Lighthouses of San Francisco

Point Bonita 1877

N 37° 48.954’ W 122° 31.715’

Perched atop a rock in the Marin Headlands at the north side entrance of the Golden Gate, Point Bonita Lighthouse with its suspension bridge walkway has been featured in many movies and a Maxwell House Coffee commercial. 124 feet above the sea and four miles west of the Golden Gate Bridge, it is the second lighthouse to be built on this site, replacing the original built in 1855 on the bluff above. In 1876, workers dug a 118 foot tunnel through solid rock to carry in the building materials.

Access is from the west end of Marin Headlands State Park in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, down a trail that skirts Bonita Cove, through the tunnel, and along a pathway to the suspension bridge.The National Park Service opens the lighthouse to tourists on Saturday and Sunday afternoons.
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Mile Rocks 1906

N 37° 47.464’ W 122° 30.618’

Mile Rocks Lighthouse, or rather what remains of it, marks the south side entrance of the Golden Gate. Work began in late 1904, but the crashing waves made this a particularly difficult engineering fete. In fact, the 1904 work crew replaced a 1901 crew that gave up.The light and fog signal were finally turned on during the winter of 1906 atop a 34 foot high concrete base and 3 stories with 4 foot thick concrete walls encased in steel, resulting in the lantern being 78 feet above the water. In 1965 the Coast Guard automated the lighthouse and removed its lantern and top three stories, replacing them with a helicopter pad.

U.S. Coast Guard Photo
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Fort Point 1864

N 37° 48.647’ W 122° 28.625’

The first lighthouse at Fort Point was built in 1853 at the same time as the one on Alcatraz Island. Storm waves threatened the seawall and a 2nd lighthouse replaced it. This one was also removed when Congress authorized the building of a fort with canon on the site at the start of the Civil War. In 1864, a 27 foot iron tower was erected atop the fort and stands today directly under the south end of the Golden Gate Bridge which made it obsolete.

U.S. Coast Guard Photo
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Lime Point 1883

N 37° 49.549’ W 122° 28.696’

This light sits under the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge, and has been shining since 1900, when a minor light was added to a fog signal station dating from 1883. On June 3, 1960, the India Bear rammed the station and "sliced seven feet into a solid concrete causeway and demolished the light station's outdoor toilet." There was once a lantern room and a dwelling; both were removed during the early 1960s when it was automated.

U.S. Coast Guard Photo
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Point Diablo 1923

N 37° 49.228’ W 122° 30.004’

Point Diablo Light Station sits on the headlands of the Golden Gate Recreation Area, halfway between Point Bonita and Lime Point (north tower of the Golden Gate Bridge). It is accessible only from the sea. Prior to automation in the 1960s, it was maintained by the lighthouse keepers at Lime Point.
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Yellow Bluff Light

N 37° 50.2’ W 122° 28.3’

Yellow Bluff Light sits 75 feet above the bay as a guide for the shipping and ferry channel between Sausalito and Angel Island. In the absence of fog, it can be seen from nine miles away.
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Stuart Point 1915

N 37° 51.660’ W 122° 26.765’

Now an automated foghorn and lantern, the Stuart Point Station was first established just north of the manned Point Knox Station which disappeared entirely by 1976. Both were at the southwest corner of Angel Island which started in the 1700s as a Mexican cattle ranch. During the late 1800s and early 1900s, Angel Island became known as the Ellis Island of the west by serving as an immigration center, primarily for Chinese immigrants. During the 1960s, the island's promontory was shaved off to make way for a missile base. In 2002, the island's peak was restored.

Point Knox Station: 1886
Photo by Ralph Shanks
Nautical Research Centre

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Blunt Point 1915

N 37° 51.176’ W 122° 25.147’

Blunt Point Station sits on the southeast corner of Angel Island and, like Stuart Point, was initially built in 1915 to augment the fully-manned Point Knox Station. In addition to its light and foghorn, today it serves as a completely automated Coast Guard weather station.

U.S. Coast Guard Photo
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Southampton Shoal 1905-1960

N 37° 53.470’ W 122° 23.943’

Current Southampton Shoal Light
Note original pilings from old lighthouse.

Established and lit in 1905 with a 5th order Fresnel lens, it was deactivated in 1960. The building was removed from the bay and replaced with a small light and fog signal atop a small platform built over some of the original cylinder pilings.

The building's two top stories and lantern room were barged to Tinsley Island on the San Joaquin River delta and became an outstation for San Francisco's St. Francis Yacht Club.

