National Lighthouse Day: Celebrate Point San Luis, Piedras Blancas

The Piedras Blancas Light Station.
The Piedras Blancas Light Station. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Here’s a beacon of truth for you: Sunday is National Lighthouse Day. And Central Coast residents and visitors are in luck because the region boasts two renown lighthouses — Point San Luis and Piedras Blancas.

Here’s some brief history about the two locations, with information on how to visit.

Point San Luis
Harloe Elementary School fourth graders take a tour of the Point San Luis Lighthouse in January 2014. Joe Johnston jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Point San Luis

The Point San Luis Lighthouse turns 126 years old this year — and it’s as beautiful as ever.

The nonprofit Point San Luis Lighthouse Keepers have worked to restore and preserve the local National Historic Landmark as a place for visitors to have fun while learning a bit of history. The lighthouse is not far from Avila Beach, and it offers tours, events and educational programs.

The lighthouse’s history dates back to 1890. It was built after a ship called the Queen of the Pacific sank near the Harford Pier on a foggy night in 1888. Tribune columnist Dan Krieger offered a detailed, intricate history of the lighthouse in a “Times Past” article:

Increased pressure from Congress caused the United States Lighthouse Service to seek funding for a lighthouse at the harbor entrance. The sum of $50,000 was appropriated in the 1888 Congressional budget and a 30-acre site on the bluffs above the harbor was appropriated. A redwood structure with Prairie-Victorian styling was finally completed in the spring of 1890.

The lighthouse helped guide ships to Port San Luis, a bustling center of activity in the early 20th century.

There are multiple ways to experience the lighthouse, including a docent-led trolley tour. Tours are offered Wednesdays and Saturdays.

For more information, or to book a private tour, call the lighthouse’s main office at 805-540-5771.

Visitors also have the option of hiking the Pecho Coast Trail en route to the lighthouse. The trail is a scenic trek that departs from Avila Harbor, but make sure to check ahead to reserve a spot on this gorgeous, informative hike.

For the adventurous, you can reach the lighthouse location by kayak. For the really adventurous, you can get married there!

Visit http://pointsanluislighthouse.org/ for more information.

Mark Powell

Blancas 3
The Piedras Blancas Light Station in February 2012. Joe Johnston jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

Piedras Blancas

History buffs, lighthouse fans, wildlife enthusiasts and people who are thrilled by spectacular coastal views can now go online to make reservations to tour the Piedras Blancas Light Station, a landmark that’s about 14 miles north of Cambria on Highway 1.

According to Light Station Manager Ryan Cooper, as of 6 a.m. Wednesday, tour-takers will be able to go to http://recreation.gov, search for “Piedras Blancas,” and buy their tickets.

Cooper works for the Bureau of Land Management, which owns and manages the historic park around the lighthouse, the wildlife sanctuary and the circa 1875 lighthouse.

“We will still be taking walk-ups” for tour-ticket purchases, Cooper said in a July 30 email. “This will just be another option for the public.”

The tours, scheduled year-round, are the only times the light station is open to the public.

In the 1880s, San Simeon Bay was a busy place, filled with whalers and deliveries by steamship to various commercial entities, ranches and the growing nearby estate of land baron/miner George Hearst.

The sea in the area is studded with jagged, jutting rocks (for which the lighthouse is named), and the air is often laced with fog. So, there were shipwrecks, including of the Sierra Nevada and the Harlech Castle in 1869.

On Feb. 15, 1875, lightkeepers lit the tower’s First Order Fresnel lens for the first time. That blinking beacon, and a fog signal sounder added in 1909, were designed to inform mariners where they were and alert them to nearby dangers.

A light signal still guides mariners, but the Coast Guard removed the original Fresnel lens and the tower’s top three levels in 1949, reportedly because the tower had been damaged by an earthquake and the heavy lens was exacerbating the situation. The lens is on display in a special glass housing on the 1000 block of Main Street in Cambria.

For details, go to www.piedrasblancas.org or www.piedrasblancas.gov.

Kathe Tanner

National Lighthouse Day is an annual recognition of the federal lighthouse establishment, which occurred Aug. 7, 1789, according to the United States Lighthouse Society. Although the day is intended to honor lighthouses and those who have tended to them, it is not listed on the official national calendar, despite numerous efforts to petition the federal government and Congress to do so, according to the Lighthouse Society. Nevertheless, the Lighthouse Society encourages organizations across the U.S. to observe National Lighthouse Day and learn about lighthouses.