The jagged rocky shores of Point Reyes  make great sightseeing but incredibly dangerous marine navigation. In 1870, the first lighthouse was constructed on the Headlands. Its first-order Fresnel lens threw out light far enough for ships to see and avoid the treacherous granite cliffs.
Yet the danger remained, and soon after a life-saving station was constructed alongside the light station. It wasn’t until the 20th century, when a ship-to-shore radio station and newer life-saving station were put in place, that the Point Reyes shore became truly safer for ships.
The Historic Lighthouse (415/669-1534, www.nps.gov/pore , Thurs.–Mon. 10 a.m.–4:30 p.m., light room Thurs.–Mon. 2:30–4 p.m.) still stands today. It sits down on the point past the visitors center—specifically, down 300 sometimes-treacherous, cold, and windblown stairs. (The stairs often close to visitors during bad weather for safety reasons.) But the reward can be worth it.
The Fresnel lens and original workings all remain in place, and the adjacent equipment building contains foghorns, air compressors, and other implements of safety from decades gone by. Check the website for information about twice-monthly special events during which the light is lit.