Point Loma Lighthouse Offers More Than A Glimpse Into California History

Posted By Mike Padgett

March 31, 2012

SAN DIEGO, Calif. – We need to slow down. Every time we see a lighthouse in the distance, I’m on cruise control and my Best Friend/Navigator  is checking maps and voice mail. By the time my brain alerts my foot on the accelerator, those beacons of history standing guard at the edge of the Pacific Ocean are fading in the rear view mirror.

Until last month in San Diego. That’s when I told myself that the lighthouse, the beach and the tide pools at Point Loma deserve more of our attention. It is a good place to remember lost friends and delayed dreams.

The Point Loma Lighthouse and Museum are the main attractions in Cabrillo National Monument. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

The historic lighthouse and museum are in the Cabrillo National Monument. For several hours spread out over two days, I wandered the property. The first day was cloudy and windy. Windbreaker weather. The next day, it was sunny. Admission to the national monument is $5 per vehicle. The ticket is good for seven days.

The cloudy day wasn’t good for exterior photos, so I drove down the hill to walk along the beach and check the tidal pools. It’s a steep walk down the sandy trails to the beach from parking lots. Visitor traffic was low during my visit.

Riding the swells of the Pacific on this grey day were eight surfers in their dark wetsuits – six in one group, two in the other. Seals, I thought, broke the water a few times close to the two surfers.

Later, on the National Park Service website, I learned the lighthouse began service in 1855. The site was selected in 1851, one year after California was granted statehood and several years before the Civil War.

However, the lighthouse location was doomed from its beginning. It is 422 above sea level, which made it vulnerable to fog and low clouds. When the coast was fogbound, the lighthouse keeper fired a shotgun to warn ships they were approaching the coast. The lighthouse was taken out of service in 1891, replaced by a new lighthouse constructed closer to sea level on the Point.

The spiral staircase in the Point Loma Lighthouse offers interesting photo opportunities, depending on the amount and the direction of exterior light entering the building. Copyright © photo by Mike Padgett

The original lighthouse’s interior and spiral staircase have been restored by the National Park Service. The rooms, glassed off from visitors, show the austere life of the lighthouse keeper and his family.

From a distance, my Best Friend and I have spotted lighthouses several times while driving between San Francisco and Monterey, and between San Diego and Los Angeles. When she’s not checking our cell phones and laptop while I’m driving, she shares my fascination with these seashore sentinels. There are at least two on the Oregon coast we want to visit soon. One was fogbound when we passed it last year.

We’ve watched documentaries about these fascinating buildings from the past, when lighthouses functioned as the only warning to ships about dangerous shoals. I’ve read that some lighthouses have been converted into overnight accommodations. Maybe we’ll check in.

Today, GPS and the Internet have replaced lighthouses. They are historic reminders of how we found our way to where we are. Their histories offer a glimpse into the dedication and discipline of the lighthouse keepers and their families.

When it isn’t crowded, Point Loma is a perfect place for walking and reflecting and enjoying Nature’s gifts with a Best Friend. There is its history, its view of San Diego and the bay, and the ocean, and the ocean breezes. There is the absence of traffic noise and fumes. Turn off the iPod. If you carry a personal journal, make a new entry with your thoughts today.

Make time to walk along the nearby beach. Welcome positive energy. Listen to the sound of the surf. Enjoy the primordial feel of the environment and the visual treats of surfers challenging the ocean, and of pelicans flying in single file, skimming the water.

For more details about the Point Loma Lighthouse, visit the National Park Service web site: http://www.nps.gov/cabr/historyculture/old-point-loma-lighthouse.htm.

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Mar 31st, 2012

3 Comments to 'Point Loma Lighthouse Offers More Than A Glimpse Into California History'

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  1. Carol Romley said,

    Great story and photos Mike. I learn so much from all your trips.

  2. Mary Beth Campbell said,

    Mike, a wonderful story and beautiful photographs. My mom loved lighthouses and would have enjoyed seeing this one. I will be in San Diego in October, so may have a chance to visit this lighthouse in memory if mom. Thank you for sharing your travels with all if us. –Mary Beth

  3. Peg Hodges said,

    Another wonderful story, Mike. You always manage to capture the time and place so that I feel like I am there with you. I have only visited the west coast a few times but I love the beaches and the water as I always did at Lake Michigan when we lived in Chicago.

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