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 Yerba Buena, CA    
Lighthouse best viewed by boat or plane.Photogenic lighthouse or setting.Active Fresnel Lens
Description: It has been said that the small island situated roughly midway between Oakland and San Francisco has had as many names as a modern divorcée, and also in like fashion, has reclaimed a former name. The island was reportedly first known as Sea Bird Island. Later, the island would be named for two other island dwellers often seen on its steep slopes. The early Spaniards called the island Yerba Buena, translated good herb, in reference to the curative powers of a mint found growing on the island. When the 49ers startled settling in the area, goats were pastured on the island, and soon the island was known as Goat Island. The island would be called Goat Island until around 1931, when the old Spanish name was officially restored. A resident sailor was dressed up as a goat and ceremoniously pushed into the bay, signaling the end of the name Goat Island.

Postcard of Yerba Buena Island Lighthouse
The island’s lighthouse connection began in 1873 when the Lighthouse Service moved the district's depot from Mare Island to the southeast side of Yerba Buena Island. From the depot, a lighthouse tender was dispatched to the light stations up and down the coast. The arrival of the lighthouse tender at a station was a mixed blessing. Not only did it bring desired items like paychecks, mail, food and other supplies for operating the station, but it also brought the notoriously strict lighthouse inspector, who would give the station a thorough going-over. The lighthouse tenders Shubrick, Manzanita, and Madrono were assigned to the depot over the years. Later, the depot was also used to service lightships, which were situated near dangerous sections of the west coast where it was impractical to build a lighthouse.

In 1874, the fog bell from Point Conception, where a steam whistle had recently been installed, was placed on the southwest end of Yerba Buena Island. The bell would be used as a backup for the two, ten-inch steam whistles that were constructed nearby on a level notch carved out of the rocky island. A large water tank and coal house, flanked the twin fog signal buildings. Just above the notch, the unique, octagonal Yerba Buena Lighthouse was built in a Victorian style. The short, ornate tower was constructed of wood, and has the year of completion, 1875, mounted above its doorway. A fifth-order Fresnel lens from the Yaquina Bay Lighthouse, which was discontinued in 1873, was placed in the lantern room. About eighty yards further up the island’s slope and constructed in a similar style to the tower stands the two-story keepers' dwelling. The historic postcard at right shows the station with all its structures intact. Note that the cliff face in front of the lighthouse was painted white to help mark the island.

Yerba Buena Lighthouse
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
To bring supplies for the lighthouse and fog signal, the lighthouse tender made what was called “the shortest tender run”, a voyage of just a couple hundred yards around the island. At the station’s landing, a derrick with a steam powered winch would hoist up the sacks of coal and other needed supplies. Food shipments would be brought up the “goat trail,” a path that connected the station to the depot.

Keeper John Kofod served two stints at Yerba Buena. During his service as assistant keeper, his only child, Anna, met and married Walter Fanning, a radioman at the Naval Radio Station on the island. The Kofod’s first grandchild, also named Walter, was born in the keeper’s dwelling on Yerba Buena. In 1914, Kofod accepted an appointment as head keeper at East Brother Island. He would serve on that smaller island, just up the bay, until 1921, when he returned to Yerba Buena as head keeper.

Keeper Kofod was fond of taking his grandchildren down to the fog signal on New Year’s Eve, where they were allowed to give three long blasts of the steam whistle as a New Year’s salute to the passing ferries. The children were thrilled as the ferries responded in like manner. Walter Fanning Jr. would later play a key role in helping to save and restore the East Brother Lighthouse.

In 1933, a tunnel was bored through Yerba Buena Island to serve as a link between the east and west sections of the Bay Bridge. The bridge was finished in 1936, the same year that construction began on a new "island" built on the shoals just north of Yerba Buena Island. Composed of mud dredged from the bay and transported down from the Sacramento delta, the island was named Treasure Island for the gold that was likely contained in all that silt. Originally built for use as an airport, the island instead was home to a world's fair in 1939. With the start of World War II, the island was turned over to the Navy, which used it as a station until 1993.

Even with the lights on the nearby bridge, the Yerba Buena Lighthouse remains operational to this day. Personnel were removed from the station in 1958 when it was automated. Today the keepers' dwelling is home to a Coast Guard admiral, which is likely why the station is in such excellent condition. The area of the island that served as the lighthouse depot is home to Coast Guard Group San Francisco and Aids to Navigation Team San Francisco.

Head Keepers: N. D. Tuttle (1875 – 1877), Rheinhold Holzhuter (1877 – 1880), J. C. Linne (1881 – 1885), George B. Koons (1885 – 1888), John A. F. McFarland (1888 – 1892), Henry Hall (1892), John M. Nilson (1892 – 1893), Richard A. Weiss (1893 – 1904), Herbert H. Luff (1904 – 1921), John Peter Kofod (1921 - 1929), Albert H. Joost (1930), Lemuel Miner (at least 1940), Wayne Piland (1953 – 1958).

Photo Gallery: 1 2


  1. Guardians of the Golden Gate, Ralph Shanks, 1990.
  2. The Legend of Yerba Buena Island, Marcia Boyes, 1936.
  3. Umbrella Guide to California Lighthouses, Sharlene and Ted Nelson, 1993.
  4. Lighthouses of the Pacific, Jim Gibbs, 1986.
  5. U.S. Coast Guard Historian's Office website.

Location: Located on Yerba Buena Island, halfway between Oakland and San Francisco on the Interstate 80, Bay Bridge.
Latitude: 37.8073
Longitude: -122.3623

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

Travel Instructions: The lighthouse and keepers' quarters are on Coast Guard property and are not open to the public. Views of the lighthouse are possible from the Alameda/Oakland Ferry that runs between San Francisco and Alameda/Oakland and are reportedly possible from cruises aboard the USS Potomac. A good way to see all the lighthouses of San Francisco Bay is aboard the Motor Launch Plover.

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

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