The Piedras Blancas Light Station Near San Simeon, CA

The Piedras Blancas Light Station

The Piedras Blancas Light Station near San Simeon is a must see stopping point for anyone touring the Central Coast of California. About an hour north of San Luis Obispo on Highway One, the light station rises up in the distance to guide ships to safe harbor. Now operated by the Bureau of Land Management, the Piedras Blancas Light Station tours are open to all interested parties. The lighthouse tours which start at the Piedras Blanca Motel, are not only educational, but they are a trip back through time and an amazing opportunity to take in all the beauty of California's Central Coast while marveling in Piedras Blancas outstanding natural area.

Whether you're heading to up the coast Big Sur, visiting Hearst Castle or you're traveling south from San Francisco, make sure to visit the light station.

Here's what you can expect when you take the lighthouse tour and why you have to explore this beautiful area up close and personal.

The Piedras Blancas Light Station Story

The construction of Piedras Blancas Light Station started in April of 1874. In 10 months, the lighthouse was lit on February 15, 1875. Originally, the lighthouse stood 100 feet and it had a Fresnel lens. The fog signal building was built in 1905 and the first sound camoe from it in 1906. For the keepers and their families, living at the light station was challenging to say the least.

Over the years, weather, time and earthquakes has caused damage to the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse. There was an earthquake on December 31, 1948 the got in the top part of the lighthouse declared "structurally unsound." So, in 1949, the top three levels were take down which reduced the actual height of the tower down to approximately 70 feet. The original Fresnel lens was then loaned to the Cambria Lions Club where anyone can see it on display right next to the Veteran's Memorial Building in Cambria, Ca.

Rocks offshore and surrounding the Point Piedras Blancas can be a danger to ships, while at the same time delivering a home for several species of marine animals. There are California sea lions and harbor seals the hang out on the rocks to rest. Over on the shore, there are Elephant seals. Out to sea, one can easily spot gray whales, humpback whales, and bottlenose dolphins. Sea otters hunt and scavenge food along the Point and also use the massive kelp beds to rest. There are countless species of birds who nest and roost on rocks offshore. There is also a virtual symphony of nature, harmonizing the wind with sea lions barking, elephant seals trumpeting, and pelicans in flight to the amazement of all who visit Piedras Blancas.

The current keepers have worked very hard at restoring the grounds to the way it was prior to European settlement. They removed the once invasive non-native plants and replaced them with all native plants which allows for the balance of nature to thrive here once again. This also brought back many species of native animals that had left Scientist at the light station use the facility to study sea otters, elephant seals, and gray whales.

Piedras Blancas has been designated an Outstanding Natural Area within the National Landscape Conservation System. It is a beautiful place to see and explore.

Where is the Piedras Blancas Light Station?

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The Restoration

The Bureau of Land Management manages and runs The Piedras Blancas Light Station. The local public has requested that the Bureau of Land Management restore the light station to its period of greatest historical significance. Several light station buildings have been restored or replicated over recent years, so it is fitting and appropriate that Piedras Blancas is returned to its former glory, much like Point San Luis in Avila Beach.

As mentioned, the actual lighthouse structure now is presently 70 feet tall, but it was once 100 feet. THe current task is to rebuild the missing top three levels of the lighthouse which includes the fourth floor landing, the watch room, and lantern. This new priority is going to be costly so the Lighthouse is looking for help. Anyone can help restore the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse by making a donation to the Piedras Blancas Light Station Association.

Much of what happens at the lighthouse wouldn't be possible without local volunteers playing a significant role in the restoration and interpretation of Piedras Blancas Light Station.

For volunteer opportunities or to donate the cause, call 805-924-1807.

Your trip to the Piedras Blancas Light Station

What to bring
What to Wear
Also Consider
Camera
Windbreaker type jacket
Sunscreen
Cash for the tour and giftshop
Layers
Sunglasses
Bottle of water
Good walking / hiking shoes
Snack

Our Day

The tour to take has you meeting just up Highway 1 from the entrance at the old Piedras Blancas Motel. It's been closed for some time and if you have a fascination for old abandoned hotels that you'd never want to shower in for fear of a knife-wielding cross-dressing psycho with an Oedipus complex, then you'll love starting your tour at what's left of this quaint seaside motel.

