Whether going on an epic road trip or flying into a coastal destination, a visit to a lighthouse is something everyone should experience, grownups and kids alike. With rich histories and folklore, lighthouses are often some of the most beautiful landmarks in an area. Today you’ll discover the best lighthouses to visit in the United States from some of the best travel writers around. Here are our recommendations.
Best Lighthouses to Visit in the United States
From Hawaii to Maine and Key West to Wisconsin (yes, Wisconsin,) take a look at these best lighthouses to visit in the United States.
**Affiliate links in post where a small commission may be earned for purchases made at no additional cost to you. Writers may have working relationships with various destinations listed.
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse – North Carolina
The iconic black and white Cape Hatteras lighthouse is USA’s tallest brick lighthouse and one of the world’s most popular lighthouses. Climbing the 198 foot tall Cape Hatteras Lighthouse (take the 269 steps challenge!) is one of the most popular activities in the Outer Banks (North Carolina’s upper coast) and along the Cape Hatteras National Seashore—one of the most beautiful US coastal scenic drives and USA’s first designated National Seashore.
Before modern technology, Cape Hatteras Lighthouse served as the best possible warning to ships along the hazardous “Graveyard of the Atlantic.” After perhaps thousands of shipwrecks in this rough area, the first Cape Hatteras Lighthouse began operation in 1803, nine years after Congress approved its construction to help prevent future disasters.
The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is currently (May 2021) undergoing extensive interior painting. An announcement of when it will open again for climbing can be found on the Cape Hatteras Light Station website. Climb tickets are $8 for adults and $4 for seniors, children, and disabled. Tickets are only sold onsite and no reservations. During peak periods, plan to arrive early or there might be a several hour wait.
Recommended by: Charles McCool of McCoolTravel.com
Kilauea Lighthouse – Kauai, Hawaii
Located on the north shore of Kauai, you’ll discover that the Kilauea Lighthouse is a landmark located in the heart of Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge. The refuge was created in 1985 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and provides an ideal location for many Hawaiian seabirds and endangered animals such as the Hawaiian Monk Seal, Green Sea Turtle, and Humpback Whale thanks to its steep cliffs.
Note: While the refuge is officially open to the public at this time, there are no tours of the lighthouse currently. That said, the views of the lighthouse and views from the refuge are spectacular and not to be missed while on the island.
The refuge is closed Sunday through Wednesday each week. It is also closed on federal holidays. If you find the refuge closed, don’t worry, because the photo I took above was taken at the overlook at the end of Kilauea Road, and not from within the refuge. The overlook is an easy place to view Kilauea Point and the lighthouse from that distance shown above. Since parking at the refuge is limited, this is a great option, but note that parking is pretty limited at the overlook as well.
An entry fee to the refuge of $10 is required for adults 16 and older while children under 16 are free. Currently reservations are required. While water is permitted, be warned that general food and drink are not. A drinking fountain and restrooms are available.
Disney fans might recognize the Kilauea Lighthouse from various Lilo and Stitch movies and television episodes, like Stitch The Movie and Lilo and Stitch: The Series. True Lilo and Stitch fans will also want to make a point of visiting the small Kauai town of Hanapepe, which served as inspiration for the original movie.
Recommended by: Debra Muccio of FindingDebra.com
Old Point Loma Lighthouse – San Diego, California
Old Point Loma Lighthouse lit the way for sailors entering San Diego Bay from 1855 to 1891. San Diego’s first lighthouse is part of Cabrillo National Monument, located on the Point Loma Peninsula. It no longer operates as a functioning lighthouse, but it is open to the public as a museum. Visitors get a glimpse of life in the 1800s through period furnishings and lighthouse tools on display. Climb a spiral staircase to the top for sweeping views of the bay. You may even see migrating whales from here in January and February.
The cost to visit the monument is $20 per vehicle, or $10 per individual entering by foot or bicycle (capped at $20 for a group of four). Kids aged 15 and younger enter free of charge. The America The Beautiful National Parks Pass is also accepted.
Recommended by: Colleen Lanin, Founder/Editor of Travel Mamas
Portland Head Light – Cape Elizabeth, Maine
Portland Head Light is located in Fort Williams Park in the town of Cape Elizabeth, Maine, which is about 15 minutes south of Portland. This picturesque lighthouse is often seen in photographs depicting New England and the Maine Coast, but not only is it scenic, it is a fun place to visit with kids. The park is open year round and there is not an entrance fee, although you do need to pay for premium parking. Parking can get a bit tight if you visiting during the height of the day, but you can usually find a spot if you are willing to walk a bit from the free overflow lot.
