point Cabrillo Lighthouse

Point Cabrillo Lighthouse is located approximately 4 miles north of Mendocino. Point Cabrillo was built specifically in response to the increase in lumber shipments due to the rebuilding of San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake. It began operation in 1909 and today is a California State Historic Park. In addition to the lighthouse, several other structures remain including keeper's homes, coal buildings, a carpentry shop and the oil house. The Lightkeeper's Museum also houses a 350-gallon tidal aquarium. The keeper's house and cottages are available as vacation rentals. Tours are available daily.

Point Cabrillo Lighthouse
45300 Lighthouse Road
Mendocino, CA 95460
(707) 937-5033

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Point Arena Lighthouse

Point Arena Lighthouse is located approximately 6 miles north of Point Arena. Point Arena was first lit in 1870. It was destroyed by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and rebuilt in 1907. Being 115-feet tall, it shares the title of California's tallest lighthouse with Pigeon Point south of San Francisco. Point Arena is the tallest in California that visitors can climb to the top. Today, the former foghorn building houses a museum and gift shop. At the museum can be found the original Fresnel lens and a whale skull. Tours are available daily. The keeper's house and cottages are available as vacation rentals.

Point Arena Lighthouse
45500 Lighthouse Road
Point Arena, CA 95468
(707) 882-2809

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