California Lighthouse Tours

One of the highlights to California coastal visits includes tours of lighthouses, often called light stations. Here is the list of California lighthouses. Shown in photo is the Point Vicente Lighthouse in Rancho Palos Verdes, CA, where tours are offered and visitors can climb to the top.

Lighthouses provide an interesting look into the history of California-a separate, yet unique history from the the 21 missions and California mission era. The oldest lighthouses were built after the California missions had been abandoned by Spain, then Mexico during the rancho era, and were now owned by the new state of California around 1850. The first lighthouses (a series of four) began lighting the California coast around 1855-1856 after the California Gold Rush had mostly ended and the word was out that this Western territory had a great climate and was a desirable place to live. Commerce began to flourish.

As shipping increased to import & export food, redwood lumber and other items, shipwrecks became a serious problem. In many areas the California coast is rocky, often foggy, and the entrances into ports can be treacherous. Lighthouses were first constructed in Pacific Grove to light the Monterey Bay, Point Loma in San Diego, Farallon Island outside the San Francisco Bay, and Battery Point near Crescent City. From north to south, the entire state's major ports were covered by four light stations.

But of course, that was only the beginning. There would eventually be over 30 lighthouses in California. Then came GPS (Global Positioning System) to aid mariners. On June 26, 1993 the U.S. Air Force launched the 24th Navstar satellite into orbit, completing a network of 24 satellites known as the Global Positioning System, or GPS. With a GPS receiver that costs less than a few hundred dollars you can instantly learn your location on the planet-your latitude, longitude and altitude-to within a few hundred feet.

The U.S. Coast Guard began deeding or giving away the lighthouses by 1995 as GPS suddenly replaced the lighthouse. Some California lighthouses are crumbling, some have been restored, and several groups have transformed buildings near lighthouses (south of the Bay Area) into hostels where you can rent a bed for the night. Today, the lighthouses are mostly museums. Be sure to check out times when they are open and try to visit them when you can. The stories about the light keepers and families contain classic dramas that bring these beacons back to life once again!


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