Why do we love lighthouses? To seek the high ground. To check out the view. To go, "Wow! Look at that." Here, in no particular order, are five of our favorites.
1. Heceta Head Light, Yachats, Oregon
It's pronounced "huh-SEE-tuh," and it's a photographer's delight. It's also a B&B with five rooms. Visitors can take tours of the lighthouse, still in operation with its original 1894 first-order Fresnel lens. Lodging guests can view the light after dark. See it on a Web cam: www.sealioncaves.com.
2. Point Reyes Light, Point Reyes National Seashore, California
You don't really climb this light, but you do climb to reach it. You walk a half-mile uphill from the parking lot to the visitors center. Then you negotiate 308 steps down a cliff to the lighthouse itself―unless the path is closed because of high winds. Your reward for this exertion: a ruggedly beautiful view and (if staffing and weather permit) a close-up look at its big first-order Fresnel lens.
3. Key West Light, Key West, Florida
I love the Florida Keys. I could spend a whole day watching the water change color with various angles of the sun. You see plenty of beauty from this 86-foot tower. The panoramic view also reminds you how tightly this resilient little town has always been tied to the sea around it.
4. Cape Hatteras Light, Buxton, North Carolina
On the Outer Banks you feel out there. At the top of this famous sentinel, which at 198 feet is the country's tallest lighthouse, you stand some 30 miles from the mainland. You can vividly see how utterly vulnerable this strip of sand is to the ocean's power. No wonder erosion forced the black-and-white spiral-striped lighthouse to be moved in 1999 from encroaching waves. Unfortunately, rust caused the stairway to be closed in June. Until it's repaired, you'll have to be content with a Web cam view: www.nps.gov/caha/livecam.htm.
5. Split Rock Light, Split Rock Lighthouse State Park, Minnesota
From this spectacular clifftop location, you can see 25 miles across Lake Superior to Wisconsin and the Apostle Islands. The light, decommissioned in 1969, now blazes to life only on special occasions, including each November 10, the anniversary of the famous 1975 shipwreck of the ore freighter Edmund Fitzgerald.
Lighthouse hours vary; check before you visit.