Lighthouses have guided ships home for centuries. The historical structures located in coastal towns and islands cannot be missed from sea or land. Learn about shipwrecks, climb the steps to the top and understand the role of a lighthouse keeper. Whether it’s the tallest, brightest or most colorful, let one of these 11 lighthouses — most of which are just steps from the beach you may be lounging on — guide your family to an afternoon of breathtaking views (and fun!) on your next vacation.
Written by Hilarey Wojtowicz
Assateague - Assateague Island, VA
If little feet can make the half-mile trek along a woodsy trail to the Assateague Lighthouse, then take the hike -- everyone will be happy with the views. Located on the Virginia side of Assateague Island, just minutes from Chincoteague Island, the 1833 lighthouse offers views of the marshlands and bay. The classic red and white stripes can be seen from afar and the light that it shines can be seen up to 19 miles away. The lighthouse stands 142 feet high and guests can climb the 175 steps to the top, where a platform allows guests to walk around the outside of the tower -- keep an eye out for wild ponies below, as Assateague Island is known for them!
Open daily from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. between April and November, and weekends between December and March.
Originally constructed in 1881 in Ipswich, Mass., the Edgartown Lighthouse was moved (yes, moved!) to its current location in Edgartown in 1939. Owned by the Coast Guard, the lighthouse is still active, guiding ships into the harbor with a red light that flashes every six seconds. On your next trip to Martha's Vineyard, stop by the 45-foot cast iron structure for memorable views of the Atlantic. With just 46 steps to the top -- including eight on a ladder that takes you to the lantern room -- kids of all ages will want to climb the tower. And with its location just 10 minutes from town by foot, get a little extra exercise by walking to the lighthouse and enjoy the historic houses native to Cape Cod along the way.
Tours take place 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays from Memorial Day to the middle of June and then daily, from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., through Labor Day. Hours of operation return to weekends from Labor Day through Columbus Day and the lighthouse is closed mid-October through Memorial Day. Children under 12 are free.
As the world's oldest cast iron lighthouse, the Gibbs Hill Lighthouse in Bermuda is a must-see for families visiting the island in the Caribbean. The 117-foot tall tower has 185 steps to the top where guests can take in views of the ocean from every angle. Built in 1846, the light that now shines can be seen by ships from up to 40 miles away. After the tour, stop at The Dining Room for a casual morning meal or an elegant date-night dinner. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, the Dining Room does not offer a kids menu, and dinner is not kid-friendly. Try breakfast for eggs, toast, bagels and more, or lunch -- individual 12-inch pizzas are great for kids.
Visit the lighthouse and its gift shop Monday through Saturday between 9:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. and on Sundays from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Closed during the month of February. Children age 4 and under are free.
Construction for the Montauk Point Lighthouse was completed in 1796, making it the oldest lighthouse in New York. The National Historic Landmark is home to a museum located in the 1860 lightkeeper's house, which displays photographs, documents and artifacts that educate guests on the history of the structure. The tower is a little more than 110 feet tall and has 137 steps to the top. Tours take guests through each section of the museum and tower and there is a gift shop that sells lighthouse-inspired souvenirs.
The lighthouse is open daily between May and November and only on weekends from December to April. During certain annual events, such as Christmas at the Lighthouse in late-November, admission is free.
Families can't miss the black and white spiral design of the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse on Hatteras Island in North Carolina -- the brick structure is the tallest in the United States. At 208-feet tall, the lighthouse offers tours up the 269 steps where guests can take in jaw-dropping views of the Atlantic, though the minimum height requirement of 42 inches may prevent young children from reaching the top. Check out the visitors' center for information on the history of the lighthouse -- it was moved to its current location in 1999!
The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse is open from mid-April to mid-October from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. daily. Special night climbs are offered Thursdays from the end of May through the end of August.
Located along the Oregon Coast, the Cape Meares Lighthouse may be the shortest lighthouse in Oregon -- only 38 feet tall and great for youngsters with short legs -- but the views surrounding it are unforgettable. Built in 1889, the lighthouse is free for visitors and is just a short walk from the famous Octopus Tree -- the largest Sitka spruce tree in the state. Areas around the lighthouse offer picturesque views of the Pacific and guests may feel inclined to stay in these open spaces rather than venture into the lighthouse or near the Octopus Tree, as both are said to be haunted.
The Cape Meares Lighthouse is open daily from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. April through October.
It may not look like a lighthouse from the outside, but the Hereford Inlet Lighthouse in Wildwood, N.J. allows families to see a working lighthouse on the Jersey Shore. Originally constructed in 1874, the lighthouse has undergone renovations over the years after inclement weather and a fire caused damage to both the interior and exterior; it now sits at a little more than 57-feet tall. Guests are encouraged to tour it and its surrounding Victorian-style gardens. The Hereford Inlet Lighthouse is on the list of both National and State Registers of Historic Places.
Open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. year-round, but daily only from May to October, lighthouse tours take guests through different period rooms and the gift shop.
Tip: Purchase a combination ticket for a few extra dollars and see both the Hereford Inlet Lighthouse and the Cape May Lighthouse, located just 30 minutes apart.
If your family can make it up the 228 steps to the top of New Jersey's tallest lighthouse, expect exquisite views of the Atlantic City skyline. The Absecon Lighthouse is more than 150 years old and after reaching the top, kids will see its Fresnel Lens, which first cast its light into the waters of the Atlantic in 1857. After descending the steps, stop in the lighthouse's museum to learn about the lightkeepers and how they lived, and pick up a souvenir at the gift shop.
Parking and admission to the museum, lighthouse grounds and gift shop are free, but there is a cost for climbing to the top but it is free for children 3 and under. Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in July and August, with extended hours until 8 p.m. on Thursdays. Hours are 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday through Monday, between September and June.
At more than 270 years old, it is amazing that the Tybee Lighthouse on Tybee Island is still intact and open for climbing tours. The tallest and oldest lighthouse in Georgia dates back to 1736 when it helped guide ships into the Savannah River. With 178 steps, families can climb to the top and measure themselves against the 9-foot first order Fresnel Lens. Explore the rest of the five-acre area and stop in the museum, which was once a coastal artillery battery, before heading to the gift shop.
Open daily from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and free for children 5 and under.
Tip: Ask about the sunset tours, which take place on select days from June to October.
The 1869 Cana Island Lighthouse may only have 97 steps (which seems much less in comparison to others), but the spiral staircase will be sure to give legs a workout on the way to the top for clear views of Lake Michigan. Located in Door County, Wis., the lighthouse is 89 feet tall and sits on 8.7 acres of the peninsula. Families can learn about shipwrecks and the various lightkeepers through exhibits on the ground floor.
Open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., May through October. Guests must be at least 4 years old or 42-inches tall to climb to the top. Admission is free for children 4 and under.
The only lighthouse on the Texas Gulf Coast that is open to the public, the Port Isabel Lighthouse is a must-see when visiting the South Padre Islands. The structure dates back to 1852 when it was built to guide ships through the Brazos Santiago Pass and the barrier islands. Now a state park, the Port Isabel Lighthouse guides families to beautiful views of the Gulf of Mexico. Stop in the two museums while visiting for even more information on the history of the area.
Open daily from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. in the summer and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the winter. Admission to all is included in the combination ticket price and children 4 and under are free. Guests must be at least 38-inches tall to climb to the top.