What’s the secret for spying gray whales during winter’s migration season? Location, location, location! And location doesn’t get any better than from the top of the tallest lighthouse on the West Coast. The historic 115-foot Lighthouse Tower at Point Arena Light Station in Mendocino County sits on a spit of land jutting two miles into the ocean and surrounded by it on three sides. (In fact, it’s the closest point of land to the Hawaiian Islands in the continental United States.)
It’s also one of the few lighthouses you can climb to the top of for a brilliant balcony panorama of the Pacific Coast. The lighthouse and the surrounding Point Arena-Stornetta Public Lands are a prime place for up-close gray whale sightings, especially female grays and their nursing calves, who stick closer to shore during their spring return. Daytime visitors come and go, but you can also spend the night in this secluded getaway. The setting is pure Pacific Coast and a great hopping-off point to nearby Manchester State Beach and Bowling Ball Beach.
FULL MOON BONUS: Nighttime tours of the lighthouse happen during the full moon. Tickets are $30 per person or two tickets for $50. Make reservations by phone: (707) 882-2809. All proceeds go toward the support and maintenance of Point Arena Lighthouse.
Point Arena Light Station is at 45500 Lighthouse Rd. in Point Arena. Tours of the Point Arena Lighthouse run from 10:00 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. every day in winter (and 10:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. between Memorial Day weekend and Labor Day weekend). Admission is $7.50 for adults and $1 for children 12 and under and includes access to the Fog Signal Building, the new home of the first-order Fresnel lens, and a trip to the top of the tower! No dogs. First photo in story by Nik Epanchin.