Crescent City, CA

The most underrated California lighthouse even locals didn’t know existed

Jano le Roux

Built on top of a tiny rocky island right off the coast near Crescent City’s port lies a stunningly beautiful landmark that can be seen from afar. At low tide, a stroll from a parking lot at the end of A Street over the rocky, momentarily dry channel, followed by an upward climb to the lighthouse, will get you to the island. It’s the Battery Point Lighthouse.

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Battery Point LighthouseFlickr / Don McCullough

A beacon of light since 1856

The Battery Point Lighthouse and its museum are situated in Crescent City, California, at the foot of Lighthouse Way. This is a working lighthouse that is used as a private navigational aid. On December 10, 1856, its oil lights were ignited for the first time. There are still lighthouse keepers that live there. The public may take tours of the Battery Point Lighthouse, which include seeing inside the personal quarters of keepers and their families, as well as the furniture and antiques left there since the 1850s. Climbing inside the light tower is part of the tour. Many marine items, pictures, and papers are on exhibit, chronicling the city’s history.

Many keepers and their families have tended the light during its 160-year lifespan. The lighthouse, also known as the Crescent City Light Station, was administered and maintained by the United States Lighthouse Service until 1936 when it was handed over to the United States Coast Guard. Although the light was automated in 1953, the Coast Guard kept the Fifth Order Drumm lens in service until 1965, when it was deactivated. In 1982, the light was rekindled as a private navigational aid.

The lighthouse keepers were stuck in the lighthouse during the tsunami of 1964. Despite the fact that the lighthouse was unharmed, the stranded keepers were powerless as they watched in terror as a succession of waves caused devastation on the mainland and swirled around the lighthouse’s base. The keepers presented a terrible firsthand description of Crescent City’s devastation.

Over time, many fascinating stories about the history of Battery Point Lighthouse and Native American folklore about the island have been developed, including tales about the lighthouse’s resident ghost. Thousands of photographers and painters have captured the Lighthouse’s grandeur, making it one of Del Norte County’s most memorable pictures. Because of its visual grandeur, the Battery Point Lighthouse has been the subject of films, television shows, advertisements, and music videos.

Low tide is the only time visitors may visit the Battery Point Lighthouse and island. When crossing the 200 feet between the mainland and the island, extreme caution and attention should be used since wave activity may cover the crossing space. Visitors standing on or near the island’s cliffs and coastline are at risk from sneaker waves. Visitors should take care to conserve the island’s unique animal and plant life.

Make sure you plan ahead

Tours of the lighthouse and keepers quarters, which are well kept and equipped, are given by passionate, informed volunteers who take turns residing on site. Tours are available for a minimal price every day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. from April to September, and on weekends the rest of the year, depending on tides. Call the lighthouse at 707–464–3089, the Main Museum at 707–464–3922, or visit by the Crescent City Visitors Center a few days ahead of time to confirm the exact times, if any, the tides will allow passage of the channel for tours during the 10 to 4 window.

Tip from an insider

The tides only allowed excursions between 10 a.m. and noon on a number of days during our stay. We were fortunate in that we arrived on the island early and were able to get in line before it became too long. Because the queue was increasing, the guides opened and began tours early, but due to the cramped confines, only a few people could tour at a time.

As I lingered and visited the island after our tour, it was clear by the time we left that not everyone in line would receive a tour before the rising tide forced a return to the mainland.

So, if you want to go on this fascinating trip, be sure to check the schedule ahead of time and arrive early.

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