Cape Arago
The idea of a lighthouse is romantic, mysterious and adventurous. There are around 80 lighthouses scattered along the west coast. These are 15 of the most unique and alluring west coast lighthouses.

“God built lighthouses to see people through storms. Then he built storms to remind people to find lighthouses.”

― Shannon L. Alder

A light house remains strong, even against the forces of nature. The light keeper vigilantly keeps a beacon of light shining, illuminating the darkness to lead ships safely to the shore. The idea of a lighthouse is romantic, mysterious and adventurous. There are around 80 lighthouses scattered along the west coast, out of these I have chosen 15 of the most unique and alluring west coast lighthouses.

Washington

Washington state has around 30 lighthouses. Many of these lighthouses are located inland on the edges of the Columbia River. Of these 30 lighthouses, there were two in particular that caught my interest. The lighthouse at Gray’s Harbor and the Lighthouse at Cape Disappointment.

Gray’s Harbor

⚓️ Built in 1898.
🧭 1020 West Ocean Ave. Westport Washington
Hours Vary: Call 360-268-0078 $5 to climb to the top
https://www.wsbhs.org/

What makes this lighthouse unique

The lighthouse at Gray’s Harbor is designated as the tallest lighthouse in the state of Washington and the third tallest on the west coast. Originally, the lighthouse was located 400 feet from the edge of the water. However, due to the construction of a jetty system, it now sits around 3,000 feet away from the water.

Visiting this lighthouse

Hours vary by season and weather. It is recommended by Westport South Beach Historical Society that you call 360.268.0078 to verify hours during the time of your visit. For those traveling with dogs, there is a dog waiting area at the bottom of the lighthouse.


Cape Disappointment 

⚓️ Built in 1856.
🧭 244 Robert Gray Drive, Ilwaco WA
🔖 Day Pass Required: $10/car
https://parks.state.wa.us/486/Cape-Disappointment

What Makes this Lighthouse Unique

Cape Disappointment has not one, but two lighthouses! The location was named “Cape Disappointment” by Captain John Meares, who accidentally found this location while trying to travel to Columbia. Cape Disappointment lighthouse is the oldest functioning lighthouse on the west coast.

Visiting these two lighthouses

To visit either North Head Lighthouse or Cape Disappointment Lighthouse you will need to do a little hiking. For those not able to hike, views of the lighthouse can be seen from the interpretive center.

You can visit the lighthouse grounds by parking at the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center and making a short, but steep, 1.5-mile hike. The trailhead for the Cape Disappointment Trail is on the left side of the parking lot. Be sure to bring proper footwear. The trail can get muddy at certain times of the year. If you aren’t up for a hike, you can view the lighthouse from the interpretive center. 

Visit Long Beach Peninsula

Oregon

Oregon has 11 lighthouses that are still standing. The rugged coast line and unforgiving weather really took a toll on Oregon lighthouses through the years.

Tillamook Rock Lighthouse

Built in 1881
Hwy 101 near Canon Beach or Ecola State Park

What makes this lighthouse unique

The lighthouse on Tillamook Rock, had a rocky history, leading to the nickname of “Terrible Tilly”. Even before construction of the lighthouse had begun a surveyor was swept out to see by a large wave never to be seen again. The location and material of the rock made construction difficult. The lighthouse took over 500 days to complete. Just a short time before it was completed, a shipped named the Lupatia crashed into the rock during heavy fog and lost all 16 of it’s crew members. In 1934 a horrible storm hit the Pacific North West for days. The light in the lighthouse was damaged by boulders thrown around by the storm and was never repaired. (2)

How you can visit

The dangerous conditions that gave the lighthouse the nickname of “Terrible Tilly”, also makes it very difficult for anyone to visit the island. The sea conditions are hardly ever good enough to safely access the rock by boat. If you are set on visiting, you can rent a chartered helicopter. However, you need to get permission from the Oregon National Wildlife Refuge. The lighthouse can be seen from Ecola State Park and from Highway 101 near Cannon Beach, Oregon.

An era has ended. With this final entry, and not without sentiment, I return thee to the elements. You, one of the most notorious and yet fascinating of the sea-swept sentinels in the world; long the friend of the tempest-tossed mariner. Through howling gale, thick fog and driving rain your beacon has been a star of hope and your foghorn a voice of encouragement. May the elements of nature be kind to you. For 77 years you have beamed your light across desolate acres of ocean. Keepers have come and gone; men lived and died; but you were faithful to the end. May your sunset years be good years. Your purpose is now only a symbol, but the lives you have saved and the service you have rendered are worthy of the highest respect.

The Last Keeper of Tillamook Rock Lighthouse

Cape Meares

Built in 1890
3500 Cape Meares Loop, Tillamook, OR 

What makes this lighthouse unique

Cape Meares lighthouse is the shortest lighthouse in Oregon, standing at just 38 feet tall. The lighthouse is not longer operational. However, it still has it’s original light intact. Bald Eagles are known to frequent the area.

