Saturday, September 17, 2011

San Luis Obispo LightStation

Location: located on California's central coast, just South of Cambria. On Point San Luis, west side of the San Luis Obispo Bay, near Avila Beach, San Luis Obispo Bay, California

Point San Luis Lighthouse Keepers.
P.O. Box 13556,
San Luis Obispo, CA 93406
(805) 541-TREK

San Luis Obispo also known as Port Harford Light

Directions: From San Luis Obispo, travel south on Highway 101 and exit at Avila Beach. Follow the road all the ways to Port San Luis, Park in the Port San Luis Harbor District; the lighthouse is on the grounds of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant. Free guided hikes of the Pecho Coast Trail visit the lighthouse, Call (805) 541-TREK for a current schedule. A Tram goes to the lighthouse every 1st & 3rd Saturday of the Month cost $20 per person Call Keepers at 805-540-5771 .For current information on access, visit their website

Year first lit: 1890

Year constructed: 1890

Active: no

Automated: 1974

Deactivated: 1975

Foundation: Masonry

Construction: Wood Frame, Victorian style dwelling.

Tower shape: Octagonal lantern on square tower

Markings/Pattern: white

Tower Height: 40 ft

Original lens: 4th order Fresnel lens (removed), it’s now restored to the grounds

Current lens: modern beacon
Focal plane: 116 ft
Fog Signal: pair of 10-inch steam whistle
Characteristic: Flashing white, 20 s (3s flash)
Admiralty number:
ARLHS number: USA-720
USCG number: 6-0225
Owner: The point San Luis Lighthouse Keepers
Site manager:


It was after work on Friday; I set out on my journey towards the south of this State. I made my way to Safeway supermarket, to fill my SUV with gas and pick a few food items for my journey. I already had my camera equipment packed earlier in the morning as I got ready for work. Mentally I was ready for the long boring drive down 101, this trip I expected to be an uneventful journey, no beautiful coastlines to keep me distracted as I drove the long roads. I had my iPod with its 18,000 songs to occupy my head and keep me entertained.
 I arrived in San Luis Obispo; it was dark, around 10: pm, and I was lucky to find accommodation at Motel 8 in Pismo beach. The school Cal Poly was celebrating their commencement week, every hotel and motel was booked out. 3 star hotels where looking for exorbitant prices. Avila lighthouse hotel wanted over $400 for the night and no in room extras for that price. Honestly you would not think that the country was in a state of economic depression here.

The next quirk was when I tried to check in to the motel, the motel had a problem approving my credit cards, not just one but 3 cards where declined. I called Jean, my wife, and she contacted the bank, the bank said it was the motels server, and it was not making contact with the banks server, so much for technology. Luckily I had the cash in my wallet to pay for the room. The sleep was not that comfortable, I could hear kids skateboarding and dogs barking. I also had a sick stomach, a reaction to stress. You get what you pay for
I rose around 7:30am showered packed my gear and headed for Avila beach. Parked in the harbor port and made my way to meet the hiking group at the fisherman’s memorial. I had apprehensions about this trek, lately my breathing was bit labored and due to knee problems no exercising for several months, and I did not think that my legs would hold up for a 3.5 mile trek to the lighthouse and 3.5 miles back, a total 0f 7 miles roundtrip. The terrain was challenging as the elevation rose several hundred ft. We set off with a group of 20; the first leg was a trail that lead up to a tar macadam road, I basically ploughed my way up a steep incline though bramble and dry brush to the road that continued rise for about a ½ mile. Panting, panting, gasping for air, I was glad that I had my knee brace on; but I was going on and my mind was made up not to quit, the weather was cool for this part of the trek. I also made sure that I was carrying a water bottle.  My lens was a 24-105mm with a 5D Camera. So I was not overly laden.

We made a single line, following the lead of the docent along the trail. Avoiding poison ivy and ticks, as the brush rubbed against my white ivory skin. At this early stage I could already sense the tightening of my air pipe and shortness of breath take effect. But I was not deterred, last week I made the climb up 311 steps from Point Reyes lighthouse, I was determined to do this trek. We reached the road and the docent gave us the chance to change our minds and return to our vehicles. He said the trek was going to get much tougher. The group decided that we where moving on, so we trekked on a more even terrain to greater heights. Spectacular views of San Luis Obispo Bay where incredible from our lofty perches. But I was struggling with my legs and my breathing to fully appreciate my view; at a later stage I was able to appreciate the view from the comfort of a cable car.

Periodically we stopped on the trail as the docent fed us the history of the area; he would show us pictures of times gone by and from our high perch, he would point to areas below and give a brief history. This gave me a chance to catch my breath, a drink of water and take a few pictures. From this height the scenery was awesome, I was glad I continued. Finally we came to a point where we started to descend into a more treacherous and uneven terrain. We had to worry more about losing our footing and staying on the trail, the pathway had become a gravel path. As I looked for things of nature, flowers, birds, insect that would make this trek more interesting; I also became very aware of the height I was at and my footing, outside of the views there was not much of anything. Most of the trail was filled with dry brush and most of the interesting plants were few and far apart.

