The best lighthouses of all can be a matter of opinion. Some of those here are considered the most outstanding for one reason or another. We think we agree with lots, as we've craned our necks at their towers to be convinced! In person or even virtually. See if you agree. If not, well you can certainly disagree! To each his own, as they say. But you may be interested in knowing about these lighthouses, regardless, eh??
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Best Lighthouses Around the Great Lakes
What a terrific place to visit lighthouses! The wonderful Great Lakes bordering the United States and Canada has sweeping nautical vistas. But some treacherous coastlines and inlets that can lead to sweaty brows on the heads of mariners! Here's why we think these are the best lighthouses of these lakes:
- Pottawatomie Light Station - In Wisconsin's Rock Island State Park, so it's also called Rock Island Lighthouse. Off Washington Island in Lake Michigan. We love it, because it's the oldest in the state, from 1836 - it's on the Historic National Register. Plus quite well away from the "beaten trail." No vehicle into the area, you must take a passenger ferry. Then a trail to the light. It's well cared for by Friends of the Park, who give tours in season.
- Grand Marais Harbor Range Lighthouses - We chose this as one of the best lighthouses, not for it's beauty or loftiness, but for its story. Which cannot be easily recreated, except maybe by a visit to the local Historic Society's Lighthouse Keeper's House and Museum. To recreate that experience, you could go by sea - see why:
- Seafarers would line up the shorter outer light with the taller inner range light to know their trajectory into port was on track. The Range Lights are on the Grand Marais pier. To get there, drive into the peninsula alongside Grand Marais's West Bay of Lake Superior. Adjacent to sand dunes is a parking area. You'll note the stone pier with the range lights.1
- Split Rock Lighthouse - Again, we go for the drama when we're at the Great Lakes! The Thanksgiving Holidays of 1905 brought in to the Lake Superior area a rampageous storm. 29 vessels on the coast southwest of Silver Bay Minnesota never made it to their port. An author telling the story called it "the most dangerous piece of water in the world." In five years, after public concern, it was built on the 130 ft. cliffside about 20 miles north of Two Harbors. Now a State Park named for it, tours can take you inside. The light is out, except for once a year commemorating the loss of the Edmund Fitgerald.2 But what a history in this place!
Best Lighthouses of Maine
Maine is so well-known for it's wonderful lighthouses. Many so historic, they've become icons and are regarded by many as the best lighthouses of all! We think some Maine lighthouses are certainly the best:
- Portland Head Light - First lit in 1791, located in Cape Elizabeth, it's Maine's oldest. Even though you can't climb the tower (unless you luck out with a ticket on Maine's Lighthouse Day), our choice for best lighthouse is based on the breathtaking scene it occupies, and the many activities for your day there:
- Viewing Portland Harbor and Casco Bay, get a glimpse of possibly four other lighthouses: cassion styled Spring Point Ledge Light, solar-powered Ram Island Ledge light, Cape Elizabeth Lighthouse looking South, and if the weather favors you - Halfway Rock light station, ten miles out at sea.
- Keeper's House Museum & Gift Shop - Learn about the lighthouse and its keepers, the amazing history here. View original artifacts.
- Take a walk through one of the areas designed by The Ecology Project: Cliff Walk Landscape, the wonderful Children's Garden, and/or the Lighthouse View Meadow.
- Explore historic Fort Williams Park, with Battery Keyes, Goddard Mansion, and Battery Blair.
- Visit the beach, with its picnic areas - remember your lunch basket!
- West Quoddy Head Light - We love this one for it's placement. It's an ultimate, on the Easternmost point in the entire United States. We love to do that - get to the "most" spots. Like we've been to the Southern-most bar & grill in the mainland U.S. (used to live right down the street, so it was our local pub), and also to the Southern-most bar & grill in the entire U.S. Have been to the most Westerly point in Ireland (& Europe). Maybe not everyone is into that sort of thing - but that's why we chose it for our opinion. But it has much more going for it! It's the only U.S. light with this red candy striped pattern. Take a Virtual Trip>
California's Best Lighthouses
California's coastline is spectacular, but also has many areas giving rise to shipping perils. You'll find many lighthouses along this 3,427 mile shoreline.4 But which are the best lighthouses?
