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9 Coolest Lighthouses You Can Visit in California

9 Coolest Lighthouses You Can Visit in California

Discover the coolest lighthouses in California and indulge in the fantastic ocean views and history on the Pacific coast.

Palig Dzadourian


6 min read

December 20, 2023

A relic of our maritime past and once a symbol of protection, lighthouses are some of the most iconic structures to be found around the coastlines. Although they have now become rather obsolete as they have been replaced by more accurate and effective technology, some of them still remain in serviceable condition. Most of the 30 lighthouses in California have been turned into museums or houses that you can check out. Which is the coolest California lighthouse you should prioritize?

1. Point Reyes Lighthouse 

Among the 30 lighthouses in C.A., only 16 are open to the public to tour and visit or even stay in overnight. The lighthouse found at Point Reyes is one of them, where you’ll be able to enter the watchtower and imagine what it was like to have so many mariners depending on the light of this structure. There are endless things to do in Point Reyes, and visiting its lighthouse should definitely be on your itinerary. The light station can be reached by descending the 313 steps that lead to it, and getting there is half the fun.

The lighthouse was built back in 1870, and it was in service for over a century before it was replaced in 1975 by an automated light tower. All along the way, you will be able to see the lighthouse getting closer and closer as you go down the steps. There are observation decks and a visitor center you can check out before reaching the Point Reyes lighthouse.

Descend the steps into Point Reyes Lighthouse, a trip you are sure to never forget.

2. Point Bonita Lighthouse

Built way back in 1855, the Point Bonita Lighthouse was the third lighthouse that was built on the West Coast. This is one of the oldest lighthouses in San Francisco and is one of the hidden gems of the Bay Area. Originally built to mark the North entrance of the Golden Gate Bridge, it helped shepherd ships navigate themselves on the perilous waters of the Golden Gate straits. Although it was erected upon a 300-foot ridge above the ocean, it was later removed from its original place and put on a lower elevated point near the Point Bonita tip.

The Point Bonita Lighthouse is still active and is maintained by the U.S Coast Guard, it is easily accessible through a half-mile trail in the Marin Headlands, only from Saturdays through Mondays when it is open to the public.

One of the oldest lighthouses of the Golden State, make sure to put Point Bonita on your lists!

3. Battery Point Lighthouse

Considered to be among the oldest lighthouses in California, the Battery Point lighthouse is located in Crescent City and was constructed in 1856. What is unique to Battery Point lighthouse is that, unlike other lighthouses, it doesn’t have a tower-like formation, it actually looks like a house with a very big light on top. 

This California lighthouse has now been turned into a tourist attraction, serving as a museum and as a living memory of the past. The lighthouse features many historical documents, photos, and maritime artifacts as a way for visitors to educate themselves about the history of the structure. Visiting hours are from 10am to 4pm at low tide.

The peculiar structure of the Battery Point Lighthouse is sure to catch your attention.

4. Pigeon Point Lighthouse

Pigeon Point Lighthouse is one of the most beautiful C.A. lighthouses, located 50 miles south of San Francisco. The Pigeon Point Lighthouse is the tallest lighthouse on the west coast, reaching up to 115 feet, and is absolutely breathtaking. Considered one of the best places to go stargazing in Northern California, the structure is located at the edge of a small cliff overlooking the ocean, with a small house next to it, almost like year-long companions enjoying each other’s company.

The Lighthouse is currently undergoing major renovations and the tower is closed for visitors, but you can still find the trip worthwhile. With amazing views and atmosphere, even dolphin and whale watching activities for animal lovers. There are also affordable accommodations for anyone visiting, and you can even stay in one of the lightkeeper’s rooms that have been turned into a youth hostel.

Explore the Pigeon Point Lighthouse in all its wonder and beauty.

5. Point Pinos Lighthouse

The oldest California lighthouse that has continuously been operating on the U.S West Coast to this day, the Point Pinos Lighthouse was built in 1855 and has been the guiding light of ships along the Pacific Coast for a very long time. Not only does this lighthouse serve as a navigational compass for sailors, but it also used to be a social hub in early Pacific Grove, as many dinners were held in the building hosted by the lighthouse keepers at the time.

It has been designated a Central California Landmark and is open to public visits, and what’s even more impressive is that all the glass, lenses, and prisms are original and it is still very much used to help ships’ navigation of the Pacific Coast.

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Visit the oldest working Lighthouse in California for a blast to the past of our maritime history.

6. Point Arena Lighthouse 

Almost as tall as Pigeon Point lighthouse, the Point Arena lighthouse is one of the most iconic figures of the American Pacific Coast. Unlike the Pigeon Point lighthouse, however, it allows visitors to climb up the tower for an awesome lighthouse experience. It was unfortunately affected by the earthquake in San Francisco in 1906, even though it is located over 100 miles north of the city, and had to undergo construction and was reopened in 1908.

This Lighthouse in San Francisco is part of a sunny and bright scenery, but it puts on a very mysterious and ominous mask when it gets foggy around the area, almost turning into a haunted house.

Tall and impressive, the Point Arena Lighthouse is a classic destination for anyone interested in these iconic structures.

7. Santa Cruz Surfing Museum Lighthouse 

Santa Cruz was once home to a very busy maritime life back in the 1800s, with the coming and going of so many ships and sailors, the need for a lighthouse started to be clear. The construction of the Santa Cruz lighthouse started in 1852, but was halted due to the Civil War, it restarted and was completed years after. It has a very distinct presence, thanks to the redbrick finish of the structure. The Santa Cruz lighthouse has served as a museum for 30 years now, filled with old wooden surfboards, surf memorabilia, and much more.

The Santa Cruz Surfing Museum Lighthouse is one you shouldn’t miss out on if you are into surfing!

8. Point Sur Lighthouse

Point Sur lighthouse is considered to be one of the top lighthouses in California to visit, located South of the Bixby Bridge in Big Sur. It was built in 1889 on volcanic rock near the bridge, making for some cool photo ops. The lighthouse is still active until this day, but it is now fully automated, and visitors can go on walking tours, ghost hunts and whale watching, and Halloween tours. Point Sur Lighthouse should definitely be on your list of things to visit when you are in Big Sur, as it is one of the coolest, if not the coolest California lighthouse

If you are visiting Big Sur and are near the iconic Bixby Bridge, pay a visit to the Point Sur Lighthouse to spice up your trip.

9. Alcatraz Island Lighthouse

Whenever Alcatraz Island is mentioned, it is of the infamous Alcatraz prison that we are reminded of. However, Alcatraz Island has more than just that as its selling point, as the Alcatraz Island Lighthouse is one of the most popular lighthouses in San Francisco, it is the first ever lighthouse that was constructed on the West Coast of California, back in 1854. 

The Alcatraz Island Lighthouse can be both ominous looking and beautiful depending on the time of year.

You can find the lighthouse on the Southern end of the Island, it is still under the U.S. Coast Guard’s possession, but mostly acts as a living museum that welcomes over 1 million visitors every year.

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