Keeping an eye on the sea has been the job of 14 successive keepers at Point Pinos Lighthouse since it opened in 1855 in Pacific Grove, northwest of Monterey. The second lighthouse to be lit in California helps guide mariners at the bay's often foggy entrance.
You can tour the whitewashed eight-room structure of the lighthouse, where docent Jerry McCaffery, author of a history of the building called Lighthouse: Point Pinos California, will direct you to the same view Robert Louis Stevenson admired in 1879. He'll also tell you about keeper Emily Fish, who in 1912, when faced with a defective clockwork mechanism for the beacon's signature flash, pushed the eclipser by hand every few seconds for two consecutive nights until it could be fixed.
In some ways it does feel as if the clock has been turned back here. Well-preserved Victorians on Lighthouse Avenue house coffee shops, inns, and restaurants; 19th-century church buildings line Central Avenue; and the community center is in the Chautauqua Hall, established in the late 1800s for cultural events.
McCaffery sees a clear link between the beacon that brought early settlers and the religious campers seeking healthful airs. At the keeper's desk, he gazes out at the clear blue sea, envisioning it instead in a winter storm more than 100 years ago.
"When it's dark here, you can't tell what's going on out there ― but you keep the light burning," McCaffery says. "And if captains don't see the light, they keep going full speed. It's an equation of faith."
PACIFIC GROVE ARCHITECTURE
For a walking-tour brochure, contact the Pacific Grove Chamber of Commerce (584 Central Ave.; www.pacificgrove.org or 800/656-6650).
Chautauqua Hall. In the late 19th century, this building was one of the first Western sites to host a Chautauqua, one of California's earliest self-improvement crazes. 16th St. at Central; (831) 648-5730.
Hart Mansion. The white 1894 Queen Anne house was the site of an early doctor's practice. It now houses Robert's White House restaurant (see travel planner). 649 Lighthouse Ave.
Point Pinos Lighthouse. The stone structure's beacon has been operating since 1855. 1-4 Thu-Mon; donation suggested. On Asilomar Ave., between Sunset Dr. and Lighthouse Ave.; (831) 648-5716.
St. Mary's by-the-Sea Episcopal Church. The 1887 Gothic structure has 10 stained-glass windows, including two Tiffany windows. At 12th St. and Central; (831) 373-4441.