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Tourist sites don’t usually come as well hidden or as pretty as Point Bonita Lighthouse in San Francisco.
You’ve really got to work to get even a glimpse of the 162-year-old lighthouse, which was the third built on the west coast. It was used to lead ships safely through the Golden Gate Straights.
Just to give you an idea of how dangerous the San Francisco portion of the coast was, there are an estimated 300 sunken ships strewn across the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary.
The wrecks have been described as one of the “greatest undersea museums” and is basically a nautical graveyard.
POINT BONITA LIGHTHOUSE
Finally, we get to Point Bonita lighthouse. I bet you’re dying to find out why it’s so difficult to catch a glimpse of it. Basically it’s hidden behind this hill and is only visible from land when a tunnel running through the hill is opened.
With the stark population jump heralded by the Gold Rush, came the need to make the passage to California safe for travelers. So Alcatraz lighthouse was built, and Fort Point’s followed close behind to mark the southern edge of the bay.
But they still needed a way to mark the northern edge of Golden Gate Strait, so Point Bonita lighthouse was built. It sat 300 feet above the water, but that famous fog was playing havoc again, so they moved it to its current spot – 300 feet above the water.
Getting to the lighthouse proved to be a bit of a problem, because that tunnel I was talking about earlier, had to be hand-hewn from the unstable rock of the hill.
Point Bonita has two warning systems to guide ships around treacherous cliffs. The first is, of course, the Fesnel lense, that uses ground glass prisms arranged in rings around the light to focus it horizontally.
The lighthouse can send a beam 18-miles straight out onto the water during clear days. But for those days when Karl the Fog comes to visit the sound system is used.
It first took the form of a booming cannon, but it wasn’t the best method, especially in stormy seas. So four years later, it was swapped out for a fog bell, then came the first steam siren in 1874. Today a fog horn booms its warning every 30 seconds and is triggered by fog sensors.
Point Bonita lighthouse is about a 40 minute drive from San Francisco city, over the Golden Gate Bridge in North Bay.
There are a few things you need to know before setting out for Point Bonita Lighthouse.
- Opening hours: Saturdays, Sundays & Mondays between 12:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m.
- Entry: Free
- Parking: There is parking about a mile away from the lighthouse, although only for around 50 vehicles or so.