Lighthouses once played a vital role to seafarers as they were a beacon in the night or during a storm that there was "land ho" nearby. Many of these impressive structures dot the coastline as a reminder of history and times past.
Many of these creative towers are still operational with their Fresnel lens casting a bright light into the night. Many others are no longer operating as a signal to ships passing in the night but are maintained and open to the public. Some are being renovated and there's hope for others before the elements take a final toll.
Along the east coast, lighthouses dot the coastline from Florida to Maine in just about every state in-between. From sailors to merchants, these lighthouses have seen more than their share of U.S. history.
Whichever season to choose to visit these massive pillars of stone, listen carefully as the walls and staircases whisper of the times and people of the past; some of whom still make their presence known.
If you crave the unusual, have a dash of the wanderer in you, glow in evening sunsets, and lap up solitude and serenity like a thirsty nomad in an oasis of intrigue and beauty, consider exploring east coast lighthouses. Be prepared as you never know what might be waiting for you at the top of the spiral steps.
20 Florida - Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse and Museum
Located in Jupiter Inlet, FL,
the lighthouse is the oldest in Palm Beach County and equipped with one of the oldest Fresnel lenses that first lit up the sky in the 1860s.
Prepare for scenic views of the Atlantic, Jupiter Inlet, Loxahatchee River, and the Indian River once you climb the 105 cast iron steps of the 108-foot structure. Natural landscaping covering 120 acres with hiking trails surround the lighthouse, and you can launch your canoe or kayak from shore. Visit the museum to see historical exhibits, pick up a souvenir, and schedule a tour.
19 Florida - St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum
The St. Augustine Lighthouse had its beginnings as a watchtower in the 1500s. The first lighting was officially built in the spring of 1824 and in 1870, a new brick and iron lighthouse was erected equipped with a Fresnel lens from Paris, France. With its long history, the lighthouse has plenty of stories to tell through the many exhibits on display in the museum. If you're brave enough, sign up for the guided paranormal nighttime ghost tour. Explore the eerie nooks and crannies with an electromagnetic field meter and be prepared for what (or who) you may encounter.
18 Georgia - Tybee Island Light Station and Museum
At 145-feet tall, Tybee Island Lighthouse is Georgia's oldest, as well as its tallest beacon of light. The lighthouse came into being in 1736. On the grounds are three Light Keeper's cottages and a small museum. Across from the lighthouse is the 1899 Military Battery, which contains the Tybee Island Museum where exhibits cover the history of the area from the Native Americans to the Golden Era. There are also exhibits or archaeological finds and 1900s Tybee architecture. Open year-round.
17 Georgia - St. Simons Island Lighthouse
St Simons Island is a favorite Georgia coastline destination, and the lighthouse is one of its many attractions. The original 1810 lighthouse, having been destroyed during the Civil War, was rebuilt to 104-feet in 1872. While visiting, discover history through the many artifacts, photos, and exhibits in the Keeper's Dwelling, then make the climb up the spiral steps, at your leisure, stopping at the landings along the way for scenic views.
St. Simons Lighthouse and Museum is open Monday-Saturday.
16 South Carolina - Morris Island Lighthouse
The Morris Island Lighthouse, near Charleston, is a piece of history towering 161-feet into the sky. It sits on a sandbar and is surrounded by water and is no longer functional but remains an iconic piece of South Carolina history.
The best way to see the lighthouse is taking one of the local boat tours.
You'll pass through salt marshes, inlets, and estuaries on your way to the beach at Morris Island for shell collecting, watching for playful sea turtles and dolphins swimming, and taking stunning photos of the lighthouse in the distance. You'll also have an opportunity to get as close to the lighthouse as the tides will allow by boat.
15 North Carolina - Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is one of three structures in the Cape Hatteras National Seashore area. The other two are Bodie Island Lighthouse (open) and Ocracoke Lighthouse (not open). Originally built in 1802, the lighthouse stands 210-feet tall and is constructed of brick.
With its height, it has the distinction of being the tallest brick lighthouse in the U.S. It is open, seasonally, for self-guided tours. The lighthouse has 257 steps before reaching the top with landings along the way.
If you choose to climb, be prepared for restrictions and rules to ensure safety. Once you reach the top, the climb is worth it. For an extraordinary experience, explore Cape Hatteras Lighthouse with a full moon tour.
14 Virginia - Assateague Island Lighthouse
The Assateague Lighthouse resides on the Virginia portion of Assateague Island where a light has beamed since 1833 and is still in operation. Assateague Lighthouse is located about 1/4-mile from Chincoteague Island and within the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. The lighthouse is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and open to the public (and is free of charge). From Chincoteague, you can hike the Assateague Trail, or enjoy views of the lighthouse and the island from a kayak; or you can take an Assateague cruise and see the resident wild ponies.
13 Maryland - Concord Point Lighthouse
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places,
the lighthouse has the distinction of being Maryland's oldest lighthouse, as well as the entire east coast.
It was built in 1827 and reaches 36-feet in height. Visitors are welcome from April through October from 1 PM to 5 PM to tour the grounds, keeper's quarters, and lighthouse free of charge Note, the lighthouse cannot be accessed during very cold or wet weather and there is a restriction that a person must be at least 42 inches tall to enter and climb the lighthouse. If planning to visit, call or check the website to be sure it's available as the grounds may be reserved for a special event.
12 Maryland - Cove Point Lighthouse
Another all-in-one destination where you can give your 'lighthouse adventure' a dose of authenticity; you can rent a half (or all) of the keeper's house for your next vacation. Cove Point Lighthouse is nestled on the point of a 7-acre parcel just steps away from the ocean. Gorgeous views of the Chesapeake Bay and the Calvert Cliffs is part of the lighthouse's allure. Built in 1828, it holds the title as Chesapeake Bay's oldest operating lighthouse. The grounds, lighthouse base, and visitor center are available to the public daily June-August. In May and September, the lighthouse is open on weekends and holidays.
