8 Distinctive Lighthouses in the California Bay Area

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8 Distinctive Lighthouses in the California Bay Area
Combining history and mystery, lighthouses offer excellent excuses for detours, especially along the California coast. Despite advances in technology, many are still in use; several have been transformed into museums and hostels. Here are more than half a dozen primarily in the San Francisco Bay Area that are worth a visit.
Photo by Pat Tompkins
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    Point Bonita
    To help ships navigating the Golden Gate in the Gold Rush era, Point Bonita lighthouse was built to mark the north side of the gate. The current lighthouse replaced the original in 1877. It remains active and is open to visitors Saturday through Monday afternoons, via a scenic half-mile trail that culminates in a swaying bridge high above the waves.
    Photo by Pat Tompkins
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    Alcatraz
    Hiding in plain sight, the lighthouse on Alcatraz Island continues to flash its light while the former prison gets all the attention. The first lighthouse on the West Coast stood here. The current one, six-sided and made of concrete, was built in 1909 to replace the one damaged in the 1906 earthquake.
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    Fort Point
    Marking the south end of the Golden Gate is the small light tower atop Fort Point, now in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge. It was active from 1864 until 1934, when the foundation for the bridge blocked its light.
    Photo by Pat Tompkins
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    Point Montara
    The lighthouse at Point Montara north of Half Moon Bay is more squat than statuesque. It’s one of several in California that now hosts a hostel on its grounds. The bargain rooms are basic but the setting and views are first-class.
    Photo by Pat Tompkins
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    Pigeon Point
    The classic lighthouse at Pigeon Point, a few miles south of Pescadero, is the tallest on the West Coast. Although the tower isn’t open to the public, it has an interesting museum and also offers accommodations to budget travelers through its hostel. Pigeon Point was formerly called Whale Point for the gray whales that migrate past it. In 1853, a clipper ship named Carrier Pigeon ran aground here on its maiden voyage. After three other shipwrecks at this location, the lighthouse was built in 1872 and named in honor of the ship.

    The lighthouse's first-order Fresnel lens was a technological marvel 150 years ago, the most powerful lens at that time. The tall lens at Pigeon Point weighs two tons and contains 1,008 handcrafted prisms and lenses.
    Photo by Pat Tompkins
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    Walton Lighthouse
    If the Walton lighthouse on the south end of Santa Cruz harbor looks fresher than others, that’s because it is. It was built in the 21st century, not the 19th. It’s not open to the public, but if you look north across the water, in the distance, you’ll spot a red lighthouse that is.
    Photo by Pat Tompkins
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    Santa Cruz Surfing Museum Lighthouse
    This redbrick lighthouse has been the home of the Santa Cruz Surfing Museum for the past 30 years. It’s an apt role for the building because the waters right outside it attract plenty of surfers. The museum is tiny but loaded with surf memorabilia, including several heavy old wooden boards. It’s free to explore.
    Photo by Pat Tompkins
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    Point Pinos
    OK, Point Pinos is more Monterey Bay than San Francisco, but it’s included here because it has an informative museum and is one lighthouse that lets you wind your way up a narrow spiral staircase (albeit a short one). Effective lighthouses aren’t necessarily tall. This one in Pacific Grove, the oldest on the West Coast, has been operating since 1855.
    Photo by Pat Tompkins
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