When I was a kid, I dreamed of living in a lighthouse. There was something appealing about living at the wild edge of the world and spending one's life warning mariners away from hidden dangers.
Though modern technology has pretty much ended the age of lighthouse keepers, it has also made it possible for average people to stay overnight at lighthouses. Five California lighthouses offer this option. Not only are lighthouses interesting historic structures, they're also usually located along the most treacherous and scenic sections of our coast. They can also be surprisingly affordable, with accommodations ranging from hostel bunks to gourmet bed & breakfast rooms and rentals of entire former lighthouse keeper homes.
A few weekends ago I stayed at the Point Arena Lighthouse. Located on a westward-protruding finger of land between Bodega Bay and Mendocino, it's hard to imagine a more impressive setting for one of the tallest lighthouse towers on the west coast — or a more impressive place for a vacation rental.
Point Arena is a popular stopping point for people driving up the coast on Highway 1. The former fog signal building is now a museum that showcases an excellent display of historic photos and artifacts, along with the lighthouse's impressively huge first-order Fresnel lens.
This lens could project light 20 miles offshore and warn mariners of dangerous rocks below. It was recently removed from the tower to protect it from damage in a future earthquake. The San Andreas Fault runs almost directly beneath the tower and the original lighthouse was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake. The current tower dates to 1908 and was built with reinforced concrete to hopefully withstand future quakes. The tower recently had extensive renovation and the view from the top is amazing, encompassing the point, the ocean and the redwood forested slopes of the north coast mountains to the east. Today a modern beacon mounted on the tower's balcony continues to warn mariners of Point Arena's dangers.
The homes that formerly housed the families of the head lighthouse keeper and the 3 assistant keepers can be rented. Three comfortable 3-bedroom homes rent for $225 a night. A 2-bedroom home rents for $200 a night, a smaller apartment is $175, and a separate bedroom (the Keeper's Room) is $125. A $50 cleaning fee is charged with each home rental.
Close to the tower and with grand views from the Point Arena bluffs, it's hard to find a better deal along the coast. Rustic homes accommodate up to 6 people with comfortable beds, fully equipped kitchens, wood stoves and comfortable living rooms. In the evenings the gates are locked and the point becomes yours to share with only the few others staying there. It's a great place to escape the Valley heat — the temperatures rarely rise above 75 and are more often around 50.
Point Arena is adjacent to several miles of beaches and bluffs in Manchester State Park and the BLM's Stornetta Public Lands. The small town of Point Arena offers supplies and food. It's hard to run out of things to do and views to enjoy. Go to www.pointarenalighthouse.com/index.html or call (877) 725-4448.
The Point Cabrillo Lighthouse is up the coast, just north of Mendocino. You can rent the beautifully restored Head Keeper's House for $833 for 2 nights (up to 8 people in 2 bedrooms) or one of two studio cottages (up to 2 people) for $144 per night. Like Point Arena, it offers great views and coast access. Go to www.pointcabrillo.org/ or call (800) 262-6123.
The Pigeon Point Lighthouse is a landmark 115-foot tower halfway between Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay.
Hostel-style accommodations with common rooms and shared kitchens are available. Bunks in shared rooms start at $25.50 a night, private rooms with double beds are $72, and family rooms with 6 bunk beds are $162. Go to http://norcalhostels.org/pigeon or call (650) 879-0633.
The Point Montara Lighthouse is between Half Moon Bay and Pacifica — a short drive from San Francisco and adjacent to some amazing coastline. Like Pigeon Point, it is operated by Hostelling International and rates and facilities are similar. Go to http://norcalhostels.org/montara or call (650) 728-7177.
East Brother Light Station is a beautiful Victorian-style lighthouse located on a small inland in the San Francisco Bay.
Because the keeper's dwelling is connected to the tower, you are actually staying "in" the lighthouse — not just in the former keeper's quarters.
Today East Brother is an elegantly restored bed and breakfast. I haven't stayed there yet, but I hope to soon — I've read a lot of good reviews about the lodging and gourmet meals. Rooms are $315-$425 a night. Go to www.ebls.org/ or call (510) 233-2385.
Adam Blauert is a correspondent to the Sun-Star. He can be reached at email@example.com.