Original Southampton Shoal Lighthouse
U.S. Coast Guard Photo

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Alcatraz 1909

N 37° 49.627’ W 122° 25.388’

Before it was the site of a prison, Alcatraz Island was a fort, and home to the first lighthouse on the west coast, which was lit on June 1, 1854. That lighthouse was damaged in the earthquake of 1906, and was replaced in 1909 to make way for the prison. The current light took its place, and was once attached to a structure which burned in a fire in 1970.
The tower stands at 84' tall, but with it sitting on top of “the Rock,” the lamp stands the equivalent of 200 feet above the sea. The lighthouse keeper’s quarters were destroyed in 1969 by Native American protesters.

1909 photo of Alcatraz
U.S. Coast Guard Photo
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Yerba Buena 1875

N 37° 48.451’ W 122° 21.764’

Yerba Buena Lighthouse sits on the grounds of the home of the Admiral of the Coast Guard for the northern California region on Yerba Buena Island in San Francisco Bay. It is the same island transversed by the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. Tucked away on the southwest corner of the island, it is visible only from passing ferries.

Due to the Admiral’s wife’s concerns for tourists wandering the property, written permission is now required to enter the grounds and is rarely granted.
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Forbes Island 1992

N 37° 48.668’ W 122° 24.805’

Forbes Island is not a real lighthouse at all, but rather a floating island restaurant currently moored to San Francisco's Pier 43. It was in the fall of 1991 when Forbes decided he wanted to enhance the island by adding a lighthouse, and engine house, and a white picket fence. He completed this additional construction and installation at Point Richmond in 1992. There are 56 steps leading to the top of the 40-foot high lighthouse where visitors may step into a 50' circular-viewing platform.
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Lighthouses near San Francisco Bay

Point Reyes 1870

N 37° 59.717’ W 123° 01.411’

A very remote, desolate place, Point Reyes is one of the foggiest and windiest places on the west coast. The lighthouse was built 275 feet down a bluff and is accessed today by hiking down more than 300 concrete steps.

The 37' tall light tower still contains the original 1st order Fresnel lens. The lens and its rotating mechanism have been faithfully restored by the National Park Service which maintains the facility as part of Point Reyes National Seashore. The station was automated in 1975 and the new beacon can be seen atop the small building in the middle of the photo to the left.

Point Reyes Lighthouse has been featured in two John Carpenter "B" horror movies: The Fog and Village of the Damned.

U.S. Coast Guard Photo

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East Brother 1874

N 37° 57.787’ W 122° 25.988’

This lighthouse sits on an island in the north end of San Francisco Bay where it becomes San Pablo Bay. The lighthouse is a bed & breakfast as well. The only access is by boat from Point San Pablo Yacht Harbor.

Some of the best ways to get information about this wonderful place to stay is at their website, or call (510) 233-2385.

U.S. Coast Guard Photo
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Point Montara 1875/1928

N 37° 32.183’ W 122° 31.164’

A side-wheel steamer, the Colorado, ran aground at Point Montara in 1868. In 1872, the Acules from Liverpool also grounded on the rocks. A fog station was built at the point in 1875. A red oil lantern was added to the station in 1900, a fresnel lens in 1912, and in 1928 the present lighthouse was erected. During World War II, Point Montara served as a Naval Training Base. The facility has been a hostel since the early 1980’s.

The light is only 30 feet tall, but sits atop a ledge which lends it a focal plane of 70 feet. The grounds are open from 7:30 am to 9:30 am and 4:30 pm to 9:30 pm.

U.S. Coast Guard Photo
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Pigeon Point 1872

N 37° 10.917’ W 122° 23.550’

This light got its name from the Carrier Pigeon which ran aground near the station. The lighthouse is approximately 160 feet tall, making it one of the tallest on the Pacific Coastline. It sits about 50 miles south of San Francisco on California Route 1.

Although an automated beacon on the balcony has carried out the light's duties since 1974, the lantern room still contains the original first order lens. It was first lit here on November 15, 1872, but it had originally served at Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. Remaining at the site today are various dwellings and outbuildings, including a fog signal building dating from 1900. Coast Guard dwellings built in 1960 are now used by American Youth Hostels for overnight stays. The 115-foot tower was closed to visitors in 2002 for restoration work.

U.S. Coast Guard Photo
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Santa Cruz 1869-1948/1967

N 36° 57.083’ W 122° 01.587’

A lighthouse was erected on Point Santa Cruz in 1869, and first displayed light from its fifth order lens on December 31. A fourth order lens was installed in 1909, but was replaced by a minor light further seaward in 1941. Only seven years later, the lighthouse was torn down, but a lighthouse once again graces the point today.

