Several Shining Lights from Point Arena to Crescent City
Standing tall on the Northern California coast are stalwart stanchions of light that have guided sailors on ships of all sizes safely up and down the rocky Pacific shoreline … the lighthouses of the North Coast. Boats with sails full of wind and holds full of goods, tramps steaming strongly, to the most magnificent of shipping barges (and possibly pirates), have counted on these beacons for hundreds of years to point the surest way along the coast during their travels.
Each of these historical ramparts have their own unique story and charms along with a variety of surrounding sights to see, places to stay, and things to do.
This itinerary begins at the Port Arena Lighthouse and Museum, south of Mendocino, and ends at the Battery Point Lighthouse and Museum and St. George Reef Lighthouse in Crescent City.
It encompasses a 10-hour scenic drive along the shoreline, primarily north on highways 1 and 101, and covers almost 350 miles of pristine and breathtaking views along the coastlines of Mendocino, Humboldt and Del Norte counties.
Here are some details, arranged from south to north, to help you plan your enlightening and educational tour of Northern California’s historic lighthouses:
945500 Lighthouse Rd.
Point Arena, California 95468
Standing 115 feet tall, the Point Arena Lighthouse was originally built in 1870. An earthquake in the Spring of 1906 damaged it so much that it was condemned, torn down, and finally rebuilt in 1908. It was the first lighthouse built that included reinforcement with iron rods to make it better able to withstand future earthquakes.
Its beacon has seen ships safely to port in this highly technological and GPS-oriented age, as recently as 2017 (you can hear the voicemail from a grateful captain on their website here). This is why they will always keep the light on.
Tours of the lighthouse and museum are available from 10:00 am to 4:30 pm Memorial Day to Labor Day and 10:00 am to 3:30 pm Labor Day to Memorial Day.
There are plenty of places to stay in the area, but you should start by checking out the lodging and amenities at the Point Arena Lighthouse itself here. Also close by is the Wharf Masters Inn, and the B. Bryan Preserve, which has cozy cottages for you to stay in. For those of you that might like to camp, you can check out the Manchester Beach/ Mendocino Coast Koa.
About 20 miles north of the lighthouse you’ll find North Coast associate member, The Elk Cove Inn and Spa, a historic B&B offering stunning views of the coast, friendly inn keepers and direct access to the ocean.
Things To Do
There are plenty of sights to see and things to do around the Point Arena area. There is the Gualala Arts Center, a half-hour drive south, the Point Arena-Stornetta National Monument, is a hop, skip, and a jump from our original starting point, being only a few miles away. Unbeaten Path Tours offers guided hikes in the area and there are unique beaches to be found like, Bowing Ball Beach (Schooner Gulch State Beach) just south of Point Arena.
Our next stop on this lighthouse itinerary is about 40 miles north along the stunning shoreline of the North Coast and Highway 1.
13800 Point Cabrillo Dr.
Mendocino, California 95460
Here you will discover a charming set of buildings that make up the Point Cabrillo Light Station. It is still an active navigation aid and contains its original lens. On the grounds are also the restored lightkeeper homes and the blacksmith and carpentry shop. The latter building also houses a marine science exhibit complete with a 240-gallon saltwater aquarium.
The entire property is open from sunrise to sunset. Tours of the buildings run from 11:00 am to 4:00 pm year round. As an added bonus, the main floor of the lighthouse is pooch friendly.
Lodging is available at the light station with a variety of options you can explore here. North and south of this State Park are many other choices of accommodation including three North Coast associate members. The Heritage House Resort & Spa is just under 10 miles to the south, with the Little River Inn a bit closer at six miles south. About 10 miles to the north, in Fort Bragg, you’ll find the Beachcomber Motel and Spa, along with their sister properties, the Beach House Inn and the Surf & Sand Lodge.
Things To Do
Much to do can be found surrounding Point Cabrillo. To the south, along Highway 1, there is Russian Gulch State Park with its famous 36-foot inland waterfall and the indescribable views from the Frederick W. Panhorst Bridge, which looms 100 feet above the gulch. After you are done with that breathtaking experience, head a little further south and do some shopping and dining in the marvelous village of Mendocino.
North on Highway 1, in Fort Bragg, you will find the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, a wonder of nature year round, as well as the unique experiences of Glass Beach and the historic Skunk Train. All aboard!
We mustn’t linger long, as our next lighthouse is about 100 miles north.
1176 Lower Pacific Dr,.
Whitehorn, California 95589
With no stops, it will take about three hours to reach Cape Mendocino Lighthouse in Shelter Cove. You’ll take Highway 1 to Highway 101 until you reach exit 639B toward Redway, turning left on Redwood Road. You take that for about two miles and turn left on Briceland Road, which will take you all the way to Shelter Cover, about 22 miles, but note that the road changes names to Shelter Cove Road once you go through Thorn Junction.
With its double balcony that has 16 sides, this lighthouse stands out from the crowd. Rising 422 feet above sea level, this guiding giant is one of the highest of its kind in the United States.
You are now in the heart of the southern portion of the remote Lost Coast of Northern California.
Around Cape Mendocino you can take your rest at The Tides Inn, The Inn Of the Lost Coast, The Spyglass Inn at Shelter Cove, or the Castle Inn of the Lost Coast. All of these punny and mysteriously named lodging options are within 10 minutes of the lighthouse. Of course, it’s also easy to back track a bit to the east and stay at the Benbow Historic Inn as well. It’s about an hour away, but it’s truly one of the most majestic lodging options in NorCal, offering over 90 years of history and a recent $10M renovation.
