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  • Writer's pictureMark Robinson

Northern California Lighthouse Journey

Day 1

This was not our first trip to Northern California. In 2014, my wife, son and I took a trip from the Bay Area all the up to Crescent City (the border with Oregon). While we had a lot of fun on that trip, we made a lot of mistakes. We stayed at the wrong hotels, didn’t look up good restaurants, and most important, missed some lighthouses and lighthouse locations. While we still missed two lighthouses on this new trip because of timing issues, it was our goal to do the new trip right.

The first day my son and I left at 12:30 pm and began our journey up the coast. Along the way we saw beautiful wineries and redwoods. Because of the recent fires in the area, there were also sections of the hillside that were charred and barren. We encountered a lot of traffic and we rerouted several times, but eventually, after about 7 hours, we made it to the town of Ferndale, where we would be staying over for the next two nights. We didn’t walk around, but rather checked into our room at the Gingerbread Mansion Inn.

Gingerbread Mansion Inn

We were greeted and shown around the house, examining the beautiful parlors, entryway, library, and formal dining room.

Our room at the Gingerbread Mansion Inn (Strawberry Hill)

We then went up to our large room to go to bed.

Day 2

We woke up the next morning bright and early. Because we were so early, we decided to walk to downtown Ferndale, located a block away. It was very peaceful walking down the empty street, peaking into the shop windows that we would revisit later.

Downtown Ferndale

One of the things we needed to see on day 2 was the Cape Mendocino lighthouse Replica at the Humboldt County Fairgrounds. Because breakfast was still not served yet, we drove 5 minutes there, only to find that the lens had been removed and taken to the Ferndale Museum!

Cape Mendocino Lighthouse Replica

As we would be back in Ferndale, this was not a problem. By this time breakfast was ready so we came back to find that the dining room was…. empty. This was definitely good though, as it meant we could finish faster. The staff was incredibly friendly, and we had a great meal at the inn.

After leaving Ferndale, we drove about 20 minutes to Table Bluff County Park where we saw the foundation of Table Bluff lighthouse, now located in Eureka.

Table Bluff Foundation

Table Bluff is located high above the water, with Humboldt Bay to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the west. Although there were no buildings, this was a beautiful location.

Explanation of Table Bluff

Following this short detour we headed to the main lighthouse of the day, Trinidad Head. We had been trying for years to time a visit to this lighthouse, and although we had multiple confirmations the lighthouse was open, we still weren’t sure. Luckily, the gate to the lighthouse was open and friendly volunteers greeted us.

Trinidad Head Lighthouse

We then climbed to the top of the lighthouse for a panoramic view of the water and the fog horn building.

Trinidad Head Lighthouse Fog Building

After taking many photos, we chatted with the volunteers for sometime before we hiked back down the hill and went to our car. Before driving off, we also visited the Trinidad Memorial Lighthouse. It had been relocated to a new site at the base of Trinidad Head since we had last been to Trinidad.

Trinidad Memorial Lighthouse

After stopping at Starbucks, we drove about 20 minutes to Samoa, where we (tried) to see the ruins of Humboldt Harbor lighthouse, the first lighthouse in the region. Unfortunately, the area was fenced off, but we still saw the general area of the ruins. Then we drove to the Humboldt Bay Maritime Museum. While fairly unimpressive, this museum contained some neat lighthouse artifacts, such as the copula and lens from the previously stated Humboldt Harbor and Table Bluff lighthouses.

Table Bluff Lighthouse Lens

Humboldt Harbor Lighthouse Cupola

Finally, we drove back to Ferndale. We first went to see the Ferndale Museum where the Cape Mendocino lighthouse lens was, but it wasn’t there. Turns out they were going to move it there but didn’t have the funds so the lens ended up in storage. After this we wandered some more through Downtown Ferndale, walked through their spectacular cemetery and then had a fantastic dinner at Vi Restaurant.

Ferndale Cemetery

It was a successful day.

Day 3

We woke up at about 4:45 am to visit Punta Gorda lighthouse, located on the lost coast. The staff insisted on giving us a to-go breakfast (thank you!). We then drove on a windy, dark, and foggy road ascending from Ferndale up into the lost coast. On the way we stopped to try to see the site of Cape Mendocino Lighthouse (Yes, this means the lighthouse is in Shelter Cove, the lens is in storage, and both of these were used on a remote lofty bluff on the Lost Coast!). Unfortunately, it was very foggy, there was nowhere to park, and most importantly you could not see the site from the road. This was not a big deal, and we pressed on as we drove along a stunning section of coastline before turning inland towards the minuscule town of Petrolia.

Plaque Commemorating Petrolia

Petrolia was the first site in California to sport its very own oil well. Finally we headed down Lighthouse Road to park for our hike.

After preparing our supplies, we headed out over the dunes. While the hike was only 5 miles round trip, much of it was over sand, which made the hike very difficult. Nevertheless, this was one of the most beautiful lighthouse hikes we have been on. Upon arriving at the tiny lighthouse, we noticed that there was a colony of Sea Lions below us.

Punta Gorda Lighthouse

Foundation of the keeper's house at Punta Gorda Lighthouse

Sea Lions at Punta Gorda Lighthouse

The lighthouse and oil house were abandoned, but the doors and windows were removed, so we could go inside. After taking enormous quantities of photos, we hiked all the way back and drove down the windy road and all the way back to the 101 to drive home.

This was a great trip!

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