Pigeon Point Lighthouse is California's most photographed lighthouse. It also ties with Point Arena for honors as the tallest lighthouse on the Pacific Coast at 115 feet.
Fifty miles south of San Francisco on the Pacific coast a few miles north of Santa Cruz, the Pigeon Point Lighthouse has been a beacon for those on the sea since 1872.
Pigeon Point's first-order Fresnel lens is still on the property but is temporarily housed at ground level until the tower can be repaired. The tower is still an active U.S. Coast Guard navigation aid but now uses an automated beacon.
What You Can Do at Pigeon Point Lighthouse
You can't go inside until repairs are completed, but you can take a virtual tour at the California State Parks website. Repair work began in 2011 after a section of the exterior fell off in 2001, closing the structure to visitors.
The lighthouse's 16-foot tall, 6-foot diameter, first-order Fresnel lens which weighs 2,000 pounds is on display in the fog signal building. It is well worth a look to see the 1,008 hand-polished lenses and prisms that can produce more than 500,000 candlepower of light from a single source.
The grounds are also open, and you can see the lighthouse from the outside during daylight hours. Docents lead history walks around the grounds a few days a week. Check the schedule.
A small public beach is about 100 yards from the main parking lot and north of the hostel building, where you can find tidepools to explore at low tide. To find out when that will happen, check the NOAA website.
The Pigeon Point area is also a good place to go bird watching, known among birders as one of the finest places to observe seabirds on the California Coast. Visitors also often spot seals, sea lions, and whales from the shore as they swim past the outcropping of land.
The lighthouse is a good place to go stargazing, but the grounds are closed at night except to people staying at the hostel.
For many years, the commemorative lighting was done on or around November 15. Hundreds of photographers gathered to take its picture. During repair work, this event has been put on hold, and you should check with the lighthouse before you try to go.
Pigeon Point Lighthouse's Fascinating History
The Pigeon Point Light was named for the clipper ship Carrier Pigeon, which sank off the nearby point of land in 1853.
After three more ships were lost in the same area, Congress approved construction of a lighthouse at Pigeon Point, at the cost of $90,000 (which would be well over $2 million today). In contrast, the planned project to restore the lighthouse may cost $11 million or more. The lantern room was built at the Lighthouse Service's New York depot and shipped around Cape Horn to California.
Pigeon Point has been a favorite place for tourists since the beginning, and early light keepers often doubled as tour guides. An excerpt from the 1883 edition of the San Mateo County Gazette: “Our escort was of a very talkative disposition and took great pride in dilating upon the wonders of the establishment.”
The Fresnel lens is a first-order lens, the largest size of lens made. It was used at the old Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in North Carolina until the Civil War ended. Pigeon Point's identifying lighting pattern was one flash every ten seconds.
Visiting Pigeon Point Lighthouse
You can't sleep in the tower, but the old keepers' housing is now a hostel run by Hostelling International where you can rent dorm-style rooms and private rooms. They also have a cliffside hot tub that is popular at sunset.
Pigeon Point Lighthouse is at 210 Pigeon Point Road, Highway 1, Pescadero, CA. You can get more details, current hours and an event schedule at the Pigeon Point Lighthouse website.
The only dogs allowed on the grounds are service animals. You will find restrooms near the parking lot and a few picnic tables. The park store is in the historic carpenter's shop.
More California Lighthouses
If you're a lighthouse geek, you can find more of them to visit in the guide to visiting the lighthouses of California.