Point Bonita Lighthouse on the Edge of North America

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Tunnel leading to the lighthouse

There are bucket lists for the big events and adventures in life and then there are lists of things to do locally that you never seem to get to: visiting Point Bonita Lighthouse was one for me.  This winter — on a crisp, clear evening when a golden full moon rose over San Francisco — I joined a group for the Golden Gate National Recreation Area’smonthly evening walk to the lighthouse. It’s an adventure, about a half-mile walk down a steep cliff-side trail from a remote Marin headlands parking lot that itself seems perched on the edge of the continent.

But it gets better. You walk through an 118-foot hard-rock tunnel, hand carved by workmen in the late 1800s and reach another point where a white suspension bridge stretches over a gap in the cliffs, the surf pounding far below.
The park service recommends dressing warmly and bringing a flashlight and that can’t be emphasized enough. It’s cold out there and, even with a bright moon glow, it’s dark after sundown.
The views are awesome and unforgettable, with the the lights of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco to the east, the coastline extending south to Half Moon Bay and beyond  and the vast, sparking Pacific to the west.
There’s much fascinating history to learn about, including the lives of the lighthouse keepers, but much of it is grim: the many shipwrecks in the treacherous fog, sometimes so dense that even the lighthouse’s powerful lens was invisible from below.
The lighthouse, built in 1877, is still in use today, operated by the U.S. Coast Guard. It’s the only lighthouse in the U.S. to be reached by suspension bridge, a narrow strip that sways with foot traffic (not for those prone to vertigo), rebuilt in the last two years. The crossing of the bridge, the crashing surf on the rocks and shore far below, is one of the memorable parts of the evening.
Docents who lead the monthly full-moon hikes describe the history, geology and the flora of the rugged landscape — and they throw in an astronomy lesson when the stars twinkle in the evening sky.
Point Bonita is also open for visits during limited daytime hours (Saturdays, Sundays, Mondays 12:30 p.m.-3:30 p.m.) but try to nab a spot on one of the full-moon walks. Make reservations a couple of months in advance because there is a 40-person limit and the groups fill up quickly. Apparently, it’s on many Bay Area residents’ local bucket lists, and for good reason.
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