Lighthouses are historic and charming, and many remain active to this day. Lighthouse enthusiasts travel the country to view and climb them, but even the uninitiated will thrill to the breathtaking panoramas from on high (and sometimes from the ground). Here are 18 lighthouses to check out on a beautiful summer road trip, be it along the coasts, in the South, or around the Great Lakes.
Off the coast of San Diego, Old Point Loma Lighthouse is a delight restored lighthouse just a short hike up a hill with spectacular views of the ocean, especially at sunset. The tall, winding staircase is a hefty climb, and open to the public only twice a year. A seven-day pass to enter the Cabrillo National Monument, which includes the lighthouse, is $15 per vehicle.
The historic Greens Ledge Lighthouse sits about a mile off the coast of Norwalk, near Sheffield Island, where it served the Coast Guard in the early and mid-1900s. A local company offers boat tours of the site, affording ample opportunity for photos of the rocky reef where the lighthouse sits.
Loggerhead Key Lighthouse, on a remote island in Dry Tortugas National Park, dates to 1858. It's so secluded that would-be visitors must make arrangements in advance through the National Park Service. The conical tower stands more than 150 feet tall; the kitchen in the quarters below is used by park service volunteers. Access to the park is by boat or seaplane only.
Cockspur Island Lighthouse, and its island 12 miles east of Savannah, are closed to the public for ongoing preservation efforts. The original lighthouse was destroyed by a hurricane in 1854, and the existing structure, finished the following year, has been beaten up by hurricanes. It can be seen – surrounded by water completely at high tide and retaining its historic beauty – from the end of a short trail that starts at Fort Pulaski National Monument.
Pigeon Point Light Station sits in a state historic park named for the lighthouse, among the tallest in the United States. The park is open until sunset, which is the time to check out this historic beauty on a cliff along the coast south of the Bay Area. The structure is closed to the public, but half-hour history tours are offered daily, if staffing permits.
Hawaii's Diamond Head Lighthouse stands on the southern cliffs of Oahu near Waikiki Beach. The site was developed in the 1870s to monitor incoming vessels, and the lighthouse was added in 1899. The all-white structure has a rounded red roof, which stands out against the verdant shores and aquamarine waters of the Pacific Ocean. It is still in use by the U.S. Coast Guard.
Maine is famous for jagged coastlines and historic lighthouses, and one of the most picturesque is Nubble Light, situated about 300 feet from Cape Neddick Point in York. The structure is off-limits to the public, but Sohier Park is a fine spot for a view of the lighthouse and for watching the waves crash onto shore.
The red Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse is the state's tallest and a National Historic Landmark. A steep climb to the top provides beautiful views of the ocean and surrounding land, not to mention a nice breeze. Access to the lighthouse and museum, which provides a comprehensive history of the site, costs $7 for adults and $2 for children ages 2 to 11.
Thomas Point Shoal Lighthouse is one of 10 designated a National Historic Landmark. Unlike the typical lighthouse, this one is hexagonal, relatively squat, and elevated above the water. It's maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard and still guides ships in the area. It's open for public tours during the summer.
Big Sable Point Lighthouse in Ludington State Park on the shores of Lake Michigan is a classic lighthouse. The tall black and white structure is reached after a 1.8-mile hike from the parking lot; a bus operates on summer Saturdays. There are daily tours, and a climb up the tower is accompanied by a request for a $5 donation ($2 for children up to age 11) that goes toward restoration. Entrance to the park is $9 a day for a vehicle pass.
Portland Head Light in Cape Elizabeth sits on the shore of Fort Williams Park and opened for business in 1791. Today there's a museum in the keeper's quarters, and the setting provides photo opportunities worthy of a postcard. Only groups in commercial vehicles are charged for entrance to the grounds.
Situated in Silver Bay on Lake Superior, Split Rock Lighthouse is another National Historic Landmark. It sits on a cliff that towers 130 feet above the lake, and a climb to the top affords a magnificent view of the jagged shoreline and deep blue waters. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for seniors, and $6 for children ages 5 to 17.
The cast-iron Biloxi Lighthouse sustained serious damage after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 but was restored and re-opened to the public in 2010. The lighthouse is a treat to visit by day or admire from a distance in the evening. Situated near a pier, it provides a scenic backdrop for fishing or taking a stroll. Lighthouse tours cost $5 for adults and $2 for children ages 2 to 12.
Bodie Island Light Station on the northern end of Cape Hatteras National Seashore is one of three lighthouses in the park. The black-and-white-striped lighthouse still helps ships navigate through the "Graveyard of the Atlantic." Self-guided climbs up the equivalent of 10 stories cost $10 for adults and $5 for seniors and children under 12.
Heceta Head Lighthouse, part of a "state scenic viewpoint," is still sending its beam 21 miles out over the ocean. Tours are offered daily — repairs are keeping the lighthouse itself closed to visitors through Sept. 30 — and the assistant lightkeeper's house operates as a bed and breakfast. Pay the $5 parking fee and explore the tide pools and frolic on the small beach after the free tour.
Take a quick ferry ride to the charming red brick Block Island Lighthouse atop Mohegan Bluffs on the island's south shore. The short structure is attached to the keeper's cottage, which serves as a museum. Weekend lighthouse tours are offered when staffing is available; the fee is $10 for adults and $5 for children and seniors.
North Head Lighthouse may be in Cape Disappointment State Park, but the site is anything but disappointing. The structure is undergoing renovations until later in 2018, so tours are not available, but visitors go for the park and the view from the spot where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean. Even better, two keeper's quarters are available for overnight rentals. A day pass to the state park costs $10 per vehicle.
Cape Hatteras Light Station is a neighbor of the Bodie Island Light Station at Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Also black-and-white striped like a candy cane, it's the tallest brick lighthouse in the world. Climb the 257-step staircase for a 360-degree visual of the sea and the shore. Tickets are $8 for adults and $4 for seniors and children 12 and up.