by Annette Bignami

Lighthouse keeping can be a year round experience. A weekend at Point Montara Lighthouse offers, ?light housekeeping? through the American Youth Hostels. -- with a visit to Pigeon Point Lighthouse and Santa Cruz Lighthouse, Santa Cruz or the Santa Cruz Mountains. Keepers in the old days kept oil lamps burning, lenses polished and the clockwork mechanisms turning. Now it?s all done with electronics and sensors. However, lighthouses retain their romance year round. During the fall harvest season or when spring lambs romp on the hills and flowers peak. During summer the shore?s a cool break. Winter trips can offer crashing surf.

Point Montara near Santa Cruz honked away between 1875 and 1900 when the powers to be added an oil lantern. A Fresnel lens offered more range in 1912 -- You can see a Fresnel lens in Monterey?s Maritime Museum and read the explanation about how the grooved lens focus the light.

While 1872 Pigeon Point Lighthouse, named after the Carrier Pigeon, a ship wrecked at its foot, now has the usual bright strobe type beacon it still has a first order Fresnel lens in its tower. There?s quality tide pooling here and, a chance to visit the sea lions and see whales in season here, and a host of nearby attractions more than sufficient to fill up a day or even a weekend trip. There's even a rough and ready hostel here for an overnight stay.

Santa Cruz Lighthouse at the north end of the municipal beach testifies to parent?s love for their son lost here while surfing. It's now officially the Mark Abbott Memorial Lighthouse after it?s rebuilding in the 1960?s and home to California?s first surfer's museum. So it?s the spot to check out the history of local surfing in the shore break or famous "Steamer Lane." There?s a collection of paintings of lighthouses past and present and you?re only minutes from the Boardwalk and Wharf. If the surf?s up, you?ll spot body boarders and hot-dog surfers risking a trip into the rocks below. Otherwise, on a clear day you can see all the way across Monterey Bay to Point PiƱos Lighthouse in Pacific Grove. In December they offer Caroling Under the Stars.

The newest lighthouse in California, a classic 42-foot tall white building with a red stripe beneath the rail is just south on the rocky jetty at the entrance to the Santa Cruz Yacht Harbor. At over a third of a million pounds the design, like many lighthouses built near sea level is beefed up to survive 24-foot tall waves. All of these lighthouses work well as: stops to stretch on a shore drive, a place picnic or an outlook from which to spot whales, seals, sea lions or sea otters. Kids adore overnight lighthouse stays, and there?s a whole series of beaches, B&Bs and parks along Highway One. We like to drive down along the water from San Francisco past the Cliff House -- note the light on the rocks offshore -- stay in or around Santa Cruz or Monterey and drive back up the inland route for a wonderful weekend any season of the year. People who prefer to drive in the lane away from the cliff edge can freeway down and take the slow route home.

By whatever route, and on whatever occasion, there's no question but that lighthouses have had an appeal from long better Winslow Homer's paintings.

Pigeon Point Lighthouse Hostel (650-879)-0633 Santa Cruz Lighthouse (831)-420-5270 Point Montara Hostel call (650)-728-7177.