Point Pinos Lighthouse is the oldest active lighthouse on the west coast. It stands on the western end of the Monterey Peninsula and is one of the state's prettiest lighthouses, its beautiful surroundings making up for the fact that its tower is less dramatic than its counterparts along the Pacific coast.
Until 1912, the light was on continuously. In that year, a rotating shutter was added to make it blink.
From 1912 through 1940, its signature was on for 10 seconds, off for 20 seconds. Today, it's on 3 out of 4 seconds.
What You Can Do at Point Pinos Lighthouse
The Point Pinos lighthouse is just a short drive away from the Monterey Bay Aquarium. When it's open, you can go inside and tour the Victorian-style house, which houses both the lightkeeper's quarters and the light tower.
The lighthouse is near the cute little town of Pacific Grove and could make a day out of driving along the ocean, stopping in town and touring the lighthouse.
History of Point Pinos Lighthouse
Oxfordshire, England native Charles Layton was Point Pinos Lighthouse's first keeper. He lived in the Cape Cod-style bungalow with a light tower protruding from the roof. In his first year as keeper, he was killed while serving with a sheriff's posse attempting to apprehend a famous outlaw.
Layton's death left his wife Charlotte and their four children completely destitute.
A Pacific coast lightkeeper was paid $1,000 per year, a salary much higher than on the East Coast counterparts because it was hard to find workers to do the job. In the 1800s, it was uncommon for a woman to be a principal lightkeeper, but the local customs collector (who oversaw lighthouses) helped Mrs. Layton.
He wrote a letter and gathered petitions from local citizens on her behalf, sending them to the Lighthouse Board in Washington, DC. He succeeded in getting her appointed to replace her husband.
Writer Robert Louis Stevenson visited keeper Alan Luce in 1879. Stevenson was so charmed by the visit that he wrote a description of it in his book The Old Pacific Coast. In his book From Scotland to Silverado, he wrote: "Westward is Point Pinos, with the lighthouse in a wilderness of sand, where you will find the light keeper playing the piano, making models and bows and arrows, studying dawn and sunrise in amateur oil painting, and with a dozen other elegant pursuits and interests to surprise his brave, old-world rivals."
A second woman lightkeeper took over Point Pinos Lighthouse in 1883. When Emily Fish's husband, prominent doctor Melancthon Fish died in 1893, Emily was 50 years old. Her son-in-law, a Naval officer and Inspector of the 12th District of the Lighthouse Service, had her appointed keeper of Point Pinos Lighthouse.
Emily introduced a fine lifestyle to the cottage, filling it with international antiques and bringing a Chinese servant to the Point Pinos Lighthouse. She created gardens on the 92 acres of sand, adding topsoil and planting numerous plants.
At times, she employed up to 30 laborers to tend the land and livestock. The station was extremely well kept and remained prosperous during her tenure from 1893 to 1914.
In 1906, a tumultuous earthquake rocked northern California all the way to San Francisco. Point Pinos Lighthouse was severely damaged, making it necessary to tear down and rebuild the tower with reinforced concrete. The work was completed in 1907 and the tower has stood there ever since.
During World War II, all lighthouses along the Pacific coast went dark to conceal their location from enemy ships. A shore patrol watched the coastline and had a command post in the lighthouse. By 1975, the lighthouse was automated. It was deeded to the city of Pacific Grove in 2006.
Visiting the Point Pinos Lighthouse
The lighthouse is open several days a week.
You don't need reservations and they don't charge for admission, although they will appreciate a donation to help with maintenance. It will take you about an hour to see it.
You may also want to find more California lighthouses to tour on our California Lighthouse Map.
Getting to the Point Pinos Lighthouse
80 Asilomar Ave (between Del Monte Blvd. and Lighthouse Ave.)
Pacific Grove, CA
Point Pinos Lighthouse can be reached from CA Hwy 1 by exiting at CA Hwy 68 west, then turning left onto Lighthouse Avenue, or by driving along the waterfront from the Monterey Bay Aquarium on Ocean View Blvd. From downtown Pacific Grove, follow Lighthouse Avenue north until it intersects Asilomar Avenue.
More California Lighthouses
If you're a lighthouse geek, you will enjoy our Guide to Visiting the Lighthouses of California.