Standing on the most southwesterly point of the Palos Verdes Peninsula, Point Vicente Lighthouse has long been one of this area’s most prominent and cherished landmarks.
Situated on eight acres, this historic cylindrical style lighthouse was erected in 1926. It is home to a third order Fresnel Lens, which is still an active aid to navigation. The grounds and lighthouse are Federal Property owned and operated by the United States Coast Guard.
The grounds are normally closed; however, the tower and a small museum are open to the public on the second Saturday of each month from 10:00 am to 3:00 pm (with the exception of April, when the tower and museum are open on the first Saturday of the month to coincide with the City’s Whale of a Day event). Children under 7 are not allowed in the tower and pets are not allowed anywhere on the Coast Guard grounds.
Point Vicente Lighthouse
31550 Palos Verdes Drive West
Rancho Palos Verdes, CA 90275
Point Vicente Interpretive Center
Located next to Point Vicente Lighthouse, the Interpretive Center includes a museum with changing exhibits, a small theater, gift shop, and breathtaking ocean vistas with a chance to see the magnificent gray whale’s migration. The Center was first opened in 1984 and was greatly expanded and reopened on July 15, 2006 as an almost 10,000 square foot state of the art facility.
The natural & local culture exhibits highlight the peninsula’s geology, flora, fauna, and history of the Palos Verdes Peninsula. Visitors can also experience examples of the area’s unique fossils, early artifacts and a kaleidoscope of cultures, including the Tongva Indians, Japanese farmers, Spanish ranchers, offshore Portuguese whalers and early visionaries. The gray whale’s extraordinary migration is prominently featured throughout the Center. Museum admission is FREE.
The Sunset Room at the Interpretive Center is available for parties or wedding receptions up to 100 guests. PVIC also offers a venue for outdoor weddings/receptions of up to 150 guests. Please call 310-377-5370 for information and availability.
The Interpretive Center is set in a waterfront park with an immaculately maintained native plant garden including unique plants such as Queen Anne’s Lace, Ceanothus, and poppies. Nature trails along the coast afford chance encounters with sea birds gliding by at eye-level, wild rabbits in the brush, and possible snake sightings. The park grounds are open until dusk. Picnic areas are available, but barbecues and fires are prohibited. Dogs must be leashed.
December through mid-May is an especially great time to visit Point Vicente as the annual gray whale migration can be seen from the Center’s 150 seat outdoor amphitheater, a leading whale watching site in the South Bay. During this time, the American Cetacean Society volunteers gather daily at the Center to conduct a census of whales passing through the Catalina Channel.
The Gray Whale census officially starts on December 1 and officially ends on May 25. The American Cetacean Society, Los Angeles Chapter sponsors the ACS/LA Census and Behavior Project in which volunteers are at the observation deck at the Point Vicente Interpretive Center until the end of the migration period. The current total for this year’s migration is:
Lighthouse History, courtesy Palos Verdes website:
Point Vicente was originally named in 1790 by Captain George Vancouver. Vancouver explored the Pacific coast for England in his 90 foot sloop Discovery. He named the point for his good friend Friar Vicente of the Mission Buenaventura. He also named Point Fermin in a similar manner.
Before the installation of lighthouses on the Pacific coast, many ships and seamen went to their graves on its rocky shores. Shipmasters deplored this dangerous stretch of coastal water. On May 1,1926 their petitions were answered when the U.S. Lighthouse Service began the operation of the brightest beacon in Southern California, Point Vicente Lighthouse. The 1000 watt bulb, focused through a five foot lens, could be seen over twenty miles. The lens, hand ground by Paris craftsmen in 1886, saw forty years of service in Alaska before its installation here.
The tower itself is 67 feet tall, but the main beam of light marks Point Vicente from a height of 185 feet above the ocean. Operation of the lighthouse was transferred to the U.S. Coast Guard in 1939. The Lighthouse was manned until automated equipment and remote control operators took over in 1971.
In 1934 the radio station and the radio navigation beacon were added. For many years, Coast Guard radiomen at Point Vicente monitored the international distress frequencies, ready to help any vessel in need. The last radioman locked the doors in 1980 when the task was transferred to another station. The radio station buildings of that station are still here although the old equipment is now long outdated.
During World War II, the peninsula was defended by many heavy gun emplacements of Fort MacArthur. During that period, the 1000 watt light was replaced by a tiny 25 watt bulb, and black out curtains hung ready for use in all the windows. The Coast Artillerymen didn’t want the light to be an aid to enemy navigation.
After the war, the endlessly rotating beam became a glaring disturbance to local residents and a positive hazard to motorists on Palos Verdes Drive West. Keepers coated the inside of the inland facing windows with a coat of white paint to end the flash of the beacon on peninsula bedroom walls.
Today Point Vicence Light still sends out its beacon across the Catalina Channel. Electronic sensors and automated controls have replaced the lighthouse keeper and activate the fog horn. Far from abandoned, the housing facility is home to regular Coast Guard personnel assigned to nearby ships, stations and offices. The former radio center is now manned by volunteer civilian members of the Coast Guard Auxiliary who are responsible for the lighthouse in addition to tracking distress calls from boaters in the Catalina Channel. The radio center also tracks Auxiliary aircraft patrolling offshore waters on weekends.
On November 17, 1979, Point Vicente Lighthouse was added to the National Registry of Historic Sites.