Beacons that once guided sailors safely to shore, relics of pre-GPS navigation, and monuments to maritime culture, lighthouses are typically a hallmark of hazardous coastline, found often in places that are particularly rugged and dramatic.
Five of California's 30 standing lighthouses are located along a breathtaking stretch of the Pacific coast, and are also connected by a network of HI hostels. Take a leisurely tour of lighthouses from Point Reyes down to Monterey, and discover five unique hostels along the way. Use this map to guide you on your journey.
The Point Reyes Lighthouse is a sixteen-sided, 37-foot tower that stands guard over the Gulf of the Farallones in western Marin County. It's located 25 miles from the Point Reyes Hostel and 300 steps down a steep cliff -- an adventurous (and strenuous) experience that brings you close to the windswept waters of the Pacific. This lighthouse contains its original, first-order Fresnel lens, and is tasked with providing a lifesaving light in heavy fog. It was also featured in the 1980 horror film, The Fog .
The Point Bonita Lighthouse stands at the entrance to San Francisco Bay, in the Marin Headlands (3 miles from the Marin Headlands Hostel). Constructed in 1855, it was the third lighthouse built on the Bay, a uniquely dangerous area with high, dense fog. The light tower stands in isolation out in the Pacific -- visitors need to cross a suspension bridge to access it -- and it was the last manned lighthouse on the California coast. Now the U.S Coast Guard maintains the light and fog signal, and the lighthouse is open to the public Saturday - Monday, 12:30-3:30 p.m.
San Mateo County
Beautiful in bright sunshine and in dense, mysterious fog, the Point Montara Lighthouse stands adjacent to the Point Montara Lighthouse Hostel. In addition to being a welcoming beacon to guests from around the world, the 30-foot tall lighthouse is still active, with beams visible 14 miles out to sea. But this lighthouse's real claim to fame is its history. It was built in Massachusetts in 1881 and erected as the Mayo Beach Lighthouse, then shipped to California in 1928 to replace the original Point Montara Lighthouse. It's believed to be the only lighthouse in the U.S. that has shone on both coasts.
At 115-feet tall with a 140-year legacy, the Pigeon Point Lighthouse is an icon of the Pacific coast, as well as one of its tallest and oldest structures. The lighthouse is home to the Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel and is still in use by the Coast Guard, though its original Fresnel lens has been replaced with an automatic one. Named for the clipper ship Carrier Pigeon, which crashed near the point in 1853, the Pigeon Point Lighthouse is perched on a rocky headland that's become a landmark for ships approaching the San Francisco Bay from the south. If you visit on a weekend, explore the grounds around the lighthouse with a docent-led guided walk and learn about the history of Pigeon Point.
Constructed in 1855, the Point Pinos Lighthouse is a unique structure -- with a light tower 89 feet above sea level that protrudes from the roof of a Cape Cod-style bungalow, it looks decidedly different from its contemporaries. It's also the oldest continually active lighthouse on the West Coast. It's located about a mile from the Monterey Hostel and is open to the public Monday - Thursday from 1-4 p.m., with a small donation requested to enter.
Check out this map of all five lighthouses, linked via Coastal Highway 1. The journey from north to south is a little less than 200 miles.
Stay at one of our Northern California hostels on the coast, and you're sure to spot a lighthouse!