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 Anacapa Island, CA    
Lighthouse best viewed by boat or plane.A hike of some distance required.
Description: Anacapa Island is actually a chain of three small islands, located twelve miles off the California coast and linked together by reefs that are visible only at low tide. The islands are named appropriately East, Middle, and West. West Island, the largest island of the group, is two miles long by six-tenths of a mile wide, and rises to a peak of 930 feet. Middle Island is one and a half miles long, a quarter of a mile wide, and 325 feet at its highest point. East Island is a mile long, a quarter of a mile wide, and rises to an elevation of 250 feet. Just off the eastern end of East Island is a forty-foot-high natural bridge, named Arch Rock, which is a trademark for Anacapa Island and Channel Islands National Park.

Etching of Anacapa Island by James Whistler
The islands were discovered by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo in 1542 and given the name "Las Mesitas," meaning Little Tables, by the Spanish explorer Gaspar De Portola in 1769. Captain George Vancouver later rechristened the islands Anacapa, derived from the Chumash Indian word, "Eneeapha," which means island of deception or mirage. For most of the perimeter of the island, steep sea cliffs border the water. Revealed in these cliffs are lava tubes and air pockets, which indicate the islands volcanic origin. Many of these features are now sea caves, offering interesting points of exploration for kayakers.

At 11 p.m. on December 2, 1853, the side-wheel steamer Winfield Scott ran aground on Middle Anacapa Island in dense fog, jolting its passengers awake. En route to Panama from San Francisco, the vessel had a passenger list that included individuals who had struck it rich during the gold rush. Although everyone made it safely to shore in the ship’s lifeboats, the atmosphere immediately following the wreck was frenzied as “every one was for himself, with no thought of anything but saving his life and his (gold) dust.” The Winfield Scott was a total loss, and its remains still lie submerged just north of the island.

The notoriety of the grounding prompted President Franklin Pierce to issue an executive order reserving Anacapa for lighthouse purposes. The U.S. Coast Survey visited the island in 1854 and concluded that although the island’s position at the eastern entrance to the Santa Barbara Channel was a natural choice for a lighthouse, “it is inconceivable for a lighthouse to be constructed on this mass of volcanic rock - perpendicular on every face, with an ascent inaccessible by any natural means." James Whistler, who later became famous for his painting of his mother, was part of the survey team and produced an etching showing the profile of the eastern extremity of Anacapa Island.

In 1874, a lighthouse was established at Point Hueneme, the nearest point on the mainland to Anacapa Island. As shipping in the Santa Barbara Channel increased, the Lighthouse Board eventually did decide to place a light on Anacapa Island, but to limit the expense of building a station on the inaccessible island, an unmanned acetylene lens lantern on a fifty-foot, skeletal tower was erected. In addition to the low-maintenance light, which required servicing just twice a year, a whistling buoy was anchored 5/8ths of a mile off the east end of the island.

On February 28, 1921, the steamer Liebre grounded on the east end of Anacapa Island directly under the light and sustained estimated damages of $40,000. The grounding must have happened in foggy conditions as inspectors noted that the whistling buoy had capsized and was not operational. As approximately nine-tenths of all vessels trading up and down the Pacific Coast passed inside the islands of the Santa Barbara Channel, the American Association of Masters, Mates and Pilots petitioned for a proper fog signal on Anacapa. Funds for what would be the last major light station to be built on the west coast were finally allocated in the late 1920s.

Third-order Fresnel lens from Anacapa Island Lighthouse
The construction of the station was carried out in two phases and commenced in the spring of 1930. A landing dock, a hoisting crane, and roads were added first, and then work began on the various station buildings. A thirty-nine-foot, cylindrical tower and a fog signal were built near the highest point on the eastern end of the island. Four Spanish-style, white stucco houses with red tile roofs were provided for the keepers and their families. As the island had no source of fresh water, a large cement catchment basin was placed on the island to feed rainwater into two 50,000-gallon, redwood storage tanks located up the hill from the dwellings. Unfortunately, the eight inches of annual rainfall typical for this arid climate only amounted to 30,000 gallons of water each year, and additional water had to be pumped up to the tanks from a tender that periodically called at the station’s cove. The tanks proved to be inviting targets to armed boaters, and a two-story cement building, known as the “church,” was later built to protect the precious water supply.

The light from the tower’s third-order Fresnel lens, manufactured in England by Chance Brothers, was first displayed on March 25, 1932 by Keeper Frederick Cobb. Equipped with three flash panels and performing one revolution every minute, the lens produced a signature of 0.1 second of white light, 11.9 seconds of darkness, 0.1 second of light, 11.9 seconds of darkness, 0.1 second of light, and 35. 9 seconds of darkness.