Onward I trekked, steeling my mind against the pains and aches of my body. Uphill and downhill, glad of the moments of respite the docent would give us as he took the opportunity to whip out his folder with more pictures of yesterday. I reckoned I was the oldest of the group, and I was holding my own at this point. Finally I could sense that we where coming to close to the end of the trek. We had reached a point on the peninsula where we would have to move back inland. And there was the clue a small wharf at the base of the hill and a road. I could see Kayakers in the small harbor, poles that carried electricity; I could also hear the bark of seals. And we where making our way downhill. Amongst the trees I could make out the lantern tower. We had arrived at my destination. This was another notch on my belt. This lighthouse was to be on my roughest trek yet.

The site was not as impressive as others, the beautiful coast seem to take away from the remoteness of the light station.  I was busy taking my pictures as I moved closer and closer. I immediately noticed the buildings that where added by the coast guard. The picket fences did not appear as original as the earlier fences I had seen. As I came close to where the lighthouse was located, I was greatly disappointed. It was covered in scaffolding. The lighthouse, was been renovated for the 120th anniversary, on June 26th. I toured on the inside and took my pictures. The Fresnel lens was on display, it was 4th order, but the bull lens where taped over with a blue tape. It was not functional; again I was limited what I could shoot. My return trip was more rewarding for photography.
I was impressed at the restoration work on this lighthouse. The artifacts that where on display came from the mid 1800’s, The intricate work on the lace curtains reflects the handiwork of the lighthouse keepers wives, the furniture restored in the various rooms, and the work gave you the sense of visualizing people living in this place. The care that was being taken in restoring the old floors, woodwork and fire place tiling could be seen.
I made my way around the site and snapped a few more pictures. I had taken a number of pictures on the inside, I decided in spite of the scaffolding I would take some exterior pictures. Already my mind was preparing for the return journey. Not something I was relishing, already the temperatures had risen. Slowly I made my way back to rejoin the group and we started our home bound journey. Getting on the trail was probably the hardest.
I braced my mind for the return journey; it was to be harder than the trek in. The uphill climbs were the toughest part, my legs and breathing both labored with intense pain. At least the docents where patient with me and waited as I slowly made my way, I have to find a way to get myself back into shape. Finally I arrived back at our starting point. Made my way to the Port, Sat back had a cappuccino and recuperated from my trek. Got out my netbook and checked on the US game.

Met a few people, the owner of the CafĂ© who took pride in that he was not politically correct and that this was a hobby for him, a dad and son who wondered about the US Game. I sat with my cappuccino and under my straw hat contemplated my trek and how many more lighthouses to go. Wondered what way to bring the blog up to date without regurgitating some of the same old stuff. It’s about lighthouses or is it. Sometimes I confuse myself, as so many things happen on these trips. Meeting people, Sea mammals, plants, mountains, then of course there is the lighthouse itself, the history, location and buildings. I could focus on any one of these as the theme and build its story, or I could continue to be random and let my mind take you on its perceived journey.

I spent the rest of the afternoon, in Avila, had lunch and a few beers. Took a stroll along the peer; looking at the yachts in the scenic bay, and observed the seals playing alongside the boats. In all it was a very relaxing day, the yellow orb hung in the clear blue skies as children ran up and down the sidewalk of the pier, it was a lazy Saturday afternoon. This was the essence of relaxation; I could live in a place like this. Time to terminate this trip and head north, I will certainly be back and more than likely spend the entire weekend here.

A year later I am back, My brother Eddie is with me. This time I am taking the tram and sitting back in the lap of luxury. We are on the new Tram Lucy 2, and its so easy as it makes its way around the twists and turns of mountainous narrow road. I just relaxed and took in the views of the Bay, it was so beautiful, I would definitely recommend this to any tourist. The trip did not take that long, but it did give the docent’s ample time to tell their story. We arrived and I could already appreciate their hard work of restoration, gone where the scaffolding and builders materials.  It was now my time relaxed and under physical strain to finish my story in Pictures, you will only see a handful, and they will be the ones that catch my eye, hope you will enjoy.


1542: The Portuguese explorer Juan Cabrillo sailed into the San Luis Bay, he named the bay Todos Santos (All Saints Bay)

1864: David Mallagh an Irish Sea captain bought the 1st pier in the San Luis Bay. The pier shot out from Cave Landing (today's Pirate's Cove).He owned and operated the stage and freight lines that ran from the town of Avila to San Luis Obispo.

1867 President Andrew Johnson issued an executive order directing the Department of the Interior “to take the necessary steps to cause the reservation for Light House purposes of an area of land at Point San Luis”.

