Something about a rugged coastline is so mesmerizing. It’s also so very dangerous.
That’s why boat captains rely on lighthouses along coasts throughout the world to help them navigate the waters so they don’t run into a land mass.
The Point Arena Lighthouse in Mendocino County was first built in 1870. The 1906 San Francisco earthquake so severely damaged the structure it had to be condemned. After all, the San Andreas Fault is about four miles away.
Today, the 115-foot tower is as much a navigational tool as it is a tourist destination. For a small fee people may climb the 145 steps to reach the lens that flashes every 15 seconds.
When the new lighthouse opened in 1908 it did so with a 1st Order Fresnel Lens. Today, that 7-foot wide, 4,700 pound relic from the past is on display in the museum. It’s still operational, but isn’t used for navigation.
Before electricity came to the building in 1929, lighthouse keepers used a hand crank every 75 minutes to keep the light working.
The lens used today is an eight tier VLB-44 LED array that was installed in 2015. It has a range of 14 nautical miles. It looks like it is about a foot tall and maybe the same in diameter. Clearly, technology has evolved in the lighting world.
Expansive views of the coastline can be seen from the top, with the beaches of Manchester State Park to the north and the Point Arena-Stornetta Unit of the California Coastal National Monument to the south. The lighthouse is just north of the actual town of Point Arena.
The lighthouse is perched on a small peninsula of sorts; when at the top of the tower looking toward the land it’s easy to imagine one day with enough erosion the ocean will turn this section of land into an island.
The views from the top are outstanding, and well worth the climb.
A wealth of information is in the museum—including past ship wrecks and current whale sightings.
Pelicans and sea lions were the predominant wildlife we could see.
The nonprofit Point Arena Lighthouse Keepers owns the 23-acre site and is responsible for the beacon’s operation.
- Address: 45500 Lighthouse Road, Point Arena
- Cost: $5 for access to the grounds and museum, another $5 to go up the lighthouse
- Phone number: 707.882.2809, ext. 1