Ever notice the piece of land resembling an island off of Highway One in Big Sur? It is a place where the coastline twists and turns along steep cliffs rearing high above white-tipped waves. The scene is dominated by Point Sur, a lofty monolith ringed by massive offshore boulders, dangerous reefs and swift currents. Did you know that at the top of Point Sur there is a lighthouse that some say is haunted, and did you know that you could actually climb to the top for impressive views for just $12? This place has always struck my curiosity and has been on my bucket list of “things to do” for quite some time.
Finally, after living in Monterey County for three years I decided to dedicate last Sunday to visit the mysterious Point Sur Lightstation. You might be wondering why it is a lightstation – not a lighthouse. Well it was once so remote (it didn’t have a road until 1937) that it basically had to provide for itself, so not only is there a lighthouse on property but there is also a barn, workshop and keeper’s quarters. After scoping out the official Point Sur State Historic Park website and reviewing the tour schedule I chose the three-hour tour leaving on Sunday at 10am. All tours are on a first come first served basis (no reservations accepted) so I arrived a few minutes early.
I approached the farm gate off of Highway One, just as the website instructions stated, and was greeted by Trevor. Trevor directed my friend and I to travel down the manicured dirt road and to park at the base of the hill. The short drive was a treat in itself! Cattle surrounded both sides of the ocean view trail; I can see why the commercial says, “Happy cows come from California!”
Once at the summit we met up with the other lighthouse visitors and our other guide Al. Our group of fifteen was quite the diverse crowd. There was a mix of locals, young families, singles and even visitors from the Netherlands.
Al and Trevor guided us up the semi-steep hill to the lighthouse. Getting there is somewhat of a challenge as you must walk to the top of the secluded volcanic rock (360 feet elevation gain) and navigate two sets of stairs. Luckily we made several stops along the way for stories about the various families that called the lightstation home. The guides also noted several shipwrecks that occurred in the area including the wreck of the Ventura in 1875; this particular accident influenced the construction of the lighthouse which began operation in 1889.
Although the history was fascinating it was hard to pay attention with the distracting views along the way. We were looking down the cliffs with expansive vistas of the ocean and jagged coast. There was even a sea lion on the rocky shores below us, enjoying the view as well I suppose.
After 45 minutes of walking and talking we turned a corner and there she was, the Point Sur Lighthouse stood out on a bluff peeking over the Pacific Ocean; I could not wait to climb to the top! Once at the lighthouse we separated into two groups. Half of the group went up into the tower while the other half toured the lower museum area where the fog horn and Fresnel lens displays are held.
I chose to tour the museum portion first in order to save the view for last. Al talked about the Tyfon Fog Signal that the lighthouse utilized until the 1970’s. He then gave us a short lecture on the Fresnel lens and its function as the guiding light. The lighthouse’s original lens was an astonishing 18 feet tall and six feet in diameter and is now on display at the Museum of Monterey (MOM). The lighthouse currently uses a flash pattern system where light is flashed every 15 seconds.
After our lesson it was time to venture to the top of the lighthouse. We began to climb the spiral staircase stopping at each one of the windows to take a peek outside. Little did we know that these views were nothing compared to the surprise at the top.
Once at the top it seemed that everyone said “wow” in complete unison. The expansive panorama outside of the lantern room was truly breathtaking! From the front end of the lighthouse you looked into an infinity of ocean while the backside provided vistas of (what seemed like) the entire Big Sur coastline. The aqua colored water crashed directly below us and you could smell the sea in the soothing breeze. I could have stayed on the balcony all afternoon but Al wrangled us in to continue onto the blacksmith shop, barn and lightstation residence.
We took the stairs below the lighthouse up to the remainder of the lightstation grounds. The first stop was the carpenter/blacksmith shop. The cute workshop was resorted to resemble how it most likely looked in 1929 and housed several tools dating back to the 1920’s. Point Sur’s barn was once used for the lightstation families’ livestock. It is now used as a recreation area and for special events held on the grounds.
Next up was the keeper’s quarters where several of the families resided. The cozy two-story house was complete with a kitchen, dining room, living room, bedrooms, washroom and bathrooms all reflecting the 1950’s era; talk about rooms with a view!
The last stop on the tour was the visitor center and gift shop. This place has all of your lighthouse needs from books, clothing and more; this is also where you pay for the tour. Fees are $5 for children ages 6-17 and $12 for adults, which I thought was a steal for this phenomenal three-hour tour! For a full schedule of tours click here.
I would highly recommend this tour for locals, visitors and just about anyone that is into epic views and interesting history. The lighthouse also offers special Ghost Tours every October, which can be quite fun, even if you don't believe in ghosts. For details visit www.pointsur.org. If you go:
- Arrive early- Reservations are not available so be sure to claim your spot on the tour before it fills up!
- Wear lots of layers- Point Sur can get very windy and the clouds can be unpredictable. Wear several layers of clothing including windbreakers, beanies and hats (just don’t let them fly off).
- Wear your walking shoes- This is a one mile walking tour. Wear your comfortable shoes for an incline hill and two sets of stairs.
- Bring your camera- Make your friends and family jealous of the awesome photos from your tour.
- Ask questions- Guides and docents have gone through an extensive training process about the history and facts of the Point Sur Lightstation. Test their keen knowledge with any questions you may have.
- Leave your snacks at home- Although it may be tempting; avoid brining picnics, food or wrappers onto the Point Sur grounds. The park does not allow food or snacks on the tour.
- If you have mobility issues that are of concern, call California State Parks at 831-667-0258 well in advance to see how they can accommodate you.