Visit the Point Reyes Lighthouse

1870 Historic photo of the Point Reyes Lighthouse. National Archives and Records Administration, PRNS HPRC Rec. No. 008690

Visit our Operating Hours & Seasons page to learn when the Lighthouse Visitor Center and the stairs leading down to the Lighthouse are open.

A Brief History of the Point Reyes Lighthouse

The Point Reyes Headlands jut 10 miles (16 km) out to sea and pose a threat to ships traveling between San Francisco Bay and locations to the north. The historic Point Reyes Lighthouse was built in 1870 to warn mariners of this navigational hazard and served for 105 years. The Point Reyes Lighthouse was retired from service in 1975 when the U.S. Coast Guard installed an automated light adjacent and below the historic tower. The Coast Guard then transferred ownership of the lighthouse to the National Park Service, which has taken on the job of preserving this fine specimen of our maritime heritage. Visit our Lighthouse History at Point Reyes page for more.

 
A map of the Point Reyes Lighthouse area. (Click here to view a higher resolution image of this map.)

Come Prepared

  • Print out the Point Reyes Lighthouse Area map. (223 KB PDF)
  • The closest gas station is 20 miles (32 km) away in Point Reyes Station. Be sure you have sufficient fuel in your vehicle for a minimum 40-mile (64 km) round-trip drive, not including side trips to other points of interest within the National Seashore.
  • Visitors will likely experience high winds, cool temperatures, fog, and/or rain along the 0.65-mile (1.05-km) walk to the lighthouse; so dress appropriately. Wear layered clothing.
    National Weather Service Forecast for the Point Reyes Lighthouse area
  • Water: Bring a water bottle. There is a water bottle filling station/water fountain located near the east end of the green garages that are located approximately 100 yards (~90 meters) before one arrives at the Lighthouse Visitor Center. Bottled water is not sold at Point Reyes National Seashore's visitor centers or bookstores.
  • Food: There are no food services west of Inverness, which is a thirty-five-minute drive from the lighthouse parking lot. Bring food from home or purchase food at one of the stores or restaurants in West Marin before heading out to the Point Reyes Lighthouse if it is close to mealtime.
  • Cell phone reception is very minimal to nonexistent in the lighthouse area. A pay phone is available near the west end of the green garages that are located approximately 100 yards (~90 meters) before one arrives at the Lighthouse Visitor Center.
  • Restrooms: Restrooms are available at the visitors' parking lot from 6 am to midnight and at the east end of the green garages that are located approximately 100 yards (~90 meters) before one arrives at the Lighthouse Visitor Center from 6 am to 10 pm. Be sure to use the restrooms before going down the stairs to the lighthouse.
  • Drones: Launching, landing, or operating an unmanned aircraft, such as drones, from or on lands and waters administered by the National Park Service within the boundaries of Point Reyes National Seashore is prohibited.
  • Pets: Dogs and other pets may be walked in the parking lot and along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard east of the parking lot; otherwise, dogs and pets are prohibited. Please be aware that most visitors to the lighthouse are away from their vehicle for an hour or longer, longer if riding the shuttle bus. Please do not leave your dog unattended in your vehicle; leave your dog at home instead. This prohibition does not apply to working service dogs, which are allowed on trails and in public buildings. If you have a service dog, please inquire at the Bear Valley Visitor Center for information before heading out to the Lighthouse area. Visit our Pets page for more information about visiting Point Reyes National Seashore with your dog.

The Drive

The Point Reyes Lighthouse is located at the western-most end of the Point Reyes Headlands and Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. Sir Francis Drake Boulevard is windy and slow-going, so allow forty-five minutes to drive the ~20 miles (~32 km) from the Bear Valley/Olema/Point Reyes Station area to the lighthouse parking lot (one hour and thirty minutes round-trip), not including any time you will spend in the vicinity of the lighthouse. Allow one hour and forty-five minutes for the drive (three hours and thirty minutes round-trip) from the Santa Rosa area, northwest San Francisco, or the northern East Bay. Many visitors spend at least an hour or two in the lighthouse area.
Directions to the Point Reyes Lighthouse from the Bear Valley Visitor Center.

