Monday, December 15, 2014

Piedras Blancas Light Station

I am fascinated by lighthouses and the lives of lighthouse keepers and their families during the days when civilization was many hours away from most lighthouses.  Plus the views are usually beautiful.  As a result, I try to visit lighthouses whenever I am near them.  

On my recent trip to the Hearst Castle I was able to include the tour of Piedras Blancas Light Station, located about 10 minutes north of the town of San Simeon.  The Piedras Blancas Lighthouse opened in 1875.  Originally 100 feet tall, the tower was damaged in an earthquake and the top 30 feet were removed in 1949.  Now the tower has a truncated look.  The Piedras Blancas Light Station Association has a long-term goal to restore the tower to its original appearance.  Piedras Blancas is known as a light station because the families of the keepers lived on site in nearby buildings.

Piedras Blancas Lighthouse

Pacific Coast from Piedras Blancas
Piedras Blancas Fog Signal Building

Access to the Light Station is only by tour.  As of this writing, tours are offered on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday at 9:45 a.m.  Check the website for the current schedule.  I think two hours is a bit too long for a walking tour, especially if you have children with you.  Our guide was very enthusiastic but stretched our tour to a mind-numbing 2.5 hours.  He spent far more time discussing the natural habitat and only about 30 minutes on the lighthouse.  Plus we visited the lighthouse at the very end of the tour when we had little capacity to absorb more information.  The other groups touring during our visit were long gone by the time we drove away, so other guides must have stuck to the schedule a little better than ours.

If you are a lighthouse enthusiast, you'll want to visit Piedras Blancas.  For those with a casual interest, there are other lighthouses in Northern California that I believe offer more interesting experiences.  For more information on visiting lighthouses in Northern California, see "Rick's Tips" numbers 35 and 36

If you would like to take a private tour from San Francisco that includes a visit to the Piedras Blancas Light Station, the Hearst Castle, and other coastal attractions, contact Blue Heron Custom Tours and Travel at or (866) 326-4237 (toll free).

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Historic San Juan Bautista

San Juan Bautista was a major stage-coach stop on the journey between Los Angeles and San Francisco during the mid to late 1800s.  Today many of the old buildings have been incorporated into San Juan Bautista State Historic Park.  Visitors can take a self-guided tour through the Plaza Hotel, Castro-Breen Adobe, Plaza Stable, and Plaza Hall/Zanetta House.  The park offers a Living History Day on the first Saturday of the month.  Other events are scheduled throughout the year.

Plaza Hotel/Museum

Across the plaza is Mission San Juan Bautista, which is still a functioning church.  Founded in 1797, the mission was the 15th of what would become 21 missions established by the Spanish Franciscan fathers.  Mission San Juan Bautista was also where Kim Novak was pushed from a church bell tower in Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo.  Unfortunately for Hitchcock the mission's bell tower had been removed, and he was forced to build a substitute.  A visit to the mission includes a walk through the museum, church, chapel, cemetery, and garden.

Mission San Juan Bautista

Mission Cemetery
San Juan Bautista is located about 1 3/4 hours south of San Francisco off of US 101 and can be easily visited if you are driving the inland route between Monterey and San Francisco.  The State Park is open daily from 10:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.  The Mission is open from 9:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. except on Friday when it closes at 4:00 p.m.  The Park and Mission each charge $3.00/person admission.  Lunch can be had at one of the many restaurants in the town of San Juan Bautista.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Pinnacles National Park

Earlier this week, I finally visited Pinnacles National Park.  Located 2.5 hours south of San Francisco, Pinnacles is the nation's newest national park.  Founded in 1908 as a National Monument, Pinnacles gained national park status in 2013.

The two most popular activities in Pinnacles National Park are hiking and rock climbing.  The park is home to over 30 miles of hiking trails from short, easy walks to strenuous, day-long hikes.  Rock climbing in Pinnacles is not for novices.  The rock is relatively weak and unstable.  Climbers should consult the park's website for more information before arriving at the park.

Bear Gulch Reservoir

The Pinnacles

Pinnacles has two entrances.  The eastern entrance is off of CA 25 on CA 146, about 25 minutes south of Hollister.  The western entrance is about 20 minutes east of Soledad on CA 146.  Please note that there is no road through the park. 

Bring everything you'll need to the park as amenities are minimal.   A store is located adjacent to the Visitors Center at the east entrance but has limited hours.

The campground is located just inside the east entrance of the park.  The west side of the park is for day use only.  Lodging and restaurants can be found in Soledad and Hollister.  Inn at the Pinnacles, a nice bed and breakfast, is located a few miles from the west entrance to the park.

Pinnacles can be very hot in the summer.  The best time to visit is in the spring when the temperature is cooler and the wildflowers in bloom.  Unless you want to spend a lot of time climbing or hiking, one day is plenty of time to explore the park's main attractions - the rock spires and other formations.