From the issue Gray Area
Just 25 miles south of San Francisco on California's rough-and-tumble coast lies a centuries-old beacon that's still lighting the way for voyaging ships. Point Montara Fog Signal and Light Station—operating since 1875—has become the distinguished (and well-preserved!) elderly statesman of the seaside. In the spring it pours on some extra charms. The public grounds offer some of the best vantage points in the Bay Area for seeing gray whales in transit. Stroll among the native plant gardens or over to benches overlooking the ocean, keeping your eyes and ears peeled for the blowholes in the distance. Or venture down a short dirt and rock path to a secluded cove surrounded by green cliffs. The lighthouse shares its perch with the quaint Point Montara Lighthouse Hostel; at $23 a night, it's a bargain stay at a banner whale-watching spot. Now that's seeing the light!
TIP: Nearby is the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, a popular low-tide destination offering a beachside glimpse into an underwater world. Residents include a rich variety of marine life such as sea stars, snails, purple sea urchins, sponges and giant green anemones.
The Point Montara Lighthouse is accessed directly from Route 1 on the southern edge of Montara. Look for the hostel sign on the coastal side of the road. The lighthouse has limited visitor parking. For a whale watching tour, Pillar Point Harbor, located three miles south, is the best option. Weekend stays at the hostel are booked far in advance (weekdays, too, if a school group is visiting). The hostel takes cancellations 48 hours in advance, so if you don't have a reservation, call the hostel (650-728-7177) during this time period (e.g., Thursday evening for a Saturday night stay). Dog-friendly for day use only!