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 Ano Nuevo, CA    
A hike of some distance required.Fee charged.
Description: Most visitors today come to Año Nuevo Point to view the elephant seal colony, which takes up residence on the beaches in the area at various periods throughout the year. Those who come to the point to peer out across a half-mile stretch of water to see the toppled tower and dilapidated keepers' dwellings on Año Nuevo Island are definitely in the minority.

Original Ano Nuevo Lighthouse
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
The Spanish explorer Sebastian Vizcaino departed Acapulco in January of 1602 to explore the California coast. His three ships sailed past the coast just north of Monterey Bay early in January of 1603, and the diarist and chaplain of the expedition, Father Antonio de la Ascension, named one landmark Punta de Año Nuevo (New Year's Point), for the day on which it was sighted.

Año Nuevo Island is five miles south of Pigeon Point and roughly nine acres in size. After surveying the coast north of Monterey for the U.S. Coast Survey, A. M. Harrison made the following recommendation for a light at Año Nuevo in an 1855 report. "Point Año Nuevo possesses all the requisites as a site for a guide to Santa Cruz harbor, and would also prove of advantage to the vessels in the coasting trade. This point once made, it becomes a matter of little difficulty to reach Santa Cruz; and vessels from the Northward, bound to Monterey, and even up and down the coast, would find a light here very serviceable."

Before any light was built along this stretch of the coast, the Carrier Pigeon was lost in 1853, followed by the Sir John Franklin in 1865, and the Coya in 1866. The government finally purchased Año Nuevo Island and land on Pigeon Point for $10,000 in 1870.

Año Nuevo was originally used as a fog signal station, with the first blast of its steam whistle being emitted on May 29, 1872. The keepers' dwelling was placed at the southern end of the island, and a wooden walkway ran north to the fog signal, located about halfway up the island on the western side.

A landing and later a boathouse were constructed on the eastern shore to permit access to the island. Though the distance to the mainland isn't great, crossings were quite dangerous as large swells would wrap around both ends of the island, creating breakers and strong currents in the narrow channel. In April of 1883, Keeper Henry Colburn, his assistant Bernard A. Ashley, and two boys from a nearby farm attempted to make the crossing in rough seas. Their boat was soon swamped and drifted out into the open sea where they all drowned after a breaker completely submerged them. Stranded on the island, the wives of the keepers started the fog signal and flew the station's flag upside down at half mast to attract the attention of passing vessels. Noticing the distress signals, the steamer Los Angeles dispatched a small vessel to the island and carried word regarding the tragedy to maritime officials. John Ryan, who was serving as first assistant keeper at Pigeon Point and would later become head keeper at Año Nuevo, was sent to the island to take charge of the station and assist the widows in leaving the island.

In 1890, the first light, a lens lantern mounted on a water tank, was erected on Año Nuevo to improve the station's effectiveness. Thomas Butwell became head keeper at Ano Nuevo in 1894, after having worked as a boatman in San Francisco. Keeper Butwell brought his full-blooded setter Jip to the island, and when the dog passed away three years later, his death was noted in a San Francisco paper. Jip, whom the paper called the most sagacious and useful canine, was known in San Francisco as "The dog detective," "The dog life-saver," and "The dog paper-carrier." Some of Jip's most noteworthy acts were saving a boy who had fallen off the end of Mission Street from drowning, finding a boy who had been lost for four days, and helping the police apprehend numerous thieves and wrongdoers. Any human would have been proud to have an obituary with as many meritorious deeds as found in Jip's.

A large, two-story duplex was attached to the original dwelling in 1906. The Lighthouse Board recognized that reasonable accommodations were needed for the keepers in order "to encourage capable men to take service with the Light House Establishment." Fences were built around the dwelling to keep the sea lions from invading the house and adjacent garden. According to one account, a killer whale once had the sea lions so agitated that they forced their way into the dwelling.

Ano Nuevo Lighthouse
Photograph courtesy U.S. Coast Guard
Finally, in 1914, an official skeleton tower with a Fresnel lens in its lantern room was erected adjacent to the water tank that formerly supported the light. On October 22, 1926, an earthquake struck the station and shook the lens off its pedestal and onto the floor of the lantern room where it shattered. The keepers promptly displayed the lantern lens again displayed until a replacement lens arrived.

Fred Kreth was head keeper at Ano Nuevo in 1939 when he reported the attack of a pod of killer whales on a sperm whale. "The water boiled with the splashing of their huge tails," Kreth said. The fifty-foot dead sperm whale floated into the shallows near the station, and Kreth rowed out to examine the behemoth.