Visiting this lighthouse

Admission and tours are free, require no reservations and are during the hours of 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. weekdays, with extended hours on the weekends starting in June running through August hours are 11:00 am.to 6:00 pm. Each day the lighthouse is closed from 2:00 pm to 2:30 pm. (7)


Yaquina Head Lighthouse

Built in 1873
750 NW Lighthouse Dr, Newport, OR

What makes this lighthouse unique

Yaquina Head is the tallest lighthouse in Oregon. The light has been active since it was lit in 1873. Tales of ghost stories abounded as ships noticed that their compasses stopped working correctly when approaching the lighthouse. It turns out that the lighthouse is actually just built on top of magnetized iron.

Visiting this lighthouse

There are signs on the highway and at the stop light at the intersection of Hwy. 101 and Lighthouse Drive to help direct you to Yaquina Head. For those wanting to tour the lighthouse itself, ranger led tours are provided on a first come first serve basis. You can make reservations here.


Cape Arago Lighthouse

Built in 1937
Cape Arago Highway Coos Bay, OR 97420

What makes this lighthouse unique

Cape Arago is the newest lighthouse structure in Oregon. It was built in 1937 to replace the previous two structures which were damaged by storms and due to erosion eventually fell into the river. Originally, the area was only accessed by row boat until a wooden bridge was constructed in 1876. However, the ocean kept washing out the bridge.

Visiting this lighthouse

The lighthouse is not open to the public but it’s still a beautiful sight from afar. Follow Cape Arago Highway past the Sunset Bay State Park. There is a pull-off a short way from here where you can get a view of the lighthouse.


Coquille River Lighthouse

Built in 1896
56487 Bullards Beach Rd, Bandon, OR

What makes this lighthouse unique

In 1939, this lighthouse was abandoned. It sat this way, being damaged by the weather & vandals, for 27 years. In 1976, the Army Corps of Engineers started a restoration project to restore the damage done over years of neglect.

Visiting this lighthouse

The inside of the lighthouse can be viewed May through September from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Due to damages to the stairs however, the tower cannot be climbed until the repairs have been made.

California

Over 30 standing lighthouses line the coast of California. Out of these thirty, fifteen are open to be toured by the public.

St. George Reef Lighthouse

Built in 1891
Crescent City, CA 95531

What makes this lighthouse unique

As you might expect, construction on this lighthouse, situated on a rock miles from inland, was difficult. Surprisingly however, there was only one accidental death during the years it took to construct the lighthouse. After construction of the lighthouse, the difficulties continued and severe storms would occasionally plummet the reef. At times, wave swells would actually reach 70 feet over the top of the lighthouse. One of the keepers recalled that “there was a waterfall running down the central spiral staircase from the ocean coming in the lens room 145 feet or so above sea level“. (9)

Visiting this Lighthouse

The St. George Reef lighthouse is located 6 miles north of Crescent City. According to “Lighthouse Friends”,

To view St. George Reef Lighthouse from land, go north on the road that hugs the coast in Crescent City. When you arrive at the airport, turn left on Radio Road and follow it to the beach at its end. This is Point St. George, and the housing used for the keepers when they were ashore is adjacent to the parking area. (9)

The St. George Reef Lighthouse Preservation Society offered helicopter rides out to the lighthouse, but these were suspended in 2012 by the California Department of Transportation due to the inadequate size of the landing area at the lighthouse. (9)

It is with much sentiment that I pen this final entry, 13 May 1975. After four score and three years, St. George Reef Light is dark. No longer will your brilliant beams of light be seen, nor your bellowing fog signal be heard by the mariner. Gone are your keepers. Only by your faithful service has many a disaster been prevented on the treacherous St. George Reef. You stand today, as you have down through the years, a tribute to humanity and worthy of our highest respect. Cut from the soul of our country, you have valiantly earned your place in American history. In your passing, the era of the lonely sea sentinel has truly ended. May Mother Nature show you mercy. You have been abandoned, but never will you be forgotten. Farewell, St. George Reef Light.

Chief Petty Officer James W. Sebastian

Punta Gorda Lighthouse

Built 1868
Petrolia, CA

What makes this lighthouse unique

The location of the lighthouse being very remote, it was often hard for the keepers to get supplies when the weather was bad. In 1951, the Coast Guard abandoned the lighthouse. Apparently in the 1960’s, what the Land Bureau described as “long haired hippies” took up residence in the abandoned buildings. After chasing off the squatters proved futile, the Land Bureau burned down all of the remaining wooden structures. Only the light house and oil house were left standing.

Visiting the lighthouse

To get to the lighthouse you must hike 4 miles down “The Lost Cove Trail“. High tide can cover the trail at times, so it is important to take a look at the tide tables before you visit.


Point Reyes Lighthouse

Built 1870
Point Reyes Station, CA
https://www.nps.gov/pore/planyourvisit/lighthouse.htm

What makes this lighthouse unique

The Point Reyes lighthouse was operational for 105 years, until it was retired by the coast guard in 1975. The stairs leading down the rocky California coast, make this light house a true beauty to behold.

