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 Diamond Head, HI    
Photogenic lighthouse or setting.Lighthouse appeared in movie.Active Fresnel Lens
Description: Located at the eastern end of Waikiki Beach, the Diamond Head Crater is a familiar landmark to the throngs of tourists who today pack the high-rise hotels in the area. For mariners of yesteryear, Diamond Head also served as a landmark for their approach to the harbor at Honolulu from the west coast of the United States.

In the 1820s, sailors discovered what they believed were diamonds in the rocks on the volcano's slopes. Although the sailor's diamonds turned out to be clear calcite crystals, the name Diamond Head has been associated with the crater ever since.

With the increase of commerce calling at the port of Honolulu, a lookout was established in 1878 on the seaward slopes of Diamond Head for spotting and reporting incoming vessels. John Charles Petersen, a mariner born in Sweden, was the first watchman at the station and was paid $50 per month. After his arrival in Hawai`i Petersen married a native girl who died just four months after the birth of their daughter Melika. Diamond Head Charlie raised his daughter at the isolated station where he served for thirty years until his death in 1907.

Aerial view of Diamond Head Lighthouse
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
During the night of October 2, 1893 the SS Miowera grounded on the reef just off Diamond Head. As Diamond Head was obscured that evening, the vessel's captain had mistaken the high land to the north of the crater as Diamond Head and had brought his ship too close to shore. All passengers and cargo were safely off-loaded, but it took six weeks to free the Miowera. Four years later, the magnificent steamship China also ran aground. It was widely believed that both of these incidents could have been avoided had a light been shown from Diamond Head.

Captain James King, minister of the Interior for the Republic of Hawai`i, had been petitioning the Hawaiian legislature for a light on Diamond Head for several years, and according to the following account from the December 4, 1897 edition of the Pacific Commercial Advertiser steps were finally being taken to rectify the situation.

Captain King became weary of hearing the pros and cons of the case, and after a few trips to the vicinity with Mr. Rowell, the Superintendent of Public Works, drove a stake for the site of the beacon. ... There was ordered at once the material for the illumination and for the towers. The iron for the structure has arrived and as soon as some road is made to the slope point, work on the structure will begin.

The selected site was just 250 yards west of Charlie's lookout tower, and the original structure was a forty-foot-tall, iron, framework tower built by Honolulu Iron Works. Barbier and Benard of France manufactured the third-order Fresnel lens along with the lantern room for the tower. Due to concerns over the stability of the structure, the open framework was enclosed with walls constructed of coral-rock, excavated from a quarry on O`ahu. The light, which had a red sector to mark dangerous shoals and reefs, was first lit on July 1, 1899. A circular hole was left about midway up the tower so that Diamond Head Charlie could have an unobstructed view towards Barbers Point. John M. Kaukaliu was the first keeper of the Diamond Head Lighthouse, and as no keeper's dwelling was provided, he lived at a private residence about a quarter of a mile from the lighthouse.

When the Lighthouse Board took control of all aids to navigation in the Hawaiian Islands in 1904, it reported that the Diamond Head Lighthouse was the only first-class lighthouse in the territory. However, during an inspection in 1916, it was noted that growing cracks in the structure were compromising the tower's integrity. In 1917, funds were allocated for constructing a fifty-five-foot tower of reinforced concrete on the original foundation.

Scaffolding was built around the old tower and the original lantern room was removed and placed atop a new metal framework, allowing the continuous operation of the light. The old tower was then dismantled and replaced with the modern concrete structure, which strongly resembles the original tower. One notable difference is that the old tower had an external staircase that wrapped partway around the tower, whereas the new tower houses an internal, cast-iron, spiral stairway. When the tower was complete, the lantern room containing the Fresnel lens was placed atop the new lighthouse.

