Beautiful, secluded, and with incredible ocean views—it’s no wonder lighthouses have a special place in our hearts. As evolving technology renders these stunning structures obsolete, conservation groups are working to preserve, protect, and raise awareness of America’s lighthouses so that future generations can enjoy and appreciate not just the lighthouses themselves, but the history of the lighthouse keepers who watched over them.
Each year on August 7, lighthouse organizations across the country celebrate National Lighthouse Day with tours, programs, and educational activities. It may not be an official holiday (yet), but it’s a great excuse to check out a nearby lighthouse—especially if you’re on vacation! Although there are hundreds of beautiful lighthouses all across America, here are nine of our favorites.
East Coast Lighthouses
Portland Head Light – Cape Elizabeth, ME
The oldest lighthouse in Maine and one of the oldest (and most-photographed) lighthouses in the country, Portland Head Light was completed in 1791. Located five miles south of Portland, Maine, the lighthouse sits on a scenic promontory with beautiful views of distant islands and four additional light stations. The nearby town of Cape Elizabeth is known for its gorgeous parks and beaches, which are perfect for hiking, sunbathing, bird watching, and swimming. Be sure to bring your camera along for this one!
Long Point Lighthouse – Provincetown, MA
At the farthest end of Cape Cod sits Long Point Lighthouse, which can only be reached by foot. Those who brave the two-and-a-half-mile hike across the causeway to get to the lighthouse will be rewarded with panoramic views of Provincetown and the Pilgrim Monument. There are several other lighthouses surrounding Provincetown, including Wood End Light and Race Point Light, and Provincetown itself boasts beautiful beaches and an impressive arts scene, making it an exceptional place to visit any time of the year.
Tybee Island Light Station – Tybee Island, GA
Originally built in 1736 and standing 145 feet high, the Tybee Island Light Station has the distinction of being both the oldest and tallest lighthouse in Georgia. Tickets to tour the lighthouse also include access to a historic cottage and a museum, which is housed in a former military battery. The Tybee Island Light Station and the neighboring Cockspur Lighthouse make a great day trip from Savannah, but if you’re looking for a more leisurely vacation, consider staying on Tybee Island itself—the Fort Screven historic district and assorted shops and restaurants are guaranteed to delight you.
St. Augustine Lighthouse – St. Augustine, FL
The striking black and white stripes of the St. Augustine Lighthouse have stood watch over this stretch of the Florida shoreline for more than 200 years. Intrepid visitors can climb all 219 steps to reach the top of this lighthouse, which rises 165 feet above sea level. In addition to gorgeous views and an impressive maritime museum (housed in the painstakingly restored Keepers’ House), the St. Augustine Lighthouse offers exclusive paranormal tours several nights a week. As the oldest continually occupied European settlement in the United States, it goes without saying that the city of St. Augustine is a history buff’s dream, and with great history comes great ghost stories.
West Coast Lighthouses
Yaquina Head Light – Newport, OR
You might recognize Yaquina Head Light from its appearance in the 2002 American remake of “The Ring”—or from the Instagram feed of anyone who has ever visited Newport, Oregon. Yaquina Head Light has the distinction of being Oregon’s tallest lighthouse at 93 feet. The lighthouse is also unusual in that it still uses its original Fresnel lens, although a powerful 1000-watt bulb has replaced the burning oil of bygone days. Ranger-led tours are available every day from June through September, so if you’re planning a trip to Newport during the summer, be sure to leave room in your schedule between visiting the Oregon Coast Aquarium and kayaking along Beaver Creek!
Coquille River Light – Bandon, OR
Though it’s several decades younger than most lighthouses on the east coast, the Coquille River Light in Bandon, Oregon, is no less impressive. Situated at the mouth of the eponymous Coquille River, the lighthouse’s historical displays provide a fascinating glimpse into the daily life of bygone lightkeepers. Although the lighthouse looks deceptively close to town, to reach it by car requires a five-and-a-half-mile drive through Bullards Beach State Park. Thankfully, the drive is scenic, the town is charming, and the lighthouse is well worth the visit.
Battery Point Lighthouse – Crescent City, CA
Battery Point Lighthouse sits on the southern edge of Crescent City, on an island that can only be accessed at low tide. Although it’s still an active navigation aid, the lighthouse is open for tours daily—tide permitting, of course. The town of Crescent City is a quaint coastal getaway with a modest business district, and is conveniently close to Redwood National and State Parks, Tolowa Dunes State Park, and other gorgeous natural landscapes.
Pigeon Point Lighthouse – Santa Cruz, CA
If you’re staying in Santa Cruz, take a day trip to Pigeon Point (about 30 miles north) to see one of the tallest lighthouses on the West Coast. The lighthouse has been closed to the public since 2001, pending the tower’s restoration—fundraising efforts to repair the lighthouse’s exterior are ongoing. However, the park surrounding the lighthouse is open daily, providing numerous photo opportunities, and volunteer docents are on hand Monday through Thursday to lead tours of the grounds and answer questions about the Pigeon Point Lighthouse’s history.
The Point Loma Lighthouses – San Diego, CA
There are not one but two lighthouses at the entrance to San Diego Bay in Southern California: Old Point Loma Lighthouse and New Point Loma Lighthouse. Although the original Point Loma Lighthouse operated for 36 years, the light was often hidden by fog and clouds, rendering it quite useless as a navigation aid. The Old Point Loma Lighthouse has been refurbished in the 1880s style and now functions as a museum and landmark, although the tower itself is only open to the public twice a year, on August 25 and November 15.
Featured photo courtesy of Justin Roy
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