In March of 1956, the Coast Guard personnel on the island consisted of three couples, who each had one of the residences, and five bachelors who occupied the fourth dwelling. Lois Boylan, wife of Officer in Charge Larry Boylan, claimed that life on the island wasn't as lonely as you might think. The three Coast Guard wives "would gab over the phone just like the girls on the mainland" even though they lived close enough to each other to lean out their windows and talk back and forth. Living in isolation also seemed to have a health benefit, as neither of the two Boylan children had been sick one day since moving to the island.

In 1938, under the direction of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Santa Barbara and Anacapa Islands became Channel Islands National Monument. A plan was proposed in 1962 to convert the Coast Guard's Anacapa Island Station to unattended operation and remove all personnel. One of the major reasons for this change was the test firing of missiles from Point Mugu that would have required island residents to spend several hours each week in a shelter. Three of the four dwellings were demolished in May of 1967, and the remaining dwelling along with several other structures were slated for demolition in the fall of 1968 when Superintendent Donald M. Robinson of the Channel Islands National Monument placed a call to the Coast Guard on September 24. Robinson informed the Coast Guard that the National Park Service was interested in placing personnel on the island and would like to keep the remaining facilities. A cooperative agreement was signed between the Coast Guard and the National Park Service in 1970 wherein the Coast Guard would retain responsibility for the light and fog signal, while the park service would maintain all other buildings.

In 1980, Congress designated five of the eight Channel Islands, Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Rosa, San Miguel, and Santa Barbara Islands, and 50,500 hectares (125,000 acres) of submerged lands as Channel Islands National Park. Visitors to Anacapa Island today can see the lighthouse, fog signal building, one of the original keeper's dwellings, the water storage building, the powerhouse, and the third-order Fresnel lens, which was removed from the tower in 1989 and placed on display in the Anacapa Island Visitor Center, formerly the station's service building.

James W. Baker served on Anacapa Island for almost a year and a half starting in February of 1956. After an absence of more than forty years, he returned to the island with his wife in 2001 to view the old station. Baker's admiration and affection for the Fresnel lens used in Anacapa Lighthouse are evidenced in the following lines he composed after his visit. "The multifaceted crystal lenses, bound in polished brass, are still among man’s most beautiful creations. A static display of a lighthouse lens in a museum, however, is similar to viewing an animal in a zoo. Once removed from its natural habitat it’s never quite the same. I get chills remembering foggy nights when the sweep of the powerful light flashed through the mist, illuminating a small part of the sky."

Head Keepers: Frederick Cobb (1932 - ), Joseph May (at least 1940).

Photo Gallery: 1 2 3


  1. Channel Islands, Charles Hillinger, 1998.
  2. Umbrella Guide to California Lighthouses, Sharlene and Ted Nelson, 1993.
  3. Channel Islands National Park, National Park Service pamphlet.

Location: Located on Anacapa Island, part of the Channel Islands National Park, situated fourteen miles off the coast from Oxnard.
Latitude: 34.0159
Longitude: -119.35946

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

Travel Instructions: Island Packers, operating out of Channel Islands Harbor in Oxnard, is an authorized concessionaire to Anacapa Island and Channel Islands National Park. Visit their website for details or call them at (805) 642-1393. Camping, snorkeling, kayaking, and hiking are amongst the activities available for visitors.

You can visit the grounds near the Anacapa Lighthouse, though you might have to plug your ears due to the fog horn, but the tower itself is not open to the public. The third-order Fresnel lens, formerly used in the Anacapa Island Lighthouse, is on display in the island's visitor center.

The lighthouse is owned by the National Park Service and is part of Channel Islands National Park. Grounds open, tower closed.

Find the closest hotels to Anacapa Island Lighthouse

Notes from a friend:

Kraig writes:
Trips to Anacapa Island are offered year-round, but certain months offer some unique opportunities. For a few weeks in March and April, Anacapa's coreopsis, or tree sunflower, undergoes a marvelous transformation and its bare trunks disappear beneath masses of bright green foliage with showy yellow blossoms. The coreopsis lies dormant the remainder of the year. In April, hundreds of pairs of Seagulls return to the island to mate and hatch young. The young hatch in the latter part of May. The summer months are the best time for kayaking and snorkeling around the island, as the water temperature becomes tolerable.
Marilyn writes:
In addition to seeing the Anacapa Lighthouse, this is a great place to see leopard sharks, dolphins, different species of fish and sea lions. We enjoyed kayaking around the island and in and out of the caves.

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