August 7 is a big day for lighthouse enthusiasts across the country. It's the anniversary of Congress signing a 1789 act that established federal support for lighthouses (along with beacons, buoys, and public piers). Exactly 200 years later, Congress passed a resolution that marks this day National Lighthouse Day, commemorating the facilities and their caretakers, and calling for lighthouses to open their grounds to the public.
According to the United States Lighthouse Society, "It’s a perfect day for lighthouse tours, programs and activities, and a fitting way to commemorate a vitally important part of America’s rich maritime heritage.”
The California coast boasts more than 40 lighthouses, many of which are incorporated into the California Coastal National Monument. Here are a few worth checking out—today, or any day.
Point Reyes Lighthouse
Point Reyes is considered the windiest point on the Pacific Coast as well as the second foggiest place in North America, making it exceptionally dangerous to navigate without a guiding light. In other words, this lighthouse was a hugely important landmark when it was built in 1870. The National Park Service began a renovation project on the lighthouse last week, so be sure to check its website for updates if you’re planning to visit.
Point Arena Lighthouse
Another iconic lighthouse lies just a three-hour drive north of the Bay Area. Point Arena in Mendocino County is surrounded on three sides by water and is known for its breathtaking views. It's adjacent to the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands, where visitors can hike thousands of acres of coastland. The lighthouse offers a series of events to celebrate National Lighthouse Day each year, including free admission to the grounds, museum, and tours.
Point Pinos Lighthouse
This structure in Pacific Grove is the oldest continually operating lighthouse on the West Coast, built in 1855. Visitors can take in the Monterey Bay from Punta de los Pinos, or Point of the Pines, so named by Spanish explorer Sebastian Vizcaino in 1602. Located not far from 17-Mile Drive, the lighthouse grounds are closed Tuesdays and Wednesdays, so plan your visit accordingly
Piedras Blancas Light Station
Situated along a rocky coastline of signature white rocks (piedras blancas), this historic San Simeon lighthouse, built in 1874, is missing its top. Frequent earthquakes over the years caused structural damage that led to the removal of its upper three levels in 1948. The grounds are a great place to catch a glimpse of marine wildlife but ut visitors can only see the lighthouse via guided tours given three days a week in winter and five days a week in summer. [link to site]
The Old Point Loma Lighthouse
Located within the Cabrillo National Monument in San Diego County, this lighthouse on a hill was taken out of commission in 1891 due to safety concerns from persistent fog that obscured the light. A “new” lighthouse was constructed on lower land closer to the tip of Point Loma and is still in operation today. But the old structure is worth a visit, serving as a throwback to a bygone era of California maritime culture.
Perhaps the most recognizable lighthouse to visitors, this is one of the hallmarks of the famous former prison, rising more than 200 feet over the San Francisco Bay. The current structure was built in 1909, but an older lighthouse building that has since been torn down was officially the first lighthouse built in the state. Visitors to Alcatraz can get an up-close view of the lighthouse but you can't go inside.
Battery Point Lighthouse and Museum
This North Coast lighthouse, built in 1856, has survived a remarkable number of natural disasters, from earthquakes to a tsunami that struck in 1964. The lighthouse is situated on an island off the coastline and visits are only allowed during low tide, when visitors can walk several hundred feet from the mainland to the island. The museum is operated by the Del Norte County Historical Society, and is known for housing an impressive collection of Native American artifacts.