Point Bonita Lighthouse, perched on the very edge of Sausalito’s coast, is a tiny yet one of the last functioning lighthouses (there are only 3 out of 300 or so now) standing proudly on the California coast, guiding ships out of stormy waters in the dead of night. It is also an extremely popular visitors spot (getting foot traffic of over 1000 people per day) because of its close proximity to San Francisco (a mere 20-30 min drive will land you there). However, visiting requires quite a bit of planning because a) Its only open Sat-Mon from 12:30-3:30 PM and b) right now, there is quite a bit of construction going on to make the entrance safer, which means access to the light house is closed. After 6 years of deliberating and then finally making our way to the lighthouse yesterday, the reality of the latter finally sunk in. But hey, we did get photos of the lighthouse with the empty suspension bridge in front, which is a rarity. Construction will continue for 6-8 weeks and you can get more information here on construction and closures.
Getting to Point Bonita is fairly easy, but parking space is limited with the closest one being the YMCA public parking spot just near the trailhead. So definitely plan to arrive early once the lighthouse is reopened to the public. Once you park, you have to walk for about a mile, through a straight path, a tunnel and then some more to get a glimpse of the lighthouse. Irrespective of how the weather is elsewhere in the Bay Area, even the sunniest of days means chilly, windy conditions on the coast, so please grab a jacket for the visit. Dogs are not allowed at Point Bonita, unlike the other functioning light house Point Cabrillo in Mendocino (see my previous post here).
Although we had to be content with seeing the lighthouse from afar and across the bridge, the kind park ranger told us many a fun fact about its origin. The lighthouse, like its brethren, is equipped with a second order Fresnel lens that was brought in from France and does a great job of cutting through the dense fog to guide the ships, by shining across 18 miles! More from Wikipedia:
“A. Point Bonita Light Station had the first fog signal on the West Coast. It was an Army surplus 24-pounder siege gun.
B. This light is the only one in America that can be reached only by crossing a suspension bridge.
C. In 1877 the lighthouse was moved to its current location because the original location was often too obscured by fog for the light to be visible from the bay. This location required the builders to overcome many challenges, including the need for a hand carved, 118-foot (36 m) long hard rock tunnel.”
Finally, you can stop by the visitors center on your way back and get information on the once a month tour that occurs during a full moon night in the evening. With the fresnel lens in action, the city lights on one side and the full moon shining above, it is supposedly a very breathtaking sight to behold.
This last photo below is a special one cause if you look carefully at the white streaks on the rock next to the shore, you will realize that these are harbor seals lounging and sunbathing before they get onto their next catch. They are the famous residents of Point Bonita lighthouse area and there are signs posted everywhere reminding humans to not disturb them. Since the access to the shore is completely guarded off (and for good reason, i.e. protection of marine life), we got a glimpse of these loungers from afar.
Point Bonita Lighthouse is a must visit for its architectural wonder and to witness a piece of California’s maritime history in action. There are several other lighthouses in this beautiful state of ours that are not to be missed, and I have talked about them in my previous posts under the category “California”. For more ideas on quick getaways from San Francisco, read my post here.