Overnight lodging brings the romance of these coastal sentinels to life.
Coastal Living originally featured some of these lighthouses in March-April 1998. A story in our May-June 2000 issue described a family's experiences tending the Rose Island Lighthouse. Enjoy this compilation of enlightened lodging.
Sentinel Island Lighthouse, near Juneau, AK
You rule a 6-acre island. From the Art Deco lighthouse's 50-foot tower, visitors survey two bald eagle nests, passing pods of killer whales, and sea lions bellowing from the next island. Splashes of wildflowers change with the seasons―columbines, delicately scented roses, lady's slippers, chocolate lilies. At night, you lie snug in your sleeping bag listening to the songs of humpback whales. This is a true wilderness experience, basically indoor camping. You provide bedding and food; the Gastineau Historical Society provides heat, water, and cooking gear. Open year-round; prime time is May-September. Rates: $50 per person, not including transportation to the island; 907/586-5338.
North Head Lighthouse, Ilwaco, WA
Lighthouse keepers once occupied two Victorian-era houses on this cliff overlooking the place where the raging Pacific meets the Columbia River. The houses, each with three bedrooms and fully equipped modern kitchens, are part of Fort Canby State Park. They don't offer much in the way of decor. No matter. With these views, you'll spend your time looking out the windows anyway. Open year-round. Rates start at $229; 800/360-4240 or fortcanby.org.
Heceta Head Lighthouse Bed & Breakfast, Yachats, OR
Keepers Mike and Carol Korgan always insist that visitors take a nighttime trip to the lighthouse to see how the lens works. With flashlights in hand, guests clamber along a narrow trail carved into a cliff. They stand with backs against the tower and look up to see the brilliant beams of the light sweeping across the countryside and the churning Pacific Ocean, 205 feet below. It's an astonishing experience. The inn, converted from the keeper's house, offers a view of the light tower, the landmark Cape Creek Bridge, and the sea. Some visitors find the pounding of the surf so beguiling that they sleep with the windows open. Open year-round. Rates start at $147; 541/547-3696 or hecetalighthouse.com.
Point Arena Lighthouse, Point Arena, CA
Three hours north of San Francisco on Highway 1, a jagged peninsula stabs into the ocean. At its tip, a sleek, white lighthouse soars 115 feet into the salty air. Crashing waves, astonishing sunsets, rugged vistas―there's so much beauty you want to soak it in for days. And you can, in three (soon to be four) renovated houses built in the 1950's as keepers' quarters. Each features three bedrooms, a fully equipped kitchen, a wood-burning fireplace, satellite TV, and an outdoor barbecue grill. Open year-round. Rates: October-April, $175; May-September, $190; 877/725-4448 or pointarenalighthouse.com.
East Brother Light Station, Point Richmond, CA
Neither TVs nor phones mar the simple but comfortable rooms, so there's not much to do but take in the scenery, relax, and get ready for a four-course dinner and a bay sunset. Of course, that's the appeal. The Victorian-style lighthouse building, finished in 1874, stands on an island the size of a football field in the straits that separate San Francisco Bay and San Pablo Bay. It's a 10-minute boat ride from the mainland. With such a stunning location, you'll hardly notice the Coast Guard's electric foghorn, but the inn provides earplugs for light sleepers. Open year-round. Rates start at $290 per room, including boat rides to and from the island, hors d'oeuvres with champagne, a tour of the lighthouse, dinner with wines, and breakfast; 510/233-2385 or ebls.org.
Pigeon Point Lighthouse, Pescadero, CA
This cliffside hostel 50 miles south of San Francisco features the bonus of whale-watching during the spring. The light, completed in 1872, stands 115 feet tall just off Highway 1―a majestic sight for travelers on this spectacularly scenic coastal road. Four houses built by the Coast Guard in 1960 provide lodging. As with all hostels, guests provide their own linen (or rent it on site) and clean up after themselves. Open year-round. Rates are $15 for Hostelling International members, $18 for non-members. Private rooms are $15 extra; 650/879-0633 or pigeonpointlighthouse.org/hostel.htm. For information on the lighthouse itself, call 650/879-2120 or visit p arks.ca.gov/default.asp?page_id=533.
