Nestled between Mendocino and Fort Bragg on a glorious stretch of coastal Highway 1, the Point Cabrillo Light Station State Historic Park offers day hikers a charming peek into a simpler time. As one approaches the cluster of red-and-white buildings that make up the light station, leaving the parking lot and the rush of the highway behind, it’s easy to forget it’s 2016.
The Point Cabrillo lighthouse was constructed in 1909 and has stayed much the same, as have the lightkeepers’ quarters around it that now serve as museums and vacation rentals. The 300-acre park around the lighthouse contains several pleasant trails, most of which feature views of the historic structures.
For an easy trek, take the South Trail from the parking lot. The trail is flat and well-marked, lined with coastal succulents and striking wildflowers.
Keep your head up, though – the area is home to 50 species of birds, including northern harriers, osprey and black oyster catchers. At the end of the first stretch, looking at the rolling waves and quiet alcoves, you might glimpse a whale or a sea lion.
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It’s a straight shot to the coast, with a small turn to the left that plops you at the lighthouse and the very informative gift shop.
The lighthouse contains an original Fresnel lens, one of only 12 in the United States. The lens has 90 glass prism pieces, and was rotated by hand to shine to a distance of about 14 miles. In 1972 the lens was replaced with an electronic beacon, until the Coast Guard restored the original lens in 1999.
The area also has a rich Native American history – the Pomo people once spent their summer days there harvesting abalone, mussels, seals and sea lions to store for winter.
What: Point Cabrillo Light Station South Trail
Distance to lighthouse: About a mile