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The Bay Area Guide to Lighthouse Hopping

Point Cabrillo Light Station State Historic Park, Photos by Dana Rebmann

Lighthouses may have been designed to guide sailors, but they do a pretty good job of getting the attention of drivers as well. Throw them in the mix with a day off, and you’ve got a good reason to hop in the car and go for a drive.

Mendocino County

Located four miles north of Mendocino, visiting the Point Cabrillo Light Station State Historic Park takes a little bit of strolling, but the view is so worth it. The lighthouse was built after the 1906 earthquake to guide small schooners carrying lumber to rebuild San Francisco.

It’s an easy 10 to 15 minute walk down the access road from the parking lot to the lighthouse. The single flight of stairs up to the Fresnel lens are only open select days of the year, but the downstairs of the fully restored lighthouse is open daily from 11 am to 4 pm.

San Mateo County

Closer to home, the Point Montara Light Station is just 25 miles south of San Francisco. Established in 1875, the historic lighthouse isn’t the towering kind at just 30 feet tall, but the view is huge. An added perk, the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, great for tide pooling, is just a few minutes down the road.

Pigeon Point Lighthouse

Pigeon Point Light Station

Keep heading south to Pescadero if you’re interested in a lighthouse with a little more stature. At 115-feet tall Pigeon Point Light Station will catch your eye. It’s one of the tallest lighthouses in America and has been glowing since 1872. The actual lighthouse is closed to the public, but the surrounding area is a State Historic Park and the grounds are open. The California State Parks Foundation is raising money to restore the lighthouse.

Santa Cruz County

Since we’re already heading south, Lighthouse Field State Beach in Santa Cruz is another stop to add to your list. Unlike other lighthouses where you might have the place to yourself, there’s a good chance you’ll have company here. With beach to the right, surfers to the left and a lighthouse in the middle, there’s something for everyone here. The Santa Cruz Surfing Museum is housed inside Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse. It’s open Thursday through Sunday, 12 to 4 pm, so plan your visit accordingly.

Marin County

Point Bonita is still an active lighthouse, yet so many folks seem to know nothing about it. Tucked in the Marin Headlands, there’s a small parking lot near the trailhead, so there’s no excuse not to check it out. The lighthouse is open to visitors Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays from 12:30 pm to 3:30 pm. Check out National Park Service website for easy to follow directions.

Alcatraz lighthouse

View from Alcatraz Lighthouse

San Francisco County

And, you can’t exactly drive to it, but it’s worth mentioning you can see the first West Coast lighthouse without leaving San Francisco. The light on Alcatraz Island flickered to life in 1854.

Dana can be found on Twitter @drebmann