In addition to enjoying the views of the lighthouse from the exterior, you can also visit the small Museum at Portland Head Light, which is located in the former Keepers’ Quarters and contains a number of lighthouse lenses and interpretative displays. The cost for admission to the museum is $2.00 for adults and $1.00 for children.
One of the most enjoyable past-times is to clamber over the rocks along the coast and capture photos of the lighthouse from different angles. If you are a photography buff, you will want to arrive during the golden hour before sunset and stake out a spot to set up your tripod. Plan to spend some time exploring the 90-acre park and its hiking trails, picnic facilities, and recreation areas. If you get hungry, keep an eye out for the Bite Into Maine food truck — they make an amazing lobster roll, especially the wasabi roll.
Recommended by: Tamara Gruber of We3Travel.com
Port Boca Grande Lighthouse – Florida
The historic Port Boca Grande Lighthouse is a hidden gem to tour when visiting the Gulf coast of Florida. It is the oldest structure on Gasparilla Island, built in 1890. It includes a lighthouse, a museum and a gift shop. Museum guests go back in time as they view the exhibit in four rooms packed full of local history and nature items such as seashells and fossils. The curators did a wonderful job telling the tale of the Island from the time of the earliest inhabitants (Calusa Indians) till the 1950s.
Don’t miss the lovely view of Charlotte Harbor from the lighthouse! And take advantage of the beaches right outside. It is located inside Gasparilla Island State Park but is not part of the State Park; it is operated by Barrier Island Parks Society, a local island non-profit. There is no admission fee to the lighthouse, but donations are requested. There is a $3 fee to get into the State Park and a $6 fee to go over the bridge to the island. Don’t miss exploring the town, too. Boca Grande Lighthouse and surrounding Gasparilla Island is a great day trip and will leave you with that Old Florida feeling!
Note: The lighthouse is closed during the month of August.
Recommended by: Linda McKenna of RocksAtTheStars
Cana Island Lighthouse – Door County, Wisconsin
If you are looking to visit some of the best lighthouses in the US, be sure to head to the Midwest. There are hundreds of lighthouses on and around Lake Michigan and Lake Superior, making this area a lighthouse lovers dream. Some of our favorites are in Wisconsin, including Cana Island Lighthouse, one of the most unique lighthouses we’ve ever visited.
There are plenty of things to do in Door County, Wisconsin, but one of the coolest is to visit the area’s 11 lighthouses. Each one is unique in it’s own right, but one that doesn’t disappoint is Cana Island Lighthouse located just north of Baileys Harbor.
Just in case you missed the word “island”, that is correct, this lighthouse sits on an island and to reach it you must either walk through the lake or take a tractor ride. Obviously the easiest is the tractor, but if you have sturdy shoes, walking is just as fun. *Tip: walk in the water on the way back so your shoes aren’t wet while exploring the lighthouse.
Once you reach the lighthouse, be sure to climb the 97 steps to the viewing platform. The views of Lake Michigan and the Door County peninsula will take your breath away.
Keep in mind the lighthouse is only open from May to October, so if you really want to visit, be sure to go in the summer or early fall when the leaves are changing. We promise it’s one lighthouse you’ll never forget.
Recommended by: Kirsten Maxwell of KidsAreATrip.com and MultiGenerationalVacations.com
Key West Lighthouse – Key West, Florida
Built in 1825, the lighthouse in Key West was a necessity to help ships navigate the hazardous reefs in the Florida Keys. The lighthouse was especially critical once the U.S. Navy established a base in Key West, as both commercial and military vessels would need direction. Today, a stop at the Key West Lighthouse is a must during any visit to Key West, Florida, if only for the views of the ocean and historic district area.
Even day visitors from the many cruise ships can easily pass by the lighthouse on a walk through Key West, just steps away from another popular attraction, the former residence of author Ernest Hemingway. Climb the 88 steps for incredible views and explore belongings of the various Keepers who lived there.
Admission to the lighthouse is $17 for adults, but there is a discount available if purchased online in advance. Discounts are also available for youth while there is free admission for children under 7 and active military.
Recommended by: Debra Muccio of FindingDebra.com
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