Why Sleep in a Hotel When You Can Sleep in a Historic Bay Area Lighthouse?
Those 150-year-old lighthouses aren’t going to maintain themselves — so do the right thing and book in for a night in the keeper’s house
Lighthouses line the northern California beachfront, necessary beacons for the sailors who once used the Pacific as a watery commercial route. As you’d expect, there are fewer mariners delivering hugely valuable loads of North Coast lumber to points near and far these days — and so, fewer operating lighthouses. Of those that remain, many have been reworked as tourist attractions, with overnight stays supporting the costly work of maintaining the lighthouses themselves. Win-win, it seems to us.
Here, our recs for five lighthouse lodges, from Pescadero to Mendocino — with a quick tour slightly inland, to an island in the middle of the San Francisco Bay.
Pigeon Point Lighthouse, Pescadero
It could be worse: The one-time Pigeon Point hostel, one of the weird treasures of the Pacific Coast between Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz, could have straight-up shut down, another victim of post- (mid-?)-pandemic ideas about not sleeping within shouting distance of strangers. The good news is it’s still a hostel; the bad news is that the genuinely affordable rates for a dorm bed are lost to history. For now, guests can rent one of three houses on the premises of the 115-foot lighthouse, which sleep up to 15, with nightly rates from $400. The math works out to under $30 per person; you’ll just need to roll with a 15-member posse.
East Brother Light Station, “in the strait that separates the San Francisco and San Pablo Bays”
The East Brother Light Station will celebrate its sesquicentennial anniversary next year, following 150 years aiding mariners traveling the narrow strait that separates San Pablo Bay from the wider San Francisco Bay. Now a non-profit run under license from the Coast Guard, the lighthouse also functions as a bed and breakfast, with four rooms within the lighthouse structure and another, Walter’s Quarters, within the fog station building (notably, it’s the lodging “farthest away from the automated fog horn.”) The pick among them is the appropriately named Marin Room, with views of Mount Tamalpais. If the $400+ per night fee feels a little rich, consider volunteering as a “Wickie”, with an afternoon of work maintaining the facilities.
Point Montara Lighthouse, Montara
The squat lighthouse at Point Montara — just 30 feet tall! — is a New England transplant, having formerly served mariners off Cape Cod. It was brought here in 1925 to help prevent shipwrecks like the Rydal Hall, which lost a third of its crew in 1876. (An extremely dramatic painting of the tragedy is held by the county historical association.) Like the Pigeon Point, it was part of a state program to transform lighthouse accommodations into youth hostels — and again like Pigeon Point, it’s now welcoming private groups rather than dorm-seeking individuals. The private-room suites sleep six, while the Sea Lodge can handle up to 16. Prices from $250+.
Point Arena Lighthouse, Point Arena
Perhaps the most spectacular of them all, the Point Arena lighthouse isn’t the first to rise on this spectacular site: The original was built in 1870, only to be demolished after suffering damage in the 1906 earthquake. The one that stands today was built in 1908, designed by a company that specialized in the construction of factory smokestacks — which accounts for its unusually straight up-and-down shape. Nowadays, visitors can choose from five types of rooms, most of which permit pets: the assistant keeper’s houses, the head keeper’s house, the keeper’s apartment, the keeper’s room and the bookkeeper’s room. We didn’t include this in our round-up of the best places to spot a whale, but we should have, since you can catch humpbacks and gray whales on the way north or south from this perch above the Pacific. From $180+ per night.
Point Cabrillo Light Station, Mendocino
The lamp at Point Cabrillo was first lit during a midnight ceremony on June 10, 1909, intended to light the way for mariners ferrying lumber from the Mendocino Coast to points south. Now a California Historic State Park, it recently saw the beautifully ornate Queen Anne-style renovation of its 2nd Assistant Lightkeeper’s House — happily, now available for reservation as a three-bedroom, along with several other spaces. The smaller cottages offer less expensive accommodations (from $284), with reasonable weekly rates as well, of just over $1000. They come with this warning: TV HAS NO RECEPTION, NO INTERNET RECEPTION, NO CELL RECEPTION. For “warning,” read “solemn promise” — because that sounds like heaven to us.
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