Historic Lighthouses, San Francisco to Big Sur,
a weekend tour

Of the 34 coastal lighthouses in California six are located between San Francisco and Big Sur. In Santa Cruz are two non-historic lighthouses, built in 1967 and 2001. The other four are historic lighthouses listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Visiting the historic lighthouses makes a nice weekend trip.

Day One

The first day takes us from Pacifica down Highway 1 to Pacific Grove. You will want to get an early start because the lighthouse in Pacific Grove closes at 4:00pm.

The first town after Pacifica is Montera, our first stop is at the southern edge of town. if you need a good cup of coffee to begin your day stop at Cafe Lucca. They have a good selection of coffee and local atmosphere.

Point Montara Lighthouse
Point Montara Lighthouse
37° 32' 12" E 122$deg; 31' 10" W
Our first destination is Point Montara. The lighthouse at Point Montara is also a hostel and the grounds are open from 7:30 am. to sunset. They ask that you register at the office when you visit.

Point Montara Lighthouse On October 17, 1872, the British sailing ship Aculeo hit the nearby rocks and was lost. In March 1, 1875 Point Montara began as a signal whistle. The 12-inch steam whistle had a five-second blast could be heard up to 15 miles away. The whistle didn't prevent further disasters and a wooden framework tower with a fourth-order Fresnel lens was built.

The present 30' tower was built in 1928 is closed to the public. The keeper's dwelling, the fog signal building and former Coast Guard housing, which were added later, are used by the hostel.

The next lighthouse is about 32 miles south on Hwy 1. As you are passing through Half Moon Bay if you need breakfast turn right (West) on Capistrano Road, and take the first left into Pillar Point Harbor. Ketch Joanne Restaurant & Harbor Bar is popular with the locals and has excellent breakfasts.

Continuing south from Half Moon Bay, bread-lovers may want to turn off at Pescadero, where the bakery in Arcangeli Grocery has mouth watering Artichoke Garlic Herb Bread. Pigeon Point Lighthouse
Pigeon Point Lighthouse
37° 10' 54" N 122° 23' 39" W

Like Point Montara, grounds around Pigeon Point Lighthouse are also used as a hostel and the interior of the lighthouse was closed to the public after a section fell.

Pigeon Point Lighthouse Standing at 115 feet the Pigeon Point lighthouse is one of the tallest in the United States. Named Pigeon Point in the 1850's after the Carrier Pigeon, a clipper ship, struck the rocks off this point and was abandoned. At least three more ships were lost in the 1860's before funds for construction in were approved in March of 1871. A fog signal started on September 10, 1871. The lighthouse tower was finished on November 15, 1872.

In the spring of 1933 a fire truck, responding to a fire at the lighthouse made the trip from Redwood City to Pigeon Point in forty-five minutes. Google now estimates the trip at fifty-seven minutes and I assume the roads are better today.

The next stop, Point Pinos Lighthouse, is about one hour and forty-five minutes farther south in Pacific Grove. Along the way we will pass through Moss Landing. Stop here for a great lunch at Phil's Fish Market & Eatery. Make a right turn on Moss Landing Road, follow each right afterwards and you will find Phil's on your left.

As soon as you get into Pacific Grove turn right to get to Ocean View Blvd. The view of the Pacific makes it a much more scenic route. Point Pinos Lighthouse
Point Pinos Lighthouse
36° 38' 00" N 121° 56' 22" W
As soon as you see the golfers on your left you should be able to see the lighthouse.

Originally operational in February 1, 1855 this lighthouse is the oldest continuously operated lighthouse on the western coast. Point Pinos was named by a Spanish explorer as Punta de los Pinos translated to "Point of the Pines". The area had pines growing almost up to the waters edge.

The third order Fresnel lens was manufactured in 1853 and is still in use today. The third order Fresnel lens was manufactured in France in 1853 and is still in use today. Point Pinos Lighthouse As with many Lighthouses of the time a falling weight mechanism rotated a metal shutter around the light causing the blinking effect. This is the only lighthouse visited combining the lighthouse and lodging. This tower is open and you can climb up and see the view from the tower.

This is the last lighthouse visited today. There are many good restaurants and lodging options in the area. Two bed and breakfast inns, are along Ocean View Drive so the views are great and another is within walking distance of Point Pinos Lighthouse. If you like hostels there is one close to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. If you are Clint Eastwood fan you might be interested in visiting Clint's Hogs Breath Inn in Carmel for dinner.

Point Sur lighthouse
Point Sur Lighthouse
35° 18' 23" N 121° 54' 06" W

Day Two

Before 10am the next morning park at the gate outside the Point Sur Lighthouse, 19 miles south of Rio Road in Carmel on Hwy 1. The three hour walking tour follows a steep road up the 361-foot-tall rock to the lighthouse then up two stairways to the top and the keeper's dwellings and shops.

When I was told it was a three-hour tour I thought, that reminds me of something. It wasn't until the next day that it hit me. The Skipper and Gilligan went out on a three-hour tour.

The lighthouse was funded in 1886 and was operational on August 1, 1889. At the time the station was very isolated. It was an island during high tide, see Point Sur lighthouse photo above. Until around 1930 the station was supplied by ship bringing in things like coal, firewood, animal feed, and some food. Until about the same time children stayed at nearby ranches during the week so that they could go to school. Three families lived there. On the top there is a barn, garage, blacksmith shop, a water tower and two dwellings. The lighthouse and oil house below. The lighthouse was placed below the top to keep it out of the fog as much as possible. It is interesting to note that the Point Reyes Lighthouse had to be moved down from it's original position because it couldn't be seen because of the fog.

In February 1935 two lighthouse keepers witnessed the crash of the U.S.S. Macon into the ocean. All but two of the crew of 83 survived. The 785 feet long dirigible was found in 1,450 feet of water by the Navy and the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in 1990. An exhibit is located in the lighthouse visitor center.

Point Sur lighthouse After the tour you should go on to Big Sur and stop at Nepenthe, right on Hwy 1, for lunch. It has great views of the coastline south of Big Sur


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