There is nothing more mesmerizing than watching a lighthouse send its beam of light across the water, over and over again. Lighthouses are usually in scenic locations along the coast, and these California offerings are no different.
Each has its rustic charm with unique landscapes, where visitors may find rugged rocky views or rolling grassland leading to a cliff. Some have suspension bridges, while others take travelers through rock tunnels to get to the lighthouse.
You’ll find the lighthouses in San Francisco to be distinctive and inspirational. Let’s take a closer look!
Are Lighthouses Common On the California Coast and in San Francisco?
In comparison with other coastal states, California has many lighthouses still standing. There are 30 in existence, and with a coastline of 840 miles, that would average a lighthouse every 28 miles!
That said, only 16 of these lighthouses are open to the public, so make an effort to see all of them, if possible.
Traveler’s Tip: San Francisco’s Pacific Coast falls into the notorious “Red Triangle” — would you risk swimming there?
5 Lighthouses in San Francisco That Are Worth a Visit
Five stellar lighthouses are in the Bay area, so we’ve gathered information on each. This should make it easy to visit most of the lighthouses in San Francisco.
#1. Point Reyes Lighthouse
Address: 27000 Sir Frances Drake Blvd., Inverness, CA 94937
About Point Reyes Lighthouse: Built in 1870, Point Reyes Lighthouse is in a region that is no stranger to violent storms and raging winds. Its light with a Fresnel lens has aided those at sea for more than 150 years, and the lighthouse warns sailors by an order light, a fog signal, and a radio beacon. Visitors know the region as the foggiest and windiest on the Pacific Coast.
Unique Features: The tower is 16-sided and is below the level of surrounding land, so visitors walk down 313 steps to arrive at the door. As lighthouses go, it’s not very tall, only measuring 37 feet high. With its shiny bright red roof, the lighthouse is immediately recognizable, and it has a twin up the coast at Mendicino.
Know Before You Go: The lighthouse is not open for tours, but you can descend a long staircase from the visitor center to the lighthouse on days when the center is open. Currently, available days are Saturdays and Sundays from 10 am to 4 pm, and when winds are less than 40 mph. There are no fees to enter Point Reyes National Seashore, where the lighthouse stands.
#2. Point Montara Lighthouse
Address: 8800 Cabrillo Highway, Montara, CA 94037
About Point Montara Lighthouse: Famous for its cameo in the 2001 movie “Bandits,” Point Montara Lighthouse is part of a hostel. But even more interesting is the origin of this ‘missing’ light.
Point Montara started as the Mayo Beach Light in Wellfleet, Massachusetts. When that lighthouse was decommissioned, it was shipped cross-country and reassembled at Point Montara. Before its arrival, this section of the California coast only had a fog signal station with whistles, so the lighthouse was well-received.
Unique Features: Because of its unique history, the Point Montara Lighthouse has the auspicious reputation as the only lighthouse to guide seafaring travelers on both coasts of the United States. With a location just 25 miles south of San Francisco, Point Montara has become a popular respite for solo and family travelers on a budget.
Know Before You Go: The lighthouse is on private property, so access is by reservation at the hostel only.
#3. Santa Cruz Surfing Museum Lighthouse
Address: 809 Center Street, Santa Cruz, CA 95060
About Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse: Overlooking the renowned surfing spot Steamer Lane, the Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse connects to the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum. The lighthouse has gone through several transformations since its inception in 1869, with its last being the New England brick structure seen today.
Builders moved the first lighthouse from the sea cliffs as caves began to form, and there was concern that the structure would fall into the sea. The building adjoining the tower is the first surfing museum in California, with various surf memorabilia and artifacts hidden inside.
Unique Features: Locals recently updated the lighthouse beam from a blinking light to a solid beam. Local citizens took on this upgrade for aesthetic and historical reasons, and the new light will last much longer, as the Coast Guard houses it indoors.
Know Before You Go: The lighthouse and surf museum is free to enter. During summer, the hours of operation are Wednesdays through Mondays from 10 am to 4 pm. For the rest of the year, visitors can enter Thursdays through Mondays from noon to 4 pm.
#4. Point Bonita Lighthouse
Address: Field Road & Conzelman Road, Sausalito, CA 94965
About Point Bonita Lighthouse: The third lighthouse on the West Coast began in 1855 to guide sailors through the Golden Gate Straits. Its creators built it on a rocky point, requiring a hand-hewn tunnel and bridge for access.
Unique Features: Point Bonita was also the site of the first fog signal (in 1856), which came from an eight-foot-long 24 lb. siege gun from a nearby arsenal. Someone would fire the gun every 30 minutes during foggy weather.
Another unique trait is the light beam. So navigators could tell the difference between lighthouses along the California coast, each had a different light signal. Point Bonita’s light is on for three seconds, then off for one second.
Know Before You Go: The lighthouse opens on Sundays and Mondays from 12:30 pm to 3:30 pm, and the lines are usually long. Get there with time to spare to cross the suspension bridge to the lighthouse.
Inclement weather can close the lighthouse, so check before you go. You cannot bring pets on the trail to the lighthouse.
#5. Pigeon Point Lighthouse
Address: 210 Pigeon Point Road, Highway 1, Pescadero, CA 94060
About Pigeon Point Lighthouse: At 115 feet tall, Pigeon Point is one of the tallest lighthouses in the United States. It’s 50 miles south of San Francisco and may be one of the most scenic lighthouses on the Pacific Coast.
It has been shining a light through its Fresnel lens since 1872. These days, the lens is now an LED beacon controlled by the Coast Guard.
Unique Features: The original Fresnel lens was sixteen feet tall and six feet in diameter, weighing 2,000 lbs. It was a ‘used’ lens from the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.
It is worth noting that Pigeon Point comes by its name from the ship Carrier Pigeon. The ship wrecked on the headlands eighteen years before the lighthouse came into being.
Know Before You Go: Currently, Pigeon Point Lighthouse is closed to tours as it is under restoration. But the grounds around the lighthouse are open, with free parking. A youth hostel is at the site.
Don’t Discount the Beauty Of These Lighthouses in San Francisco
With lighthouses ranging from tall, elegant signal stations to those on rocky crags, the lighthouses in San Francisco are unique in their differences. They each played a large part in maritime history, saving sailors from harsh tides, dense fog, and torrential storms.
Although most are still in operation, these guiding lights are remnants of a bygone era, where seafaring was often dependent upon one person illuminating the way.