The 5 Most Beautiful California Lighthouses

Updated: April 12, 2023
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The West Coast is perhaps the most famous coastline in the world, the subject of many books, movies, songs, and stories. California, also known as “The Golden State”, holds an equal draw as the most populated state in America. The lighthouses of California are commonly visited by both tourists and locals alike. If you’re planning on seeing these unique fixtures along the Pacific Ocean for yourself, read on to discover which to visit!

1. Old Point Loma Lighthouse

Beacon, Building Exterior, Built Structure, California, Coastline
Today visitors to the Old Point Loma Lighthouse are greeted by an extensively reconstructed 1800s version of the original lighthouse.


San Diego’s Old Point Loma Lighthouse was built in 1855 and stood 422 feet above sea level. This lighthouse was the primary lighthouse for the San Diego Bay for 36 years. It was originally commissioned by the United States Coastal Survey in 1851, and built on the cliffs of Point Loma for $30,000. The lighthouse served as light for both the harbor and incoming coastal ships. 

The process of constructing the lighthouse involved considerable ingenuity, as the sandstone used for its walls was taken from the surrounding hills, and the tiled floor came from the detritus of Fort Guijarros, a decrepit Spanish fort. By 1855, the third-order Fresnel lens from France had been installed, and with its help, the tower could project its beam clearly for 25 miles across the Pacific Ocean. At the time, the Old Point Loma Lighthouse was the fifth lighthouse to be lit on the west coast, as well as the tallest lighthouse in America.

Unfortunately, the lighthouse keepers quickly discovered that the location of the lighthouse meant it was too easily and too often hidden behind thick fog and incoming clouds. The city decided to retire the Old Point Loma Lighthouse on March 23rd of 1891, opting to build a newer lighthouse only 100 yards south of where the original stood. 

The lighthouse existed in various states of decay throughout the 1900s and was even commandeered by the United States Navy during World War II before being placed in the care of the National Park Service at the war’s end. Restoration of the lighthouse began in the 1980s, concluding with the reconstruction of the lighthouse keepers’ quarters in 2004. 

Today visitors to the Old Point Loma Lighthouse are greeted by an extensively reconstructed 1800s version of the original lighthouse and grounds. A visitors center and talks led by National Park Service rangers are offered, which are a must-hear for those curious about the history of this beautiful lighthouse above the bay. 

2. Point Fermin Lighthouse 

Point Fermin Lighthouse
Today, the Point Fermin Lighthouse is open to the public from 1-4 pm every Sunday with free admission.


The Point Fermin Lighthouse in San Pedro is certainly one of the more unique lighthouses on the west coast. Where most lighthouses have a circular tower, the Point Fermin tower is actually square and rises out of a two-story Victorian-style building well-equipped to house a keeper and his family or guests.

Built in 1874 in San Pedro Bay, this lighthouse was the first of its kind in the area. Its construction, which features prominent use of decorative wooden fixtures both in and outside the building, is called Stick Style. A majority of the wood came from the redwood forests of California, and the tower was also fitted with a Fresnel lens. The lighthouse was commissioned by the local Lighthouse Board after the construction of a 21-mile railroad connecting San Pedro Bay with Los Angeles was finished in 1869. United States Congress provided $20,000 for its construction.

In 1925 an electric-powered light was added, allowing the light to shine 22 miles out over the ocean. With the onset of World War II in 1941, the lighthouse was temporarily put out of commission as the United States Army became worried about attacks along the coast. 

Over the ensuing decades, the Point Fermin Lighthouse remained largely inactive after soldier-operated radar assumed signaling duties. In 1974, volunteers helped to rebuild the lantern and the gallery to prepare the premises for its centennial occurring that year. Today the Point Fermin Lighthouse is open to the public from 1-4 pm every Sunday with free admission. There are guided tours starting every hour from 1-3 pm every day of the week except for Monday. Both the Point Fermin Historical Society and the Point Fermin Lighthouse Society help to maintain the premises, with the city of Los Angeles assuming official ownership.

3. Point Sur Lighthouse

Point Sur Lighthouse
The Point Sur Lighthouse was originally commissioned in 1874.

©Lynn Yeh/

Big Sur has long been heralded as one of the most beautiful places on the west coast, let alone in California or the United States at large. Sweeping cliffsides that overlook crystal clear waters are all that can be seen for miles, and it is in this environment that the Point Sur Lighthouse was built in August of 1889. Today it is one of the most popular locations to visit when driving the Pacific Coast Highway along the coast.

