Point Arena Light, originally a masonry tower built in 1870, is located on a narrow strip of land that juts out into a portion of the cold Pacific Ocean embedded with dangerous reefs.
At 115 feet tall, Point Arena is the tallest lighthouse on the west coast of the United States. It's also one of several places on the California coast where you can spend the night in at a lighthouse.
What You Can Do at Point Arena Lighthouse
At Point Arena, you can see and tour the lighthouse. They also offer full moon night tours and have a museum and gift shop.
If you love lighthouses, you may also want to visit the Point Cabrillo Lighthouse which is north of Point Arena.
While you're checking out those lighthouses, you'll also find plenty more things to do on your trip to the Mendocino Coast.
Spending the Night at Point Arena Lighthouse
You can also spend the night at Point Arena. You can stay in the restored head keeper's house, one of three assistant keepers' houses, or in a keeper's apartment or room.
You can find more information and make reservations at the Point Arena Lighthouse website.
Point Arena Lighthouse's Fascinating History
The first Point Arena Lighthouse was a brick and mortar tower, built in 1870. The keeper's quarters were crowded back then, with the keeper, three assistants and their families sharing the two-and-a-half story residence. The arrangement was less than tranquil, and the keeper recorded a log entry in 1880: "Threatening weather and fighting children."
The lighthouse had two steam whistles to warn mariners on foggy days, and the boilers that powered them consumed up to 100 tons of wood in a foggy year.
In 1896, the lighthouse keeper was Jefferson M. Brown. When the ship San Benito went ashore off Point Arena, he rushed out to rescue the crew, who were clinging to what little of the ship remained above water. Brown and other local men tried to rescue the crew, but with no luck because of the rough seas. Finally a passing steamer picked up the survivors.
That first tower staunchly warned ships of the dangerous waters for 36 years, until the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco (130 miles away) rocked the entire area and destroyed multitudes of structures. A devastating fracture in the brick and mortar building and extensive damage to the keepers’ residence ultimately condemned Point Arena Light and forced the Lighthouse Service to build new structures capable of withstanding future earthquake trembles.
They sought a quake-proof structure, and the potential was soon realized when a local smokestack factory contracted to construct the new light. Today's 115-foot-tall tower was erected soon thereafter. Point Arena became the first steel-reinforced concrete lighthouse in the United States and began functioning once again in 1908.
Point Arena's first order French-made Fresnel lens is more than six feet across and its 666 hand-ground glass prisms weigh more than 6 tons.It signature is two flashes every six seconds. Originally, a clockwork mechanism kept the light turning, which had to be hand cranked every 75 minutes.
The U.S. Coast Guard automated the light in 1977, replacing the lamps and lenses with an aircraft beacon. Later, a modern rotating light replaced the beacon. Today's light is an array of LED lights installed in 2015. The station also operates a radio beacon with a range of 50 miles.
In 1982 a private organization took over the landmark and created vacation lodging, museum, and public tours. Four houses that replaced the original Keepers’ quarters after the 1906 earthquake and today serve as guest cottages for overnight visitors.
The Point Arena Lighthouse Keepers have worked diligently for many years to secure funds to make sure the old lighthouse continues to stand. Their efforts had a big part to play in the nearby land becoming part of the California Coastal National Monumentin 2014.
Visiting Point Arena Lighthouse
The lighthouse is open most days. You can get the current schedule at the Point Arena Lighthouse Website, where you can also find information about full moon night tours. There is an admission fee. Allow about an hour to see it.
If you can climb 115 feet up a 145-step spiral staircase, you will be on top of the tallest Lighthouse on the West Coast.
You may also want to find more California lighthouses to tour on our California Lighthouse Map
Getting to the Point Arena Lighthouse
45500 Lighthouse Road
Point Arena, CA
Point Arena Lighthouse website
Point Arena Lighthouse is located 135 miles north of San Francisco, one mile north of the town of Point Arena on California Highway 1. From the highway, drive two miles west on Lighthouse Road.
More California Lighthouses
If you're a lighthouse geek, you will enjoy our Guide to Visiting the Lighthouses of California.