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, tour-takers are now able to visit www.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.”
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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 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. Because of this, 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 glass housing on the 1000 block of Main Street in Cambria.