Pacific Coast Lighthouses / Point Pinos

Historic Point Pinos Lighthouse

If your travels take you to the beautiful Monterey Peninsula in California, you’ll want to add a visit to the Point Pinos Lighthouse to your west coast trip planner.

This area of California is uniquely scenic and draws tourists from the world over. Monterey California and the Monterey Peninsula offers some of the best golf found anywhere in the world, a tremendous selection of restaurants, whale watching and historic sites and a Spanish mission. To be sure there’s plenty to see and do there and a visit to Point Pinos is one of those attractions.

point pinos lighthouse
Point Pinos Lighthouse

Point Pinos has the distinction of being the oldest continuously operating lighthouse on the West Coast. The lighthouse was built with a round concrete tower rising from the roof of a 1-1/2 story stone Cape Cod type house.The beacon began operating on February 1, 1855.

The California coast is rocky and the Point Pinos Lighthouse beacon has flashed for well over 150 years giving warning to shipping off those rocky shores. InĀ  2006, ownership of the lighthouse was transferred from the Coast Guard to the City of Pacific Grove.The lighthouse has been beautifully restored and is now maintained by the Pacific Grove Historical Society.

The Pacific Coast Lighthouses

The United States took possession of California from Mexico as the result of the Mexican-American War during the 1840’s. It’s interesting to note just how relatively soon after the takeover that Point Pinos was established. Alcatraz actually was the first California lighthouse established in 1852. The lighthouse, also built in a Cape Cod style, was damaged during the 1906 earthquake, rebuilt as a tower, and today is an automated beacon.

fresnel third degree lens
The third order Fresnel lens on the Point Pinos Light.

Shipping of course increased dramatically due to the California Golf Rush. The only way to reach the gold fields from the east coast was either an overland journey that could prove quite lethal for many reasons or by ship either around Cape Horn or to Panama and through the dangerous jungles to a port on the Pacific side. From there it was a journey up the western coastline.

This influx of shipping and the general growth of California made it clear that lighthouses were needed.

A Series of California Coast Lighthouses

The California coast lighthouses were built at the most dangerous points along the coast. Lighthouses actually evolved from single lights in homeowners’ windows to fully-automated, independent structures on prominent peninsulas and sea cliffs.

Below is a list of just a few of the magnificent California lighthouses you can still visit today.

In addition to Alcatraz and Point Pinos, another California lighthouse of note is Battery Point near Crescent City and the Oregon border. Built in 1856, Battery Point was important to protect lumber shipping destined to San Francisco from the northwest forests.

point pinos pacific grove california
An old buoy exhibit at the Point Pinos Lighthouse

Another California lighthouse on the coast north of San Francisco is Point Arena. Point Arena Light was built in 1870 and is located on a narrow strip of land that juts out into a portion of the Pacific Ocean filled with dangerous reefs. Point Arena light was automated in 1977. Today you can visit Point Arena Lighthouse which is privately owned and tour the light and enjoy their historical museum. The address is 45500 Lighthouse Road
Point Arena, CA.

The Point Reyes Lighthouse is located on the Point Reyes headlands which jut out into the Pacific Ocean about ten miles. This site is considered to be one of the windiest points on the California coast. Point Reyes is just north of San Francisco which meant that many vessels had to navigate around this headland. Reportedly there have been some eighty shipwrecks off the point which had been very dangerous to mariners for over 100 years. Before the Point Reyes lighthouse could even be built, a suitable flat site was blasted out of the rock about 300 feet below the cliff. The Point Reyes Lighthouse is located within the Point Reyes National Seashore.

According to the National Park Service, Point Reyes is the windiest place on the Pacific Coast and the second foggiest place on the North American continent.

See More Historic California Travel articles from our Western Trips site on the links below…

Point Reyes National Seashore

Mission San Juan Bautista on the Old Spanish Trail

A Visit to Carmel-By-The-Sea

A Visit to the Gatekeeper’s Museum / Tahoe City CA

point lobos shoreline
A look at the rocky Pacific coast shoreline from Point Lobos

The Los Pinos Fresnel Lens and Light Sources

The lens at the Point Pinos Lighthouse was manufactured in France in 1853 and is a third order Fresnel. A larger, second order light had been planned, but delay in shipment caused the present light, originally destined for the Fort Point Lighthouse in San Francisco, to be installed instead. The first light source was a whale oil lantern in which the oil was forced up from a tank by a gravity-operated piston. Lard oil soon replaced whale oil and then the light source became kerosene in 1880. Electric lights appeared there in 1915.

The Point Pinos light is 89 feet above sea level. The present 1000 watt bulb is amplified by the lenses and prisms to produce a 50,000 candlepower beam. Reportedly the light can be seen up to 15 miles under good conditions. In addition, a Class D radio beacon operated continuously which had a range of up to 20 miles. The light also had a fog horn which could be turned on manually. In 1993, when GPS navigation came about, the radio beacon and the foghorn were deactivated.

(Article and photos copyright 2014 Trips Into History)