California Lighthouses

This is a historial post from Hiking the California Trail, a 1998/2002 book set by Bob Lorentz and Richard Nichols. Where possible an update has been provided.

CALIFORNIA’S RUGGED 1200-MILE COASTLINE has long been renowned for the fury of its hazardous waters and the deception of its offshore reefs and rocks. Only after California entered the United States in 1850 was any effort made to provide navigational aids. In 1854 Alcatraz Island Lighthouse in San Francisco Bay became the Golden State’s first, soon followed by Fort Point inside the Golden Gate, Farallon Island 25 miles outside the Gate, and Point Loma near San Diego, four of the original eight west coast lighthouses. By 1900 48 lighthouses guided ships along the California shore. Today 32 of these still stand, with 25 operational. The California Coastal Trail passes by or at least comes within view of most of them. In San Mateo County, CCT passes two lighthouses converted to hostels where you can spend the night.

One of the most remarkable lights was the St. George Reef Lighthouse, visible on clear days from most of the first 17 miles of the Coastal Trail. Seven miles offshore from Point St. George and guarding the western tip of a dangerous reef, the Lighthouse Service built it in response to the disastrous wreck of the Brother Jonathan at Crescent City in 1865. California’s northernmost lighthouse took ten years to build and was the most expensive in the state. Rising 150 feet from a treacherous seaswept rock, the St. George Light, the tallest on the west coast, was closed by the Coast Guard in 1975. Local citizens have since struggled to preserve the historic if precarious structure.

At the end of Del Norte Section 4, almost in the heart of Crescent City, the 1856 Crescent City Lighthouse at Battery Point lies only ⅛ mile off the Coastal Trail, reached by a walkway that’s only passable at low to medium tides. When you can, walk out to the tidal island of Battery Point for a close look at the historic structure. Picnic tables there offer grand views of coast, harbor and town, but the real treat comes when the lighthouse, now a museum, opens for tours, Wednesday through Sunday, 10 to 4, tides permitting. Call (707) 464-3089 to confirm hours.

Originally Published in Hiking the California Coastal Trail: Guide to Walking the Golden State's Beaches and Bluff from Border to Border - Volume One: Oregon to Monterey (2nd Edition) by Bob Lorentzen and Richard Nichols
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