There is something inherently romantic and charming about lighthouses. They have been the beacon of light and hope to sailors and explorers, and have fascinating tales woven around them. The rockier and more dangerous the coast, the more historically significant is the lighthouse!
The West Coast of the USA is home to many iconic lighthouses including the most photographed lighthouse in the country. These west coast lighthouses are spread all over the Pacific Coast from California to Washington, but the ones along Oregon’s wild and rocky coast remain some of the most photogenic in the world.
If you love lighthouses, then you are in for a treat along the Pacific Coast Highway. There are many beautiful lighthouses on the West Coast of the USA and most of these are easily accessible from Highway 1 in California or Highway 101 in the Pacific Northwest.
Lighthouses are not just for romantic lovers and history enthusiasts. Try climbing up the spiraling staircases of a really tall lighthouse and enjoy the panoramic views from above, then you will understand why even adventure lovers enjoy visiting lighthouses.
Even science and technology buffs love checking out the lighthouse maritime museums to view different types of lights and lenses and understand how the beacon and foghorn operates.
Best Lighthouses along the West Coast, USA
Most visitors are surprised to know that there are just over 87 lighthouses on the West Coast. Compared to over 150 in just Michigan itself and hundreds on the East Coast and Gulf Coast, this number does seem small, since the Pacific Coast is over 1290 miles in length!
Nevertheless, the lighthouses on the Pacific are just stunning structures and many of them have been converted into excellent museums. From the iconic Yaquina Head Lighthouse of Oregon to Pigeon Point Lighthouse in central California, here are some of our favorite lighthouses along the West Coast.
Pigeon Point Lighthouse, California
California’s Pigeon Point Lighthouse bears the distinction of being the tallest lighthouse on the West Coast. It is 115 feet tall and looks incredibly beautiful and romantic as it stands over a cliff on the Pacific Ocean. Visitors can tour the lighthouse and even see the original Fresnel Lens, which once lit the coast.
The lighthouse and its nearby areas are protected as a part of the Pigeon Point Lightstation State Historic Park. In the park, you can hike along the coast and spot marine life including whales, seals, tide pool creatures, and sea birds from the lighthouse observation platform.
Yaquina Bay Lighthouse, Oregon
Located near Newport on the central coast of Oregon, the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse is the only surviving wooden lighthouse in the state. It is located on a bluff at the mouth of the Yaquina River and can be seen on a guided tour. While the light was decommissioned in 1874, it has been privately restored and is again operational today.
The lighthouse is located within the Yaquina Bay State Park. You can visit the lighthouse watch room and see exhibits on the lighthouse history and wildlife of the area. Entry to the lighthouse is free while donations are welcome. After seeing the lighthouse, you can also hike around the park and enjoy coastal views.
Yaquina Head Lighthouse, Oregon
In Oregon’s Yaquina Bay, you will find not just one but two lighthouses. The Yaquina Head Lightstation is Oregon’s tallest lighthouse at 93 feet. This is one the most photographed lighthouses on the West Coast and can be seen on a tour. You can climb almost 114 stairs to the top of the lighthouse and see the working Fresnel lens. The docents are dressed in period costumes and the entire experience is just wonderful.
Located within the Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area, the lighthouse makes an excellent day trip along the Pacific Coast Highway 101. Yaquina Head was formed by lava flows and the Pacific Ocean has eroded the volcanic coastline to create beautiful beaches, sea caves, rock formations, and sea stacks. Go hiking in the area to enjoy the beautiful coastal views.
Point Pinos Lighthouse, California
Point Pinos Lighthouse is one of the oldest lighthouses on the West Coast! It is one of the oldest landmarks of its kind in the USA and was built in 1855 to guide ships in the Pacific. Located in Pacific Grove in Monterey County, this is also the oldest continuously operating lighthouse on the West Coast.
Visitors can tour the inside of this lighthouse and learn about its history from the knowledgeable docents. Inside you can see interesting displays, learn about the original lens, and about its famous lightkeeper, Emily Fish. The grounds and views from inside the lighthouse are also worth the visit.
Point Sur Lighthouse, California
Point Sur Lighthouse is hands down one of the best things to do in Big Sir on the central California coast. The lighthouse is located in Monterey County. The light and its supporting buildings are designated state historic buildings. The light stands on a lonely volcanic rock out in the ocean. It has got a very commanding view of the coast.
Built-in 1889, the lighthouse continues to assist ships in navigating the rocky coastline of Big Sur even today. Docents lead visitors on three-hour-long tours that go to the lantern room and up and down the light stairs. Along with the lighthouse, visitors can also tour the Point Sur Naval Facility, a relic from the Cold War days.
Heceta Head Lighthouse, Oregon
Heceta Head Lighthouse in Oregon is one of the most picturesque and charming lighthouses on the West Coast. It is located between Florence and Yachats, Oregon, and can be easily seen on a Pacific Coast Highway 101 road trip. This photogenic lighthouse also has the distinction of being the strongest light on the Oregon Coast.
Heceta Head Lighthouse was built in 1894 and is 56 feet tall. The light and adjoining natural area is protected as Heceta Head Lighthouse State Scenic Viewpoint. The keeper’s quarters are operated as a B&B and make for an excellent stay. The white painted lighthouse and surrounding buildings with their red roofs look very pretty perched on the rocky coast and make for a postcard-worthy view.
North Head Lighthouse, Washington
Located in Cape Disappointment State Park, the North Head Lighthouse is an iconic light in Washington State. It was built in 1898 at the mouth of the Columbia River to supplement the existing Cape Disappointment Lighthouse in an attempt to reduce the shipwrecks. The lighthouse is still operational today and aids navigation.
