Shining beacons of beauty
By Mimi Slawoff
Built on scenic bluffs, rocky shores and islands to safely guide mariners in the late 1700s through early 1900s, lighthouses served an important role before modern technology made them nearly obsolete. GPS and other electronic navigational systems have replaced lamps and lighthouse keepers. But numerous historic lighthouses — no two built alike — still stand. Some are still operational, others not. You can climb the winding stairs to towers in many, while others are closed but still welcome visitors to tour scenic grounds and enjoy sweeping ocean views. Pack a picnic, grab your camera and check out these 10 lighthouses built on prime real estate.
Kilauea Lighthouse, Kauai
Perched at the northernmost tip of the garden island, the 52-foot tall lighthouse was built in 1913 and offers stunning ocean views from its grounds. Whale sightings are common. This is also the location of the Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge, a sanctuary for seabirds.
Tip: Arrive early, parking is limited.
(MORE: View a family trip plan: 6 days in Kauai with kids.)
Copper Harbor Lighthouse, MI
With more than 115 lighthouses across the Great Lakes, Michigan has more lighthouses than any other state. Among the oldest is the restored 1866 Copper Harbor Lighthouse overlooking majestic Lake Superior. Tours include a boat ride to the lighthouse, a walk through the interior and a visit to Michigan’s first commercial copper mine site.
Tip: The sunset tour is most scenic.
Key West Lighthouse, FL
Climb 88 iron steps to the lighthouse observation deck for amazing views and ocean breezes. Built in 1847, the tower and keeper’s quarters have been restored to their condition before the lighthouse was deactivated in 1969. Check out the museum’s instruments, maps, photos and historic lighthouse artifacts.
Tip: Great photo opportunities of Key West from the observation deck.
Whitefish Point Light-Station, MI
The main attraction is the museum, featuring exhibits of shipwreck models, artifacts and artwork. With more than 200 shipwrecks lying in the immediate vicinity, the area is known as Lake Superior’s Shipwreck Coast. Watch a 15-minute video and tour the restored 1861 lightkeeper’s quarters and the 1923 Lifeboat Station Surfboat House.
Tip: Spend the night in the 1923-restored Coast Guard Lifesaving Crew’s Quarters.
Eagle Bluff Lighthouse, WI
Perched on a bluff at Peninsula State Park, this lighthouse is among 11 dotting the shores of picturesque Door County on Lake Michigan. Learn about the personal stories of the keepers who manned the light from 1868 to 1926 on guided tours. The lighthouse is furnished with some of the keepers’ original furnishings as well as authentic period antiques.
Tip: Ask to hear the ghost story about a young boy who drowned while fetching water for his family.
Point Bonita Lighthouse, Sausalito, CA
A hidden gem in the Bay Area, Point Bonita is an active lighthouse and is part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Maintained by the US Coast Guard, the lighthouse is accessible via a scenic half-mile trail. Sights along the trail include the ruins of a historic Coast Guard rescue station, wildflowers and pillow basalt rock formations.
Tip: Battery Wallace, near the Point Bonita trailhead, is one of the parklands’ most scenic picnic spots with tables and grills overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge.
Heceta Head Lighthouse, Florence, OR
A short trail leads to the lighthouse and assistant keeper’s house, where guided daily tours take you to the top. Trails also lead down to the ocean, where you’ll find a sheltered picnic area, tide pools and seabirds. Sea lions and whales can often be seen from the beach and lighthouse.
Tip: More time? The assistant lighthouse keeper’s house offers bed and breakfast rentals.
Huntington Island Lighthouse, Beaufort, SC
No longer a functioning lighthouse, it is the only one in the state that is open to the public. Climb the 167-step spiral staircase for a bird’s eye of the ocean and surrounding marshes. Five miles of pristine beaches offer outdoor recreational options, including camping.
Tip: Bring a picnic and enjoy walking trails and the beach.
Portland Head Light, Maine
Situated along the rocky shores of Fort Williams Park, Maine’s oldest lighthouse has been in operation since 1791. Although you can’t go inside, you can browse lighthouse lenses and displays in the adjacent museum. Check out historic buildings and hiking trails on the 90-acre park.
Tip: Find a cozy spot to watch boats entering and leaving the harbor.
(MORE: View a family trip plan: 3 days in Portland, Maine with kids.)
Tybee Island Light Station and Museum, GA
On a self-guided tour, navigate the 178 steps to the top for panoramic views. Guiding mariners safely through the entrance of the Savannah River for more than 270 years, the light station is among the most intact in America. The museum contains exhibits and artifacts depicting local history.
Tip: Book an evening tour to watch a sunset from the tower.
Mimi Slawoff, a Los Angeles-based journalist, contributed this to www.MiniTime.com.