Pigeon Point is located on Highway 1 in Pescadero, approximately 20 miles south of Half Moon Bay and 27 miles north of Santa Cruz. You can’t miss it!
A little history
Pigeon Point is named for the clipper ship Carrier Pigeon which ran aground 500 feet offshore due to heavy fog in 1853. The ship was on its maiden voyage from Maine and was just short of its final destination, San Francisco. The lighthouse was constructed afterward and first lit in November 1872 to guide mariners along the treacherous & notoriously foggy coastline. Still today, the light continues to flash every 10 seconds.
Planning your visit
There is a visitor center with some exhibits & programs, including guided docent tours. Be sure to check the website prior to visiting if you want to take advantage of them. None of these were available or open when we visited, but we still had a great time exploring on our own.
The lighthouse stands 115 feet tall. It’s tied with Point Arena for the tallest lighthouse in California – you can read about our visit to Point Arena here.
In 1913 the steam schooner, Point Arena, went down just off Pigeon Point on its way to San Francisco. Remnants of the ship are on display near the lighthouse.
Just to the north of the lighthouse are the Pigeon Point bluffs that look out over the Pacific as well as an accessible beach. We only saw 2 other people the whole time we were there!
Time your visit with low tide to check out the tide pools- they are fantastic!
Whaler’s Cove Overlook
This point overlooking Whaler’s Cove lies right along the whale migration path. You may be lucky enough to spot California gray whales and their calves seeking safety in these shallow waters. Further out, you can spot humpback & blue whales. This was definitely my favorite viewing spot! We were lucky to be there on such a clear day – we could see down to Año Nuevo!
This area was home to a major shore whaling operation from 1862 to 1896. Shore whaling is a practice that many Portuguese whalers used (mainly in the Azores) where a whale is spotted from shore by lookouts who then jumped in small boats to chase and kill their prey.
Instead of going off to sea for long periods of time, shore whaling allowed hunters to whale “part-time” while also tending to agriculture and traditional fishing.
Año Nuevo, Pigeon Point, and Pillar Point had shore stations for processing the whales from the 1860s to the 1880s. I’ve heard that one of the best places to get a feel of those days is at the Whaling Station Museum at Whalers Cove at Point Lobos south of Carmel.
I had never realized the extent to which whaling took place right here in San Mateo county. I’m thankful we just stick to whale watching now.
Mel’s Lane is technically listed as a “hike”, but it’s really just a very short half-mile walk. It starts right at the lighthouse and winds along the cove.
For a longer hike, check out Wilbur’s Watch. It’s a 2-mile out-and-back easy trail that zigzags up to a lookout point. The trailhead is on the east side of Highway 1 about a half a mile from the lighthouse. There is a small parking lot at the trailhead off Pigeon Point Road.
At the top of the trail, there is a fantastic view up & down the coast, wooden benches to sit on, and a working telescope! My 10-year-old had a great time finding the lighthouse, looking for whales (no luck), and admiring the moon.
The entire trail took us about an hour including a stop at the top.
The sun was setting just as we were heading out so we pulled over to watch. It was a pretty perfect afternoon!