 

Parking

Parking is very limited, particularly in the afternoon. If you arrive and find that there are no available spots in the parking lot, you may park parallel to the road east of the parking lot. Please observe all "No Parking" signs and red curbs, and ensure that no part of your parked vehicle is within eight feet (2.4 m) of the center of the road in order to allow other vehicles to use the road without having to cross the center line.

 

RVs and Trailers

Recreational vehicles (RVs) and vehicles pulling trailers are prohibited from parking in the Lighthouse parking lot and must park along the road. If you are traveling with a trailer or are driving an RV towing a passenger vehicle, consider unhitching at the bus/RV/trailer-only parking lot at Bear Valley and taking only the passenger vehicle for the drive out to the Lighthouse area. Overnight parking/camping in RVs and trailers is prohibited throughout Point Reyes National Seashore.

 
 
A metal gate blocking a road leading up a hill with a brown sign on the left.
To get to the Lighthouse and Visitor Center, walk past the gate and follow the service road/path. Only authorized vehicles and vehicles with Disabled Person parking placards or plates are permitted beyond the gate. The accessible parking lot is located 0.3 miles (0.5 km) beyond the gate.

Shuttles

From late December through mid-April when visitation by whale watchers to the Point Reyes Lighthouse area is heavy, Sir Francis Drake Boulevard is closed to private vehicles at the South Beach junction from 9 am until approximately 5:45 pm on Saturdays, Sundays, and federal holidays when the weather is fair or better. On these days, visitors wishing to go to the Lighthouse and Chimney Rock areas are required to ride a shuttle bus from Drakes Beach. Shuttle bus tickets cost $7/adult; children 15 years of age and under ride free.

The Walk

To get from the parking lot/shuttle stop to the lighthouse itself, one must walk—mostly uphill—0.45 mi (0.7 km) to the Lighthouse Visitor Center, and then descend 308 steps. Please take your time walking from the parking lot to the Visitor Center and climbing the stairs. When wind speeds exceed 40 mph, the stairs leading down to the lighthouse are closed for visitors' safety. If the stairs are closed, the brown sign visible on the left side of the photograph to the right (or above if viewed on a small screen) will indicate that the stairs are closed due to high winds.
Wind Forecast

 
A narrow roadway leading to a dirt parking area on the left and under cypress trees on the right.
The accessible parking area is adjacent to the white shed on the left. If you start to drive under the cypress trees that overhang the road/path on the right, you are going too far.

Accessibility

The lighthouse area's accessible parking lot is located 0.3 miles (0.5 km) beyond (to the west of) the lighthouse shuttle stop and main visitor parking lot. Individuals with a Disabled Person parking placard or plate may open the gate at the west end of the roundabout at the shuttle stop and drive to the accessible parking lot (be sure to close the gate after you've passed through). Please drive slowly and carefully since this section of the road doubles as the pedestrian path from the main parking lot to the lighthouse. The accessible parking lot is on the left/south side of the road just before the cypress trees. If you start to drive under cypress trees that overhang the road/path, you are going too far.

 

The ~900-foot (~270 m) long path from the accessible parking lot to the Lighthouse Visitor Center and the observation deck at the top of the stairs is wheelchair-accessible with assistance. The restroom at the east end of the green garages that are located approximately 100 yards (~90 meters) before one arrives at the Lighthouse Visitor Center and the Lighthouse Visitor Center are accessible. Visit our Accessibility page for additional information.

 

Stay on designated trails

Stay on the paved pedestrian path/service road between the parking lot and the Lighthouse Visitor Center and Lighthouse. Hiking along the bluff tops is prohibited. Stay away from cliff edges. Loose soil and/or rock can give way suddenly and you may fall. Do not climb cliffs. Visitors walking off of official trails and paths trample vegetation, which may lead to the death of the trampled plants. Over time, as more and more visitors use a route, it starts to look more and more like an official trail, and more and more visitors use it, resulting in a feedback loop that makes the "trail" look "official." However, these "social paths" tend to exacerbate erosion and harm threatened and endangered species. These paths also can lead to locations where visitors may be more at risk to injury, endangering themselves and any potential rescuers.

