Point San Luis Lighthouse

Point San Luis Lighthouse
Point San Luis Lighthouse. Jerry Kirkhart/Flickr/CC BY 2.0

The Point San Luis Lighthouse is unique among California lighthouses — and among lighthouses anywhere.

The lighthouse isn't just a tall, slender pillar looking like an overgrown candle on the coastline. Instead, it's integrated into a Victorian-style house. Its unusual architectural style is sometimes called "Prairie Victorian," a crossover between ornate Victorian style and practical houses more suited to the prairie. Point San Luis is one of only three lighthouses ever built in that style and it's the only one left.

What You Can Do at Point San Luis Lighthouse

You can't even get a peek at the Point San Luis Lighthouse from any public road. To see it, you have to take a guided tour. You may be wondering what all that is about, and here's the simple answer: The old lighthouse is too close to the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant to let visitors in unescorted. 

Once you get to the tour's starting point, you can hike in or take a trolley. While you're in the area, you may also want to check out some of the things to do in Pismo Beach, which is nearby.

If you love lighthouses, you could also combine a trip to San Luis with a tour of the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse, which is on the coast north of Morro Bay and Hearst Castle.

The Interesting History of Point San Luis Lighthouse

In 1867, United States President Andrew Johnson issued an executive order directing the Department of the Interior “to take the necessary steps to cause the reservation for Light House purposes of an area … of land at … Point San Luis.” In 1877, Congressman Romaldo Pacheco of San Luis Obispo introduced a bill to build a lighthouse at Point San Luis.

All those orders and bills didn't add up to an immediate building project, though. The San Luis Obispo Daily Republic newspaper reported on June 24, 1886, that the United States government had "appropriated the sum of $50,000 for the construction of a lighthouse." High construction costs and inability to secure the land delayed the project even further. It wasn't until 1889 that construction began. The light was officially lit for the first time on June 30, 1890 — 23 years after that Presedential order was issued.

A single kerosene lamp illuminated the Point San Luis light from a 40-foot-tall tower, which projected a beam of light 20 miles out to sea. A Fresnel lens made that possible, designed to collect all of the lamp’s light and send it out in a single beam.

In 1933, an electric bulb replaced that kerosene lamp. In 1969, the Fresnel lens was retired and replaced by an automated electric light. Point San Luis Lighthouse closed in 1974. In 1969, the Fresnel lens was retired and replaced by an automated electric light. Point San Luis Lighthouse closed in 1974.

In 1992, the Federal Government deeded the 30-acre site to the Port San Luis Harbor District, requiring that the station be restored and opened to the public. Volunteers spent more than 65,000 hours to restore it. The original Fresnel lens is now on display and several of the site's buildings have been restored.

Visiting Point San Luis Lighthouse

To get to the Point San Luis Lighthouse, you have enter property belonging to PG&E (Pacific Gas and Electric). Unescorted access is not allowed. You can take a trolley from nearby Avila Bay or join a guided hike, which is 3.5 miles round trip over hilly terrain. No matter how you decide to go, you'll need a reservation for a guided tour. Get the current tour schedule. There is a fee for all tours.

You may also want to find more California lighthouses to tour on our California Lighthouse Map. They include two more California lighthouses that are similar to Point San Luis: Point Fermin lighthouse near the Port of Los Angeles and East Brother Lighthouse in the San Francisco Bay. 

Getting to the San Luis Lighthouse

To visit the San Luis Lighthouse, you will start in the small town of Avila near Pismo Beach. You can get more details about the starting point and about the tours at the Point San Luis Lighthouse Website.

More California Lighthouses

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