Point Montara was originally established in 1875 as a fog signal station. Although nearly 90 vessels had met with the business end of the jagged rocks off Montara by the mid-1800s, it wasn't until two high-profile incidents in 1868 and 1872 that Congress was finally propelled into action.
The first light at Point Montara was established in 1900, and consisted of a red lens-lantern hung on a post. A new fog signal building was built in 1902, and a fourth-order Fresnel lens was installed in 1912 on a skeleton tower. The light was electrified in 1919. Finally, in 1928, the current cast-iron, 30-foot tower was installed to house the Fresnel lens.
In 2008, it was discovered that the current Point Montara lighthouse is much older than previously thought. It was built in 1881 and erected on Wellfleet Harbor in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, where it stood until the light station was decommissioned in 1922. From Cape Cod, the lighthouse made a 3,000-mile journey to Yerba Buena Island in San Francisco Bay, where it waited in a depot until finally being installed at Point Montara in 1928. It is currently the only known lighthouse to have stood watch on two oceans.
During World War II, the Point Montara light station housed military units including the K-9 Corps. Men and dogs would patrol the beaches below. A mobile artillery unit was also housed here. After the war, the station was served by three Coast Guard keepers until it was automated in 1970.
Automation led to the abandonment of the buildings, which fell into disrepair due to the harsh coastal weather and vandalism. Through partnerships between the Golden Gate Council of Hostelling International USA, the U.S. Coast Guard, California State Parks, and the California Coastal Conservancy, the facility was renovated to become a hostel, and opened its doors to travelers in 1980. Since then, HI Point Montara Lighthouse has welcomed thousands of guests from around the world every year.
An Illustrated History
Download a 20-page PDF detailing the history of the Point Montara Lighthouse, with historic photos.