Lighthouses, often called "America's Castles," are almost synonymous with summer. Lit landmarks dotting the countryside or in the middle of the sea that marks the passage of time, these beautiful and often historic beacons are time travelers from America’s illustrious nautical past.
And while most lighthouses today are automated or have, in many cases, fallen into disuse or disrepair, visitors can often still get a glimpse—whether from a distance or through tours that allow more adventurous lighthouse seekers to climb to the top; scanning the stormy seas and seemingly endless vistas stretching out to the horizon.
With so many lighthouses throughout the U.S., it may be possible to plan a trip to see several of these watchful pillars all in one road trip (New England is great for this). However, the lighthouses below are destinations unto themselves—all historically significant, still-standing reminders of when sailors looked to the skies to light their way home.
Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse
A National Historic Landmark for nearly 25 years, this Florida lighthouse is not only the tallest in the Sunshine State, but is one of the tallest in the entire United States. Towering over the surrounding FL landscape, this distinctively colored brick-red beauty is open to the public—and its views are definitely worth the 203-step climb to the top.
- Address: 4931 S. Peninsula Drive, Ponce Inlet, Florida
- Hours: Open through September 5, 2022, daily from 10 AM-9 PM (last admission sold at 8 PM); September 6, 2022, through May 26, 2023, from 10 AM-7 PM (last admission sold at 6PM)
- Admission: Adults (12 and up): $6.95; Children (3-11): $1.95; Children (0-2): Free
- Historical Fun Fact: The lighthouse was first lit in 1887 and is named after the famous Spanish explorer Ponce De Leon
- Things To Do Nearby: Ponce Preserve; Winterhaven Park; Lighthouse Point Park; Marine Science Center; Daytona Beach
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
Standing at almost 200-feet above the tumultuous waves of the Atlantic Ocean off the Outer Banks in North Carolina, Cape Hatteras is the tallest lighthouse in the U.S., and though it’s currently closed for renovations, it’s definitely worth a visit to scope the black-and-white painted marvel. Though the historic lighthouse was lit for the first time over 150 years ago—it was not the one ever built on this site; as the first was demolished after falling into disrepair.
- Address: 46379 Lighthouse Road, Buxton, North Carolina
- Hours: Due to restoration efforts, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is currently not open to visitors until at least August 2022, though travelers can still get close enough for some great photo ops! Want to see more? Virtual experiences, tours, and webcam footage are available here
- Admission: N/A
- Historical Fun Fact: The Hatteras Lighthouse protects one of the most dangerous sections of the Atlantic Coast, known as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic” because of the numerous shipwrecks that have occurred there over the years
- Things To Do Nearby: Brodie Island Lighthouse (open for climbing); Buxton Woods Nature Trail; Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum; North Carolina Ferry; Frisco Beach
Eldred Rock Lighthouse
Though it's impossible to set foot on Eldred Rock, visitors can still get a look at this stunner from the water via a ferry or boat ride—and it’s definitely worth the trip. The only remaining octagonal lighthouse in Alaska, Eldred Rock is also the state’s oldest—a fact not lost on those devoted to preserving it in an effort to maintain its historic legacy. However, all is not lost; visitors can learn all about Eldred Rock with a visit to the Sheldon Museum in Haines—which also happens to overlook the striking scenery surrounding the Lynn Canal and the storied lighthouse itself.
- Address: Eldred Rock, Haines, Alaska
- Hours: Not open to the public
- Admission: N/A
- Historical Fun Fact: The Eldred Rock Lighthouse is the last remaining lighthouse left from a series of octagonal lighthouses built in Alaska between 1902 and 1906, and has been listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1975.
- Things To Do Nearby: Sheldon Museum; Hammer Museum; Haines-Skagway Fast Ferry; Skagway Centennial Statue
Heceta Head Lighthouse
Ever dreamed of spending the night in a lighthouse? Well, the Heceta Lighthouse Bed and Breakfast is the next best thing. Situated in one of the last remaining lighthouse cottages on the Pacific Coast, this cozy B&B gives visitors an intimate look at the life of a lightkeeper—and an up-close and personal view of the iconic Heceta Head working lighthouse, built in 1893.
- Address: 92072 Hwy 101 South, Yachats, Oregon (Heceta Lighthouse B&B)
- Hours: The ground floor of the lighthouse is open daily year-round, weather and staffing permitted
- Admission: N/A
- Historical Fun Fact: The lighthouse was first illuminated in 1894 and its automated beacon can still be seen over 20-miles from land—making it one of the strongest lights on the entire Oregon Coast
- Things To Do Nearby: The Heceta Lighthouse Trail; Heceta Lighthouse B&B; Yachats State Park; Cape Perpetua Scenic Area
Situated at the outer edge of Boston Harbor on Little Brewster Island, Boston Light has the distinction of being the oldest continually used and staffed lighthouse in the U.S. Dating from the Revolutionary War, the historic structure once used candles to light sailors’ way—no mean feat. Though it has undergone many changes in its long and illustrious history, this historic beacon has stood the test of time and remains standing as one of the most famous lighthouses on the East Coast.
- Address: Little Brewster Island, Boston, Massachusetts
- Hours: There is currently no public access to Boston Light due to ongoing maintenance; however, visitors can see the iconic lighthouse (and two others) on a Boston Harbor tour (reservations required)
- Admission: Tour prices are Adults $37.50; Students, seniors, military $32.50; Children over three $27.50
- Historical Fun Fact: In 2003, Sally Snowman was appointed the first woman keeper in the lighthouse’s history—and she womans her post to this day, maintaining its lens and also conducting tours when the lighthouse is open to the public
- Things To Do Nearby: Nantasket Beach; Georges Island; Fort Warren; World’s End
With so many lighthouses in the United States, it’s difficult to choose which ones to visit. However, the lights above certainly fit the bill when it comes to qualifying as destinations unto themselves that are worthy of any summer pilgrimage. Steeped in history, these lighthouses have stood the test of time, making them iconic vacation destinations for travelers looking for a little romance, lore, and above all, adventure this summer.