- Alcatraz Lighthouse - On the ill-famed prison island, yet it's California's (And the U.S. West Coast's) first lighthouse, from 1854. When you go to San Francisco, Alcatraz Island/Prison is a must-see - Reservation Required. That's when you'll get a good view of it - from the ferry, as well as walking the grounds. The tower isn't open, though. But on our best lighthouses list, because of its villainous location! Wasn't that way when first built, only warning boats of the island.5 Also, get a terrific view if you go on a San Francisco Bay charter boat ride, as we did taking this pic.
- Battery Point Lighthouse - Unique for a few reasons that makes it among the best lighthouses. Built in 1856, it survived a 1964 tsunami! When visiting Crescent City (we did quite a while back), you'll see reminders around town. Another unusual point is you must account for tides when you visit & return: low tides only to hike out to this picturesque Cape Cod style light.
- Point Arena Lighthouse - Love the dramatic history. It's kinda near the well-known San Andreas Fault. So here comes an earthquake in April 1906 - you may have heard of that devastating San Francisco earthquake. Point Arena is about 129 miles South of SF. So imagine the strength of that shaker, because it damaged the lighthouse structure, built in 1870. So much so, it necessitated tearing it down, replacing in October 1908. Even if you can't get there, you can take a Virtual Tour> What's also nice is you can stay in one of the Keeper's Cottages. See them, or Book It Now>
- Old Point Loma Lighthouse - We love this as one of the best lighthouses since the views from here are staggering, plus the history. Part of the drive to get there is wonderful, and you can take delightful side trips along the way, if desired. It's on the Point Loma peninsula in Cabrillo National Monument. One claim to fame is it's the highest of all U.S. lighthouses, in service late 1855. But that was its problem, as Pacific Ocean marine layer clouds and fog often obscured its light and muffled its horn. A lower elevation replacement was built in 1891.6 We loved going here. There's WWII history, vistas of San Diego and the bay, binoculars for public viewing. Our grandsons loved the tidepools on the ocean side. A visitor center houses a museum.
Ireland's Best Lighthouses
Ireland is a well-know country for its lighthouses. As an island nation, it has 900 miles of coastline.7 Some of it with towering cliffs with towering waves to match. Many lighthouse aficionados go to Ireland specifically on a tour to see the best lighthouses of Ireland. We'll give your our own take!
- Blacksod Lighthouse - Unique in a few ways. It's square, radioed a weather report significant to the D-Day invasion8, has a far-flung location on end of the Belmullet Peninsula, and you can look across to another wonderful spot: Achill Island. And it's within my heritage's home county - Mayo! So I've got to favor it. When going to the Belmullet, you feel like you're going to the ends of the earth! But you can't go into this 1866 lighthouse. Just view it from outside.
- Rathlin West Light - We do like the unusual. Here's one of the best lighthouses that's very much so. In 1919 it was finally given the go for exhibiting the light, after beginning the project around 1912! A difficult build, on this hair-raising cliff-side on Rathlin Island, off Ballycastle in County Antrim. Also attracts many seabirds. It's nicknamed the "Upside Down Lighthouse" - which you'll note when you See It!:
- Fastnet Rock Lighthouse - In County Cork, on Cape Clear Island, but also at the most South-westerly point in Ireland. You remember now, why we may have chosen this? But not the only reason! Finished in 1904, it's the tallest in the country. It also uses granite stones for Lighthouse Construction, made in the interlocking dovetail method, to withstand terrifying Atlantic storms that occasion through there. It's nicknamed the "Teardrop of Ireland" as the last sight for those immigrants leaving their home.9 I certainly understand those tears. Tours Out to it can be arranged.
- St. John's Point Lighthouse - Been to County Down? A gorgeous part of Ireland's East coast. This again, is an unusual lighthouse in Killough. We say it's best because of its great look - reminding us of a bee! The striped pattern is yellow and black. How cool is that! But also, you can stay here in either of the two Lighthouse Keeper's quarters. Also noteworthy is Irish Republican Playwright Brendan Behan was hired to paint the stripes. His father was a lighthouse painter, and he recruited Brendan's help.
