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.
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.
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.
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.