Cape Disappointment: Off Highway 101, three miles south of Ilwaco, Washington
Near the southern tip of Washington, the Columbia River spouts sediment into the ocean, shaping the ever shifting sandbars that make these waters some of the most dangerous in the world—the "Graveyard of the Pacific," sailors like to say.
As early as 1846, the U.S. government wanted to build a lighthouse here. The project was delayed, aptly enough, when a cargo ship delivering construction materials foundered off the coast, and the tower wasn't finished until 1856.
What stands today at Cape Disappointment is a 53-foot concrete structure, painted white with a black band to distinguish it from nearby North Head lighthouse. The keeper's quarters are gone, but the now-automated lighthouse still stands watch over the rough currents. Even with the beacon in place, the waters have claimed some 2,000 vessels to date.
Point Arena: Off Highway 1, in Point Arena, California
The 1992 film Forever Young features Mel Gibson playing a man who emerges from cryogenic storage. The lighthouse plays itself, appearing in the background while the protagonist, Daniel McCormick, flies a small plane along the coast. It's a fitting cameo, since the lighthouse, like McCormick, has been lovingly preserved.
The original 1870 sentinel had to be entirely replaced after suffering damage in the 1906 earthquake. A smokestack-builder did the job, creating the first lighthouse in the country to be fashioned from reinforced concrete. Restorations replaced the roof and converted the lantern room into an observation deck. Visitors can climb to the top of the 115-foot outpost or stop at the ground-level museum, where the original Fresnel lens glitters on display.
Yaquina Head: Off Highway 101, in Newport, Oregon
A scenic promontory makes a stunning backdrop for this 93-foot beacon, the tallest in the state since its construction in 1873. Though the keeper's house has been demolished, the conical brick lighthouse is in excellent condition, equipped with a remarkable nine-foot Fresnel lens. It flashes its distinctive pattern—two seconds on, two off, two on, 14 seconds off—at all hours of the day. Another traveler's note: the lighthouse is located in the Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area, with paved trails and wooden steps leading to tide pools.