Secluded coves, towering cliffs, and the breathtaking scenery of Point Arena make this coastal California destination perfect for a long weekend. Rugged sea stacks, rock-strewn beaches, and windblown cypress trees are a dramatic setting for the historic Point Arena Lighthouse.
More than just a museum and a stop along the coast, Point Arena Light Station hosts overnight guests and weddings, is a whale-watching outpost, is a movie filming location, and still guides ships in the dangerous waters along the coast. The Point Arena Lighthouse, 115 feet tall, is the tallest lighthouse on the Pacific Coast.
Come with me to learn what I loved about staying at this unique destination. Unlike renting a motel room along the highway, staying in a lighthouse is a memorable experience.
How To Get To Point Arena Lighthouse
Point Arena is 134 miles north of San Francisco and 35 miles south of Mendocino on California Highway 1. While this is a beautiful and scenic drive, it will be quicker if you take Highway 101 and cut across to the coast at Santa Rosa, Cloverdale, or Willits. Major airports serve San Francisco and Santa Rosa, and having a vehicle for exploring the area is a must.
This historic lighthouse is located a few miles north of Point Arena on 23 acres of a peninsula that runs a half-mile out to sea.
History And Tradition Of Point Arena Lighthouse
The history of the Point Arena Lighthouse is a story about three light towers, three Fresnel lenses, two fog signal buildings, its lightkeepers and their families, and the great earthquake that changed it all.
The first tower, built of brick in a conical design, was first lit by a fixed first-order Fresnel lens in 1870. The first fog signal building, completed in 1871, added horns as a navigation aid for ships traveling in the fog. Due to erosion on the point, the fog signal building was rebuilt closer to the tower in 1896.
The San Francisco earthquake in 1906 destroyed the tower and Fresnel lens, and the keepers’ dwelling was severely damaged. A temporary tower erected in its place used a second-order Fresnel lens so the station would have light during the reconstruction. The new tower began operation in the fall of 1908 with a rotating first-order Fresnel lens.
Best Time To Go
The best time to visit Point Arena Lighthouse depends on whether you want to avoid crowds or want warmer weather. My husband and I were there in the fall and enjoyed clear skies.
While the weather on the Mendocino Coast is generally mild, with temperatures in the 50s and 60s, it can be foggy and windy during the summer. The peak summer months of June through August can also be crowded with travelers.
Who Operates Point Arena Lighthouse
Point Arena Lighthouse Keepers, Inc. (PALKI) — a non-profit, membership-based organization — operates the lighthouse. Open to the public 7 days a week, about 40,000 people visit every year. The light station receives no government funds and is not part of the State or National Park system.
Mascots Of Point Arena Light Station
The staff takes great pride in caring for and maintaining the mascots at Point Arena Light Station. While I met Tesla, the dog mascot who barely raised his head to acknowledge my presence, I didn’t see Arena Mina lurking around nor escorting visitors into the tower.
Lodging At Point Arena Light Station
Seven rooms, apartments, and cottages are available to reserve, which require a 2-night minimum stay. All rooms have an incredible California Coast view, free tower tours, and access to the Light Station Store, and Indoor and Outdoor Museums.
Complete furnished kitchens in the Head Keeper’s House, the Assistant Keeper’s House, and the Keeper’s Apartment accommodate your onsite cooking and dining needs. The Keeper’s Room and Bookkeeper’s Room have a mini-fridge and microwave. Point Arena Lighthouse serves no meals.
We chose the modest Keeper’s Room because it has a direct line of sight to the tower. Our cozy room had an electric fireplace, a view of the tower, and a view of the ocean bluffs, with a very comfortable Tempur-Pedic mattress. The night view of the tower was spectacular.
Pro Tip: Some accommodations are pet-friendly and can be configured for ADA guests.
Dining In The Area
The closest restaurant, Rollerville Café (family-owned and -operated) is on Highway 1 at the intersection of Lighthouse Road. Their breakfast was so good that we ate there again the following morning.