11 Delaware - Fenwick Island Lighthouse
In 1858, a $50 fee was paid in order to purchase a 10-acre tract of land for the construction of the Fenwick Island Lighthouse. On August 1, 1859, the mission was accomplished, and the light was lit. The base of the lighthouse is open to the public and serves as a museum containing a variety of historical artifacts, signage, and the original lens. The keeper's quarters are being renovated and will become the lighthouse museum displaying additional historical items being stored. The lighthouse is operational as a beacon year-round.
10 New Jersey - Twin Lights Lighthouse
Reminiscent of a medieval fortress, the Twin Lights Lighthouse is aptly named as it has two lighthouse towers. First lit in 1828 and rebuilt in 1862, today, it serves as a historical museum open throughout the year with numerous paintings on display from associations and private collectors, artifacts, memorabilia, and one of the double lens lights. The climb to the top of the tower is an easy one.
You'll be rewarded with spectacular views that include the New York City skyline.
You can also see the Sandy Hook Lighthouse from your vantage point. It's listed on the National Register of Historic Places, has a few ghost stories to tell, and it's free to visit.
9 Pennsylvania - Erie Land Lighthouse
Located near the Erie Maritime Museum and Presque Isle State Park, the renovated Erie Land Lighthouse first shone its light in the year 1818. This lighthouse is one of the Great Lakes region's very first lighthouses. Although the grounds are open with information about the lighthouse and lantern house posted, neither is actually open to the public. Periodically, tours are offered, though.
8 New York - Saugerties Lighthouse
If you're looking for an unusual place to stay on your next vacation, consider
Saugerties Lighthouse, which serves as a bed and breakfast for travelers looking for more than a hotel room.
Built in 1869, the light continues to burn at Saugerties. Stay overnight in a river view room and step back into a time when things were simpler, or just stop by to visit the lighthouse, enjoy the river views, observe the wildlife, and select a souvenir or two.
7 Connecticut - Penfield Reef Lighthouse
Penfield Reef Lighthouse is mysterious. It sits upon a rocky reef where the only sounds are gulls, waves splashing against the stone base, and passing boats. It is not open to the public but is clearly visible from the shore. For a closer look, a boat or plane ride is an option. The lighthouse was built in 1874 and still operates with its flashing light to warn mariners traveling the "Blue Line Graveyard", which it was called due to numerous boats crashing into the reef. The lighthouse is said to be haunted due to the main keeper drowning in the sound in 1916, and his continued presence witnessed on many occasions.
6 Rhode Island - Rose Island Lighthouse
Combine business with pleasure and stay overnight when visiting the Rose Island Lighthouse built in 1870 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The lighthouse is situated on the 18-acre island that serves as a refuge for wildlife and is only accessible by boat.
Along with the lighthouse, the island offers hiking, fishing, birdwatching, and scenic photography opportunities. Guests can stay in one of two bedrooms in the keeper's quarters. For someone interested in working during their vacation, they can apply as the lighthouse keeper and stay onsite.
5 Rhode Island - Block Island Lighthouse
This lighthouse is a "must stop and see" for of its beautiful brick Victorian architecture as well as the panoramic ocean views. Built on the 7,000-acre island in 1874, legend has it the keeper pushed his wife down the stairs and she still haunts the keeper's quarters to this day. Other apparitions have been sighted on the island, as well as phantom ships passing quietly in the night. From town, rent a bike or moped and enjoy a leisurely ride to the lighthouse for a guided tour. Bring a picnic lunch while exploring the grounds and your camera for interesting photos inside and out.
4 Massachusetts - Gay Head Lighthouse
Gay Head Lighthouse was Martha's Vineyard first. It was built in 1799 of wood. The lighthouse, once listed as endangered or being dismantled, has had an interesting history. It has been moved due to eroding clay, rebuilt (replacing the wood with brick) along with a new keeper's house, and the recipient of one of the first order Fresnel lens from Paris. In 2015, the tower was once again moved 134-feet from its original location and the light relit. It is open through Labor Day weekend, daily, and Thursday and Friday at 6 PM for stunning sunset photo opportunities.
3 New Hampshire - Isles of Shoals Lighthouse
The Isle of Shoals Lighthouse, also referred to as the "White Island Light", was first built in 1821 and replaced in 1865. It and the keeper's dwelling reside on White Island, one of the nine islands that comprise The Isles of Shoals. The lighthouse and the island are not open to the public, but it remains a busy tourist attraction due to the many local island cruises to the nine islands, including White Island for up-close views and photos of the lighthouse.
2 Maine - Pemaquid Lighthouse
The view from atop a lighthouse platform is going to be stunning; such is the case once you've reached the platform of the 38-foot Pemaquid Lighthouse built in 1827. Brilliant blue skies and the ocean lapping hungrily at the rocks and formations below make quite an impression.
The lighthouse is open to the public (and is free of charge). Volunteers inside the tower talk about its history and there are exhibits to see before climbing the spiral staircase
where the fourth-order Fresnel lens maintains its job as a warning beacon. Get your camera ready!
1 Maine - Isle au Haut Lighthouse
End your day of sightseeing by staying in an authentic keeper's cottage at the Keeper's House Inn listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Built in 1907, you'll experience what it was like back in the day when there was no television and the only heat source was wood stoves. Isle au Haut is six miles from the mainland, surrounded by the Acadia National Park; it is quiet, isolated, and beautiful. Enjoy nature, go hiking, camping, visit the island's small town, and walk the long plankway from the Inn to visit the century's old lighthouse.