The Point Sur Lighthouse was erected roughly 330 feet above sea level upon volcanic rock, costing $50,000. It was originally commissioned in 1874 in an annual report of the Lighthouse Board, which noted that midway between Pigeon Point Lighthouse and Piedras Blancas Lighthouse would be the ideal spot for a new lighthouse. 

Construction of the lighthouse included the building of a three-story structure created to hold up to three lighthouse keepers and their families, as well as an additional building to house any extra personnel. A building for carpentry and blacksmithing was also made to help those living on the relatively isolated premises (the Pacific Coast Highway was not built until 1937) maintain quality of life.

Though it took nearly two years to finish, the lighthouse was ready in 1889 and finally lit its first-order Fresnel lens on August 1st of the same year. The Point Sur Lighthouse was automated in 1972 and entered into the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. 

The Central Coast Lighthouse Keepers (in conjunction with the California Department of Parks and Recreation) helped to restore the lighthouse after a period of neglect, eventually wrapping up the extensive repair operation in 2012.

Walking tours (3 hours in length) can be joined every Wednesday at 1 pm and every Saturday and Sunday at 10 am. 

4. Point Pinos Lighthouse

The Point Pinos Lighthouse
The Point Pinos Lighthouse was built on a peninsula in Pacific Grove, Monterey in 1855.

©Chris LaBasco/

Point Pinos Lighthouse is the oldest operating lighthouse on the west coast, and one of the first six lighthouses authorized for construction after California achieved official statehood in 1850. It was constructed largely with stone and brick, and the tower was fixed atop a one-and-a-half-story building for the lighthouse keeper to live in.

The lighthouse was built on a peninsula in Pacific Grove, Monterey in 1855. At first, the builders were planning on using a second-order Fresnel lens, but they ended up installing a third-order Fresnel lens mean for another lighthouse (Fort Point Lighthouse) when it failed to show up on time. This lens was capable of projecting 17 miles out over the sea, providing consistent guidance until the lighthouse was automated in 1975.

The Point Pinos Lighthouse began operating on February 1st, 1855, and first received electricity in 1919. During its early years, the lighthouse was used not just to help ships navigate at night, but also as a social center for the city. The Scottish novelist Robert Louis Stevenson even mentioned both the lighthouse and its then-keeper Allan Luce in his novel The Old Pacific Capital.

The tower and lantern room of the Point Pinos Lighthouse were both badly damaged on April 18th, 1906 by an earthquake. It was partially rebuilt with concrete to fortify the tower. In 1975, the City of Pacific Grove assumed ownership of the lighthouse in conjunction with the Pacific Grove Natural History Museum. Many of the rooms once used for living, eating, and sleeping have been converted into museum displays that detail the history and importance of this Pacific Grove landmark.

5. Point Reyes Lighthouse

Point Reyes Lighthouse
On November 8th, 2019 the Point Reyes Lighthouse was re-opened to the public.


The Point Reyes Lighthouse sits atop a cliff in the Point Reyes Headlands, a notoriously windy and dangerous area for ships traveling to and from San Francisco Bay. Its construction was first called for in 1855, but it took 15 years for the Lighthouse Board to acquire the property it was to be built on. Meanwhile, 14 shipwrecks occurred during this legal battle, further stressing the need for a tower along the Point Reyes National Seashore. 

The tower remains unique in its design, standing 37 feet tall and made of iron with sixteen sides. A first-order Fresnel lens was shipped over from France and in operation with the rest of the premises by December 1st of 1870. A 300-step staircase was also built into the cliffside to help reach the lighthouse, which is still required today. 

In addition to the lighthouse, a two-story building was erected for the lightkeepers to live in while they cared for the property. In 1885, two more quarters were constructed as well. The lighthouse received electricity in 1938, and in 1960 a four-room apartment building was built in the place of the old lighthouse keepers’ quarters.

By June 12th of 1975, after 105 years of manual operation, the Point Reyes Lighthouse was automated, and the 82 acres of property it came with were transferred to the National Park Service. The NPS allowed the public to access the lighthouse on August 15th, 1977, and in 2003 it was rebuilt over a period of 6 months at a price of $1.2 million. An additional renovation occurred from 2018 to 2019, costing an additional $5.7 million to refurbish the keepers’ quarters, repaint the lighthouse, and build exhibits. On November 8th, 2019 the Point Reyes Lighthouse was re-opened to the public.

Summary Of The 5 Most Beautiful California Lighthouses

1Old Point Loma LighthouseSan Diego
2Point Fermin Lighthouse San Pedro
3Point Sur LighthouseMonterey
4Point Pinos LighthousePacific Grove
5Point Reyes LighthouseInverness

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