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Stairs down to the Point Reyes Lighthouse.

Point Reyes Lighthouse: The Fog

Field review by the editors.

Inverness, California

Though the Point Reyes Lighthouse hasn't been in service since 1975, millions of annual visitors love to trek out to it, on a remote western point of Point Reyes National Seashore, in search of maritime history, migrating whales, and dramatic cardio.

Point Reyes Lighthouse
Point Reyes Lighthouse.

The historic lighthouse was first flipped on in December, 1870, a warning beacon for vessels heading towards San Francisco Bay to avoid rocks along the north coast that sent hundreds of ships to their doom. Unlike most lighthouses, which are designed tall for visibility, Pt. Reyes perches hundreds of feet down the side of a Pacific Coast cliff so that mariners could see it beneath the high, thick fog that often cuts across the cliffs.

The National Park Service claims that Point Reyes is "the windiest place on the Pacific Coast and the second foggiest place on the North American continent."

When not blanketed by the fog, the drive on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard is pastoral (Note: the nearest gas is 20 miles away, so gas up in advance of that 40 mile roundtrip).

There's usually plenty of parking in the public lots and roadway pull-offs. It can be cold, rainy, and windy, and yet perversely dry -- so bring a water bottle. There's a bit of walking, and steps.

Example of a Fresnel lens from a lightship.
Example of a Fresnel lens from a lightship.

A small museum at the top of the cliff provides history, and displays in the lighthouse and outbuildings fill in the operational details. Fun fact: The lighthouse was shifted north by 18 ft. in the 1906 earthquake along the San Andreas Fault, but suffered hardly any damage!

About those steps... 312, concrete, down to the lighthouse, and the same number back up. A relatively narrow staircase adds to the fun. There are a couple of rest benches along the way, which seem far more important on the return. "Hey, descending selfie-stick maven. Make way for ascending angina candidate."

Each step displays a painted number, which may serve to calm or panic.

Once at the lighthouse level, visitors can wander through the buildings. The lens room was off limits during our visit. The lighthouse's Fresnel Lens, with its 24-vertical panels, was reconstructed in 2019. A clockworks mechanism rotates the lens to direct the beam. The original coal-powered foghorn is on display -- the old foghorn building is 150 feet further down the cliff, not accessible to the public.

Steps 303 and 304.
Steps 303 and 304.

Skull of a grey whale.
Skull of a grey whale.

Fittingly, the lighthouse was a location in the 1980 John Carpenter horror film "The Fog." The lighthouse is used as a radio station perched on "Spivey Point," where DJ Adrienne Barbeau warns her three listeners about "The Fog" (the movie also shot at locations in nearby Bolinas and Inverness).

Grey whales might be visible offshore in the winter as they migrate, but you're always guaranteed to see the weather-battered skull of one along the walkway to the lighthouse.

Point Reyes Lighthouse: The Fog

Lighthouse Visitor Center

27000 Sir Francis Drake Blvd, Inverness, CA
At the western end of Sir Francis Drake Blvd. May be closed during rough weather. Lighthouse tours: 2:30-4 pm
Stairway closes 4 pm. Visitor center closed Tu-Th (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
RA Rates:
Major Fun
Save to My Sights

Nearby Offbeat Places

Cypress Tree TunnelCypress Tree Tunnel, Inverness, CA - 8 mi.
1906 Earthquake Trail1906 Earthquake Trail, Point Reyes Station, CA - 13 mi.
Wreck of the S.S. Point ReyesWreck of the S.S. Point Reyes, Inverness, CA - 12 mi.
In the region:
Railroad Car House Boat, Sausalito, CA - 30 mi.

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