Built in 1870 to warn ships entering and leaving San Francisco Bay of the navigational hazard created by Point Reyes, the Point Reyes Lighthouse is now a museum managed by the National Park Service that welcomes visitors to it’s steep, exposed cliffs.
As a headland, Point Reyes juts out 10 miles to sea, and anyone visiting can easily imagine the havoc the point created when the fog rolled in prior to the invention of radar. Point Reyes is known to be one of the windiest and foggiest places on the Pacific Coast, and it is the site of nearly 75 shipwrecks. The lighthouse and fog signals filled a desperate maritime navigational need, and their presence assisted countless sailors in finding safe passage around the notorious point.
Constructed 250 feet above the ocean, the lighthouse sits on a precipitous terrace that is carved out of the cliff and still 300 feet below the cliff top. Access requires descending more than 300 stairs that begin past the visitor center and lead down to the lighthouse. The stairwell provides a stunning aerial perspective and a workout on the return.
To access the lighthouse, visitors must walk a half-mile west from the parking area along a park service road to the visitor center. Visitors can tour the lighthouse grounds, including the walkways around the lighthouse tower, a mechanical room housing the decommissioned fog signals, and the inn-keepers quarters. Hours change seasonally, so check the National Park Service’s Point Reyes Lighthouse website for current information.
Regular high winds and fog mean timing can be tricky for lining up a scenic and comfortable visit. Your best bet is to plan a visit during a warm fall or winter day when a high-pressure weather system is in place. High winds and recurring fog are common in spring and early summer.