–The Point San Luis Lighthouse, often referred to as the San Luis Obispo Lighthouse, stands on a bold headland overlooking the Pacific Ocean and, thanks to a dedicated group of volunteers, it is open for public tours.
The need for a lighthouse in the area became obvious during the late 1800s when Port Harford had hundreds of ships coming in. The well-known fog of the Central Coast made navigation along the rocky shoreline hazardous. Eventually, construction began on the Prairie Victorian model lighthouse and in June of 1890, it was completed.
After the U.S. Coast Guard decommissioned the station in 1974 it fell into disrepair. The Point San Luis Lighthouse Keepers, a non-profit organization, was established in 1995 in an effort to save the structure and return it to its former glory including repairing the old wagon road that was the only access to the site by land. Now the road is paved and, although quite narrow, it is used for tours out to the point.
Access to the lighthouse is by appointment, with two tours every Wednesday and Saturday. Make your reservations and ride in the 24-passenger van from the parking lot over the long winding, restored road. The ride to the lighthouse offers spectacular views of Avila Bay, the yacht harbor, Harford Pier, and the wide expanse of the Pacific.
Once arriving, guests are treated to guided tours of the restored Horn House and impressive lighthouse.
The Horn House
Before a fog horn was introduced to the Point San Luis Lighthouse, a fog whistle was used that required a full head of steam in the boiler house before it could be blown. The whistle was later replaced by a two-tone diaphone horn. The original foghorn is long gone but the two that followed and replaced it are still in the building. The older of the two, dating from 1924, is refurbished and is on display.
Legends say that when the foghorn blew, it was so loud it shook the building and rattled the windows. When it blew, every 30 seconds, everyone who worked in that building stopped talking. When these same folks went into town to visit the saloon, others noticed that they spoke with a pause in their speech every 30 seconds.
Also housed in the Horn House is the original fourth-order Fresnal lens that was used to send a white flash of light every 30 seconds followed by a red flash of light. The lens is 132 years old and was lit by a kerosene lamp. Brought over from France in 1878, it cost $2000 to ship and keepers worked in four-hour shifts keeping the light lit. During the restoration, an original wick was found in the walls – apparently stolen and hidden by an industrious pack rat – and is now on display with the lens.
After climbing the narrow twisting stairwell to the lamp house, guests are treated to a 360-degree view. The head keeper and his family lived in the rooms connected to the lamp house tower. All of the rooms are restored with period furniture including a magnificent stove in the kitchen. In the parlor and bedrooms are coal fireplaces with slate surrounds finished to look like marble. A painter on the restoration crew finished the slate on the parlor fireplace to match the original mantle.
The San Luis Historical Society and the San Luis Obispo de Tolosa Chapter of the Questers have been instrumental in helping provide furniture from the 1890s period and many local residents have brought back items that had been removed from the home.
At one time, a double keepers dwelling was on the property where the first and second assistant keepers and their families lived. This was torn down by the Coast Guard and replaced with a duplex that is being restored as a Visitor Center. There was also a coal shed and an oil house where the kerosene for the lamp was stored as well as whale oil and two 50-gallon cisterns to catch and store rainwater. One of the two original privies is also still on the site.
Take the tours
Two separate tours are available for the public to enjoy.
Van tours are every Wednesday at Noon and 1 p.m. and on Saturdays at 11 a.m. and Noon. Tickets are $27 for adults, $25 for seniors, $20 for kids, and $15 for an infant car seat. Visit pointsanluislighthouse.org to purchase tickets. Proceeds go towards restoration efforts.
Hiking tours to the lighthouse along the Pecho Trail on private property are only led by Pecho Coast Trail Guides. One of the most scenic hikes in San Luis Obispo County, the Pecho Coast trail takes you from Port San Luis, through the gates of the Diablo Canyon Power Plant, and onto the bluffs overlooking San Luis Bay. The hike culminates in reaching the lighthouse, where hikers can relax and enjoy the fine views only offered on the Pacific Coast. For an additional $10 fee, take a docent-led tour of the lighthouse. Visit pointsanluislighthouse.org for more information about making reservations for the hike.
Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant owns the property where the lighthouse resides and the road and hiking trail are closed to the general public. Hiking tours can be arranged. For more information about the lighthouse, tours, reserving a hike and parking, visit the website at pointsanluislighthouse.org or call (805) 540-5771.
– Ruth Ann Angus