The Point Bonita Lighthouse is worth the trek and the wait

California Journal

Being at the Point Bonita Lighthouse just north of San Francisco is like being at the end of the earth.

In a way, you are. It’s the western edge of the United States.

Point Bonita Lighthouse tunnel
Visitors must walk through this hand-hewn tunnel to reach the Point Bonita Lighthouse. (Sheryl Jean)

The 1885 lighthouse is still used today, so it’s open for only three hours a day three days a week: from 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Mondays, Saturdays and Sundays. Visiting it is like being let in on a secret.

The U.S. Coast Guard maintains the lighthouse, which is on on the Marin Headlands and part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The National Park Service provides access to visitors.

After walking through a tunnel, and a narrow cliff-top path, visitors walk over this suspension bridge to reach the lighthouse. (Sheryl Jean)

Be prepared to walk a half mile to the site, through a rough rock tunnel (open only during visiting hours) and over a suspension bridge to the lighthouse, which sits on a small patch of land jutting into the Pacific Ocean. My National Park guide said it took 3.5 months to dig the tunnel by hand.

You’ll be rewarded with spectacular coastal views and seeing nature at its wildest and windiest best.

View from Point Bonita
This is the view looking North from the lighthouse. (Sheryl Jean)

How it works

The 1885 lighthouse was the third one built on the West Coast to help lead ships through dangerous water and thick fog. The original lighthouse was 300 feet above sea level, but fog often obscured the light. It moved to Point Bonita in 1877.

The Point Bonita Lighthouse can shine its beam 18 miles across the ocean in clear conditions using a Fresnel lens, which is based on ground glass prisms arranged in rings around a light source.

In dense fog, sound is used. First, there was a cannon, then a fog bell and a steam siren. Today, an electric fog horn emits two blasts every 30 seconds.

To reach the Point Bonita, visitors must to drive up and down a narrow, steep, twisting road through the Marin Headlands. Parking is limited. A free Marin Headlands Shuttle operates on weekends through September along Bunker Road, Field Road and Fort Baker, stopping at the lighthouse.

Point Bonita
Point Bonita (Google Maps)

Finnair already plans to expand its new San Francisco service

Finnair just started seasonal service from San Francisco to Helsinki two months ago, but it’s already planning to extend it’s operating season by a month next year.

The Finnish airline said today that its inaugural Bay Area service has been so well received that it will extend the operating season for its weekly flights by a month in 2018– from May 3 to Sept. 27.

It’s part of Finnair’s expansion plans for 2018. It already carries more than 10 million passengers a year between Asia, Europe and North America. By next summer, it will increase its total capacity by 14 percent from this summer season, Chief Commercial Officer Juha Järvinen said in a statement.

In addition to San Francisco, Finnair’s Chicago service will become daily with the addition of two weekly flights starting in April 2018 through October.

Outside of the United States, Finnair plans to will add flights to more than 20 European and Asian cities next winter and summer. And today, the airline introduced a year-round route to Nanjing, China.

What do World War I, the Liberty Bell and San Francisco have in common?

As we begin the centennial observance of United States involvement in World War I, the the iconic Liberty Bell comes to mind.

Following a recent visit to one of my favorite San Francisco spots — the Palace of Fine Arts — it was brought to my attention what role that site played in events leading up to the fateful date of April 6, 1915.

Liberty Bell
Liberty Bell (Pixabay/Creative Commons)

The Liberty Bell began its rise as a national symbol of independence in a cross-country train tour — from Philadelphia to San Francisco — in the summer of 1915 as President Woodrow Wilson and other leaders “felt the need to whip the nation into a patriotic frenzy to prepare for the war,” journalist Stephen Fried wrote in “How the Liberty Bell Won the Great War” in the April edition of Smithsonian magazine. (Note: The article is titled “Saved by the Bell” in the print edition.)

Along the way, Fried noted, the bell stopped at 275 cities and towns, drawing huge crowds.

Last year, San Francisco celebrated the centennial of when the Liberty Bell landed in the city on that trip: July 16, 1915. The next day the bell was paraded through the city’s streets to the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition — for Liberty Day at the Fair.

Fun fact: A petition signed by 500,000 California children helped sway Philadelphia officials who were hesitant to lend the bell, according to the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. The Liberty Bell became the star of the exposition, which attracted 19 million visitors.

The trip to San Francisco and back was the last time the Liberty Bell left Philadelphia.

The California Historical Society has several digital images on its website regarding the Liberty Bell’s time in San Francisco. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania compiled 10 digital images of the Liberty Bell’s trip from Philadelphia to San Francisco in 1915.

Today, remnants of the San Francisco fair include the Presidio’s Crissy Field, the Marina Green and the Palace of Fine Arts, which was rebuilt as a permanent structure in the 1960s. (See my photo of the Palace of Fine Arts at top).

This week marks the 100th anniversary of the United States’ entry into World War I on April 6, 1915.  The National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City, Mo., on Thursday hosted a centennial observance below its 217-foot Liberty Memorial Tower and before thousands of attendees, including the Missouri governor, descendants of U.S. WWI veterans and foreign leaders, according to the Associated Press.

You can watch a video of the ceremony from the United States World War I Centennial Commission‘s website.

Globally, the WWI centennial observation began in 2014, in commemoration of the war’s outbreak in 1914, and continues through 2018.