Things To Do
This area is a nature enthusiast’s and outdoor lover’s dream. You can spend time exploring the southern portion of the King Range National Conservation Area by starting at the Black Sands Trailhead, known for, you guessed it, the unique, black sand beaches you will see.
Just to the northeast you’ll find the home of the largest old-growth Redwood forest in the world. The towering Redwoods of Humboldt Redwoods State Park. For the more curious and adventurous there is the mystery of the Candelabra Redwoods to explore just a bit back south in Enchanted Forest of Shady Dell.
Let us mosey on, as we have more lighthouses to see. Our next point of interest is 50 miles north along local bucolic roads just east of the North Coast shoreline.
Petrolia, California 95558
This unassuming, inactive, lighthouse, coming in at 27-feet tall and completed in 1912, is most easily accessed by hiking from the Mattole River Beach, four miles to the lighthouse. This is part of the Lost Coast Trail in the northern part of the King Range National Conservation Area.
Things To Do
It is here that you want to look west towards the Pacific Ocean and seek out the natural wonders that play in the waves and beneath them. Both the Sea Lion Gulch State Marine Reserve, and the Mattole Canyon State Marine Reserve lie off the coast near Punta Gorda. Look for migrating whales, sea-lions, dolphins, seals, and sea-bird species too numerous to name here.
On your way to the next lighthouse on the itinerary, a stop in Eureka for shopping and/or lunch in its historic and quaint downtown area may be in order. It’s also in Eureka that you will find the Lost Coast Brewery, which is always a great place for a meal and refreshment.
The next leg of this trip, without a stop in Eureka, is about 90 miles north up the coast and will bring you to the Trinidad Head Lighthouse.
Trinidad, California 95570
Perched atop a 175 foot cliff, in the oldest town on the North Coast, the Trinidad Head Lighthouse was constructed in 1871. A lighthouse keeper’s account of a storm in December of 1914 tells how a large wave slammed into the cliff, rocking the lighthouse to its core. The surge of water from the wave, as it receded, was level with the railing around the lens tower. Today, Trinidad Head is an inactive lighthouse.
There are a variety of accommodations around the lighthouse. You have the Trinidad Bay Bed and Breakfast, closest to the lighthouse, then the Emerald Forest Cabins and RV, and the Trinidad Inn as you start north to our next destination.
If you were intrigued by Eureka as you passed through or stopped, you can also head back that way and stay at the Carter House Inns.
Things To Do
There are some other great sights to see around the lighthouse and as you continue north on the 101 to the last two lighthouses on this itinerary. On the same promontory the lighthouse sits on is the Trinidad Head Trail, a 1.3 mile hiking trail along the beautiful coastline.
If you have not stopped to see some giant examples of the majesty of nature yet, the southernmost part of the Redwoods National and State Parks is a short 27-mile trip to the northeast.
As an aside, for those of you looking to fly in to check out this itinerary, it’s worth mentioning that between the Punta Gorda Lighthouse and the Trinidad Head Lighthouse is McKinleyville. It is here you will find the Arcata-Eureka Airport (ACV). They offer flights to and from Sacramento, Los Angeles, Oakland and Denver.
Back to the last leg of our tour of North Coast lighthouses.
64 miles further north along Highway 101 will bring you to the Battery Point Lighthouse and Museum in Crescent City and the end of our itinerary.
235 Lighthouse Way.
Crescent City, California 95531
The Battery Point Lighthouse first lit its lamp in 1856. This still active beacon was automated in 1953, but is staffed to this day by the Del Norte County Historical Society. This historic lighthouse and museum is on and island just off shore and only accessible at low tide by walking from the sandy beach with its scattering of rocks. Visitors are encouraged to be careful when heading out for a tour.
Things To Do
There is much to see and do in the area before you are done. The original lamp from the St. George Reef Lighthouse (see below) can be found at the Del Norte County Historical Society along with other historical maritime artifacts. And to get a look at life beneath the ocean waves, pay a visit to Ocean World Aquarium.
For one last look at the living sentinels of the North Coast, you can head to Del Norte Redwoods State Park or Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. And for a fast, fun adventure on your way back south take a ride with the Klamath River Jet Boat Tours.
There is one last point of interest before this itinerary ends.
Northwest Seal Rock.
Pacific Ocean, California
The St. George Reef Lighthouse was built in 1890 because of the wreck of the paddle-steamer, S.S. Brother Jonathan. The ship was lost in a storm and sank four miles off St. George Reef. The ship was overloaded with people, military equipment, and gold. All but 19 of its 200 passengers lost their lives.
Perched high on top of Northwest Seal Rock, less than 10 miles off Point St. George, the lighthouse guided ships of all sizes around the reef nicknamed “Dragon Rocks” for nearly 100 years until being abandoned by the Coast Guard in 1975.
After a brief time, while a replacement buoy did all the work, the lighthouse now operates with a solar-powered lamp to still see vessels safely around Point St. George and its treacherous reef. Tours are available May through October depending on the weather due to it being so far out into the Pacific. While you can’t access this lighthouse easily without a boat (or by helicopter tour), you can see it from the Pt. St. George trail system in Crescent City.
This brings this towering itinerary of the Lighthouses of the Northern California Coast to an end. It’s up to you to decide when to start your adventure visiting these lighthouses on the North Coast.