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Coastal California: Pigeon Point Lighthouse



Officially called the Pigeon Point Light Station, it’s been my sentinel, standing at the edge of my personal territory, telling me I’m nearing, or leaving, my family on the coastside of the Bay Area, south of San Francisco.  I stopped once with my granddaughters to have a closer look and promised myself a return visit, maybe even a stay at the hostel, if circumstances conspired, as they finally did this summer.


It’s always surprising to me, given its proximity to a large urban population, how relatively deserted this part of the Northern California coast always seems, even at the height of summer.  Less than 7 miles south of Pigeon Point is Año Nuevo State Park where, years ago, we could walk among elephant seals lounging on their beach with no one else in sight.  Things have changed in that regard but the seals still know a good spot when they see it, it's their home despite more company looking on.  And inland, redwoods.  I think it must be that flashy Big Sur farther south, and Marin County to the north, siphon off the crowds and leave this lovely bit of coast to a discerning few.  I won’t tell them if you won’t.


The day I arrived and the next were sunny, the morning I left was overcast with fog.   I took pictures every day and will let them speak for me.  The rest, the history and technology, has been written by others better than I can tell it, posted below.




Undated US Coast Guard archive photo.






 Here comes a big one!




 The fog signal building now houses the Fresnel lens.




The Fresnel Lens





Geri, in the former carpentry shop, now the gift shop and information point. 













The following text is courtesy of the SeeCalifornia website.

I encourage you to visit the site for more information, 

especially for the technical data provided.



Pigeon Point Lighthouse is one of more than 35 light stations in California. It is open year round for viewing the grounds, though the lighthouse itself may be closed for repair. Pigeon Point Light Station State Historic Park includes the lighthouse, youth hostel and lands surrounding the lighthouse on Highway 1.


The 115 foot tall Pigeon Point Lighthouse stood as an active aid to navigation for over 127 years till GPS satellites replaced lightstations and lighthouses as navigation tools. The lighthouse's five-wick lard oil lamp, and first-order Fresnel lens, comprised of 1,008 prisms, was first lit at sunset, November 15, 1872.


The First-Order Fresnel lens, manufactured by the French firm, Henry-Lepaute, had been in service at the second Cape Hatteras Light Station, North Carolina in 1863. Sometime after this date, the lens was shipped to California for use at Pigeon Point. The lens stands 16 feet tall, 6 feet in diameter, and weighs 8,000 pounds. It sits in a lantern room that had been constructed at the Lighthouse Service's general depot in New York before being shipped around the Horn. The 115 foot, unreinforced tower was built from approximately 500,000 locally produced bricks. Access to the lens is gained by climbing the 136-step, iron spiral stairway and platforms fabricated by Nuttings & Son, San Francisco. Although the original Fresnel lens is no longer in use, the lighthouse is still an active U.S. Coast Guard aid to navigation using a 24 inch Aero Beacon.


The Pigeon Point Light Station was owned by the U.S. Coast Guard and leased to the California Department of Parks and Recreation, which administered interpretive activities. In 2005, the Pigeon Point Light Station was transferred from the U.S. Coast Guard to California State Parks. California State Parks, in partnership with the Peninsula Open Space Trust (POST), a leading private, public benefit land trust, made an application to acquire the lighthouse in 2002. In March 2004, the National Park Service selected California State Parks to own and manage the lighthouse and supervise its restoration efforts.


With 47 State Historic Parks, California State Parks System viewed Pigeon Point Lighthouse as the focal point of a vast network of protected lands. After raising the funds to purchase the land surrounding the lighthouse, deconstructing a motel planned for the property, and transferring it to the state, the lighthouse and the surrounding lands can be viewed from the sea as they were 100 years ago.


Pigeon Point Light Station was closed to the public in December 2001 after two, large pieces of brick and metal fell from the 115-foot tower. Inspections have shown that after many years without upkeep, the structure has deteriorated and extensive repairs are needed. However, through a public/private partnership with California State Parks, the California State Parks Foundation is spearheading a $5 million fundraising campaign to return the structure to a condition that is safe for public use. State Parks has operated the Pigeon Point Light Station for the past twenty years under a lease from the U.S. Coast Guard and intends to continue that operation within existing resources. For the restoration effort, the funding will come from private donations.


What is there to see on a visit?


Over one million birds pass by Pigeon Point annually. American Black Oystercatcher, Wandering Tattlers (August-May), Surfbirds (September-April) and Black Turnstones (year-around), plus, maybe some pigeons and some Marbled Murrelets. Ancient Murrelets are spotted off shore Nov- Feb. During summer months feeding masses of Sooty Shearwaters are seen from here and may number in the tens of thousands.


The only mainland breeding colony of Northern Elephant Seals (4,000 pound marine mammals) can be seen at Año Nuevo State Reserve, 7 miles south of Pigeon Point on Highway One.


Redwood Forests - Hike through majestic redwoods at Butano State Park, 6 miles east, and other nearby parks. Explore tide pools and windswept beaches, watch for migrating whales (Dec.- May), or visit nearby Pescadero Marsh. 




For others in PortMoresby’s Coastal California series, click here.


For more of PortMoresby’s contributions, click here.




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Comments (10)

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We must have passed Pigeon Point on our way to see the seals on a February visit to SF about 10 years ago...I wish I had known!


Besides the seals, the highlight of that trip was breakfast in a roadside diner surrounded by avocado farms...a product reflected in practically every breakfast on the menu!

The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

When I lived in So California, an acquaintance was an avocado farmer.  He informed us that at the time about 10% of the avocado crop was stolen each year -- probably higher now.  The most stolen crop in America, and impossible to trace


I love old lighthouses and their setting on the roughest places on the coast.  Thanks for sharing this one with us, PM.

Twitter: @DrFumblefinger

"We do not take a trip, a trip takes us".  John Steinbeck, from Travels with Charlie

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