Perched on the windiest and foggiest point on the West Coast, the Point Reyes Lighthouse steered ships away from the peninsula’s treacherous northern point from 1870 to 1975, its glowing light visible for 24 nautical miles. At sunset each day for more than 100 years, the lightkeeper lit an oil lamp inside the first-order Fresnel lens, and 1,000 glass prisms directed the beam to the horizon.
Today the iconic Point Reyes Lighthouse beckons visitors to this isolated seaside promontory to get a glimpse of California’s nautical history and take in divine Pacific vistas. The lighthouse no longer operates—it’s been replaced by an automated light on the cliffs below—but it’s a fine place to snuggle up to your travel companion while you gaze wistfully out to sea. The breeze rarely ceases here, even on relatively balmy days. Forty-mile-per-hour winds are common, so dress appropriately.
From the parking lot, a short uphill walk leads to the Lighthouse Visitor Center and an observation deck where you can look down at jagged rock outcrops dotted with hundreds of seabirds—including a massive colony of common murres—crashing Pacific waves, and a remarkable 308-step staircase descending to the lighthouse. More than 30,000 gray whales pass by this spot on their annual migration from Alaska to Mexico, so stop at the visitor center to check the whiteboard for “Today’s Whale Count.” From December to April, it’s usually in the hundreds. Then walk down the stairs to explore the venerable lighthouse buildings. They are perched atop a rocky pinnacle, the Pacific’s gleaming surface spreading to the horizon, the tumultuous sea directly below.
Insider tip: The stairs to the lighthouse are open only 10 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Friday–Monday but the visitor center and observation deck are open seven days a week. On weekends and holidays from January to mid-April, the Park Service operates a mandatory shuttle bus to the lighthouse.