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Point Montara Lighthouse

The History of Point Montara Lighthouse

The lighthouse on the grounds of HI Point Montara Lighthouse hostel may be small, but it’s got at least one big claim to fame: it’s the only American lighthouse known to have beckoned seafarers on both coasts of the country.

The late-19th-century structure was originally built in a foundry near Boston, and then installed overlooking a Cape Cod beach. It remained there for nearly half a century, even spending 15 years under the care of the country’s first known female lighthouse keeper. In 1925, the lighthouse was taken down and, everyone believed, destroyed for scrap metal. It wasn’t until the following century that researchers discovered the disappeared Cape Cod lighthouse had actually just been moved to the West Coast. The lighthouse went up at Point Montara in 1928, yet no one knows exactly how – or why – it made its cross-country journey.

Still, the lighthouse’s arrival at Point Montara was a welcome addition to this part of California’s coastline: Point Montara had been established in 1875 as a fog signal station, doing its best to warn approaching ships of its craggy coastline with a series of steam whistles and kerosene lamps over the next few decades. It wasn’t until the lighthouse’s arrival that the station had an up-to-date alert system for passing ships caught in the area’s famous fog.

historic photo of Point Montara Lighthouse

The Point Montara hostel’s other buildings have their own rich histories, starting long before the arrival of the cast-iron lighthouse. The United States government established a fog signal at Point Montara in 1875 in response to two high-profile crashes along the coast in the decade before. Initially, the site housed nothing but a 12-inch steam whistle, whose five-second blast could be heard from 15 miles away, and a two-story, Victorian-style innkeeper’s dwelling that still stands on the hostel grounds and serves as housing for hostel staff.

In 1902, a one-story fog signal building was added; a secondary building used for storage went up around the same time. Today, the same fog signal building houses one of the hostel’s private rooms, and a large common area is used for movie screenings and other hostel group gatherings. The storage building has been modernized and outfitted with more private rooms and guest bathrooms. A third building, where today you’ll find the hostel’s kitchens, lounge, and most of its guest rooms, went up in the 1960s to house members of the U.S. coastguard.

This amazing property began welcoming travelers in 1980 after Hostelling International, the US Coast Guard, the California Coastal Commission, and California State Parks worked together to open a hostel here. Today, it’s the perfect escape for history buffs and lighthouse enthusiasts, as well as anyone else who loves the seaside and the great outdoors. Longtime hostel General Manager Chris Bauman has done a fantastic job documenting the history of the property and its lighthouse, so if you’re curious, be sure to ask the friendly staff for more information when you check in!