The first keeper's dwelling at the station was built several yards west of the tower in 1921, three years after the new lighthouse was activated. Before that time, the keepers typically lived in a nearby village. A keeper occupied the dwelling for just three years, as the station was automated in 1924. Subsequently, the dwelling became home to Frederick Edgecomb, superintendent of the Nineteenth Lighthouse District. He lived at the lighthouse until 1939, when the Coast Guard assumed control of all lighthouses.

During World War II, a Coast Guard radio station was housed in the keeper's dwelling, and a small structure was built on the seaward side of the tower. Following the war, the dwelling was remodeled and has since been home to the Commanders of the Fourteenth Coast Guard District. Rear Admiral Benjamin Engel moved into the dwelling in 1967 with his wife Ruth. The first view of her new home left Mrs. Engel speechless, as she had never lived in such a beautiful location nor had a lighthouse in her yard.

The well manicured lawn adjacent to the Diamond Head Lighthouse is a perfect spot for entertaining, and the Engels hosted many a party for friends and visiting dignitaries. Rear Admiral Engel occasionally forgot to inform his wife exactly how many would be in attendance, but one party will never be forgotten by the Engels. During this gathering, Mrs. Engel was amazed at the number of people her husband had invited. While conversing with one of the unfamiliar guests, Mrs. Engel learned that a group of tourists had come to explore the Diamond Head Lighthouse and were simply delighted to discover that the Coast Guard was hosting an open house.

Besides continuing its nightly vigil over the reefs at Diamond Head, the lighthouse also serves as one end of the finish line for the biennial Transpac Yacht Race, which starts 2,225 miles away in Long Beach, California. During the race, members of the Transpacific Yacht Club are allowed to use the tower as a lookout for recording finishing times. The road near the lighthouse is packed with people watching the beautiful yachts, under full sail, riding the trade winds towards Honolulu. Even when there isn't a race to watch, the pullouts near the lighthouse offer amazing views of the surf and those who are drawn to ride it.

Head Keepers: John M. Kaukaliu (1899 1916), Robert I. Reid (1917 1919), Alexander Daniel Toomey (1919 1924).

Photo Gallery: 1 2 3 4 5


  1. The Lighthouses of Hawai`i, Love Dean, 1986.

Location: Located at the base of the now extinct Diamond Head Volcano.
Latitude: 21.25573
Longitude: -157.80956

For a larger map of Diamond Head Lighthouse, click the lighthouse in the above map or get a map from: Mapquest.

Travel Instructions: From H1 near Waikiki, exit onto University Avenue and go towards the ocean. Turn left onto Date Street then right onto Kapahulu Avenue and follow it to Paki Avenue. Turn left on Paki Avenue, which will become Diamond Head Road as you near the foot of the volcano. The Diamond Head Lighthouse will be on your right-hand side as you round the base of the volcano. Being part of a private residence, the lighthouse grounds are not open to the public. Good, distant views of the grounds can be had from atop the crater at Diamond Head State Monument and obstructed views are possible from the street and area near the lighthouse.

The lighthouse is owned by the Coast Guard. Grounds/dwelling/tower closed.

Find the closest hotels to Diamond Head Lighthouse

Notes from a friend:

Kraig writes:
We first visited the lighthouse in December of 2000, when a festive wreath, a string of Christmas lights and an illuminated Santa and reindeer complemented the glowing Fresnel lens. We wandered around the area for some time seeking the best angle for a picture. Just as we were ready to leave, we noticed the gate near the lighthouse had opened, and were fortunate to obtain permission to enter the manicured grounds and photograph the lighthouse from the best vantage point.

Be sure and hike to the top of Diamond Head Crater. Besides great views of the lighthouse, you will also have amazing views of Waikiki Beach and Honolulu. Hiking the trail and four sets of stairs can be a bet strenuous. Perhaps that is why the park opens at 6 a.m., but the best time for viewing the lighthouse in my opinion is in the afternoon hours.

An aerial view of Diamond Head Lighthouse is featured at the beginning of the movies "The Final Countdown" and "Morning Light."

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Pictures on this page copyright Kraig Anderson, used by permission.