Point Montara Lighthouse

Unique History and Overnight Lodging

Point Montara Lighthouse
••• Point Montara Lighthouse. mikesonn/Flickr/CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Point Montara Lighthouse is the only lighthouse building in the world that is known to have stood on two oceans.

Situated on a scenic point of land south of Half Moon Bay, it's there because of an offshore reef known as the Colorado Reef, named for a near-tragic shipwreck that happened there. 

What You Can Do at Point Montara Lighthouse

Gawking at the gorgeous view and taking photographs are the only things to do at Point Montara.

You can't go inside the lighthouse for safety reasons, but you can visit the grounds and walk around the tower. They hostel asks visitors to check in at the office first. 

While you're in the area, you can explore the tide pools at the Fitzgerald Marin Reserve. A stop at the lighthouse is an excellent addition to a day or a weekend in Half Moon Bay. If you travel a little further south, you can also see the Pigeon Point Lighthouse north of Santa Cruz, which is also a hostel.

How to Spend the Night at Point Montara Lighthouse

The keepers' quarters at Point Montara Lighthouse are now a hostel. They have both shared and private rooms in the former Coast Guard quarters and in the old fog signal building. 

You might think of hostels as places where backpackers crash, a little rough around the edges, but online reviewers give it high ratings. They like the views and say the beds are comfortable and the place is clean.

You can get rates, find out more about how the hostel works and make reservations at the Point Montara Hostel Website.

Point Montara Lighthouse's Fascinating History

After numerous shipwrecks along the San Mateo coast in the mid-1800s, a foghorn was installed at Point Montara, near Moss Beach. First sounded in 1872; the horn eased the way for ships entering the San Francisco Bay from the south.

The steam whistle sent out a five-second blast that sailors could hear up to 15 miles away. It took up to 200,000 pounds of coal per year to fire its boiler, depending on how foggy it was.

A Victorian Gothic-style keeper's quarters was built at the same time as the fog signal.

That noisy signal wasn't enough to keep ships safe and more ships crashed on the reef. In 1881, a second fog signal was added, along with a barn and a stable.

In 1900, a short light tower was erected to work in tandem with the fog horn and ensure an even safer approach to the Golden Gate. It was a simple thing, no more than a red-lensed lantern hung on a  post, but sailors could see it from 12 miles away. A new fog signal building was built. In 1902, a fourth-order Fresnel lens was installed, but the structure will still just a skeleton. Its signature was 2.5 seconds on, 2.5 seconds off.

In 1928, the current cast iron tower replaced the skeleton structure. The 30-foot-tall tower is much older than that, built in 1881 and first erected on Wellfleet Harbor in Cape Cod. After being decommissioned in 1922, it took a 3,000-mile journey to Yerba Buena Island in San Francisco Bay, where it stayed until it was installed a Point Montara.

During World War II, the Point Montara Light Station provided housing for the military, including the K-9 Corps, who patrolled the beaches with their dogs. The Coast Guard took it over after the war. Three keepers worked there before being automated in 1970. The original Fresnel lens moved to the San Mateo County Historical Society Museum, where it is still on display.

After that, the building fell into disrepair. A partnership of organizations including Hostelling International worked to get the facility renovated. Today, the buildings are used as a hostel. 

Visiting Point Montara Lighthouse

The lighthouse and turn of the century outbuildings are well preserved and restored. You can walk around the grounds, but there are no tours inside.

Getting to the Point Montara Lighthouse

Point Montara Hostel Website

Point Montara Lighthouse is located on CA Hwy 1, 25 miles south of San Francisco between Montara and Moss Beach.

More California Lighthouses

The Pigeon Point Lighthouse is south of Point Montara near Santa Cruz. It's one of the most picturesque lighthouses on the California coast.

If you're a lighthouse geek, you will enjoy our Guide to Visiting the Lighthouses of California.