Hearst Castle might be the most visited and talked about attraction along California’s central coast, but if you’re looking for something with a little less glitz, then best continue north along the California coast to the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse.
Named after the three white rocks located offshore, this historic lighthouse was built in 1875, with a two-story Victorian dwelling added a year later. One of the few tall New England style lighthouses on the West Coast of the USA, it was capped with a lantern room housing a first-order Fresnel lens, giving it a final height of 115 feet.
But in 1948, a 4.6 earthquake hit the area and badly damaged the lighthouse, resulting in the removal of both the lantern room and the Frensel lens. Once the lens was removed, the lighthouse tower was capped, reducing its height to a mere 74 feet.
The Fresnel lens was initially slated for destruction until the Cambria Lions Club stepped in and relocated it to Cambria. Enclosed in a glass shelter, the lens remains on display just outside the town’s Veterans Memorial building.
The Piedras Blancas lighthouse is now owned by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) who, alongside some local community groups, have been not only been restoring the lighthouse, but also clearing the site of invasive plants and replacing them with native species.
The only way to get up close and personal with the lighthouse, however, is by taking one of the 2 hour guided tours offered every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday.
Visitors are taken along a coastal path, carefully watched by a guide to ensure that no one goes off path and tread on newly planted native plants.
In the distance, southward, it’s possible to make out the elephant seal rookery, located right alongside Highway One.
Ever since 1990, the once quiet and sheltered cove has turned into a thriving and noisy seal colony where more than 15,000 seals gather from November to February for breeding season.