A working brick lighthouse now stands there as a memorial to Mark Abbott, a surfer who drowned nearby in 1965. The lighthouse was built by his parents in 1967, and houses a surfing museum as well as Mark's ashes, buried beneath the tower. The lantern room is from the 1903 Oakland Harbor Lighthouse, which was discontinued in 1966, moved, and converted into an Oakland restaurant.

U.S. Coast Guard Photo
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Walton Lighthouse 2002

N 36° 57.598’ W 122° 0.097’

photo courtesy Lighthouse Friends

Walton Lighthouse is located on the west jetty of Santa Cruz Harbor. From 1964 to 1996, the spot was marked with a box light structure that was replaced with a cylinder that served until 1999. A simple pipe structure held the light until the Santa Cruz community built a classic lighthouse on the site and dedicated it on June 9, 2002.

-source: Lighthouse Friends

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Oakland Harbor 1903-1966

N 37° 46.791’ W 122° 14.577’

The Oakland Harbor Light Station was established in 1890 and a lantern with a 5th order Fresnel lens was first lit in 1903. The Coast Guard decommissioned the light in 1966 and the structure was bought and moved to its current location in Oakland’s yacht harbor where it is used as Quinn’s Lighthouse Restaurant at 1951 Emabarcadero Cove.

The lantern was moved to Santa Cruz Memorial Lighthouse.

U.S. Coast Guard Photo
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Ballena Island Lighthouse 2002

N 37° 46.016’ W 122° 17.266’

Many lighthouses have been decomissioned over the years, sold, and converted to restaurants, bed & breakfasts, hostels, etc. Ballena Island Lighthouse's story is just the opposite.

Current owner Mario Garcia added a light tower to his seafood restaurant in November, 2002. A retired Coast Guard officer and member of the Coast Guard Auxilliary, Chef Mario determined that his light was visible on San Francisco Bay at a distance of twelve miles. The Coast Guard concurred and officially dedicated the structure as a legitimate aid to navigation in May, 2003.

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Mare Island 1873-1917

N 38° 04.280’ W 122° 15.120’

U.S. Coast Guard Photo
Built at the south tip of Mare Island, this lighthouse had a relatively short lifespan. Replaced by the Carquinez Strait Lighthouse, it was extinguished in 1917 and went unused until it was finally torn down in the 1930's.
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Carquinez Strait 1910-1951

N 38° 04.290’ W 122° 14.179’

U.S. Coast Guard Photo

The station was first established in 1908 and lit in 1910. Deactivated in 1951, a smaller beacon and fog signal were placed on the end of the pier. In 1955, a local contractor bought the lighthouse and barged it to a nearby cove.

Today it overlooks a Vallejo marina and serves as a restaurant.

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Farallon Islands 1856

N 37° 41.938’ W 123° 00.119’


U.S. Coast Guard Photo

Construction of the Farallon Island light station started in 1852, and was completed in 1853, with the exception of an enormous first-order Fresnel lens. It was delivered, along with a large shipment of wine, the following year. However, it was quickly discovered that the lens was too large for the lighthouse. Construction partners Kelly and Gibbons were forced to tear down the lighthouse and rebuild it from the ground up. It was finally completed on January 1, 1856.

The station was automated in 1972 and is still operational. However, like Mile Rocks and Piedras Negras lighthouses, its lens and top have been removed leaving a flattened concrete structure that more closely resembles a cistern. Today the island is within the Point Reyes Farallon Islands National Marine Sanctuary where resident scientists study one of the world's richest marine ecosystems and is off-limits to visitors. However, all day tours are scheduled by Oceanic Society Expeditions to the waters around the islets.

-source: California Lighthouses by Sharleen & Ted Nelson

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Roe Island 1891-1945

N 38° 04.354’ W 122° 02.082’

U.S. Coast Guard Photo

Located on Suisun Bay about 5 miles from Benicia, Roe Island Lighthouse went into operation on February 16, 1891. It was "an ornate, square, wood frame building, 1-1/2 stories high, with dormers protruding from each roof which overhung verandas below."

On the night of July 17, 1944, the Port Chicago munitions loading dock, 3,000 yards to the south of the lighthouse, blew up killing over 300 men and destroying the facility, a train, two cargo ships, and two Coast Guard security vessels. The lighthouse also suffered serious damage which caused the Coast Guard to discontinue the station in May, 1945. The lighthouse was sold and used as a private summer retreat for several years before being destoyed by fire.

