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.
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.
The Point Reyes Lighthouse's visitors' parking lot can only accommodate 38 vehicles. As a result, parking space availability is very limited, particularly in the afternoon. Please observe all "No Parking" signs. Please refrain from parking along the shoulder of the road or off of the pavement. Doing so kills vegetation and increases erosion. And do not park in such a way that your vehicle blocks any part of the road.
RVs and Trailers
Recreational vehicles (RVs) and vehicles pulling trailers are prohibited from parking in the Lighthouse visitors' parking lot. While there may appear to be sufficient space early in the morning, the parking lot can quickly fill. On a number of occasions, RV drivers have parked in the lot and by the time the driver returned, the parking lot was full and there wasn't sufficient room to maneuver the RV out of the parking lot without damaging other vehicles. Not until much later, after the parking spots adjacent to and in front of the RV across the inbound lane were cleared, was the driver of the RV able to safely get the RV out of the parking space and out of the lot. Some visitors who arrived during this time and were told by the driver of the RV (and later by park staff) that they couldn't park in the parking lot, even though there were parking spaces apparently available, weren't too happy.
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.
To get from the parking lot to the lighthouse itself, one must walk—mostly uphill—0.45 mi (0.7 km) to the Lighthouse Visitor Center, and then descend 313 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, a brown sign at the trailhead will indicate that the stairs are closed due to high winds.
The lighthouse area's accessible parking lot is located 0.4 miles (0.6 km) beyond (to the west of) the main visitor parking lot. A gate composed of a heavy metal chain hung between two bollards is located at the west end of the roundabout at the west end of Sir Francis Drake Boulevard. Individuals with a Disabled Person parking placard or plate may open the gate in order to drive to the accessible parking lot. Unclip the chain from either bollard and clip it to the other bollard, and move the chain out of the way so that your vehicle's tires will not drive over the chain. Please be aware that the chain is heavy and the clips require a fair bit of force to open. Be sure to close the gate after you've passed through.
Please drive slowly and carefully since this section of the sixteen-foot-wide service road doubles as the pedestrian path from the main parking lot to the lighthouse. The accessible parking lot is on the right/north side of the road just beyond the cypress trees. If you start to drive up a steep hill via an eight-foot wide driveway to the garages, you are going too far.
The ~400-foot (~120 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. The visitor center and observation deck are also accessible. Accessible restrooms are located at the east end of the green garages that are located approximately 100 yards (~90 meters) to the east of the Lighthouse Visitor Center. To get to them, follow the accessible path from the accessible parking lot toward the Lighthouse Visitor Center for about 290 feet (~90 meters) and make a very sharp left to follow the accessible path leading to the garage.
Visit our Accessibility page for additional information about other locations within Point Reyes National Seashore. Feel free to call 415-669-1534 or 415-464-5100 x2 x5 if you have any questions.
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. All off-trail areas west of the Lighthouse visitors' parking lot are closed to entry. This closure includes areas accessed by going over or beyond the railings on the lighthouse stairs and platforms. 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 maintained 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 northto the South Beach Overlook from the roundabout at the west end of Sir Francis Drake Boulevard), and the path/stairs leading to the Sea Lion Overlook, located 1,100 feet (335 m) east of the Lighthouse parking lot.
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 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.
The Observation Deck
The Observation Deck is located at the top of the 313 steps leading down to the lighthouse. It offers a great location for whale watching and watching birds and is the first location from which visitors can see the lighthouse—which is located ~240 feet (~70 meters) below the Observation Deck. 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. Sea lions frequently haul out on a pyramidal-shaped rock northwest of the murre colony.
Looking north from the Observation Deck, if it isn't too foggy, one can see the Point Reyes Beach and Tomales Point. And if it is extremely clear, Bodega Head, the Sonoma Coastline, and Mount Saint Helena can be seen. If they are not shrouded in fog, one may see the Farallon Islands twenty miles to the south. And to the southeast, Mount Tamalpais, the hills of the Marin Headlands, western San Francisco, and Montara Mountain rise above eastern waters of the Gulf of the Farallones.
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 roundabout at the visitors' parking lot is closed from 10 pm to 6 am.
The Point Reyes Lighthouse itself is another 900 feet (275 meters) beyond the Visitor Center at the base of 313 steps—the equivalent of ~20 stories. Allow 5 to 10 minutes for the descent and 10 to 20 minutes for the ascent, plus whatever amount of time you wish to spend at the base of the stairs, i.e., checking out the lighthouse, talking with a ranger, or watching for whales or birds. When wind speeds exceed 40 mph (64 km/hr), the steps to the lighthouse are closed for visitors' safety.
Here are some tips to make your trip down and up the stairs safe and enjoyable:
The Point Reyes Lighthouse
The Point Reyes Lighthouse (e.g., the tower) is closed until further notice. However, the narrow pathways at the lighthouse level are open if the stairs leading down to the lighthouse are open.
Photos and Multimedia
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A condensed virtual visit to the Point Reyes Lighthouse. Climb down the 313 stairs to the Point Reyes Lighthouse. Get an up-close look of the first order Fresnel lens and clockwork.
2018–2019 Restoration Project
From August 6, 2018, to November 7, 2019, Point Reyes National Seashore conducted a large restoration project on the historic Point Reyes Lighthouse. This was the first major restoration project for the lighthouse since its construction in 1870. Over the subsequent 148 years, the tower's cast iron had significantly rusted and weakened. The Plexiglas windows that were installed in the 1970s had also become frosted and were no longer transparent. The Fresnel lens and clockwork mechanism were temporarily removed and refurbished before the roof and lantern (the windowed, uppermost level) of the tower were deconstructed. After the tower's lantern and roof were rebuilt with new material and transparent glass windows, the lens and clockwork mechanism were reconstructed. The shingles on the equipment building's roof were replaced, the building was repainted. The Lighthouse Visitor Center was gutted and new cabinetry was installed. And improvements were made to increase accessibility for people with disabilities. Visit our 2018–2019 Lighthouse Restoration blog to learn more and to view a photo gallery of the work that was completed.
[Alexander Nakarada plays "The Great Battle"]
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A two-minute-long time lapse video of the reconstruction of the Point Reyes Lighthouse's Fresnel lens, which occurred from July 8 through July 13, 2019.
Last updated: January 20, 2022