Posted by: Brad Nixon | February 21, 2018

Guardian on the Cliff; Point Vicente Lighthouse, California

Lighthouses must be one of the most appealing and evocative forms of architecture. They’re featured in photo calendars, greeting cards and travel posters, perched on a rocky crag above crashing waves, or, in mild weather, serenely poised above the azure sea, like Battery Point Light in Crescent City, California.

Battery Pt. Light M Vincent (640x454)

When I grew up in the Midwest, the closest lighthouse was one of the 20 or so on the south shore of Lake Erie, about 200 miles to the north. I never saw any of them, and associated lighthouses with the ocean, which was 600 miles to the east.

Now, living by a different ocean, 2,200 miles to the west, I’ve written about an old lighthouse, Point Fermin, a few miles from me. It’s no longer in operation, but there is a far more dramatic one a few miles to the west, still guarding the coast: Point Vicente Light.

Pt Vicente light Brad Nixon 0158 (640x467)

The 67 foot tower was built in 1926. Combined with its location on a bluff 130 feet above the ocean and the 1.1 million candlepower of the light, it’s visible from 24 miles at sea in clear weather. In the next photo, you can see Santa Catalina Island on the horizon, 22 miles to the south.

Pt Vicente lighthouse Brad Nixon 1200 (640x480)

The Catalina Strait between the mainland and the island is an extremely busy shipping lane. The entrance of the Port of Los Angeles is about 8 miles to the east. Ships have sometimes come to grief on the Palos Verdes Peninsula.

Point Vicente Light map Google

The lighthouse occupies a stunningly beautiful spot on a promontory. The light is now automated and maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Aids to Navigation Team. Some USCG staff live on the property. I interviewed a former commander of the Los Angeles USCG base who was billeted there, and he described what a wonderful spot it was for his young family at the time. No doubt!

Pt Vicente light Brad Nixon 0159 (640x480)

Lighthouse aficionados know that the heart of any light resides in its refracting lens and the mechanism that rotates it. Point Vicente Light is noted for possessing its original hand-ground fresnel lens, manufactured in Paris in 1910. The city of Los Angeles was radically different in 1926, and the peninsula was almost entirely open range. But the light still shines from Point Vicente.

Seeing the Light

Point Vicente Light is at 31550 Palos Verdes Drive West, Rancho Palos Verdes, California. It isn’t the most convenient driving destination in Los Angeles. Here’s a map that also references some other Under Western Skies blog post locales, so you can plan an entire day.

Palos Verdes area destinations map Google

Point Vicente is due south of LAX and downtown Los Angeles. Interstate 110, the Harbor Freeway, is the nearest freeway access (map, upper right). It ends and continues on Gaffey Street, south through San Pedro (blue line and arrows). To the left (east) of downtown are the Port of Los Angeles, the Battleship Iowa (red box, right) and the subject of my most recent post, the Harry Bridges memorial. Point Fermin lighthouse is at the bottom right (red rectangle).

Continue through San Pedro and turn right (west) on 25th street, which becomes Palos Verdes Drive South. It’s 7.5 miles from Gaffey Street to the lighthouse. The road hugs the coast, along the top of bluffs, with views across the strait toward Santa Catalina. You’ll pass lovely Abalone Cove, across the road from the remarkable Wayfarers Chapel, designed by Lloyd Wright (blue rectangle).

Wayfarers Chapel Brad Nixon 0709 (640x480)

Once you pass the Terranea Resort, take the next left to access both the lighthouse and the Point Vicente Interpretative Center, which I mentioned recently as an excellent place for whale watching, with experts from the American Cetacean Society on hand during whale season (December-May).

Tours of the lighthouse are available on the second Saturday of each month from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Currently, the lighthouse tower is closed, so you won’t be able to climb up to see the big lens, but you can visit the grounds. Check the website for updates.

A good vantage point to photograph the lighthouse is on your return leg. There’s a pull-off with parking spaces (red star) before you reach Terranea, from which I shot the two west-facing photographs above, as well as this one, looking southeast with Catalina on the horizon.

Pelican Cove Brad Nixon 2188 (640x480)

Do you have a favorite lighthouse? Tell us about it in a comment.

Some of the photographs in this post and select images from other Under Western Skies posts are available at Click on the linked photos, or CLICK HERE to view the Underawesternsky photo portfolio.

© Brad Nixon 2018. Battery Point Light photo © M. Vincent 2018, used by kind permission. Ms. Vincent’s portfolio is available at Maps © Google.


  1. An interesting read together with some stunning photos Brad, thank you for posting.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My favorite lighthouse is at Bass Harbor in Maine – Acadia. I love lighthouses – they were Bob’s favorites. We visited many of them in our travels.

    Sent from my iPad



    • I’ll look it up. Thanks.


    • Ah, extremely picturesque. Well, Maine has the archetypically craggy coast with which to pose for lighthouse glamor shots. Technically the Bass Harbor Head Light, built 1858, with a fresnel lens slightly older than Point Vicente’s (Bass Island’s 2nd), also built in France, but by a different maker than Vicente’s. It’s in Acadia National Park, which everyone should make an effort to visit. Thanks!


  3. SUPER photos! 😎. Nat’l Geo worthy for sure. Thanks.


    • Thank you. Technically, they lack some crispness, but you can’t see that via the billions of pixels of bandwidth that separate you from the original image!


  4. Point Vicente is glorious. I’ve often imagined living in and tending a lighthouse, and that certainly would be a good one, although I’d be just as satisfied with a little, out-of-the-way lighthouse. The only California lighthouses I’ve visited are Point Reyes and Point Arena; it would be great fun to visit others.

    The Wayfarers Chapel brought to mind Thorncrown Chapel in Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Both of them are as interesting as they are lovely.

    I suppose my favorite lighthouse would have to be the old, steel-plated one on Matagorda Island here in Texas. It’s history rather than appearance that makes it special. During the Civil War, the Confederates removed the fresnel lens to confound the Union forces. Some say it was crated and stored, others say it was buried.

    In either case, the Union forces to be confounded included my great-great-grandfather, David Crowley, who was with the 34th Iowa. His regiment made it down to the Rio Grande Valley, then marched up the coast with orders to retake the fort that was in the neighborhood of the lighthouse. Before Gramps got there, the Confederates tried to blow up the lighthouse, but failed. Today, it’s been restored, and the third-order Fresnel lens is in the museum in Port Lavaca.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Tremendous story. One doesn’t think of Civil War engagements so far west, but there they were. We still have a Civil War barracks in Wilmington, near the Port of LA. I look forward to learning about Thorncrown and Matagorda Light.


    • And, do you know, I still haven’t been to Point Reyes. The Counselor knows it from her years in San Francisco, but not I.


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