Taking a road trip up the coast? Book a lighthouse stay

Photo illustration of lighthouse with photos of a seal and a kayaker.
Lighthouses across California: where to stay and play.
(Photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times; Getty Images)

By Rachel Schnalzer
Design and illustrations by Jade Cuevas

Good morning, fellow Escapists. Seeking unusual accommodations, such as an off-the-wall Airbnb listing or one of the Madonna Inn’s over-the-top suites, is a great way to make a weekend trip even more memorable.

Lighthouses are particularly special for road trippers exploring California’s striking coastline. In this edition of Escapes, you’ll find lighthouses in Central and Northern California where you can book a stay. Be sure to read to the end for an unusual lighthouse option, 75 miles east of the Pacific in Imperial County.


🐚 HI Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel

If you’re planning on driving up California 1 with family or friends this summer, consider the HI Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel in Pescadero, 50 miles south of San Francisco.

Three basic vacation-rental-style houses are spread at the foot of the 116-foot-tall lighthouse in Pigeon Point Light Station State Historic Park. Ideal for groups, each house ($600 per night) can accommodate up to 15 people with three bedrooms, two bathrooms and kitchen, dining area and living room

In addition to enjoying views of the light station — one of the tallest in the U.S. — guests can hike the coastal trails around the hostel, explore tide pools and sunbathe on the beach. The area is considered a “dark sky preserve,” making stargazing a must too.

Sunset behind a lighthouse.
The sun sets behind the Pigeon Point Lighthouse on the San Mateo County coastline.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

🏄‍♀️ HI Point Montara Lighthouse Hostel

Hostelling International offers another lighthouse hostel stay 30 miles up the coast near Half Moon Bay.

The Point Montara Lighthouse, built in the late 19th century, is still used as an “aid-to-navigation” maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard, according to San Mateo County’s tourism website.

Traveling with a big group? The Surfside House and Sea Lodge can accommodate 12 and 16 guests, respectively, while groups of six and fewer can book a private suite. Rates from $250 a night.

Surfing, kayaking and windsurfing are popular at nearby beaches, and McNee Ranch, part of Montara State Beach, just a mile away, has hiking trails to explore.

A rocky shoreline
Montara State Beach is popular with those who like to fish or visit tidepools.
(Photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times; Getty Images)

🐳 The Point Arena Lighthouse

Travelers looking for a luxe lighthouse experience can cruise up to the Point Arena Lighthouse, three hours north of San Francisco in Mendocino County, where they will be welcomed with local wine and chocolate.

Guests can choose from a variety of historic “keeper’s quarters,” including the romantic one-bedroom Keeper’s Apartment and the Assistant Keeper’s Houses, which include fireplaces, kitchens, patios and other amenities.

Rates from $180 a night.

The Stornetta Public Lands along the Mendocino County coastline
The Stornetta Public Lands are along the Mendocino County coastline just north of the town of Point Arena.
(Photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times; Tai Power Seeff / Getty Images)

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🌊 Point Cabrillo Light Station

The Point Cabrillo Light Station, the farthest north on this list, offers four charming wood-paneled rental homes along the Mendocino coast.

Built in 1909, the Head Lightkeeper’s House can accommodate as many as eight guests while the pint-sized one-bedroom East and West cottages are ideal for couples.

Point Cabrillo offers lots of wildlife spotting opportunities, with seals and sea lions often seen lounging on nearby rocks and humpback and blue whales passing by in the summer and fall. Rates are from $168 a night during low season.

A light station with animated rays beaming from the light in the tower.
The historic Point Cabrillo Light Station has four charming rental homes along the Mendocino coast.
(Photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times; Gregory Adams / Getty Images)

🏜️ A landlocked lighthouse in the desert?

Prefer the desert to the ocean? You can rent a quirky “lighthouse” in In-Ko-Pah Gorge east of San Diego.

Over the years, the roughly 100-year-old “Desert View Tower” has served as a monument to pioneers, an advertisement for a bar and now an Airbnb. Visitors can sleep in the guest cabin or the tower, which can accommodate “as many as you like as long as they have their own bedding,” according to the listing.

If you go, keep an eye out for animal carvings in the rocks around the tower. They were created in the 1930s, all part of what the state Department of Parks and Recreation considers “one of California’s exceptional folk art environments.”

A stay in the tower costs “$175 per couple (and kids).”

Illustration of lighthouse in a desert scene.
(Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times)

📰 What I’m reading

  • From neon to knickknacks, “the Smithsonian of the Valley” puts San Fernando Valley history on display at the Valley Relics Museum, Courtney Lichterman writes in the Washington Post.
  • Heading to the Bay Area? Try this 45-minute hike through a 110-year-old ranch that ends at a winery, Susana Guerrero recommends in SFGATE.
  • When the Navajo Nation reopens, visitors must return slowly — and respectfully, Pauly Denetclaw writes in Condé Nast Traveler.
  • In 2015, a man set out to circumnavigate the globe on foot. He has been walking since — and Ann Babe covers his journey in Afar.
  • National Parks are having a “record summer.” Wes Silerexplains in Outside what that means for your vacation plans this summer.
  • Wonder what it would be like to tour Alaska in an R.V.? Experience Christopher Miller’s trip in the New York Times.
View of Vernal Falls
To better manage visitation, day-trippers must make a reservation to visit Yosemite.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

📸 Photo of the week

People sit and watch the sunset
People watch the sunset from the summit of the Airport Mesa Loop Trail in Sedona, Ariz. Photo taken in April 2020.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

🎸 Road song

“Life is heaven, life is hell, better keep movin’ ‘cause you might as well.”

“Civilized Hell” by Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real is a song for anyone hoping to live a little on the wild side this weekend. Safe and happy travels ✌️

Motorcycle driving along a sunset.
(Photo illustration by Jade Cuevas / Los Angeles Times; Getty Images)