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A hike to Pigeon Point lighthouse, the Bay Area’s tallest

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One of California’s tallest lighthouses is just a day trip away for much of the Bay Area.
 
Pigeon Point Light Station State Historic Park graces a coastal cliff along Highway 1 just 50 miles south of San Francisco. The beautiful, 115-foot-tall lighthouse first illuminated its beacon using a five-wick lard oil lamp in November 1872 and celebrated its 150th anniversary this month.
 
With many stops and eats along the way, there’s no better time to visit.

If you’re coming from San Francisco, the drive south will take about an hour. Most of the road is gorgeous and jagged coastline, peppered with places to pull off and benches to enjoy the view. There are certainly other ways to get there, but you can’t ever go wrong with the scenic route in California. 

As is the norm in this part of the state, bring layers of clothes. Coastal winds will make your trip chilly if you’re unprepared.

The Pigeon Point Light Station is a 115-foot-tall lighthouse that was first illuminated in November 1872.

Eric Brooks Special to SFGATE

I pulled into the lighthouse to find vehicles parked along the entrance road, parking lot and beyond. The place was packed as California State Parks marked the lighthouse’s sesquicentennial, an event featuring live music, guided tours and maritime author discussions. That’s where I met Julie Barrow, special projects coordinator at Pigeon Point Light Station State Historic Park.
 
She described the state of the Pigeon Point Light Station as fragile.

People lined up for a tour of Pigeon Point lighthouse as its 150th anniversary celebration on Nov. 12, 2022.

People lined up for a tour of Pigeon Point lighthouse as its 150th anniversary celebration on Nov. 12, 2022.

Anadolu Agency/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

“The stability of the building has been compromised for over 20 years now since the iron belt course up at the top [of the lighthouse] that acts like a metallic rubber band had two pieces break away … in late 2001 and early 2002,” Barrow said. 

“Since then, the building has been subjected to a lot of water intrusion, which causes the brick and mortar to crumble and crack. So, we’re very hopeful that very soon we’re going to see the restoration start.”

Interpreter manager Scott Shepherd descends stairs of the Pigeon Point Lighthouse as its 150th anniversary celebration is held on Nov. 12, 2022.

Interpreter manager Scott Shepherd descends stairs of the Pigeon Point Lighthouse as its 150th anniversary celebration is held on Nov. 12, 2022.

Anadolu Agency/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The tower, undamaged by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake or the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, received funding for a number of infrastructure improvements during a yearslong campaign, including new wooden windows and fresh paint. Several of the older windows allowed water to seep in during torrential rains, furthering rust already in place. But the “critical portion” of the restoration project remains the cast iron and masonry elements at the top of the tower itself.

The interior and adjoining oil house have been closed to the public for more than two decades, but that hasn’t stopped the lighthouse from providing an essential service to craft at sea. “This lighthouse does light up at night,” Elizabeth Crowley with Pigeon Point Light Station State Historic Park told SFGATE. “The Coast Guard has a small strobe light on the balcony. That’s automated, but it doesn’t have quite the same effect as what’s called the wagon wheel where the light beams go all the way around.”
 
The original 1,008-prism, 2,000-pound Fresnel lens can be found in the neighboring fog signal building. With more than $18 million in state funds secured and the addition of other fundraising efforts, it’s thought the building could reopen and the Fresnel lens could light the coastline again by 2024 at the earliest.

The original 1,008-prism, 2,000-pound Fresnel lens is now housed in the neighboring fog signal building. 

The original 1,008-prism, 2,000-pound Fresnel lens is now housed in the neighboring fog signal building. 

Eric Brooks Special to SFGATE

Aside from the views, there’s wonderful history detailed at the site. California State Parks has done a spectacular job chronicling the region’s history using signage on the property, from its earliest native inhabitants to the lighthouse keepers and Pigeon Point’s surprising role in World War II serving as a U.S. Coast Guard lookout to protect the country against a possible foreign attack. 
 
I dropped in for the day, but adventurers looking for a longer stay can actually sleep overnight at a hostel on the park’s small footprint. I enjoyed the many pathways and boardwalks off the parking lot to marvel at the waves and coastline, as did several others visiting for the event.

Looking south toward the Pigeon Point Light Station.

Looking south toward the Pigeon Point Light Station.

Eric Brooks Special to SFGATE

While visiting this lighthouse several months ago, I saw a group of dolphins darting across the waves from my viewpoint on one of the benches facing the ocean. I can’t promise the same thing will happen to you — although whale migration season is approaching — but waves and sun are a solid consolation prize if you’re not as fortunate.
 
The best part about Pigeon Point Light Station State Historic Park is the endless amount of nearby stops you can hit before or after your visit. 

A trail through ice plant, an iconic feature of California's coastal landscape.

A trail through ice plant, an iconic feature of California’s coastal landscape.

Eric Brooks Special to SFGATE

The stunning Cowell-Purisima Coastal Trail is only 20 minutes away. It’s an even shorter drive to Butano State Park, heavily damaged in the 2020 CZU Lightning Complex Fire, but still worth a visit. You’ll also love Bean Hollow State Beach just to the north.
 