- Boston Lighthouse - Located on Little Brewster Island, in Boston Harbor, Massachusetts. With such history there, the U.S. Congress said that it should continue with a keeper who could maintain the light. Thus it is officially a manned lighthouse, so that the light can be turned on and off at specified times - it is not automated.11
- Mexico - Along the two gulf coasts and the Pacific coast of the country, you'd note quite a number of lighthouses. Those larger and part of light stations are often manned by keepers. Some of the best lighthouses, too!12
- South Africa - The one manned lighthouse remaining here is also the first seen by mariners coming from Europe. In a beautiful area surrounded by the Cape Columbine Nature Reserve. There's also cottages for overnight stays.
- France - The last is the Cordouan lighthouse or Phare de Cordouan. Located offshore overseeing the Gironde estuary. It can be visited, even while four keepers take shifts manning the lighthouse. On Fridays a pair of the lighthouse keepers relieve the other pair.13
- India - The most famous manned lighthouse can be visited, getting a tour. Even the tower by getting the keeper's authorization. The North Point Light is in Port Blair, on South Andaman Island.14
- Canada - Still around 50 manned lighthouses throughout the country. Typically the keepers still employed live nearby and travel to their lighthouse responsibilities. Many of the same traditional keeper jobs such as maintaining the premises and navigating aids. Plus making weather and diary log entries. And regular observation for danger conditions.15
- NEW BRUNSWICK - Machias Seal Island Lighthouse: On this island, which is a prime bird sanctuary in the Bay of Fundy. Pairs of keepers are sent by the Canadian Coast Guard on 28-day rotations. The island is still in dispute of ownership between Canada and the U.S.16
- LABRADOR - Red Bay.15
- NEWFOUNDLAND - Along the Western Coast: Fox Point, Cape Norman, New Ferolle Peninsula, Cape Anguille, & Cape Ray. Central North Coast: Long Point & Puffin Island. Central South Coast: Northwest Head (Ramea) & Pass Island. Eastern Coasts: Cape Bonavista, Green Island (TB), Fort Point, Bell Island, Fort Amherst, Cape Race, Powles Head, St. Shotts, Cape St. Mary's, Tides Cove Point, Lamaline (Allan's Island), Green Island (F.B.) & Fortune Head.15
- BRITISH COLUMBIA - In the coastal province, 27 lighthouses still have keepers.18
Black and White Lighthouses
- Hook Lighthouse - In County Wexford, Ireland. A Knights Templar was involved in its origins! Hmmm. Monks were also historic caretakers. It's the oldest lighthouse still in operation. With vivid black and white striping pattern, it stands out on this flat coastal meadow. Among other reasons why it's one of the best lighthouses is that10
- You can see whales in the local waters during winter.
- It's the source of the term: "by hook or crook" - so they say!
- Lighthouse keepers were still managing the light and lived here with their families until 1977
- Tours are offered, standard, private or specialty varieties as well
- A satisfying café is onsite for your enjoyment
- North Carolina's Best Lighthouses - Among them are stunning black & white patterns. Some of the notable are the Bodie Island Light, and the iconic Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. However, don't miss this one singular pattern:
- Cape Lookout Lighthouse - With it's identifiable diamond design, it's truly a best lighthouse for this reason. But that's not all. It's the most southern of the Outer Banks, and you really have to want to go, to get it on your life list! It's reputation is: difficult to get to! In Cape Lookout National Seashore, accessed via the Island Express Ferry Service from either Beaufort or Harker’s Island.
Lighthouses For Sale
When a lighthouse is no longer needed by a country's marine services, it's decommissioned. That's when opportunities arise for private ownership.
Often involving cooperation for restoration and making it a public historic site. Which then becomes one of the best lighthouses around! Plus owners find methods for generating funding through rentals.
Another option is keeping it as living quarters for yourself, if it can work that way. Or you might decide to turn it into a bed and breakfast, or similar motel type arrangement. Much may depend on the regulations of the country in which you live.
The U.S. passed, in the year 2000, The National Historic Lighthouse Preservation Act, which coordinates regulations for purchase of decommissioned surplus lighthouses. The act outlines by whom and how these lighthouses can Be Acquired.
Canada has a program for purchasing Surplus Lighthouses. They are beacons specifically designated such by Canada's federal government department that oversees this area. The particular department handling this is the Fisheries and Oceans Canada - DFO, for short.
Their evaluation determines a lighthouse is no longer needed, and is eligible for purchase. But there are stipulations for purchasers outlined in the Heritage Lighthouse Protection Act. Promises must be made ensuring that purchasers will protect the lighthouse and conform to provisions in the Act. A whole process is involved.17
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