Explore Lighthouses in Florida

Want a different way to explore Florida history? Follow Florida's Lighthouse Trail.

Florida has more than 1,800 miles of coastline, more than any other state in the continental United States. To ensure safe marine navigation along that vast stretch of waterfront, there is an impressive collection of lighthouses in Florida, including some of the nation's oldest and tallest. There are thirty lighthouses still standing proud in Florida. Most of these have been lovingly preserved and several have undergone complete restoration. Some lighthouses in Florida invite visitors to climb their spiraling staircases and take in the dazzling view from their lofty lanterns. Many others, although their towers aren't open to the public, are located in public parks and can be easily viewed at close range. Even the spider-legged reef lighthouses offshore can be conveniently viewed by boat. But in every case, these venerable beacons continue to illuminate the pages of history. Be sure to have your camera handy.

This tour of lighthouses in Florida explores the entire state, from the Northeast Coast down along the Atlantic Ocean to the Florida Keys, and back up the West Coast along the Gulf of Mexico.

Because days and hours of operation vary greatly, and some Florida lighthouses have minimum age and/or height requirements for climbing their towers, we strongly recommend calling the contact number provided before traveling to visit the lighthouses.

Northeast Coast

The journey begins at the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum, (904) 829-0745. To get there from I-95, exit at S.R. 16 (Exit 318, about 30 miles south of Jacksonville) and drive east for about six miles until you reach U.S. 1. Turn right and proceed south for a mile and a half, then turn left on King St. Cross the Bridge of Lions and you'll be on Anastasia Island. Continuing on U.S. 1, you will appear to go past the Lighthouse on your left. You will pass RB Hunt Elementary also on the left. Get into the turn lane and make a left turn onto Red Cox Road, which becomes Lighthouse Avenue. The lighthouse parking lot will be on the right. This lighthouse holds the distinction of being the first in Florida officially authorized by the U.S. Congress. It was lit in May of 1824 on the site of an old Spainish watchtower that dated to 1589. The old lighthouse washed into the sea in the 1880s. The present 165-foot tall tower was constructed in between 1871 and 1874. It’s day mark is a black and white spiral with a red lantern. It is only lighthouse in the nation with this particular combination and the 10th tallest in the U.S.

It also retains its original first-order Fresnel (pronounced "frenɪ'-el") lens. The lens was hand-blown in Paris, France, for the St. Augustine Lighthouse in 1874, and is 9-feet-tall. It uses one 1,000-watt bulb, and has six bulls-eye panels which cast a single "flash" of white light every 30 seconds. 119 stairs with eight landings make the tower climb relatively easy and well worth the sweeping view it affords of "America's Oldest City."

The beautifully restored keeper's house has galleries for viewing artifacts from shipwrecks located by underwater archaeologists. The history of the U.S. Coast Guard and the shrimping industry of St. Augustine in the 1940s and 1950s, are also shared. The nearby visitors center is both the entrance and exit, and houses a small exhibition gallery and a gift shop. An audio tour is offered free with admission. The admission fee helps with preservation and research about our nation’s earliest maritime history.

Since you will already be on A1A, the easiest and most scenic route to reach the next lighthouse is to simply stay on that road and drive south about 50 miles to Daytona Beach. A1A is also called Atlantic Ave. once you reach Daytona Beach. At the Dunlawton Bridge in Port Orange, A1A turns inland. Stay on South Atlantic Ave. until it ends (about five miles) and follow signs to reach the lighthouse. The Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse and Museum, (386) 761-1821, a 175-foot tall tower and one of the tallest masonry towers in the U.S., was completed in 1887 to guide mariners as they navigated one of the nation's most treacherous inlets. A National Historic Landmark, this is one of only a handful of early light stations that has retained all of its original buildings. Here you'll see a variety of exhibits in the restored keeper's dwellings, plus a modern exhibit hall devoted to the museum’s collection of magnificent Fresnel lenses. A 203-step climb brings you to the lighthouse tower's main gallery and a panoramic view of the Atlantic coast. The museum is open seven days a week.

To find the next lighthouse at Jupiter Inlet, head back north on A1A approximately five miles and turn left on Dunlawton Blvd. Follow Dunlawton five miles west to I-95. Head south on I-95 for 130 miles to the S.R. 70/Okeechobee Rd. exit (Exit 129). Bear right on Okeechobee Rd., then turn left on S. Kings Hwy. to get to the entrance ramp for Florida's Turnpike. Take the turnpike to the Indiantown Rd./Jupiter east exit (Exit 116) to U.S. Highway 1 and turn left. Turn Right on Alt. A1A/Beach Road, then take the first right into Lighthouse Park at Captain Armour’s Way. Designed by Lieutenant George Gordon Meade, the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse and Museum's, (561) 747-8380, distinctive red tower was first illuminated in 1860. Meade was famous, not only as a Union general, but also as the engineer of several revolutionary screw-pile lighthouses. The 108-foot tower sits on a 48-foot tall ancient Indian shell mound and is topped with its original first-order Fresnel lens, possibly the oldest in the state. A small museum in the tower's former oil storage building showcases the station's long career. Extensive renovation of the lighthouse was completed in 2000.

Southeast Coast

To reach today's first lighthouse, return to I-95 and drive south 80 miles to Miami. Take the Rickenbacker Causeway exit (Exit 1A), continue east on the Causeway (S.R 913) across Biscayne Bay, past the Miami Seaquarium onto Key Biscayne itself. The road will end at the Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, home of the Cape Florida Lighthouse, (305) 361-5811, Dade County's oldest structure. The original Cape Florida lighthouse was built at the southern tip of Key Biscayne and was heavily damaged in 1836 during a Seminole attack. The present tower, dating from 1847, was raised and improved by George G. Meade in 1855 to extend its visibility from the sea. An extensive restoration project spearheaded by The Dade Heritage Trust and the Florida Park Service was completed in 1996, so the lighthouse and keeper's quarters today faithfully reflect their 1855 appearance, minus the large second order Fresnel lens that was removed in 1878 when the tower was decommissioned.