In this area, I’d argue there’s no better stop than Pescadero.



The charming farming community is a 10-minute drive from the lighthouse. Food, antiques, custom furniture and wine are just some of the things you can find here. If you’re in need of caffeine, I suggest you try Downtown Local. The rock ‘n’ roll-themed coffee shop and store is a neat stop with vinyl, Beatles murals and turntables lining the interior. 

I made a beeline for Arcangeli Grocery Co., also known as Norm’s, found further along the main drag through town. The market is famous for its delicious bread selection. Its deli — in the back of the historic market — always hits the spot with selections like spicy grilled cheddar, pesto chicken and chicken club sandwiches.
 
I went with the latter, grabbed a bag of chips and hit the road.

Downtown Local in Pescadero

Downtown Local in Pescadero


Eric Brooks Special to SFGATE

Downtown Local in Pescadero is a rock and roll-themed coffee shop featuring a Beatles murals.

Downtown Local in Pescadero is a rock and roll-themed coffee shop featuring a Beatles murals.


Eric Brooks Special to SFGATE

Arcangeli Grocery Co. has been a Bay Area gem in Pescadero for over 90 years.

Arcangeli Grocery Co. has been a Bay Area gem in Pescadero for over 90 years.


Eric Brooks Special to SFGATE

Arcangeli Grocery Co. has been a Bay Area gem in Pescadero for over 90 years.

Arcangeli Grocery Co. has been a Bay Area gem in Pescadero for over 90 years.


Eric Brooks Special to SFGATE

In Pescadero, you’ll find Downtown Local, a rock ‘n’ roll-themed coffee shop featuring a Beatles mural, as well as the Arcangeli Grocery Co., a Bay Area gem for over 90 years. (Eric Brooks Special to SFGATE)

As you head back toward Highway 1, cross the intersection and you’ll find yourself at picturesque Pescadero State Beach. Pro tip: Pull into a parking space and enjoy your sandwich looking at the ocean. That’s what I did. Is there really any other way to eat?
 
No matter your destination, don’t miss this part of the San Mateo County coast.
 
It’s worth the trip again and again.

The Pigeon Point Light Station in 1978.

The Pigeon Point Light Station in 1978.

Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

Eric Brooks is a multimedia journalist with over a decade of experience in radio and digital storytelling. He hails from the Midwest, where he graduated from Valparaiso University, and now proudly calls the Bay Area home.




One of California’s tallest lighthouses is just a day trip away for much of the Bay Area.
 
Pigeon Point Light Station State Historic Park graces a coastal cliff along Highway 1 just 50 miles south of San Francisco. The beautiful, 115-foot-tall lighthouse first illuminated its beacon using a five-wick lard oil lamp in November 1872 and celebrated its 150th anniversary this month.
 
With many stops and eats along the way, there’s no better time to visit.

If you’re coming from San Francisco, the drive south will take about an hour. Most of the road is gorgeous and jagged coastline, peppered with places to pull off and benches to enjoy the view. There are certainly other ways to get there, but you can’t ever go wrong with the scenic route in California. 

As is the norm in this part of the state, bring layers of clothes. Coastal winds will make your trip chilly if you’re unprepared.

The Pigeon Point Light Station is a 115-foot-tall lighthouse that was first illuminated in November 1872.

The Pigeon Point Light Station is a 115-foot-tall lighthouse that was first illuminated in November 1872.

Eric Brooks Special to SFGATE

I pulled into the lighthouse to find vehicles parked along the entrance road, parking lot and beyond. The place was packed as California State Parks marked the lighthouse’s sesquicentennial, an event featuring live music, guided tours and maritime author discussions. That’s where I met Julie Barrow, special projects coordinator at Pigeon Point Light Station State Historic Park.
 
She described the state of the Pigeon Point Light Station as fragile.

People lined up for a tour of Pigeon Point lighthouse as its 150th anniversary celebration on Nov. 12, 2022.

People lined up for a tour of Pigeon Point lighthouse as its 150th anniversary celebration on Nov. 12, 2022.

Anadolu Agency/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

“The stability of the building has been compromised for over 20 years now since the iron belt course up at the top [of the lighthouse] that acts like a metallic rubber band had two pieces break away … in late 2001 and early 2002,” Barrow said. 

“Since then, the building has been subjected to a lot of water intrusion, which causes the brick and mortar to crumble and crack. So, we’re very hopeful that very soon we’re going to see the restoration start.”

Interpreter manager Scott Shepherd descends stairs of the Pigeon Point Lighthouse as its 150th anniversary celebration is held on Nov. 12, 2022.

Interpreter manager Scott Shepherd descends stairs of the Pigeon Point Lighthouse as its 150th anniversary celebration is held on Nov. 12, 2022.

Anadolu Agency/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

The tower, undamaged by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake or the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989, received funding for a number of infrastructure improvements during a yearslong campaign, including new wooden windows and fresh paint. Several of the older windows allowed water to seep in during torrential rains, furthering rust already in place. But the “critical portion” of the restoration project remains the cast iron and masonry elements at the top of the tower itself.

