Just driving out to the Point Arena Lighthouse was an amazing experience. The dramatic coastline is so beautiful, I made Brian stop at every opportunity so I could get out and snap photos of the historic lighthouse and the waves crashing against the rocky cliffs.
Located on the majestic southern coast of Mendocino County, the 115 foot Point Arena Lighthouse is the tallest lighthouse on the west coast where visitors can climb the spiral staircase all the way to the lantern room at the top.
The 23 acre lighthouse property sits atop a spectacular, narrow, rocky peninsula that extends into the Pacific Ocean. The peninsula is the closest spot to Hawaii in the contiguous United States.
Our first stop was the Point Arena Lighthouse Museum and Gift Shop in the historic 1896 Fog Signal Building, the oldest structure of the Lighthouse Complex. We purchased tickets for the Light Tower Tour and were invited to browse the museum on our own for a bit before the tour began. The museum displays the Lighthouse’s original 1908 First Order Fresnel Lens and includes informational displays on the lighthouse and Point Arena history, maritime history and past shipwrecks, the lumber industry history, Pomo Indians, north coast marine life, and whales.
Our tour began with a short presentation in the museum before walking to the Light Tower to climb the 145 step spiral staircase to the lantern room. In the lantern room our guide shared some quick facts about the tower and the the surrounding area, answered all of our questions, then gave us time to check out the breathtaking views. What was awesome, is that we didn’t just have to look at the stunning scenery through the windows — we actually got to walk out onto the wrap around balcony, which was super cool!
After our tour ended, we stopped in the Gift Shop for a couple souvenirs before enjoying a picnic in the parking lot overlooking the ocean. And, while sitting on the tailgate enjoying our lunch, we saw gray whales pass by the point, breach and spout water in the air — it was definitely a highlight of the day!
Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands
After lunch, we followed a trail at the opposite end of the parking lot out into the Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands to further explore the coastline on foot. Added by Presidential Proclamation in 2014, the Point Arena-Stornetta Unit is the first on-shore portion of the California Coastal National Monument.
Adjacent to the town of Point Arena, the 1,665 acre Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands spans the picturesque coastline from Arena Cove to the Garcia River, surrounding the 23 acre Point Arena Lighthouse property.
The Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands are open year-round for day use only, and along its eight mines of trails atop windswept bluffs, you can see sea stacks, sandy beaches, sea caves, tidepools, quiet coves, blowholes, and rock arches. Just be sure to stay back from the edges of the coastal cliffs, as the Bureau Of Land Management warms that they are unstable and subject to collapse and sinkholes.
Once we made it back to our car, we continued our day of adventuring, visiting the Point Arena Pier in Arena Cove and B Bryan Preserve, an incredible African animal preserve with antelope, zebras, and giraffes.
Point Arena Lighthouse History
The first Point Arena Lighthouse, with ornate iron balcony supports and a large Keeper residence, was constructed in 1870. But the devastating 1906 San Francisco earthquake shook California all the way north along the San Andreas Fault, reducing much of Point Arena to rubble and damaging the lighthouse to severely that it was condemned and eventually torn down.
The United States Lighthouse Service hired a San Francisco company that built factory smokestacks to build a new lighthouse able to withstand any future earthquakes. The new Lighthouse, with steel reinforcement rods encased in concrete, began operation in 1908. Standing 115 feet tall, the Point Arena Lighthouse boasts a 1st Order Fresnel Lens measuring more than six feet in diameter and weighing 4,700 pounds. The lens is made up of 258 hand-ground glass prisms, is set in a solid brass framework, and holds an appraised value of over $3.5 million.
The lens was originally rotated by the Lightkeepers who had to hand-crank a 160 pound weight up the center shaft of the lighthouse every 75 minutes to keep the lens turning. The light’s oil lamp needed to be refueled every four hours and the wicks would have to be trimmed regularly. When electricity was added to the Lighthouse, a 1,000 watt electric lamp replaced the oil lamp and an electric motor was installed to rotate the lens.
In 1977, a 400 pound automated aircraft beacon was installed on the tower balcony and use of the historic 1st Order Fresnel Lens was discontinued. It was later replaced by a 40 pound rotating light, which was again replaced in 2015 by an LED array, along with a radio beacon, with a 50 mile signal that originates from the station, also assists mariners. In 1978, the fog signal at the station was silenced, and a bell buoy was placed nearby.
The Point Arena Lighthouse Keepers acquired the light station as part of a 25 year land lease from the Coast Guard and the Department of Transportation in 1984 and in 2000, became the official owners of the property. Daily visitation, gift store sales, memberships, and the rental of the historic Keeper’s homes on the property as vacation houses all provide income for ongoing preservation, upgrades, and educational endeavors.
With donations from the community and an initial $1.2 million grant from the California Cultural and Historic Endowment, restoration of the Point Arena Lighthouse began and the First Order Fresnel lens was removed from the top of the tower and placed on display in the museum.
Know Before You Go
- The Point Arena Lighthouse is located at 45500 Lighthouse Road, Point Arena, California 95468 in Mendocino County.
- The Lighthouse Museum, and gift shop are open 10:00 am to 4:30 pm from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day and 10:00 am to 3:30 pm everyday from labor Day to Memorial Day weekend. Closed Thanksgiving and Christmas.
- The restored former lighthouse keepers’ houses are available to rent as year-round vacation houses.
- Take a guided tour to the top of the of the 115 foot light tower and a self-guided tour of the museum and grounds.
- General admission is $5.00 per adult, $1.00 for children age 5–11, and children under 5 are free.
- Admission including the Light Tower Tour is $7.50 per adult, $1 for children age 5–11, and under children under 5 are free.
- This is one of the best whale watching spots on the northern California coast. From November through May, see the Gray Whale migration, throughout the entire year, see Humpback whales, and occasionally, you may even see a pod of Killer Whales or Blue Whales.
- Bring a picnic to enjoy at the picnic tables just outside the Visitor Center and dress in layers as it gets windy on the point.
- The Pigeon Point Lighthouse, built in 1871, is the same height as the Point Arena Lighthouse — 115 feet. In fact, the first Point Arena Lighthouse was actually built as the twin of the Pigeon Point Lighthouse.
- The Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands are open for day use only. No motorized vehicles or hang gliding is allowed. Dogs must be on leash.