It had been a full 24 hours since I had seen a lighthouse. That’s a long time, for anyone who’s traveling the Pacific Coast. So when I came upon Point Arena, I took the time to drive out to the lighthouse.
Point Arena Lighthouse occupies a prime piece of real estate, on a narrow peninsula that juts out into the Pacific Ocean, with cliffs on either side. The light is a few miles from Highway 1, and it’s a beautiful drive out to the end.
It just so happened that I was visiting Point Arena almost 100 years to the day after the devastating San Andreas Fault earthquake that leveled San Francisco. Turns out, it did a lot of damage up here, as well, so much so that the original lighthouse that stood on the point had to be demolished, and the current one built. The entire history of the old and new lights is explained in a nice museum, connected to the gift shop.
Now before we go any further, I have to admit something. I broke the rules at Point Arena, and I knew I was breaking the rules, when I did it. Here’s what happened.
When I pulled through the admission gate, the guy who took my $5 told me to go inside the gift shop and arrange to be included on the next tour of the tower. I parked, went in the gift shop, and walked around for a minute. The person behind the counter didn’t pay any attention to me, so I walked out of the store, and over to the tower. There were no ropes blocking the entry, no signs saying “wait here”, just an open door.
Now, I knew that the guy at the gate told me to hook up with an organized tour. But quite honestly, there wasn’t much I needed to hear from an official tour guide. I’d been to enough lighthouses to know all about the Fresnel lens, the identifying flash patterns, and how the lightkeepers used to have to haul the oil up the stairs. I simply wanted to climb the stairs and take a few pictures, and that’s exactly what I did.
Just for the record, if I had been on a tour, I wouldn’t have been able to take this picture…
… or this one…
… or this one, without someone standing in my way. So when I finally got to the top…
… I had to listen to a tour guide grumble about my lack of respect for the rules, while I took in the great views of the coast.
South of Point Arena on Hwy. 1
It’s pretty amazing to discover so much of the California coastline is devoted to farmland. You’d think there would be multi-million dollar homes lining every inch of the Shoreline Highway (or Pacific Coast Highway, or simply Highway 1). Instead, you find barns, cows, and grassy fields that stretch all the way to the shore.
I found the area around Stewarts Point to be especially scenic, in a rural, Ohio-countryside kind of way.
Kruse Rhododendron State Reserve
One attraction that’s worth a brief side trip off Highway 1 is the Kruse Rhododendron State Reserve. Visit at the right time, and you’ll be able to walk through towering forests of rhododendron, bursting forth with flowers.
I visited a little too early in the year, and all I saw were a few blooms.
Note: This trip was first published in 2007.