One of our favorite day trips is to Point Reyes National Seashore. This national seashore is vast so for now I will just highlight the lighthouse.
Here’s some background I found from Pt. Reyes dot com:
The Point Reyes Peninsula, which juts into the Pacific Ocean just north of the Golden Gate, has long been treacherous for ships traveling to and from San Francisco. In hopes of reducing the number of shipwrecks, Congress in 1852 appropriated $25,000 to build the Point Reyes Lighthouse.
Coping with the precipitous location and buying the necessary property, however, delayed construction of the forged-iron-plate building, so that the beacon did not go into operation until December 1, 1870. During the delay, at least seven more ships ran aground. It is impossible to say how many of them would have been saved by the beacon, however, for shipwrecks continued – although less often – after the lighthouse was in service. Some unfortunate skippers blamed the light itself, saying it was hard to see from the south. Others blamed the lighthouse’s fog siren, saying it was hard to hear from the north.
The Point Reyes Lighthouse cast a rotating beam that could be seen for 24 nautical miles. The light came from four wicks, which burned refined lard oil. The beam was focused by a three-ton lens consisting of more than 1,000 handcut prisms and “bull’s eyes.” The jewel-like lens mounted in a brass framework was designed in France by August Jean Fresnel and built in Paris by the firm of Barbier and Fenestre. The 24-sided lens stands 7-feet, 11-inches high and 6-feet, 1-inch wide.
Keeping it fueled and free of soot was once a nonstop job in foggy weather. A San Francisco Chronicle reporter noted on September 25, 1887, that “the sirens had been in operation for 176 consecutive hours and the jaded attendants looked as if they had been on a protracted spree.”
In fact, because of incessant wind and fog on Point Reyes in some seasons, the Point Reyes Lighthouse was plagued by “incidents of insanity, alcoholism, violence, and insubordination,” notes a publication of the National Park Service, which now owns the lighthouse. One lighthouse keeper even took to drinking the alcohol shipped for cleaning the lens and “was often seen lying drunk by the roadside,” the Park Service publication added.
Originally operated by the Government Lighthouse Service, the lighthouse was taken over by the US Coast Guard in 1915. In 1966, the Park Service acquired the lighthouse station from the Coast Guard, which continued to operate the beacon and fog horn. In 1973, after the six year old nephew of a guardsman was killed by its rotating lens, the lighthouse was closed to the public. It’s beacon, which had been converted from to electricity in 1939, was turned off in 1975 and replaced by automatic equipment. In 1977, the Coast Guard turned the lighthouse over to the Park Service which — in response to an editorial campaign in The Point Reyes Light — reopened the historic structure to the public. In the years since then, the Park Service has continue to keep the old lighthouse in operating condition in case its unromantic replacement ever breaks down.
The lighthouse site is now within the Point Reyes National Seashore, and Park Service rangers are on hand to answer questions. In January and February, the Point Reyes Lighthouse is one of the best places along the California Coast for seeing California Gray Whales on their annual migration from Alaska to Mexico.
Whenever possible, visit the Point Reyes Lighthouse on weekdays to avoid weekend crowds.
There are more than 300 stairs between the observation platform at the lighthouse station and the actual lighthouse below. Walking back up again is equivalent to walking up the stairs of a 30-story building.
The lighthouse is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. On other days, it opens at 10 a.m. and closes at 4:30 p.m. although the rest of the lighthouse station remains open until 5 p.m.
For information on weather at the lighthouse, call 415 669-1534.
To reach the Point Reyes Lighthouse from Highway 1, head west on Bear Valley Road from Olema or west on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard from Point Reyes Station. In Point Reyes Station, the turnoff from Highway 1 is located at the Green Bridge on the south end of town. The driving time from Point Reyes Station or Olema is about 40 minutes.