The interior and adjoining oil house have been closed to the public for more than two decades, but that hasn’t stopped the lighthouse from providing an essential service to craft at sea. “This lighthouse does light up at night,” Elizabeth Crowley with Pigeon Point Light Station State Historic Park told SFGATE. “The Coast Guard has a small strobe light on the balcony. That’s automated, but it doesn’t have quite the same effect as what’s called the wagon wheel where the light beams go all the way around.”
 
The original 1,008-prism, 2,000-pound Fresnel lens can be found in the neighboring fog signal building. With more than $18 million in state funds secured and the addition of other fundraising efforts, it’s thought the building could reopen and the Fresnel lens could light the coastline again by 2024 at the earliest.

The original 1,008-prism, 2,000-pound Fresnel lens is now housed in the neighboring fog signal building. 

The original 1,008-prism, 2,000-pound Fresnel lens is now housed in the neighboring fog signal building. 

Eric Brooks Special to SFGATE

Aside from the views, there’s wonderful history detailed at the site. California State Parks has done a spectacular job chronicling the region’s history using signage on the property, from its earliest native inhabitants to the lighthouse keepers and Pigeon Point’s surprising role in World War II serving as a U.S. Coast Guard lookout to protect the country against a possible foreign attack. 
 
I dropped in for the day, but adventurers looking for a longer stay can actually sleep overnight at a hostel on the park’s small footprint. I enjoyed the many pathways and boardwalks off the parking lot to marvel at the waves and coastline, as did several others visiting for the event.

Looking south toward the Pigeon Point Light Station.

Looking south toward the Pigeon Point Light Station.

Eric Brooks Special to SFGATE

While visiting this lighthouse several months ago, I saw a group of dolphins darting across the waves from my viewpoint on one of the benches facing the ocean. I can’t promise the same thing will happen to you — although whale migration season is approaching — but waves and sun are a solid consolation prize if you’re not as fortunate.
 
The best part about Pigeon Point Light Station State Historic Park is the endless amount of nearby stops you can hit before or after your visit. 

A trail through ice plant, an iconic feature of California's coastal landscape.

A trail through ice plant, an iconic feature of California’s coastal landscape.

Eric Brooks Special to SFGATE

The stunning Cowell-Purisima Coastal Trail is only 20 minutes away. It’s an even shorter drive to Butano State Park, heavily damaged in the 2020 CZU Lightning Complex Fire, but still worth a visit. You’ll also love Bean Hollow State Beach just to the north.
 
In this area, I’d argue there’s no better stop than Pescadero.



The charming farming community is a 10-minute drive from the lighthouse. Food, antiques, custom furniture and wine are just some of the things you can find here. If you’re in need of caffeine, I suggest you try Downtown Local. The rock ‘n’ roll-themed coffee shop and store is a neat stop with vinyl, Beatles murals and turntables lining the interior. 

I made a beeline for Arcangeli Grocery Co., also known as Norm’s, found further along the main drag through town. The market is famous for its delicious bread selection. Its deli — in the back of the historic market — always hits the spot with selections like spicy grilled cheddar, pesto chicken and chicken club sandwiches.
 
I went with the latter, grabbed a bag of chips and hit the road.

Downtown Local in Pescadero

Downtown Local in Pescadero


Eric Brooks Special to SFGATE

Downtown Local in Pescadero is a rock and roll-themed coffee shop featuring a Beatles murals.

Downtown Local in Pescadero is a rock and roll-themed coffee shop featuring a Beatles murals.


Eric Brooks Special to SFGATE

Arcangeli Grocery Co. has been a Bay Area gem in Pescadero for over 90 years.

Arcangeli Grocery Co. has been a Bay Area gem in Pescadero for over 90 years.


Eric Brooks Special to SFGATE

Arcangeli Grocery Co. has been a Bay Area gem in Pescadero for over 90 years.

Arcangeli Grocery Co. has been a Bay Area gem in Pescadero for over 90 years.


Eric Brooks Special to SFGATE

In Pescadero, you’ll find Downtown Local, a rock ‘n’ roll-themed coffee shop featuring a Beatles mural, as well as the Arcangeli Grocery Co., a Bay Area gem for over 90 years. (Eric Brooks Special to SFGATE)

As you head back toward Highway 1, cross the intersection and you’ll find yourself at picturesque Pescadero State Beach. Pro tip: Pull into a parking space and enjoy your sandwich looking at the ocean. That’s what I did. Is there really any other way to eat?
 
No matter your destination, don’t miss this part of the San Mateo County coast.
 
It’s worth the trip again and again.

The Pigeon Point Light Station in 1978.

The Pigeon Point Light Station in 1978.

Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

Eric Brooks is a multimedia journalist with over a decade of experience in radio and digital storytelling. He hails from the Midwest, where he graduated from Valparaiso University, and now proudly calls the Bay Area home.



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