Discoveries

Head to the Coast to Check Out these U.S. Lighthouses

It's a scene that has long inspired poets, wanderers and seafarers. A lonely lighthouse perched on a cliff, shining a light out to sea. Whether you’re a fan of historic structures or just love the isolation of these cliffside buildings, then there are a good number of lighthouses scattered along America’s shoreline. Next vacation, why not head to the coast to check out these U.S. lighthouses.

Sandy Hook, NJ

Sandy Hook, NJ

Restored in 2000, Sandy Hook Lighthouse is the oldest working lighthouse in the U.S. When it was constructed in 1764, it stood just 500 feet from the shoreline. Due to coastal deposition in the intervening period you’ll now find it a mile and a half inland, within the grounds of Fort Hancock. It is the only surviving tower built in the thirteen colonies from 1716 to 1771, though originally, it had a different name: the New York Lighthouse. If you’re interested in a close-up look, free tours are offered most afternoons.

Boston Light, MA

Boston Light, MA

The first lighthouse built on this site dates back to 1716 but the current Boston Light was constructed in 1783, giving Sandy Hook top billing when it comes to age. The British blew up the original structure when they withdrew during the American Revolution in 1776. It has its own claim to fame, however, being the only lighthouse in the U.S. still to be staffed by the US Coast Guard. It’s automated – the keeper now acts as a tour guide.

Cape Hatteras, NC

Cape Hatteras, NC

Protecting a hazardous section of the Eastern Seaboard, Cape Hatteras is the tallest lighthouse in the U.S. Numerous shipwrecks on an offshore sandbar known as Diamond Shoals have given this stretch of coastline the unenviable nickname “graveyard of the Atlantic”. Visitors can climb this iconic lighthouse, first lit in 1870, from April to October. It’s not the first lighthouse on the site; the present-day black and white landmark replaces a shorter structure built in 1803. It was decommissioned in 1935 and later moved inland to protect it from continued coastal erosion.

Heceta Head, OR

Heceta Head, OR

The lighthouse at Heceta Head, Oregon, has been a characterful bed and breakfast for over two decades. Guests stay in the lightkeeper’s cottage next to the lighthouse. Guests number fifteen when the place is fully booked – or sixteen if you include the resident ghost, Rue. It’s thought this ghostly apparition, which some say takes the form of a grey haired woman in Victorian dress, might have been the wife of a lightkeeper. When her daughter drowned, the heartbroken woman took her own life, returning as a ghost to search for her daughter. Whether you believe the story or not, there’s a baby’s grave nearby.

Bass Harbor, ME

Bass Harbor, ME

Spectacularly beautiful at sunset, the Bass Harbor lighthouse graces the Maine shoreline at the south of Acadia National Park. The Mount Desert Island gem was built in 1858 and a few years later, in 1876, a fog bell was added. A disused lighthouse keeper’s cottage completes the tranquil scene and visitors are welcome from 9am to sunset daily.

White Shoal, MI

White Shoal, MI

It borders neither the Atlantic nor the Pacific, so you might be surprised to learn that the U.S. state with the greatest number of lighthouses is actually Michigan. There are over 130 in the state. One of the most recognizable is White Shoal, painted to look like an oversized candy cane. It monitors the waters of the Straits of Mackinac which separate Lakes Michigan and Huron.

Fire Island, NY

Fire Island, NY

One of Long Island’s most iconic sites, Fire Island Lighthouse is an easy day trip from New York City and an especially popular outing in the hot and sultry days of summer. The tallest of twenty on Long Island, it stands 168 feet high. On a clear day you can see the Manhattan skyline from the top, well worth the 182-step climb.

Pigeon Point, CA

Pigeon Point, CA

The tallest lighthouse on the west coast operates as a youth hostel, making it one of the most stunning and unusual places to stay in this part of California. Pigeon Point was built in 1871 and you’ll find it along State Route 1 between Santa Cruz and San Francisco. It gets its name from a wrecked ship that ran aground here in 1853, the Carrier Pigeon. A picture of the lighthouse is also used as the logo for the E. W. Scripps Company, a broadcasting company headquartered in Cincinnati, Ohio, whose motto is "Give light and the people will find their own way."

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