-source: California Lighthouses by Sharleen & Ted Nelson

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Año Nuevo 1890-1948

N 37° 06.565’ W 122° 20.300’


Built originally as a fog signal station in 1872, a lantern was added in 1890. A lantern room with Fresnel lens was added in 1915. An automatic light and sound buoy replaced the station in 1948 and the island itself became part of Año Nuevo State Reserve.

Today, the light tower lies on its side, intentionally knocked over by scientists studying the sea lions that occupy the dwellings, and elephant seals that breed on the nine acre island. The island can be seen but not visited during elephant seal breeding season, December through March.

U.S. Coast Guard Photo
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North Coast Lighthouses

Point Arena 1870

N 38° 57.283’ W 123° 44.366’

Original 1st Order Fresnel lens from the 1870 tower is still in use today

Original Point Arena LH, circa 1870
U.S. Coast Guard Photo

The original Point Arena Lighthouse, built in 1870, was an identical twin to the Pigeon Point Lighthouse that remains today, however it was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake. Work began on the new reinforced concrete tower in 1907 and completed in late 1908. The original 1st order Fresnel lens from the 1870 tower still shines from the new tower. We've yet to visit the Point Arena Lighthouse when it wasn't enshrouded with fog.

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Point Cabrillo 1909

N 39° 20.899’ W 123° 49.600’

Point Cabrillo Lighthouse was born from the need for lumber after the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Surrounded on three sides by water, its light shines 84 feet above the sea from a third-order Fresnel lens.

The light was automated in 1973. The California State Coastal Conservancy acquired the grounds from the Coast Guard in 1989 and has been restoring the lighthouse and keepers quarters ever since.

Windswept trees stand as testiment to coastal gales at Point Cabrillo. Keepers' quarters are still under renovation.

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Punta Gorda 1911-1951

N 40° 14.966’ W 124° 20.950’

Punta Gorda Lighthouse as seen in 2004.

Keeper's quarters on left, oilhouse in center, the lighthouse to right in background, and more Keepers quarters at far right can be seen in this circa 1940 Coast Guard photo.

The oilhouse as seen through the empty lantern room glass frames.

The lonliest lighthouse in California. Located eleven miles south of Cape Mendocino on California's “Lost Coast,” Punta Gorda Lighthouse is so remote that electricity was never brought to it. We reached it via a seven-mile round-trip hike from Mattole Beach across sand dunes and soft beach sand that took seven hours. The Lighthouse Board first requested a light here in 1888, but construction didn't begin until 1910. The Coast Guard took over the lighthouse from the Lighthouse Board in 1939 and closed the station in 1951.

The Bureau of Land Management inherited the site from the Coast Guard in 1963 and burned the dwellings in 1970 to keep out squatters. In 1976 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places and the California Conservancy Board restored and painted the lighthouse and oilhouse in 1989.

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Cape Mendocino 1868 - 1948

N 40° 26.417’ W 124° 24.350’

Scar on hill in lower right (above) is all that remains where Cape Mendocino Lighthouse once stood. Photo at left shows the tower on site before it was relocated to Shelter Cove in 1998 (far right photo). Photo at near right shows lens residing in Ferndale since 1948.

Cape Mendocino Lighthouse sat precariously on the edge of the westernmost point in California for well over a century. It is now beginning a new life further down the California coast. The short iron tower, older brother of the Point Reyes Lighthouse, was first lit on December 1, 1868. It weathered many horrendous storms before the station was automated in 1951. The first order lens, having been removed in 1948, was taken to Ferndale, where it sits in a replica tower at the entrance to the Humboldt County Fairgrounds. The keeper's dwellings at the site were burned down in 1960, to prevent their use by squatters. The lighthouse was abandoned altogether in the 1970's, when the modern equipment was removed from the tower and a new light placed on a structure above and behind it, where a keeper's dwelling once stood. The only other vintage building left behind was a nearby oil house.

Rebirth! In late 1998, a dedicated group of volunteers from Shelter Cove disassembled the lighthouse from its home of 130 years, and transported the components down the coast. The lantern room was taken in one piece by Coast Guard helicopter! Restoration work began, and in June 1999 a new foundation was laid for the lighthouse in Mal Coombs Park in Shelter Cove.

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Table Bluff 1892-1975

N 40° 41.717’ W 124° 16.466’

Table Bluff Lighthouse as seen in 1911.

All that remains of where Table Bluff Lighthouse tower once stood.

Table Bluff lighthouse grounds in 1951. Note lighthouse tower in lower left corner with keepers dwelling already gone.