1868:  Under the shelter of Point San Luis, on the southwestern shore of San Luis Bay, John Harford completed a 540-foot-long pier; it’s called the peoples wharf

1876 The Pier is extended to 1500 feet. A 30-inch narrow gauge railroad ran along the wharf and eventually tied the harbor, to San Luis Obispo and other Central Coast communities. Port Harford became a vital link for transporting both passengers and commerce to and from the area.
1877: Congressman Romualdo Pacheco, 1st Hispanic Gov of Ca, introduced a bill in the House of Representatives for the building of a lighthouse at Port Harford.

1884: Smith house is built to house families in the whaling business on a small island just off Port Hartford.

1885, the US Lighthouse Board suggested a lighthouse for Port Hartford

1886: Congress authorized $50,000 for the lighthouse. The project was delayed. Acquiring the land on the headland at Point San Luis, and the bids for the construction were too expensive.

1888 May 1st: 2.00AM Disaster hit The passenger & cargo steamship Queen of the Pacific 15 miles out from Port Harford , it began taking on water. The captain turned his ship towards Port Harford, for fear of Rocks at the harbor entrance; He had to proceed slowly, because he had no lights to mark the harbor. The steamship settled at the bottom of the harbor, in 22 ft of water, 500 ft from of the pier. Most of the ship was above the waterline, and the passengers safely disembarked.
It could be argued that this event, helped to progress the construction of the lighthouse.

1889: Construction of the Lighthouse began.

1890 June 30th: The Light is lit for the first time and a new beacon is added to the California Coast.  An article in San Luis Obispo’s Daily Republic described the new light station: “The light is shown from a black lantern surmounting a square frame tower attached to the southwest corner of a one and a half story frame dwelling painted white, trimmings lead color, blinds green and the roof brown. About 50 yards to the eastward stands a one and a half-story double dwelling painted in a similar manner, between the two dwellings … stands the fog signal building with its two black smokestacks, and painted like the dwellings.”
3 lighthouses were built in California using these plans, but the Point San Luis Lighthouse is the only one that remains fully intact. As for its two sister lights, the tower of the Table Bluff Lighthouse is all that is left, while the Ballast Point Lighthouse was completely razed to make room for the expansion of the Naval submarine base in San Diego.
Whaling vessels, cargo ships, tankers and fishing boats were all guided around the treacherous point into the safe harbor.

1893: From the eastern end of Point San Luis, a federal breakwater, which encompassed Whalers Island, was built between 1893 and 1913. A small wharf located near the juncture of the breakwater and the mainland provided the primary means of access to the lighthouse, though a crude wagon road also reached the station.

1915: Steam Fog system replaced with compressed air system.

1933: Electricity comes to the lighthouse; kerosene lamp is replaced with electric bulb.

1942: A listening post is put up in front of the lighthouse and a second duplex building is built to the south east of the original double dwelling.

1950: Road is built to the lighthouse.

1961: the Coast Guard replaced the double dwelling with a modern wooden frame duplex

1969 the Fresnel lens was retired and replaced by an automated electric light.

1974: The Coast Guard closed the Lighthouse.

1976: the lens was moved to the San Luis Obispo County Historical Society

1978: the Port of San Luis was licensed by the Coast Guard to restore the lighthouse

1992: Port San Luis Harbor District received the 30-acre site from the Federal Government with the requirement that the station be restored and opened to the public

2003: Much progress has been made by the modern-day keepers. The exteriors of all of the structures were painted during the summer, and the parlor inside the lighthouse has been fully restored and furnished with period pieces provided by a local chapter of the Questers. Plans are in place to improve the access road to the station; however, due to security concerns at the Diablo Canyon Power Plant, the road will likely not be available for transporting visitors to the site. Instead, the lighthouse wharf will be rebuilt and water access will hopefully be provided to the general public in the future.

2010: the year the San Luis Obispo Lighthouse celebrated its 120th anniversary; the Fresnel lens was returned to the station and placed on display in the horn house, which has been converted into a visitor center. The lens was removed from the lighthouse in the late 1970s after it was shot with a .22 caliber bullet and had been on display most recently at the San Luis Obispo Library before returning home.

2011: PG&E donated a 22-passenger electric trolley, named Lucy 2, this will assist to ferry visitors to the lighthouse. The new trolley joins a gasoline-powered trolley Lucy 1 that currently shuttles people to the lighthouse, the current schedules is 3 times a day on the 1st and 3rd Saturdays of the month

Read more:


  1. Umbrella Guide to California Lighthouses, Sharlene and Ted Nelson, 1993.
  2. Point San Luis Lighthouse Keepers website.


Point San Luis  Lighthouse, Lighthouse, lighthouse pictures, San Luis Obispo,  California, photographs, Journal, history, LighthousesOfCalifornia, Sean O’Cairde

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