Race Point Lighthouse, Race Point, MA
It's not easy to get here, at the very tip of Cape Cod just west of Provincetown. Guests are driven the final two miles over beaches and dunes to the cozy keeper's house, built in 1876 and restored from decrepitude by a determined band of volunteers. You bring your own food, water, linens, and towels. But the bird- and whale-watching, the palpable sense of history, and the soul-cleansing solitude make up for any inconvenience. And you get to marvel at both sunrise and sunset over the Atlantic. Open May-September. Rates start at $135; 508/487-9930 or racepointlighthouse.net.
The Lighthouse Inn, West Dennis, MA
This posh Cape Cod compound at historic Bass River Light features resort amenities (private beach, tennis courts, heated pool) spread over 9 acres. At the heart of the 68-room complex, you can still see the original 1855-vintage keeper's house and light tower. The Stone family has run the property as an inn since 1938. The light itself, which has gone dark a couple of times in its history, once again shines as a private aid to navigation. Open May-October. Rates start at $122, including breakfast; 508/398-2244 or lighthouseinn.com.
Rose Island Lighthouse, Newport, RI
You become the keeper at this 133-year-old lighthouse. Payment includes performing a list of chores that keep the station working. Families love it; kids find a week's worth of garden-tending and weather-tracking to be great fun. Keepers-for-a-week stay in a second-floor apartment. The foundation that restored and maintains the lighthouse also offers overnight stays in two first-floor bedrooms. The charming wood-frame building clings to an island a mile offshore in Narragansett Bay, so it's a true getaway either way. Open year-round. September-October rates are $1,500 a week for keepers, $165 for overnight guests; 401/847-4242 or roseislandlighthouse.org.
The Keeper's House, Isle au Haut, ME
Isolation is this inn's main feature. Just getting there requires a 40-minute ride on the mail boat from Stonington. The lighthouse compound, including the former lighthouse keeper's dwelling and a tiny cottage originally used to store oil for the lamp, doesn't even have electricity. Gaslight, kerosene lanterns, and the rose-colored light itself provide cozy illumination. Woodstoves ward off the chill. "There's no miniature golf here," says owner Jeff Burke. "People who come are content to read, write, converse, think, explore the woods, walk on the shore, and figure out their lives." Open May 20-October 23. Rates start at $300 per room, including all meals, beverages, and bicycle use; 207/469-1174 or keepershouse.com.
Selkirk Lighthouse, Pulaski, NY
A bit on the rustic side, this lighthouse with views of Lake Ontario provides linens, pots, and pans. You bring food and friends (limited to 10 people). The building, built of stone quarried nearby, resembles an old farmhouse with a light tower on top. Book early; lighthouse fans, fishermen, and passing travelers keep the occupancy rate over 90 percent. Open April-early December. Rates start at $125 weeknights; 315/298-6688 or www.maine.com/lights.
Big Bay Point Lighthouse, Big Bay, MI
A 60-foot tower and walls that are five red bricks deep make this inn look like a fortress rising from the woods to guard Lake Superior. The seven guest rooms, furnished with country charm, have private baths. Everybody shares the fireplace and sauna. There's even a massage hut for various spa treatments. Open year-round. Rates: May-October, $117; November-April, $104; 906/345-9957 or bigbaylighthouse.com.
Two Harbors Lighthouse, Two Harbors, MN
On mighty Lake Superior, 30 scenic miles northeast of Duluth, the sturdy 1892 brick tower at Lighthouse Point now does double duty. Its beacon (automated since 1987) still guides ships bearing iron ore. Three guest rooms and a cottage host travelers along the lake's stunning North Shore. Guests are encouraged to assume a few duties, such as evening lockups and checking light rotation. Rewards include a rich Scandinavian breakfast: fruit soup served warm with whipped cream. Open year-round. Rates: $99-$125; 888/832-5606 or lighthousebb.org.