Play keeper at one of these eclectic beacons by the sea and discover the joys of old-time lighthouse life.
Isle au Haut, Maine
Yearning for a true island getaway? “No television, no fax, no e-mail, no Internet, no electricity,” promises the Keeper’s House Inn.
A 40-minute ride on the mail boat from Stonington takes you across Penobscot Bay to Isle au Haut, on which dwell about 75 full-time residents, a stubby 1907 lighthouse, and the comfy but rigorously off-the-grid inn. There’s no electricity here, save for some solar and windmill power supplementing the gaslights, candles, and kerosene lanterns.
Still, three gourmet meals a day come from the kitchen, and the inn supplies bicycles for exploring the fishing village and the 2,700 acres of Acadia National Park land. The four rooms in the main house and the two cottages are a bit spare but blissfully cozy, in keeping with their ruggedly beautiful surroundings.
Tip: Are you cut out for the lobstering life? Take a cruise on a lobster boat and find out. Helping to haul traps is encouraged.
Book it: Rates start at $350; 207/335-2990 or keepershouse.com
Rose Island, Narragansett Bay, Rhode Island
A tidy building with an octagonal light tower rising from its mansard roof, Rose Island Lighthouse sits in Narragansett Bay, about a mile offshore and accessible via private vessel or ferry. Volunteers restored it to its circa-1912 state, complete with pitcher pump at the pantry sink. (All water comes from rain collected in a 3,000-gallon cistern. The building has some windmill- generated electrical power.)
Day visitors and regular overnight guests in the two first-floor bedrooms get just a taste of old-time lighthouse life. Volunteer keepers get the full experience—and the use of the second-floor apartment for the week. Duties—cleaning, managing the wind- powered electrical system, routine maintenance—can fill several hours a day. But the satisfaction lingers long after any muscle soreness has faded from memory.
Tip: Pack a cooler with food, beverages, and ice—there are no refrigerators here.
Book it: Rates start at $195; 401/847-4242 or roseislandlighthouse.org
Gorgeous during the day, spectacular at sunset, the view from Heceta Head Lighthouse turns otherworldly at night. The beam, 205 feet above the waves, sweeps across the Pacific, visible for 21 miles on a clear night. Far below, waves hiss and boom against the rocks. Way out there, across the dark sea, awaits adventure.
But don’t run off seeking thrills, or you’ll miss the lavish seven-course breakfast at the old keeper’s house, now the Heceta Head Lighthouse Bed and Breakfast. Better to snuggle back under your down duvet in one of the six pastel-colored guest rooms.
Tip: If you’d like to meet Rue, the friendly lady ghost who supposedly haunts the house, your best bet is Victoria’s Room.
Book it: Rates start at $133; 866/547-3696; or hecetalighthouse.com
Point Arena, California
The gnarled finger of land called Point Arena thrusts so far into the Pacific that locals like to say it’s the closest bit of U.S. mainland to the Hawaiian Islands. You can’t exactly see Mauna Kea from the top of the 115-foot lighthouse, but you may spy a creature normally found in Hawaii: a Laysan albatross that has visited every winter since at least 1994. Al, as birders call her/him, usually hangs out here until March. (Look for a really big bird; Al’s wingspan measures about six and a half feet.)
Migrating gray whales pass tantalizingly close to the point through April, along with harbor seals and plenty of other seabirds.
The three assistant keeper’s houses, built in the 1960s, have breezy, open living rooms that look out to the sea with wood-burning fireplaces, full kitchens, satellite TV, and small dining areas. Bonus: They’re a bargain at $225 for three bedrooms with queen beds and twin beds and two baths. There’s also an apartment and a Keeper’s Room—smaller, but the views are just as big.
Tip: For a cool—and eerie—look at the Pacific from the top of the lighthouse, take a Full Moon Tour.
Book it: Rates start at $125; 877/725-4448 or pointarenalighthouse.com
East Brother Island, California
The Victorian keeper’s quarters, with its built-in light tower, has perched since 1873 on East Brother Island, between San Francisco and San Pablo bays. The San Francisco skyline, the Marin County hills, and Mount Tamalpais provide spectacular scenery for all five rooms where antique lamps and Oriental rugs over hardwood floors create a comfortable ambience. But dinner ups the ante: four delicious courses filled with seasonal ingredients, many from the inn’s garden, are lovingly prepared according to mix-and-match culinary influences, accompanied by wine, and served at a communal table.
Still, East Brother isn’t for everyone. One-night guests aren’t allowed to shower because of the limited water supply, and the foghorn operates continuously from October until April. Some guests find it soothing; for others, the inn supplies earplugs.
Tip: Walter’s Quarters is closest to the water, farthest from the foghorn.
Book it: Rates start at $315; 510/233-2385 or ebls.org
In this grand yellow-brick castle of a lighthouse, built in 1917 to house three lightkeepers and their families, you feel like royalty. Especially if you stay in the sumptuous King Room, lavishly decorated in royal red and purple and featuring a canopied king bed, a fireplace, and a grand view of Lake Superior. The square tower that rises from the middle of the building lost its light in 1954, but it still makes a great vantage point for watching the sunrise and set over the lake and, if you’re lucky, the Northern Lights dance in the sky at night.
The Victorian decor, nightly desserts, and piano serenades add to the romantic atmosphere. And don’t worry about staying up late—serving time for the made-from-scratch breakfast is not until 9:30.
Tip: Comb the beach to find Lake Superior agates, known for their rich red, orange, and yellow colors.
Book it: Rates start at $165; 906/337-1744 or sandhillslighthouseinn.com
West Dennis, Massachusetts
Overshadowed by three tall chimneys atop the Main House rises The Lighthouse Inn’s reason for existence: a modest, red-roofed lantern room. At the building’s heart, obscured by its numerous additions, still stands a sturdy two-story structure built in 1855 as the Bass River Light.
The light was deemed surplus and went dark in 1914, but in 1938, while planning to develop the property, Everett Stone and his family began accepting overnight guests for extra income. Unintentionally, they had founded an inn, which still has five renovated guest rooms.
Today, the property has grown into a classic Cape Cod resort with a private beach, heated pool, and smattering of gray-shingled cottages. And—since 1989—it also does double duty as the West Dennis Light, a navigation aid to summer boaters.
Tip: The inn remains old-school enough that “proper dress is requested after 6 p.m."
Book it: Rates start at $145; 877/208-2244 or lighthouseinn.com