Visiting this lighthouse

According to the National Park Service website, the lighthouse is currently being restored. There will be no public access beyond the visitors’ parking lot until the restoration work is completed in October 2019. 


East Brother Light Station

Built in 1874
1900 Stenmark Dr, Richmond, CA

What makes this lighthouse unique

The East Brother Light Station is unique in the fact that it is both a keepers house and lighthouse built into one. When the light stations started switching to automatic lighting, the Coast Guard planned to demolish the entire structure and replace it with just a single tower. Luckily,  The Contra Costa Shoreline Parks Committee fought this decision and saved the structure by having it placed on the National Register.

Visiting this lighthouse

The house is now run as a Bed & Breakfast. In order to reach the island, you must take a boat. If not planning to stay in the bed and breakfast, day tours are still available on Saturdays. From a distance, the lighthouse can be seen from various points along the road to the Point San Pablo Yacht Harbor.

Clean, Comfy Rooms from $49.99 at Select Locations

Point Bonita

Built in 1855
Sausalito, CA 94965, USA

What makes this lighthouse unique

Point Bonita lighthouse was the third lighthouse constructed in the bay area. In 1901, one of the worst maritime disasters took place near this lighthouse when the steamer shipped called “City of Rio de Janeiro” slammed into Point Diablo. The crash killed 128 passengers.

Visiting this lighthouse

To get to this lighthouse you will need to hike a half mile trail that is at times very steep. The tunnel halfway to the lighthouse is open only during visiting hours: Saturdays, Sundays & Mondays 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.


Pigeon Point

Built in 1872
210 Pigeon Point Road Highway 1 Pescadero, CA

What makes this lighthouse unique

The 115 ft lighthouse at Pigeon Point is one of the tallest lighthouses in the United States. “Pigeon Point” is named after a vessel named the “Carrier Pigeon” that crashed into the rocks before the lighthouse was built. The tower was closed to the public in 2011 after sections of brick and iron came loose from the top of the tower. The California State Parks are currently raising money to restore it.

Visiting this lighthouse

The grounds of the lighthouse are open to the public during daylight hours. The keepers of this lighthouse have been offering free tours of the lighthouse since the 1800’s, as long as you don’t touch the lights. However, damage to the lighthouse has closed the building for tours since 2011.


Piedras Blancas

Built in 1875
15950 Cabrillo Hwy, San Simeon, CA

What makes this lighthouse unique

Noticeably, this lighthouse is missing the light on the the top of it’s tower. In 1948, an earthquake damaged the light house and the upper three levels had to be removed because they were too unsafe. This brought the once 100 foot lighthouse down to a 70 foot lighthouse.

Visiting this lighthouse

Tours are offered every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday morning year-round. Summer season, June 15 – August 31: tours are offered every morning except Sundays and Wednesdays. 


Los Angeles Harbor

Built in 1913
San Pedro, CA

What makes this lighthouse unique

The Los Angeles Lighthouse guards the harbor of Los Angeles, giving it the nickname of “The Angel’s Gate Lighthouse”. This lighthouse is built differently than most lighthouses. The architects wanted to make sure that it withstood rough weather. The lighthouse is built out of steel and concrete and has in fact stood up to the elements to this day.

Visiting this lighthouse

The lighthouse is not open for tours. But you can get a good view of it from a charter boat or at the end of the Cabrillo Beach fishing pier.


Sources

(1) Light House Friends. “Lighthouse Map”. http://www.lighthousefriends.com/maps.html

(2) Travel Oregon. “The Mystery of Terrible Tilly”. https://traveloregon.com/things-to-do/culture-history/historic-sites-oregon-trail/the-mystery-of-terrible-tilly/. 2015.

(3) National Park Service. “Point Bonita Lighthouse”. https://www.nps.gov/goga/upload/sb-pobo.pdf

(4) CA Parks. “Pigeon Point Light Station”. http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=533

(5) Gray’s Harbor Beaches. “Grays Harbor Lighthouse”. https://www.graysharborbeaches.com/grays_harbor_lighthouse.html

(6) Atlas Obscura. “Tillamook Rock Lighthouse”. https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/tillamook-rock-lighthouse-skb

(7) Oregon State Parks. “Cape Meares State Scenic View”. https://oregonstateparks.org/index.cfm?do=parkPage.dsp_parkPage&parkId=131

(8) Light House Friends. “Yaquina Head Lighthouse”. http://www.lighthousefriends.com/light.asp?ID=133

(9) Light House Friends. “Saint George Reef Lighthouse”. http://www.lighthousefriends.com/light.asp?ID=26

(10) Light House Friends. “Punta Gorda Lighthouse”. http://www.lighthousefriends.com/light.asp?ID=63

(11) Light House Friends. “East Brother Lighthouse”. http://www.lighthousefriends.com/light.asp?ID=70

(12) Trip Savvy. “Piedras Blancas”. https://www.tripsavvy.com/piedras-blancas-lighthouse-1479395

(13) San Pedro. “Angels Gate Lighthouse”. https://sanpedro.com/la-waterfront/angels-gate-lighthouse/