For ships at sea, lighthouses are beacons to guide them safely on their journeys. For land-bound tourists, they have always been a source of fascination, and Florida is one of the best places to satisfy that yen.
With 1,350 miles of coastline, Florida has more than two dozen lighthouses, and a number of them can be visited. Many have museums inside the structure. Some allow visitors to climb to the top (Be warned: There may be hundreds of steps and age restrictions apply.). Some are said to be haunted. Nearly all of them make dramatic photographs.
And then Florida also has faux lighthouses — structures that look like lighthouses but aren’t — and private lighthouses.
Here is a sampling of lighthouses that can be visited. For other Florida lighthouses and further information, go to www.lighthousefriends.com.
▪ Key West: Dating to 1846, this light was decommissioned in 1969. It now houses a museum of Key West’s maritime heritage. You can climb its 88 steps to the top. Admission is $10 adult, $5 for children 6 and up. www.kwahs.org/visit/lighthouse-keepers-quarters/, 305-294-0012.
▪ Jupiter Inlet: Access to the red-brick lighthouse is only on guided tours. Admission is $9 adults, $5 children. Visitors can climb to the top of the light, which is located on a Coast Guard base, or even arrange to stage a wedding there. www.jupiterlighthouse.org, 561-747-8380.
▪ Ponce Inlet: This 175-foot-high light is the second tallest on the U.S. East Coast, and if you are hale and hearty, you can climb its 203 steps. The site has a number of related buildings, among them keepers’ houses, a lens exhibit, building and a boatyard. Tours are $5 adult, $1.50 children 11 and under. www.ponceinlet.org, 386-761-1821.
▪ St. Augustine: Various tours are available at this striped lighthouse, from the top of which one can get a panoramic view of the nation’s oldest city. General admission is $9.95 adults, $7.95 children under 12. Specialty tours also are offered, among them a Dark of the Moon paranormal tour (the lighthouse claims to be the most haunted place in St. Augustine), and a Lost Ships tour. www.staugustinelighthouse.com, 904-829-0745.
▪ Cape St. George: This Panhandle lighthouse was originally built in 1852, but first the beach and then its concrete based were eroded, and in 2005 it collapsed into the sea. It was reconstructed on St. George Island using original material as much as possible and opened to the public in 2008. Admission is $5 adult, $3 children 6 and under. www.stgeorgelight.org, 850-927-7745.
▪ Pensacola: Both the lighthouse and museum, located within the Pensacola Naval Air Station, are open to the public. Admission is $6 adults, $4 for those 12 and under. It is 177 steps to the top, from which visitors get a view of Pensacola Pass, three forts and the Navy Yard. www.pensacolalighthouse.org, 850-393-1561.
▪ Cape Florida: In our own backyard is the lighthouse in Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park on Key Biscayne. Built in 1825, it is the oldest structure in South Florida. Admission to the park is $8 per vehicle; there is no charge to visit the lighthouse, which has 109 steps. www.floridastateparks.org/park/cape-florida, 305-361-5811.