Things To Do
The Site Visit Fee provides access to the Point Arena Light Station for guests 12 years and older. This $5 fee (as of Spring 2023) helps to fund the upkeep of this historic light station. It includes the Light Station Store, the Fog Signal Building Museum, and the 23-acre Outdoor Museum.
Climb The Tower
Tower tours are available for guests over 6 years old for an additional $5 fee. Tours are conducted every 20 minutes, with the first at 10:15 a.m. and the last at 3 p.m. A guide is inside at the top of the tower to answer questions and share information. You can step outside on the balcony for a death-defying unobstructed view of the entire landscape below the tower.
Shop At The Light Station Store
The Light Station Store’s team of four experts has pulled together an impressive collection of memorabilia, clothing, books, and more that blend with the history displays and lore of the Light Station. Sales from this store also help fund the light station operations.
Docents begin the tower tour with a presentation through the Indoor Museum housed in the historic Fog Signal Building. The oldest structure on the light station property, the Fog Signal Building, also contains the Light Station Store.
The centerpiece of the museum is the original 1908 1st Order Fresnel lens that was removed from the Tower in 2008. This colorful, multi-faceted display includes lighthouse history and artifacts. The presentation is one of the most informative and well-researched displays I’ve seen.
What I enjoyed most about the Outdoor Museum is that there is unrestricted access and I could visit it anytime. It’s worth visiting in the early morning and the late afternoon. The sun casts shadows differently and the lighting is magical.
Pro Tip: Watch your footing on unpaved grounds. Grass tufts and burrowing animals make the ground cover uneven.
1896 Fog Signal Building
Housing the Light Station Store, the Indoor Museum with the massive 1st Order Fresnel lens, and the Whale Watch Room Gallery, the Fog Signal Building is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Native Plant Garden
The garden showcases native plants that are found on the Coastal Prairie. Whale bones, skulls, and the 1800s-era sailing ship anchor and chain are displayed in the Native Plant Garden.
Picnic Area & Whale Trail Interpretive Panel
The Whale Trail panel is designed to help you identify what you see when the whales are migrating.
Lighthouse Tower & Monuments
Monuments outside the tower’s base and the plaque on the right of the entrance door claim the honor of the National Register of Historic Places.
Most native plants found between the tower and security fence, and outside the white perimeter ranch fence, were typical of the flora on the coast before cattle grazed here.
Gazebo, Trail, And Sinkhole
Now used as a favorite wedding spot, the gazebo was constructed for the final scene of the 1992 movie Forever Young.
The sinkhole has eroded 2/3 of the bluff and is not accessible to guests.
Stornetta Perimeter Trail
The faint trail by the white perimeter fence defines the boundary between the Light Station and the Point Arena/Stornetta Lands. The trail takes you to the Druid’s Circle and Labyrinth.
Five locally sourced Mendo Blue pillars, left over from the construction of the Stone Entry Fence, were placed here in homage to Stonehenge and Druids everywhere.
The Point Arena Labyrinth is the westernmost installation of the Art Line — a series of walkable, interactive outdoor artworks across the heart of America along a 28-mile band centered on the 39th Latitude. Walking the labyrinth was a relaxing experience for me.
Tower Trail And Tower Trail View Bench
From the entry kiosk to the Fog Signal Building, experience the classic view of the lighthouse peninsula, which includes breathtaking coastlines, sea stacks, and ocean waves.
Stone Entry Fence
This one-of-a-kind fence features locally sourced Mendo Blue boulders used for the “posts” and mica schist from the Mojave Desert used for the “pickets.” The wall is free-standing. With the light play, it looks different from every angle.
The Point Arena Light Station is an active United States Coast Guard heliport and fueling station. The landing pad is on the grounds of the Outdoor Museum.
Activities In And Beyond Point Arena
B Bryan Preserve is a private wildlife preserve on 110 acres in Point Arena. The staff is committed to breeding and maintaining African hoof stock like zebra, giraffe, and antelope. We took a self-guided car safari, drove our vehicle, and added the exciting experience of feeding a giraffe.