The drive to Key West is a delightful experience. Drive west on Rickenbacker Causeway to U.S. 1 and turn south to Key West for the 154 mile drive surrounded by clear skies, sparkling waters and charming vistas. Follow U.S. 1 (Truman St.) through the city to Whitehead St. and the Key West Lighthouse and Museum, (305) 294-0012, will be on your left. The original lighthouse, activated in 1826, was replaced further inland, the first lighthouse built within the limits of a city, in 1848. The attractive white tower with its black lantern became a beacon to land travelers as well as to those traveling by sea. Today, beautifully restored and maintained by the Key West Art and Historical Society, a climb to the top of its 88 steps rewards the visitor with a spectacular view of the island and harbor. Visitors are also welcome in the museum, housed in the restored keeper's dwelling.

Southwest Coast

Depart Key West on U.S. 1 North, driving 129 miles to the southern entrance of Florida's Turnpike. Follow the turnpike north 39 miles to the I-75 North exit toward Naples (Exit 39), then travel I-75 north approximately 164 miles to the Kings Hwy. exit (Exit 170). After only about a block on King's Hwy., turn right on Veteran's Hwy. which will become S.R. 776. After approximately 10 miles, turn left on Gasparilla Rd. (also S.R. 771). Travel S.R. 771 to the Boca Grande Causeway and turn left, be prepared to stop and pay toll. At the four-way stop sign once you're on Gasparilla Island, turn right. The road makes a quick jog back to the left and you will be on Gulf Blvd. Stay on Gulf Blvd. for nine miles and at the stop sign at Belcher Rd., go straight ahead into the park; be prepared to pay a nominal fee. Here at the southern end of Gasparilla Island you will find the Port Boca Grande Lighthouse, (941) 964-0060. There are three buildings on the island. The first of the structures to be erected, the white Boca Grande Lighthouse is in the "cottage style" with a matching keeper's house. Built in 1927 and lit in 1931, the light was supplemented by a newer, skeletal steel tower, the Gasparilla Island Lighthouse, (941) 964-0375, designed to provide rear range guidance to ships entering the harbor. This structure is located one mile north. Both of these Florida lighthouses are operational today and although the steel tower is not open to the public, the clapboard lighthouse is, as well as the museum and gift shop.

Head further north to view the sunset and the lighthouse at Egmont Key National Wildlife Refuge and State Park, (727) 893-2627, that marks the entrance to the Ports of Tampa and St. Petersburg. From Gasparilla Island, return to I-75, then drive north about 50 miles to I-275 and the Sunshine Skyway Bridge. After crossing the bridge to St. Petersburg, take Exit 4 and travel west on the Pinellas Bayway S.R. 682, then south on Pinellas Bayway S.R. 679 to Fort DeSoto Park. Built in 1848, Egmont Key Lighthouse, was at the time the only lighthouse on the west coast situated between Key West and St. Marks. The present building was relocated inland upon its reconstruction in 1858. The Northern navy used the island as a post for its blockade of the Confederacy during the Civil War. Estimated to be the oldest structure in the Tampa Bay Area, the lighthouse is only accessible by private boat or excursion boats which operate from marinas throughout the St. Petersburg area.

North Central Coast

A pleasant day's drive northwest along the Gulf of Mexico leads to the St. Marks Lighthouse, located at the mouth of the St. Marks River, 20 miles south of Tallahassee. To get there from St. Petersburg, drive north on U.S. 19 approximately 70 miles. When U.S. 19 North joins U.S. 98 West in Crystal River, continue north 90 miles to Perry. Follow U.S. 98 west in Perry and drive 41 miles to C.R. 59 and turn left into the entrance to St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, (850) 925-6121. This brilliant white lighthouse sits east of the harbor entrance at the foot of C.R. 59, looking out over the blue-green waters of the Gulf of Mexico. The tower was erected in 1842 after efforts to provide a safe foundation for the original failed in the 1830s. Viewing of the lighthouse is permitted, and the surrounding habitat provides spectacular bird-watching opportunities. Dolphins can frequently be seen from the point.

Northwest Coast

Begin the day with an early morning drive along northwest Florida's coast. Follow scenic U.S. 98 west through the towns of Apalachicola, Panama City and Destin to Pensacola. After crossing the Pensacola Bay Bridge, veer left onto Bayfront Parkway, which turns into Main Street. Take a left onto Barrancas Avenue. Turn left onto South Navy Boulevard and drive through the east gate of Pensacola Naval Air Station. After passing through the guard station, turn right onto Taylor Road and then take another right on Radford Boulevard. Pensacola Lighthouse and Maritime Museum, (850) 393-1561, will be on your left, directly across from the National Naval Aviation Museum. First lit Jan. 1, 1859, the current Pensacola Lighthouse remains an active aid to navigation. Throughout its lifetime, this lighthouse withstood attacks by Union forces during the Civil War, lightning strikes, hurricanes, tornados and even an earthquake, but the structure held fast. Today, lighthouse is maintained jointly by the U.S. Coast Guard and the Pensacola Lighthouse Association. The tower is open to the public and the renovated 1869 keeper’s quarters displays artifacts from many eras of northwest Florida’s history, including the early Spanish settlements and the Civil War.

For those interested in learning more about Florida lighthouses or in joining the Florida Lighthouse Association, visit www.floridalighthouses.org.

- Peter W. Cross for VISIT FLORIDA


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