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Half Moon Bay, California


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Half Moon Bay


Año Nuevo

Purisima Creek Redwoods


Sam McDonald



Pigeon Point Lighthouse

A view of some of California's most spectacular coastal scenery can be found at Pigeon Point Lighthouse, one of the most frequently photographed lighthouses in the world.

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The promontory was originally called La Punta de la Ballena (Whale Point) because gray whales are sighted from here during their winter and spring migrations. With the discovery of gold on 1848 and the admission of California to the union on 1850, ship traffic along the coast grew rapidly to transport gold-seekers and manufactured goods to San Francisco.

Many fine ships were wrecked along this treacherous coast. One such vessel was the clipper ship Carrier Pigeon. She was on the final leg of her four-month voyage from Boston to San Francisco and laden with 1,300 tons of cargo when, lost in dense fog, she ran aground at Whale Point on June 5, 1853 and was totally destroyed. To memorialize the ship, the point of land was renamed Pigeon Point.

A whaling station was operated here by Portuguese whalers, and a small shipping center flourished during the second half of the nineteenth century. Lumber, tanbark, hides, and farm products were loaded on coastal vessels for shipment to San Francisco. During the Prohibition era (1920-1933), remote Pigeon Point was a favorite unloading spot for bootleggers.

Standing 150 feet above sea level, the lighthouse has faithfully guided mariners since it was first lighted in 1872. The tower is built with a construction system of inner and outer walls on a eight-foot base. The design increases the stability of the structure and provides an airspace between the walls which prevents corrosion of metals in the tower. The tower escaped virtually unscathed from the San Francisco earthquake of 1906 and the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989. The lighthouse still contains its original first-order Fresnel (pronounced "Fray-nell") lens.

The present Fog Signal Building (built in 1902) is the last of several buildings that housed the foghorn and related machinery. Fog envelopes the San Mateo coastside throughout the year, so a fog signal to warn ships of their proximity to land was as important as a light. The fog signal began operating in 1871. Radar, loran, and other electronic aids made the fog signal obsolete, and it was discontinued in 1976 after 105 year of use.

If the lighthouse tower is open during your visit (docent-led tours to the top of the tower are conducted on most Sundays throughout the year and on Saturdays and Sundays during the summer), stop at the work room in the tower building to look at visual displays that depict the activities of the first lighthouse keepers.

Montara Lighthouse

Montara Lighthouse is closed to the public. However, the keeping house, located at 16th Street and Cabrillo Highway, now operates as a hostel.

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