The only official trails/routes/paths in the Point Reyes Lighthouse area are the paved service road and pathway from the parking lot to the Lighthouse, the South Beach Overlook Trail (a dirt trail leading north from the shuttle stop to the South Beach Overlook), and the path/stairs leading to the Sea Lion Overlook, located 1,100 feet (335 m) east of the Lighthouse parking lot. (Please note that the location of the Sea Lion Overlook on Google Maps is incorrect.)

 
The Point Reyes Lighthouse Visitor Center and Ocean Exploration Center with the Pacific Ocean in the background.

The Lighthouse Visitor Center

The Lighthouse Visitor Center offers exhibits on the historic Point Reyes Lighthouse, as well as on whales, seals and sea lions, and wildflowers. A display of local birds will introduce you to the avian species you might see perched on the cliffs or flying past the point, including a black-footed albatross, Brandt's cormorant, brown pelican, common murre, pigeon guillemot, rhinoceros auklet, and western gull. Historic photographs of shipwrecks and lighthouse-keepers help visitors connect with the area's maritime history. A touch table allows visitors to feel baleen and to closely inspect the skulls of a California sea lion, common dolphin, northern elephant seal, and harbor porpoise. The Fresnel lens from the San Francisco Lightship is also on display. A small bookstore offers books, maps, and other educational products. Visit our Operating Hours & Seasons page to learn when the visitor center is open.

 
The northern wall of the Ocean Exploration Center. A model of a white shark is suspended from the ceiling. Murals depicting life below the surface of the ocean are painted on the walls. A large picture window is on the left side of the image.

The Ocean Exploration Center

Attached to the Lighthouse Visitor Center is the Ocean Exploration Center. A collaboration between the National Park Service and NOAA's Cordell Bank and Greater Farallones national marine sanctuaries, the Ocean Exploration Center highlights the spectacularly rich and globally significant ocean environment of North-central California. The coastal and marine ecosystem off North-central California is one of the biologically richest ocean zones on the planet, but the sea life is largely hidden beneath the water's surface. The center increases visitors' opportunities to view and learn about this remarkable area, protected by two national marine sanctuaries and a national seashore. The Ocean Exploration Center features 3-D models of a California sea lion, a Dall's porpoise, a sooty shearwater, and a white shark suspended from the ceiling, murals depicting life below the surface painted on the walls, and informative panels describing ocean wildlife and habitats off our coast. A large picture window offers visitors a stunning view of the Point Reyes Beach and the Pacific Ocean, while protecting them from the legendary winds of Point Reyes.

 
(Left) A gray whale starting a breach and (Right) whale watchers at the Lighthouse Observation Deck.

The Observation Deck

The Observation Deck is located at the top of the 308 steps leading down to the lighthouse. It offers a great location for whale watching and watching birds. From the northwest corner of the deck, one can observe a common murre nesting colony, which can contain approximately 20,000 birds during the spring.

On weekends and federal holidays from late December through late April, Winter Wildlife Docents are be stationed at the Observation Deck from 11 am to 4:30 pm (weather permitting) to answer questions about gray whales. The docents have park-provided binoculars and scopes through which visitors are able to view gray whales.

The Observation Deck is open until ~9:45 pm every day, so even if the stairs leading down to the Lighthouse are closed, visitors are welcome to watch for whales and birds and enjoy the sunset from the Observation Deck. The entire Lighthouse area west of the gate adjacent to the shuttle bus stop at the visitors' parking lot is closed from 10 pm to 6 am.

 
Stairs leading down to a white lighthouse tower on the edge of an ocean cliff.