You'll meet at the motel at 9:45 and one of the local volunteers will give a brief orientation and collect your donation. The tour costs 10 dollars for big kids and 5 for the little ones.

You then get assigned to a guide and carpool the 1.5 miles to the light station. While there your guide will walk you through the grounds teaching you about the history of the lighthouse and the local wildlife, flora and fauna.

Mainly, the scenery is awe-inspiring. This is without a doubt one of the most beautiful scenic spots on the central coast. Secondly it gives way to the imagination. You will immediately put yourself in the shoes of a lighthouse keeper and will get swept away in the romance of this solitary life.

With all the noise, hustle and bustle of our modern age, returning to the simpler time of analog navigation, even if just for the day is a welcome adventure.

You will walk the grounds, see all the structures, learn the history, appreciate the natural wonder and slow down. This trip is very relaxing.

After we drove into old San Simeon and popped into Sebastian's Cafe for one hell of a burger and a real bottle of Coca~Cola made with sugar and not the High Fructose Corn Syrup. A perfect way to finish off.

Other things to do in the area

While you're there, make sure to check out the rest of this beautiful area

Elephant seal viewing
An astonishing up-close look at the largest seal in the Northern hemisphere is possible about 1 mile south of Piedras Blancas Light Station. www.elephantseal.org

Hearst Castle
The world famous home of William Randolph Hearst, 6 miles south of Piedras Blancas Light Station on Highway 1, attracts visitors from all around the world. www.hearstcastle.com

Historic San Simeon and William Randolph Hearst State Beach
Located just 6 miles south of Piedras Blancas on Highway 1, this area offers a sheltered beach, picnic areas, historic store,
schoolhouse. www.slostateparks.com

Coastal Discovery Center, San Simeon
A visitor center with exhibits about the interface of land and sea.http://montereybay.noaa.gov/vc/ccdc/welcome

Piedras Blancas Light Station Fresnel Lens
The original lens and clockwork mechanism are on display next to the Veteran's Memorial Buildling at 1000 Main Street, Cambria.

Point San Luis Lighthouse
The lighthouse neighbor to the south, Point San Luis Lighthouse, is about 60 miles south of Piedras Blancas. A breathtaking hike or a trolley ride will get you there. www.sanluislighthouse.org

Point Sur Lightstation
The lighthouse neighbor to the north, Point Sur Lighthouse, is 56 miles north of Piedras Blancas. Point Sur Lightstation is perched on dramatic volcanic rock off the north end of Big Sur.www.pointsur.org

Big Sur
The dramatic beauty of the Big Sur drive is unparalleled. This rugged stretch of coastline where the mountains meet the sea starts about 15 miles north of Piedras Blancas.www.bigsurcalifornia.org

Watch this quick story from the L.A. Times

FIrst uploaded to YouTube in 2009, The Los Angeles Times reports on The Piedras Blancas Light Station and interviews Jim Boucher with The Bureau of Land Management who has assumed administrative control of the Piedras Blancas Light Station on California's Central Coast, just north of San Simeon. Mr Boucher is in the process of restoration and stabilization efforts. The bureau is also offering public tours of the historical site built in 1875.

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2 comments

Wendel 12 months ago

Love this article. We have been meaning to get up here and have been putting it off for years. We have a trip to SLO coming up next month and I am adding this to the itinerary for sure. Do you think we can do the lighthouse and Hearst Castle in the same day?


David R Bradley profile image

David R Bradley 12 months ago from The Active Side of Infinity Author

Wendel, glad you enjoyed the article. You can totally do the lighthouse and Hearst Castle in the same day. My suggestion would be the lighthouse in the morning, then the castle in the afternoon! Thanks for chiming in!

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