California Lighthouses


Point Loma Lighthouse End of Cabrillo Memorial Drive, SR 201 on Point Loma, San Diego, CA

San Diego--Point Loma Lighthouse and National Historic Park combine several elements that tie the city of San Diego to its past. The lighthouses or light stations were one important element to the region's growth long before a railroad was built in the U.S. and ships provided the only viable transportation to get to the area.

Point Loma Lighthouse is one of eight original West Coast lighthouses. It dates back to 1855 and was constructed in the Cape Cod style as all of them were built. A 40' tower rises from the center of the keeper's house, fitted with a third-order Fresnel lens. This lens stands 5 feet tall and was shipped to San Diego from France.

The Lighthouse Board usually built the initial West Coast lights high up on hills, as was the custom in New England, though it was soon apparent that low-lying fog prevalent along the Pacific Coast obscured the light that often shone above the fog bank, making the light useless to passing ships.

History was made at dusk on November 15, 1855, when the keeper climbed the winding stairs and lit the oil lamp for the first time. In clear weather its light was visible at sea for 25 miles. Point Loma Lighthouse was used for 36 years till it was replaced in 1891 by a skeletal tower built near sea level.

Now Old Point Loma Lighthouse is the centerpiece of Cabrillo National Monument, with a spectacular view of San Diego Harbor.


Point Loma Lighthouse was in operation from 1855 to 1891.

Height: 422 feet above sea level

Open to the public: Yes. There's a narrow set of spiral stairs you can climb to the top of the lighthouse. Inside the main room are displays and historical artifacts to examine.

The National Park Service has refurbished the Ranger-led talks, displays and brochures are available to explain the lighthouses interesting past. Offering one of the best vistas of the bay, the grounds provide a home to a variety of plants and animals. Self-guided tours, films and lectures and a gift store offer information, including historical books, maps and souvenirs. Also visit "New" Point Loma Lighthouse near Whale Overlook, 100 yards south of the Old Point Loma Lighthouse.

From December to March, Pacific gray whales can be seen from the park's western overlooks as they make their annual migration. The area offers dramatic views of the New Point Loma Lighthouse, the Pacific Ocean, and Mexico's far-off Coronado Islands. Although the lighthouse is open, it's not in operation. There's a second lighthouse located on the grounds which was used as the primary lighthouse. Global positioning GPS satellites have largely diminished the utility of lighthouses in the United States. Climb the spiral staircase to view a fresnel lens. It once sent a beacon of light visible at night to sailors navigating the San Diego harbors.

Cabrillo National Monument (part of the National Parks Service) on this hilltop pays tribute to Spanish explorer Juan Cabrillo, who sailed into the San Diego Bay on September 28, 1542.

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