California Lighthouses: Top [10] to Visit & Photograph

30 California lighthouses shine a beacon out to the ocean along the coastline. From California’s oldest Lighthouse, Point Pinos, to the historical Old Point Loma, these beautifully constructed buildings face the sea and the winds to alert us of impending danger. 

16 out of the 30 lighthouses are open to tourists, and 6 offer overnight accommodation for visitors who want to stay the night in California. 

This post covers the best California lighthouses to visit and photograph. 

10 Most Exiting Lighthouses in California

We ranked these lighthouses from travel and landscape photography perspectives, with the most photogenic at the top.

1. Point Sur Lighthouse

Point Sur is one of the most famous lighthouses on the Pacific Coast Highway, located about 20 miles south of Carmel by the sea and Point Lobos Natural Reserve

Point Sur Lighthouse

This Lighthouse is constructed on a 330ft volcanic rock to overlook the area below. From point Sur, you can view the scenic Pacific ocean and the coast. 

Point Sur was the former US navy base that operated during the cold war. The function of the base was to detect soviet submarines traveling against the California coast. Today, tourists can visit the base on tour at weekends from 10:00 am until sunset. 

The tour is scheduled based on the month of the year. During summer (April to September), tours are scheduled from 10 am to 2:00 pm on Wednesdays and Saturdays. During the winter (October to March), tours are scheduled on Sundays and Saturdays between 10 am and 1 pm. 

The tour hosts fun and themed activities like ghost tours, where you can learn about the historic spirits that haunted these areas. 

Point Sur Lighthouse from Big Sur

If you want to stay the night, you can rent a hostel in Big Sur (South of Big Sur) and Caramel by the sea (close to the north). 

2. Point Bonita Lighthouse

Point Bonita Lighthouse is a historic lighthouse located at Point Bonita on the Marin Headlands tip at the San Francisco Bay entrance. Point Bonita Lighthouse directs the way of ships coming into San Francisco.

California Lighthouses: Point Bonita Lighthouse

The original lighthouse was a wooden structure built in 1855 during the California Gold Rush years. Later it was replaced by the current brick lighthouse.

It is the last manned lighthouse in California.

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Pint Bonita shot from the Marin Headlands

The lighthouse is still active and is run by the National Park Service. The Coast Guard maintains the light and fog signal.

The lighthouse offers fantastic views of the Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz, and San Francisco. Point Bonita Lighthouse is one of the most iconic lighthouses in California.

The lighthouse is open to the public from 12:30 pm to 3:30 pm on Sundays and Mondays. Pets and bikes are not permitted on the premises.

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Hawk Hill is famous for its amazing views of San Francisco Bay and the city, but I also love the view from the opposite side overlooking Point Bonita and the Pacific Ocean.

3. Pigeon Point Light Station – Pescadero

Pigeon Point light station was constructed in 1872 and remains the tallest lighthouse on the west coast.  The lighthouse tower is under renovation and may be unavailable to the public, but visitors can still access and take pictures of the surroundings. 

The unique feature that makes Pescadero worth visiting is the fantastic beaches around the Lighthouse’s vicinity. 

Pigeon Point Light Station is located along the pacific coast highway, which is halfway between Santa Cruz and  San Francisco. 

Pigeon Point Light Station

 Visitors can access the Lighthouse from 8 am to 5 pm, and admission is free of charge. 

There are nice hostels around the vicinity of the Lighthouse. You can spend a few days in these amazing hostels at an affordable price. However, be prepared to adjust to the limited services the hostel may provide. 

4. Piedras Blancas Lighthouse

If you love lighthouses, Piedras Blancas Lighthouse, the popular Lighthouse on the central coast of California, is worth a visit. This Lighthouse is located along a scenic highway just north of San Simeon. 

Piedras Blancas started operation in 1875 and is still functioning except for its upper level, which has been removed.

Piedras Blancas Lighthouse

The Lighthouse is open to guided tours on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday all year round. Visitors can only tour outside of the building and not inside the tower. 

It’s an exciting place to enjoy with the family. Kids will love the sight of sea lions, sea birds, and elephant seals during the winter months. 

Piedras Blancas Lighthouse
The ultra-wide angle lens (10-18mm) distorted the perspective making the lighthouse extremely small.

5. Alcatraz Lighthouse

The Alcatraz lighthouse started operation in 1852, which makes it the first Lighthouse in California. 

This Lighthouse is located in the mid-region of San Francisco Bay near the Alcatraz prison. 

You’ll have to book a reservation to view the Alcatraz lighthouse up close. The Lighthouse is not available to the public, but you can still get a sneak peek into the tower when you take a national parks tour to the island of Alcatraz. 

You can get your ticket online via their official website or at the park, but tickets are usually sold a week before the tour. 

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I shoot Alcatraz Lighthouse from Treasure Island using a telephoto lens.