The station was deactivated in 1948, and a whistle buoy was anchored about 1600 yards south of the island. Frank Spenger bid $100,000 for the island at an auction in March 1958 with the intention of building a causeway to the island and converting the abandoned lightstation into a resort and commercial fishing base. The State of California, however, had first dibs on Año Nuevo Island, and it acquired the island in April 1958 for $51,094 and incorporated it into the newly acquired reserve on the adjacent mainland. The island had been offered to the state in 1956 for $18,000, roughly half of its estimated value, but after the state failed to finalize the purchase, the island went to auction. The success of the auction prompted the federal government to raise the state's sale price to half of the winning bid plus the cost of the auction.

Nature and vandalism quickly took their toll on the station's buildings following abandonment of the island. In 1976, the state cut down the steel light tower as it was likely to collapse. The toppled tower was left on the island and can easily be viewed from the mainland.

Modern visitors aren't the only ones to complain about the strong odor that accompanies the seals. The smell also bothered the keepers, as did the seals' calls and grunts. Año Nuevo Island and Point are part of a Wildlife Protection Area located in Año Nuevo State Reserve . The park has a live SealCam on their website. The point is accessed by a 1.7-mile hike from the parking area at the state park. The visitor's center has a model of the island, showing how the station looked during its prime.

From December to March, access to the point is permitted only on regularly scheduled guided walks. During these months the females give birth to their pups and the giant bull seals fight for dominance and the privilege of mating with the females. At other times of the year, visitors are free to visit the point during park hours. The seals return to the beach to molt from April until August. No public access to Año Nuevo Island is permitted at any time, though distant views of the island are possible from the point. The historic fog signal buildings on the island are used as a laboratory/dormitory for the Institute of Marine Sciences at the University of California Santa Cruz.

Head Keepers: John W. Kenney (1872), Henry Hernberger (1872 – 1873), Joseph Stone (1873 – 1875), W. W. Scott (1875), George N. Reed (1875 – 1876), Thomas Owens (1876 – 1880), Henry O. Drexler (1880 – 1881), Henry W. Colburn (1881 – 1883), John C. Ryan (1883 – 1886), Joseph Hodgson (1886 – 1888), John M. Nilsson (1888 – 1890), Henry Hall (1890 – 1892), John Olaf Stenmark (1892 – 1894), Thomas H. Butwell (1894 – 1901), Herbert Luff (1901 – 1903), Irby H. Engels (1903 – 1904), Lawrence H. Ward (1904 – 1907), Edwin F. Gunter (1907 – 1910), Martin F. Rasmussen (1910), John E. Lind (1910 – at least 1912), John Otto Becker (at least 1915 - 1926), Jack Chambers (1926 – 1930s), Frederick A. Kreth (at least 1938 – 1948).


  1. "Año Nuevo Island Light Station," Matt C. Bischoff, June 2005.
  2. Umbrella Guide to California Lighthouses, Sharlene and Ted Nelson, 1993.
  3. Año Nuevo State Park, pamphlet.
  4. "DEATH OF A FAMOUS OLD DOG," San Francisco Call, July 18, 1897.

Location: The lighthouse is on Año Nuevo Island, part of the Año Nuevo California State Reserve, which is located fifty-five miles south of San Francisco on Highway 1 between Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz.
Latitude: 37.1084
Longitude: -122.33676

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

Travel Instructions: Nineteen miles north of Santa Cruz, exit Highway 1 and enter the Año Nuevo California State Reserve. After paying your admission, park and stop by the visitor center, which has some information on the Ano Nuevo Lighthouse, before you start your round-trip hike of about five miles out to the point from which you can view Año Nuevo Island. The reserve is closed to public access from December 1 through 14. During the breeding season, which runs from December 15 through March 31, access to the reserve is available only on guided walks, for which advance reservations are recommended. From April through November, visitors permits (issued at the reserve) are needed to enter the seal viewing area.

Ano Nuevo Island is owned by California State Parks. Grounds/dwelling closed.

Find the closest hotels to Ano Nuevo Lighthouse

Notes from a friend:

Marilyn writes:
It is hard to get close up to this island. We had explored renting kayaks to go out to the island, but the water in that area is deceptively rough with strong undercurrents. It is also a popular place for great white sharks to hang out, given the large sea lion population. We were thus forced to settle for a picture from the beach. Take a nose plug with you; those sea lions aren't exactly perfumed!

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