“Lighthouses are noble human achievements, the material from whence comes drama, poetry, artistry, peril and rescue. They are guideposts marking watery highways leading to everywhere…”

There are nearly 50 lighthouses located along the shore of California. As the population of San Francisco exploded from the 1849 Gold Rush, the great migration and demand for building materials increased the ship traffic along the coast.

The first lighthouse on the west coast was erected on Alcatraz Island in 1854 in response to a growing number of shipwrecks. Lighthouse keepers would live at each lighthouse with their families to ensure the light stay lit at all times.

Each lighthouse was topped with a Fresnel lens that intensified the kerosene flame into an imposing beam of light. Fresnel lenses were state-of-the-art at the time and primarily made in France. After the proliferation of electricity, most Fresnel lenses were replaced by modern electronic beacons and many of the original lenses were lost or destroyed.
Today, several impressive lighthouses include visitor centers and museums and can be explored by either self-guided or docent-led tours. Some California’s lighthouses provide the option for overnight stay in the former lightkeeper’s cabins. These accommodations can range from dorm-style hostels to detached homes.
Point Arena and Pigeon Point have the tallest lighthouses on the west coast at 115-feet tall. Point Arena Lighthouse holds the distinction of being the tallest lighthouse you can climb to the top of in the state. It was built in 1870 on a narrow headland 130 miles north of San Francisco. The original Point Arena Lighthouse was destroyed in the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906 and rebuilt in 1907 on a safer portion of headland. No wonder when you learn that Point Arena is where the San Andreas Fault dives out into the ocean. Point Arena Lighthouse also features a museum and motel-style accommodations in the former lightkeeper’s cabins.
Trinidad is located north of Eureka and features a memorial lighthouse that overlooks Trinidad Bay. It’s actually a nonfunctional, replica of the Trinidad Head Lighthouse that’s located on the west side of Trinidad Head and accessible by a short hike. The Trinidad Memorial Lighthouse is much more picturesque of the two and easily accessible right off the road. It stands as a memorial to all those lost at sea and creates a great focal point for Trinidad Bay.
Two historic lighthouses are situated very near each other in L.A. County; the Point Fermin Lighthouse and Point Vicente Lighthouse.
Point Fermin Lighthouse is located in a city park and tours are available everyday but Monday. The lens was once housed in a cupola perched atop an impressive Victorian mansion that once served as the lightkeeper’s home. The light was extinguished during WWII and never relit.
Just a few miles up the road in Rancho Palos Verdes is the Point Vicente Lighthouse. It stands tall at 67 feet and features the traditional Cape Cod-style architecture that we most commonly associate with a lighthouse. Point Vicente Lighthouse is fully operational and tours are limited to one Saturday per month. It is situated adjacent to the Point Vicente Interpretive Center which focuses on local whale migrations with a museum, gift shop, picnic grounds and whale watching stations.
The Old Point Loma Lighthouse is located on the north side of San Diego Harbor and offers a commanding view of the San Diego skyline, Coronado Island, and the Pacific Ocean. It is situated adjacent to Cabrillo National Monument which chronicles the landing of Spanish explorer, Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo on September 28th of 1542.
The Old Point Loma Lighthouse is one of the oldest in the state and protrudes only a short distance above the small lightkeeper’s home that contains it. Like several other California lighthouses, it was built too high to penetrate fog resulting in it being extinguished in 1891 and replaced by the New Point Loma Lighthouse over 300 feet lower on the point.

These are just a handful of the beautiful and historic lighthouses that can be found in California. Many more worth visiting are located from Crescent City to Santa Barbara. They have served as warning signals to sailors for 160 years and prevented a countless number of tragedies.


Almost all lighthouses are located at picturesque points along the coast. The docents that man the gift shops, museums and tours are always knowledgeable, friendly and more than happy to volunteer interesting facts about their lighthouse. Be prepared for wind and cold when visiting lighthouses but also be ready for amazing views.


Visit http://www.carevealed.com to find more information on lighthouses in California.

When You Go:

Point Arena Lighthouse
PO Box 11
45500 Lighthouse Road
Point Arena, CA  95468

Trinidad Head Lighthouse
Intersection of Trinity Street and Edwards Street
Trinity, CA

Point Fermin Lighthouse Historic Site and Museum
807 W. Paseo Del Mar
San Pedro, CA 90731

Point Vincent Lighthouse
31550 Palos Verdes Drive West
Rancho Palos Verdes, CA  90274

Old Point Loma Lighthouse
1800 Cabrillo Memorial Drive
San Diego, CA  92106


Lighthouses of the Pacific
Jim A. Gibbs
Published by Schiffer Publishing, Ltd

*Quotes come from this book – it’s a beautiful history of lighthouses and the Pacific Coastline – tales of shipwrecks, ghosts, techy stuff, and more!

Lighthouses of the Pacific - book image

Photo attribution:

Point Arena Lighthouse
Author: Frank Schulenburg
Sea Lion – Bureau of Land Mgmt