The Stairs

The Point Reyes Lighthouse itself is another 900 feet (275 meters) beyond the Visitor Center at the base of some 300 steps—the equivalent of ~25 stories. When wind speeds exceed 40 mph (64 km/hr), the steps to the lighthouse are closed for visitors' safety.
Wind Forecast

Here's some tips to make your trip down and up the stairs enjoyable:

  • Do not "hop" the fence to get a "better" photo or for any other reason. The fence is there for your safety. Individuals who are found on the wrong side of the fence will be cited for entering a closed area.
  • Get here early to avoid the crowds. There are many more visitors climbing up and down the stairs between 2 pm and 4:30 pm than between 10 am and 2 pm.
  • Know your abilities and limitations.
  • Make sure you have been eating/hydrating and continue to do so during physical activity.
  • Take it slow. There are several landings for sitting and resting along the way.
  • The viewing platform above the lighthouse offers equally stunning views and wildlife viewing opportunities without the trip down the stairs.
  • The stairs leading down to the Lighthouse close promptly at 4:30 pm. If you start down the stairs shortly before 4:30 pm, you will not have too much time to spend at the Lighthouse level. If you start down the stairs at or after 4:30 pm, you will be turned around before reaching the Lighthouse.
 
A white light tower with a red roof next to a few other white buildings on the edge of an ocean cliff.

The Point Reyes Lighthouse

The lighthouse's first gallery (the middle chamber), which houses the original clockworks and from which one can get a close look at the first-order Fresnel lens, is usually open from 2:30 pm to 4 pm, Fridays through Mondays, as staffing and weather conditions permit.

Please help us better preserve this historic artifact.

  • Do not touch any part of the clockwork mechanism or Fresnel lens. The clockwork mechanism's case and the frame for the Fresnel lens are composed of brass and cast iron, which more quickly tarnish and corrode, respectively, due to oils left behind when visitors touch these metals with their hands.
  • No baby/child carriers, backpacks, or large bags. The space within the first gallery is very limited and there is usually insufficient space to safely maneuver while wearing a baby/child carrier or backpack on one's back. Please remove such carriers and backpacks before entering the tower. Children, of course, are welcome to enter the first gallery, but please keep children under control and make sure they don't touch or damage the clockwork mechanism's case in the center of the gallery.
  • Notes to photographers:
    • The space within the first gallery is very limited and the clockwork mechanism's case is partly composed of glass windows. Please leave tripods, monopods, selfie-sticks, and other such equipment outside of the tower, or at least collapse and store such equipment in a manner that they have a minimal to no chance of scratching or impacting the glass.
    • No flash photography. Repeated flash photography can damage historic objects and artifacts.
    • When taking photographs of the clockwork mechanism through the windows, do not allow your camera or hands or any body part to come in contact with the glass or any other part of the mechanism's case.

The watchroom (the lower chamber) of the historic lighthouse has exhibit panels featuring the history of the light and the keepers. The equipment building next to the lighthouse has an exhibit about the changes in fog signal technology at Point Reyes over the years and exhibits the two 1947 super typhon foghorns, the air compressors, and a backup power generator that were more recently used at Point Reyes before the current light station was constructed in 1975.

Special Event: Evening programs illuminating the historic light have in the past occurred on the first and third Saturday of the month, April through December. For 2015, the evening programs were offered on the first and third Saturday of the month from July through September. No evening programs were offered in 2016. The dates on which this program will be offered in 2017 have yet to be determined. There is no fee, but reservations are required. Please call 415-669-1534 between 10 am and 4:30 pm on the day of the program to reserve a spot.

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Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

1 Bear Valley Road
Point Reyes Station, CA 94956

Phone:

(415) 464-5100
This number will initially be answered by an automated attendant, from which one can opt to access a name directory, listen to recorded information about the park (i.e., directions to the park; visitor center hours of operation; weather forecast; fire danger information; shuttle bus system status; wildlife updates; ranger-led programs; seasonal events; etc.), or speak with a ranger. Please note that if you are calling between 4:30 pm and 10 am, park staff may not be available to answer your call.

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