Published 2008, TravelChannel.com
Just as they attract sailors with their welcoming beacons, lighthouses attract visitors from all over the world to witness their majesty. While New England likely boasts the most lighthouses per square mile, you’ll find worthy ones all along North America’s coasts. Discover Travel Channel’s picks for some of the continent’s greatest and what makes them so.
Portland Head Light
Cape Elizabeth, Maine
A 5-mile drive from Maine’s seaside town Portland, Cape Elizabeth draws its share of tourists to its crown jewel, Portland Head Light — the state’s oldest lighthouse, which stands 80 feet above the ground and 101 feet above the water. A classic visual representation of the Eastern seaboard, the lighthouse watches over the rugged coastline below as the waves break violently against the rocks. More than 2 centuries old, Portland Head Light played a crucial role during the Civil War: As raids on ships became more and more common, the tower was raised to stop further occurrences. The stone structure is one of the 4 remaining lighthouses that haven’t been rebuilt (though the whistle house was reconstructed in 1975 after a severe storm took its toll), and it is surrounded by the verdant Fort Williams park.
Heceta Head Lighthouse
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places for engineering and architectural excellence, the Heceta Head Lighthouse went up in 1894 and is the brightest light on Oregon’s coast. Situated in a state park of the same name 14 miles north of Florence in Yachats, the lighthouse is backed by a flourishing forest and was named for Spaniard Bruno de Heceta, who was sent to by the viceroy of New Spain to explore the region in the late 18th century. If you don’t want to leave the awe-inspiring scene once sleep draws near, you don’t have to: There’s also a charming bed and breakfast on site that can accommodate 14 guests.
Pigeon Point Lighthouse
Pigeon Point Light Station State Historic Park, California
Standing as one of the country’s tallest lighthouses at 115 feet, right along scenic Highway 1, Pigeon Point is part of a state park and can be found 27 miles north of Santa Cruz and 50 miles south of San Francisco. Originally known as Punta de las Balenas — meaning whale point — the area was renamed after the ship “Carrier Pigeon” crashed just off of Half Moon Bay in 1853. The lighthouse keeper’s quarters have been fully restored and are now utilized as a hostel. There’s an added incentive to visit: For 1 night every November, the lighthouse is lit for a solid 5 minutes so that photographers can take long-exposure pictures with all 24 beams visible.
Cape Lookout Lighthouse
Cape Lookout National Seashore, North Carolina
The East Coast’s diamond-patterned lighthouse is one of 5 spaced an average of 40 miles apart, located along the Outer Banks. First lit in 1859 and standing at 163 feet, Cape Lookout was the second attempt to build a lighthouse in the same spot — the first failed for many reasons, including a tower that was much too low — and would become the model for all others in the area. Situated on a coast where 2 opposing currents collide and make for many hurricanes, it’s surprising the lighthouse has withstood the forces of nature during its 150 years (it was damaged during the Civil War but quickly repaired once the war ended). The tower’s diamond pattern also has significance: The black diamonds face north-south toward the shallow waters around the headlands, while the white diamonds point to the deeper waters of Onslow Bay to the west and Raleigh Bay to the east.
Little Brewster Island, Massachusetts
Just off the shore of Boston on Little Brewster Island, this simple white building dubbed “the ideal American lighthouse” dates back to 1783 and is the second-oldest working lighthouse in the United States; the station, which originally boasted another structure that was destroyed during the Revolutionary War, was established in 1716. The Boston Light tower is 89 feet tall and constructed from stone with brick lining. The white light flashes every 10 seconds and is visible up to 16 miles away. It remains an active US Coast Guard aid to navigation and still has an official keeper, though in recent years Boston Light has become overshadowed by the addition of the more prominent Graves Light nearby. If you wish to tour the lighthouse and island, you may arrange to do so prior to your visit.