Based on the interest generated by last week’s column about the Point Sur Lighthouse, here’s a brief guide to other lighthouses of Central California that are open to the public:
Point Reyes: Just north of the entrance to San Francisco Bay, Point Reyes is one of California’s most scenic stretches of coastline. The lighthouse that helped to make it less perilous to mariners is now open to the public Friday through Monday from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Hours will be reduced after Labor Day. For information, go to www.nps.gov/pore/planyourvisit/visitorcenters.htm or call (415) 669-1534. The walk to the beacon requires descending and then climbing 300 stairs. Weather can be extreme at Point Reyes, and the lighthouse is closed when wind tops 40 mph.
Point Bonita: Located on the Marin County coastline near the northern end of the Golden Gate Bridge, this lighthouse has one of the most exciting approaches of any tower that can be easily visited – the easy half-mile trail includes a tunnel and suspension bridge. For information, go to www.nps.gov/goga/pobo.htm or call (415) 331-1540. The lighthouse is open Saturday through Monday from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m.
East Brother: A tiny island in the East Bay is home to a Victorian-style light station that is now a five-room gourmet bed-and-breakfast inn. Rooms are available throughout the year. For information, go to www.ebls.org/visitor-information.html or call (510) 233-2385.
Pigeon Point: Located between San Francisco Bay and Monterey Bay, this 115-foot tower is the tallest lighthouse on the West Coast. The tower is currently closed to the public due to needed structural repairs and will reopen as soon as those repairs have been completed. The former keepers’ homes are now a lodging facility operated by Hosteling International. For information about the lighthouse, go to www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=533 or call (650) 879-2120. For lodging information, go to www.norcalhostels.org/pigeon or call (415) 863-1444.
Point Pinos: If Point Sur is the most remote lighthouse in this part of the coast, its near neighbor Point Pinos might be the least remote, located at the south end of Monterey Bay near Pacific Grove. Built in 1855, it is the oldest continuously operating lighthouse on the West Coast. For information, go to www.pointpinos.org. The lighthouse is open Thursday through Monday from 1 to 4 p.m.
Piedras Blancas: Though Point Sur is currently the most complete light station you can visit, Piedras Blancas may someday offer stiff competition. The grounds and several buildings are open to the public on regularly scheduled tours. Many of the buildings have been restored, and hopefully, the tower will be also. An effort to restore the tower is underway – its top 30 feet were removed in 1948 following an earthquake. For information about tours, go to www.blm.gov/ca/st/en/fo/bakersfield/Programs/pbls/tours.html or call (805) 927-7361. Piedras Blancas is also known for the elephant seals that have made this place home since the 1990s. They can be easily seen from parking areas along Highway 1, just north of the lighthouse. The best time to visit is between the months of December and February, when males, females and pups are all present.
Point San Luis: One of the most recently restored and opened lighthouses on the West Coast, the San Luis Obispo Lighthouse opened to the public in 2010. Access is offered on regularly scheduled tours – you can choose to ride a trolley to get to the lighthouse or participate in a 3.5-mile round trip that provides great views of the Avila Beach coastline. For information, go to www.sanluislighthouse.org or call (855) 533-7843.
In addition to those listed above, several others can be seen from the exterior:• Fort Point Lighthouse can be seen as part of a visit to Fort Point National Historic Site. Located directly under the Golden Gate Bridge, this brick fort was constructed to guard the entrance to the bay between 1853 and 1861. The lighthouse is located on the top level of the fort: www.nps.gov/fopo, (415) 556-1693.
• If you tour Alcatraz, you can see the island’s lighthouse tower during your visit: www.nps.gov/alca/index.htm.
• Located near Half Moon Bay, the former homes of the lighthouse keepers of the Point Montara Lighthouse are now a hostel. You can stay there or simply stop by and walk around the grounds for beautiful views: www.norcalhostels.org/montara, (650) 728-7177.
• If you visit the elephant seals of Ano Nuevo, you can spot the wreckage of the lighthouse and the former keeper’s house on Ano Nuevo Island during your tour: www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=523, (650) 879-0227.
• Santa Cruz’s original lighthouse no longer exists, but a replacement operates as a surfing museum from Wednesday through Monday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.: www.santacruzsurfingmuseum.org.