Although you may show up at the location to buy your ticket (if you’re lucky enough), it’s best to get the ticket online before the tour to avoid delays. 

Don’t want to walk? The hop-off bus tour, hop-on tour, and the Chinatown walk tour are great options for you. 

6. Point Vicente Lighthouse

Point Vicente lighthouse is Located in Los Angeles, South California  Civilian keepers initially built this Lighthouse before handing it over to the US Coast Guard for operation and maintenance. 

Today, it features an automated radio station used as the commutation center in rescue operations. Visitors can access this Lighthouse every second Saturday of the month from 10 am till sunset. 

California Lighthouses: Point Vicente Lighthouse

An exciting highlight of the Point Vicente Lighthouse is its interpretive center, where you can have fun and learn about the history of the Palos Verdes Peninsula. This Lighthouse is an excellent place for whale watching for those who visit from December to May. 

7. Battery Point Lighthouse – Crescent City

This Lighthouse is located at the outskirt of Crescent City between the Oregon and California border. Battery Point lighthouse is a house with a smaller lighthouse roof (when compared to other portions out there) but with a unique position.

 Battery Point Lighthouse has also been haunted in the past. Sources claimed that there are invisible footsteps of people moving up the stairs of the Lighthouse at night and even incidents of chairs moving inexplicably around the Lighthouse. 

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This Lighthouse is situated at the Crescent city outskirt.   The Lighthouse can be accessed when it is allowed by the tide. Visit their website to study the current condition of the wave, not knowing if the road is accessible or not. If you want to do more than stroll around the Lighthouse,  you must plan your visits accordingly. 

Battery Point lighthouse is open from April to September between 10 am- 4 pm but only on weekends during other months. There are many convenient locations to spend your night in Crescent City. 

8. Point Reyes Lighthouse – Point Reyes

Although Point Reyes Lighthouse is not the best Lighthouse or the unique lighthouses on our list, visiting the area is worth it. 

The Lighthouse is built on a cliff in Point  Reyes National seashore. You must go through a trail from the city’s visitor center to visit the Lighthouse. Just walk down up to 313 steps on this trail to reach your destination. 

Because it is a windy area and for security reasons, the final part of the path is closed. So make sure you check the official website so you won’t be disappointed upon arrival. 

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A steep staircase to the Point Reyes Lighthouse at the Point Reyes National Seashore, California. Long exposure.

To reach the Reyes lighthouse, located at their national seashore, you drive from point Reyes station to the end of Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, about 20 miles. 

Although Point Reyes National Seashore is accessible for visitors from 6 am until sunset, if weather permits, the Lighthouse is accessible from  Monday to Friday, 10 am to 4:40 pm. 

When you want to stay the night, there are a few accommodation options that you can find along the Point Reyes National seashore roads. 

9. Fort Point Lighthouse

Fort Point is a small lighthouse along the Golden Gate bridge in southern San Francisco. It started its operation in 1864 but was later decommissioned in 1934 when the golden gate bridge blocked its light. 

US Army engineers built the Lighthouse to protect San Francisco bay from attacks. During your visit to the Presidio park grounds and the golden gates, you can explore the Fort Point National Historic Site, available to the public from October to May, Friday to Sunday, between 10 am to 5 pm.  

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Located around the southern area of the Golden Gate bridge, visitors can access Fort Pointe from the Presidio. The Lighthouse is accessible to the public from Friday to Sunday and from October to May between 10 am – 5 pm. 

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When shooting from Marine Drive, I had no idea that a tiny lighthouse was hidden on top of Fort Point and underneath the Golden Gate bridge.

10. Point Cabrillo Lighthouse – Mendocino

The Point Cabrillo Lighthouse has its location in northern California around Cabrillo. Visitors can access the rooms around the ground floor and a museum that explains some features of Cabrillo’s history and structure. Visitors cannot climb into the Lighthouse unless there’s a special occasion, which is usually updated on their official website. 

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While the park is open 24 hours, the Lighthouse is accessible daily to the public from 11 am to 4 pm. You’ll have to donate $5 to enter the lighthouse building. If you want to stay the night, the best place to look for accommodations is in Mendocino. 

California Lighthouses | Conclusion

Be sure to explore our list of the beautiful California lighthouses illuminating the lights for decades. These uniquely constructed buildings are ingenious monuments that face the sea and the winds to protect us. 

These unique lighthouses are California’s most photographed icons. In addition, the decommissioned lighthouses are restructured into tourist attractions and museums that provide visitors with an unforgettable vacation experience. 

Make sure you have a proper plan before visiting any of these California lighthouses. Always check for updates on their official websites.

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by Viktor Elizarov
I am a travel photographer and educator from Montreal, Canada, and a founder of PhotoTraces. I travel around the world and share my experiences here. Feel free to check my Travel Portfolio and download Free Lightroom Presets.

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