For centuries lighthouses have held a fascinating appeal, and for good reason: they tend to be located in scenic places along the coast, and are shrouded in the mystery of the stormy seas and shipwrecks that caused them to be built. It’s only a short drive from Silicon Valley to the coast, so take your camera along and get ready to capture some memorable photos. Three notable area lighthouses are strung out along scenic Highway 1, starting just north of Half Moon Bay and ending in Pacific Grove.
Located between Montara and Moss Beach in San Mateo County, Point Montara Lighthouse was established as a Fog Signal Station in 1875. The historic, conical lighthouse originally came from Cape Cod and was put into service in 1928. Now fully automated, it can be visited by the public. Operated by Hostelling International in cooperation with the U.S. Coastguard and CA State Parks, the property also offers overnight accommodations for low-budget travelers. After touring the light station, you can also visit the nearby James Fitzgerald Marine Reserve with its shale reefs that are home to a wide range of marine life. (Montara: Hwy. 1 at 16th St.; 650-728-7177; grounds open from 9am to sunset daily).
Pigeon Point Lighthouse in Pescadero is noted for its dramatically scenic setting as well as for being one of the tallest lighthouses in America. Built in 1872, this picturesque, 115-foot tall New England-style structure originally had a 17-foot tall, 6-foot diameter first-order Fresnel lens comprised of over 1,000 prisms, powered by a five-wick lard oil lamp. The original lens is still in place though no longer used; a more modern lamp now guides ships safely. The lighthouse is closed for renovations following the collapse of a portion of its exterior, but can still be viewed from the grounds which are also home to hostelling facilities that include a cliffside hot tub (available for hostel guests only. (Pescadero: 210 Pigeon Point Rd., Hwy. 1; 650-879-2120; grounds open from 8am to sunset daily).
Point Pinos Lighthouse in Pacific Grove, overlooking Monterey Bay, has the distinction of being the oldest continuously-operating lighthouse on the West Coast. Built in 1855, the now-automated lighthouse features a third-order Fresnel lens and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Its most famous lighthouse keeper was Emily Fish, who served from 1893 to 1914 and was nicknamed the “Socialite Keeper,” since she liked to entertain guests at the lighthouse. (Pacific Grove: Asilomar Ave.; 831-648-3176; Thurs-Mon, 1-4)