Visitors can tour the lighthouse on a trip to the state park. From the top of the lighthouse, you have stunning views of the coast of southern Washington, northern Oregon, the Columbia River, and the Pacific Ocean. There are 69 steps to the top of the lighthouse. There is also a museum and gift shop at the light.
Point Bonita Lighthouse, California
Point Bonita Lighthouse in Sausalito was built in 1855 to light up the San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Strait. The lighthouse is still active and one of the hidden gems in the San Francisco Bay area. The lighthouse is located in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area on Marin Headlands.
To reach the lighthouse, visitors need to hike half a mile from the parking lot. The hike is steep and has amazing views of San Francisco and the Pacific Ocean. You walk over the suspension bridge to reach the light. If you are tired after the hike, sit on one of the picnic tables at Battery Wallace and enjoy stunning views of the Golden Gate Bridge.
Alcatraz Lighthouse, California
The Alcatraz Lighthouse is the oldest lighthouse to be ever built on the West Coast. It is built near the entrance to the federal prison on the southern end of Alcatraz Island. Even today, it continues to help ships navigate the waters around Alcatraz Island. The lighthouse design is similar to that of Point Loma or Point Pinos.
The original lighthouse tower was affected in the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 and was rebuilt in 1909. Visitors can see the Alcatraz Lighthouse up close as a part of the Alcatraz Island tour which departs from San Francisco. However, entry inside the lighthouse is restricted and not open to the public. The tickets include return cruises to the island, an audio tour of the federal prison and cells, and the history of the island.
New Dungeness Light Station, Washington
Located near Sequim in Washington, New Dungeness Light Station is a great place to visit while on the Olympic Peninsula. The lighthouse enjoys a strategic location on the Dungeness Spit. The lighthouse can be reached by a 5 mile long one-way hike from the parking lot. The hike is best done at low tide when the path is clear.
The views from the top of the lighthouse are fabulous. There are many things to do on the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge apart from the lighthouse. Dungeness Spit is the longest natural sand spit in the country. From here, you can watch panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean and spot abundant wildlife.
Old Point Loma Lighthouse, California
Old Point Loma Lighthouse, located inside the Cabrillo National Monument in San Diego, has a pretty interesting history. At one time, it was the southernmost lighthouse on the West Coast. Built-in 1855, the lighthouse stood over the San Diego Bay and helped keep ships safe for 36 years. However, its position was always obscured by the fog and low clouds, making the light useless.
The Old Point Loma Lighthouse was eventually abandoned in favor of the New Point Loma Lighthouse in 1891. The newer light is much closer to the coast, clearly visible from afar, and continues to shine even today. While visitors can just see the new light from afar, they can visit the Old Lighthouse which has been turned into a museum.
Cape Flattery Lighthouse, Washington
Welcome to Cape Flattery! This is the northwesternmost point in the contiguous USA and located on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula in the Makah Reservation. That makes Cape Flattery Lighthouse, built-in 1857, pretty unique. Most visitors think that the lighthouse is located on the Cape Flattery but it is actually located on Tatoosh Island out in the sea.
While you cannot actually visit the lighthouse, you can hike the Cape Flattery trail to the last observation platform to see a pretty postcard-perfect view of the lighthouse. Since its construction, the light helped ships navigate waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Puget Sound and reach the cities of Seattle and Tacoma. It is now deactivated and awaits restoration.
Point Reyes Lighthouse, California
Point Reyes is one of the most popular lighthouses in the Bay area. Located in Point Reyes National Seashore, this light is perched atop the windiest point on the continent. The lighthouse is just 35 feet tall and while you don’t have to climb a host of stairs inside the lighthouse, you do have to climb down 300 steps to reach the light itself!
A must visit is the nearby Lighthouse Visitor Center. Here you can see various exhibits, artifacts, and documents related to the lighthouse’s history, marine life, and natural history of the area. If you do make it when tours are available and climb all the way down to the light, you will be treated to stunning views from the Lens Room and will be able to see the first-order Fresnel Lens.
Cape Meares Lighthouse, Oregon
Located inside Cape Meares National Wildlife Refuge, Cape Meares Lighthouse is one of the underrated light stations along the Oregon Coast. It is located along the Three Capes Scenic Loop in Tillamook County. This is the smallest light station along the Oregon Coast and is just 38 feet tall but its light shines out 21 miles into the sea.
The light enjoys an incredibly beautiful and dramatic location on the Tillamook Coast. The adjoining area is known as the Cape Meares State Scenic Viewpoint. The views up and down the coast from Cape Meares are beautiful. From here, you can also spot seabirds, eagles, falcons, whales, otters, seals, sea lions, and other marine life.
Battery Point Lighthouse, California
Battery Point Lighthouse is one of the most famous lighthouses in Northern California. Located in Crescent City, Battery Point Lighthouse is on the National Register of Historic Places. Its historical significance comes from the fact that Battery Point was among the earliest lighthouses along the California coast. The lighthouse is located on a tiny islet in the ocean and looks striking when it is surrounded by waves at high tide.
The lighthouse and its museum are open to visitors at low tide when the land bridge to the islet is accessible. We recommend looking at the tidal charts and calling the museum before your visit. On a tour of the lighthouse, you can see maritime artifacts, historic documents, photographs, as well as climb the lighthouse tower. This is definitely one of the best things to do in northern California.
Other useful posts to plan your Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip
Pacific Coast Highway Road Trip Planner
Pacific Coast Highway 4 day Itinerary
Pacific Coast Highway 5 day itinerary
Pacific Coast Highway 7 day itinerary
Pacific Coast Highway 10 Day itinerary
All PCH Itineraries
Best Places to Stay along the Pacific Coast Highway
Best Pacific Coast Highway Stops