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The almost-300-year-long era of manned California lighthouses is now over. Many light towers are automated and still in use today. Other lighthouses are no longer on active duty but remain relevant, adopted by non-profit organizations determined to save them.
The northern California coast offers some of the oldest lighthouses in the state, while the southern California coast offers additional interesting lighthouse finds, each with a unique history and purpose.
Tall structures signal seamen great distances from the shore, while low ones avoid fog and low visibility. Some lighthouses are freshly painted in contrasting colors making them a distinct landmark. Others are weathered and blend with the landscape, but still shine their lights brightly.
Almost thirty lighthouses still stand proudly on the California coast. Sixteen of them are open to the public. Continue reading to see photos of them all.
The Alcatraz lighthouse was first built in 1852, making it the first... operation U.S. lighthouse in the west. It was damaged in the 1906 earthquake, and after that, the current structure was built.
You can get quite close on an Alcatraz tour, but the lighthouse itself is not open to the public.Continue to 2 of 17 below.
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Battery Point Lighthouse
It's been shaken by earthquakes and swamped by a tidal wave, but it's still standing, built in 1856. It's accessible by foot at low tide, located in Crescent City.Continue to 3 of 17 below.
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Piedras Blancas Lighthouse
It looks odd because the top part is missing. Its Fresnel lens was removed and is currently on view on Main Street in nearby Cambria, next to the Lawn Bowling Club.Continue to 4 of 17 below.
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Pigeon Point Lighthouse
Pigeon Point may be the most beautiful lighthouse on the coast, located 50 miles south of San Francisco on CA Hwy 1 north of Santa Cruz.
The light has been warning mariners since 1872. The tower is one of the tallest on the West Coast.Continue to 5 of 17 below.
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Point Arena Lighthouse
The Point Arena light was first lit in 1870, but the current lighthouse was built after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. It's located in Mendocino County.Continue to 6 of 17 below.
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Point Bonita Lighthouse
Point Bonita keeps watch on the northern side of San Francisco's Golden Gate. The current lighthouse was built in 1877. The bridge was added in the1940s when a massive landslide destroyed the land bridge.Continue to 7 of 17 below.
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Point Cabrillo Lighthouse
Built after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake to help warn ships carrying lumber to the city away from the coastal shoals, it's located in Mendocino County.Continue to 8 of 17 below.
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Point Fermin Lighthouse
The light is integrated into the keeper's quarters in this pretty lighthouse in San Pedro, near the Port of Los Angeles.Continue to 9 of 17 below.
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Point Loma Lighthouse (1855)
Built in 1855 on what seemed to be an ideal site in San Diego's early days, this lighthouse was so high that it often was obscured by low cloud banks, and it was replaced in 1891.Continue to 10 of 17 below.
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Point Loma Lighthouse (1891)
A less scenic but more visible replacement for San Diego's Old Point Loma lighthouse, this one was built in 1891.Continue to 11 of 17 below.
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Point Montara Lighthouse
This short little lighthouse was built to keep ships out of danger on their way north toward San Francisco, its light working together with its foghorn.
It's located on CA Hwy 1 south of San Francisco and now leased by Hostelling International. You can spend the night there in private or shared rooms located in the old Coast Guard quarters.Continue to 12 of 17 below.
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Point Pinos Lighthouse
This 1855 lighthouse on the Monterey Peninsula is now surrounded by a golf course and is very near the 17-Mile Drive.Continue to 13 of 17 below.
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Point Reyes Lighthouse
Point Reyes is a harsh place. Winds howl past the point and it's foggy 2,700 hours a year. Add the steep climb required to get back up the hill from the lighthouse, and keeper E. G. Chamberlain said it best "Better dwell in the midst of alarms than reign in this horrible place."
It's located in Point Reyes National Seashore, north of San Francisco.Continue to 14 of 17 below.
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Point San Luis Lighthouse
This Victorian-style lighthouse is near the town of San Luis Obispo, located on property owned by PG&E, but public tours are given with a guide. It's one of only three lighthouses ever built in "Prairie Victorian" style.Continue to 15 of 17 below.
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Point Sur Lighthouse
The Point Sur light must have been one of the loneliest places in California when it was built in 1899. It's situated on a steep sandstone island overlooking the Pacific. Oddly, one of its most famous incidents didn't involve a ship at all. In 1935 the military airship the USS Macon, longer than three Boeing 747s parked end-to-end, crashed and sank just off the coast.Continue to 16 of 17 below.
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Point Vicente Lighthouse
The Point Vicente light is one of California's newest lighthouses, built in 1926 on Los Angeles' Palos Verdes Peninsula. If it looks familiar, that's probably because it has been featured in dozens of movies and television series episodes.Continue to 17 of 17 below.
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Map of the California Lighthouses
This map shows all of California's coastal lighthouses. It's a static map, but if you want to get access to one that's interactive, where you can get directions and more, visit the California Lighthouse Map on Google.