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12 Cool Point Bonita Lighthouse Facts

If you want to enjoy a fascinating hike in combination with exploring a historic landmark in the San Francisco area, then this magnificent lighthouse is most definitely an attraction that fits this description.

In this article, we’ll explore some of the most interesting facts about Point Bonita Lighthouse, one of the most amazing lighthouses on the West Coast of the United States.

1. It’s located in the Marin Headlands near San Francisco

Point Bonita Lighthouse is a historic lighthouse located at Point Bonita in the Marin Headlands, a peninsula just north of San Francisco. This remarkable location is the utmost southern tip of the northern part of the entrance to San Francisco Bay.

The most iconic tourist attraction in San Francisco, the Golden Gate Bridge, is located a few miles east of Point Bonita. This means that it provides stunning views of both this incredible bridge and the city of San Francisco.

This area is a very popular hiking destination as it offers multiple trails to check out the amazing scenery. You can hike to the top of Hawk Hill, the highest point in the Marin Headlands, which is situated just east of Point Bonita as well.

Point Bonita Lighthouse location
The lighthouse and Golden gate Bridge / NOAA Photo Library /

2. It was originally built during the California Goldrush of the 1850s

The event that initiated the California Goldrush was the discovery of gold in Coloma, a town in the Sierra Nevada Range just east of San Francisco. This discovery in 1848 initiated the move of over 300,000 fortune seekers to the area.

Many of these entered San Francisco Bay by boat, resulting in over 300 shipwrecks during the early years of the gold rush. This called for a lighthouse to be constructed in the area.

The first Point Bonita Lighthouse was a brick structure that was completed in 1855.

3. The first lighthouse was moved in the 1870s for a specific reason

The original lighthouse was taller than the current one. It had a height of 56 feet (17meters) as opposed to a height of just 33 feet (10 meters) of the current one.

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That’s not the main reason why it was relocated, though, because they built the original lighthouse at a much higher elevation of 306 feet (93 meters) above sea level. This was much too high because the area is prone to immensely thick fog resulting in the signals becoming pretty much invisible.

The current lighthouse was completed in 1877 and stands just 124 feet (38 meters) above sea level, a height that isn’t covered in dense fog.

Point Bonita Lighthouse fun facts
The lighthouse on the cliff / Frank Schulenburg /

4. A suspension bridge had to be built to reach the lighthouse in the 1950s

Up until the 1940s, there was a trail leading to the lighthouse. This trail was affected by erosion and started crumbling into the sea, leaving the lighthouse standing in an isolated location in Point Bonita.

To solve the problem, a suspension bridge had to be constructed just to reach the lighthouse. The original version was merely a wooden walkway, though, which ended up being replaced by a real suspension bridge in the year 1954.

Up until today, Point Bonita Lighthouse remains the only lighthouse in the United States that can be reached by such a structure, quite amazing!

5. Hiking to the lighthouse is only possible on two days of the week

A visit to the Marine Headlands is not complete without visiting this magnificent lighthouse that was built on the utmost southern outcrop of this hilly peninsula.

If you don’t visit the lighthouse on either Sunday or Monday, you’ll end up being stuck at a barricaded entrance of the suspension bridge that can take you there, though.

This means that you have to plan your visit as the lighthouse can only be reached between 12:30–3:30 p.m. on these two days of the week. It’s worthwhile, though, as the views here are simply breathtaking.

Point Bonita Lighthouse facts
The bridge to reach the lighthouse / Don DeBold /

More interesting facts about Point Bonita Lighthouse

6. The lighthouse is located in an immense urban park called the “Golden gate Recreational Area,” a protected region that covers an area of 82,027 acres (33,195 hectares) in and around San Francisco.

This is not only one of the largest urban parks in the world but also offers a wide variety of amazing spots to visit. These include tourist attractions such as the Muir Woods National Monument, Alcatraz Island, and the Presidio of San Francisco in the northwestern tip of the city.

7. Even though the site is operated and managed by the National Park Service as part of the Golden Gate Recreational Area, the United States Coastguard is actually in charge of operating the light and fog signals.

Point Bonita Lighthouse from the Bay
The lighthouse as seen from the Bay / Sharon Mollerus /

8. The lighthouse was constructed in the year 1877 and remained manned until 1980. This means that somebody was actively operating the current version of the lighthouse until it was automated for well over a century. It was the last lighthouse in the United States to be manned.

9. Building the lighthouse was no joke because a hand-carved tunnel was originally dug through hard rock to access it. This remarkable tunnel can still be accessed today to reach the structure.

Point Bonita Lighthouse tunnel
The hand-carved tunnel / Wiki Commons

10. The lighthouse was originally equipped with a “Fresnel lens,” a type of composite compact lens that was developed especially for lighthouse by a French physicist named Augustin-Jean Fresnel (1788–1827).

This was considered to be a revolutionary invention during the 1820s and has sometimes been referred to as “the invention that saved a million ships.”

11. The location of the lighthouse makes it extremely complicated to build a durable suspension bridge. The sea spray resulted in the iron of the bridge to rust and it underwent renovations in 1979 and 1991.

The bridge was finally deemed too dangerous to cross on January 6, 2010, and a new bridge was built. This $1 million project was completed just 2 years later and officially opened on April 13, 2012.

12. Because of its extended history and importance, the lighthouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places on September 3, 1991.

Point Bonita Lighthouse amazing view
Amazing view of the lighthouse / Jsweida / Wiki Commons