Table Bluff Lighthouse tower was relocated to the Woodley Island Marina in Eureka in 1987 where it remains today.

Table Bluff's 4th-order Fresnel lens is currently on display at the Humboldt Bay Maritme Museum in Eureka.

Table Bluff Lighthouse was built in 1892 on a bluff overlooking the south entrance to Humboldt Bay. It's purpose was to replace the Humboldt Harbor Lighthouse situated on a spit of land at the north entrance to the bay which had been constantly damaged by beach erosion and earthquakes.The fourth-order lens from the old lighthouse was installed at the new one. The tower was attached to a 2-story Victorian keepers dwelling similar to the design at Ballast Point and San Luis Obispo.

At the end of World War II, the keepers dwelling was raised and in 1953, the station became one of the first to be automated. The station was abandoned in 1975 and the property sold to a private foundation. In 1987, volunteers cut down the tower, then reassembled and restored it at the Woodley Island Marina in Eureka. The fourth-order lens that shone originally at Humboldt Bay and later at Table Bluff is now on display at Eureka's Humboldt Bay Maritime Museum.

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Humboldt Harbor 1856 - 1892

N 40° 46.126’ W 124° 13.274’

Humboldt Harbor Lighthouse was built on a spit of constantly changing sand that threatened the structure's foundation soon after it was lit in 1856. Earthquakes in 1877 and 1882 caused considerable damage and area fog frequently obscured the light.

It was replaced in 1892 by the Table Bluff Lighthouse four miles to the south which also got its 4th-order Fresnel lens, and finally collapsed into the sand in 1933.

In 1987 the cupola from the top of the old tower was found in the sand and is now on display at Eureka's Humboldt Bay Maritime Museum.

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Trinidad Head 1871

N 41° 3.120’ W 124° 9.091’

Trinidad Head Lighthouse as seen in 2004.

1950s Coast Guard photo of Trinidad Head Lighthouse and support buildings.

Trinidad Lighthouse Memorial

Built on a cliff 200 feet above the sea, Trinidad Head Lighthouse was lit for the first time on December 1st, 1871. A Victorian residence was built 50 yards away and in 1898, a 4000-pound bell fog signal was erected. In 1947 the original lens and fog bell were replaced with a modern optic and air horn. The keepers' dwelling was razed in the 1960s and replaced with a triplex built for Coast Guard personel on the top of Trinidad Head. The original lens and fog bell were placed in a replica tower erected at the city's waterfront by the Trinidad Civic Club.

Still in operation today, the automated lighthouse is closed to the public but can be viewed from hiking trails that ascend the bluff on Trinidad Head.

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Battery Point 1856

N 41° 44.652’ W 124° 12.188’

Fog rolling over Battery Point.

Crescent City's Battery Point Lighthouse was built in response to the town's becoming the port of entry for southern Oregon's gold mines. The stone Cape Cod structure was erected on a hill two-hundred yards off Battery Point, so named for the three brass canons recovered from the ship America that burned in the bay in 1855. The canons were mounted on the point and fired for years to celebrate the Fourth of July. The hill is accessible only during low tide; during high tide it is an island. The light, atop a 45-foot tower rising from the center of the building, was first lit on December 10, 1856.

The station was automated in 1953 and decomissioned in 1965, replaced by a flashing light at the end of the breakwater. Re-lit in 1982 as a private aid to navigation, a long line of resident curators have cared for the lighthouse and museum which houses the 4th-order Fresnel lens from the tower, and guide visitors on tours.

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St. George Reef 1892 - 1975

N 41° 50.197’ W 124° 23.191’

St. George Reef Lighthouse has the distinction of being one of the most difficult and expensive light stations ever built. Located on Northwest Seal Rock, seven miles northwest of Point St. George, eleven miles northwest of downtown Crescent City, the structure took ten years to build at a cost of over $700,000. A first-order Fresnel lens was lit from atop the 146-foot tower on October 20, 1892.

The light station's remoteness, along with incessant storms and nearly constant gales made it unpopular with keepers and resignations were frequent. In 1951 a rogue wave swept away three coast guardsmen who were tending the light. In 1975 it was replaced by a Large Navigational Buoy placed just west of Northwest Seal Rock and abandoned. In 1983, the lens was disassembled and removed to the Del Norte County Historical Society Museum where it was reassembled in a two-story addition.

The St. George Reef Lighthouse Preservation Society was formed in 1988 and began restoration. In 2000, the lantern room was removed and flown by helicopter to shore. On its approach, the helicopter came in too low and the lantern room crashed onto the beach. A new lantern room was constructed and returned to the tower in 2001.

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