For centuries, lighthouses have been shining beacons of safety and protection, cutting through foggy waters and illuminating dangerous nighttime journeys. Towering symbols of sanctuary bridging Florida’s past to present, lighthouses beckon romantics and dreamers to discover their histories and mysteries.
Just in time for Valentine’s Day, we’ve put together a list of five of our favorites here in Florida. Some are nearby and some further away, but planning a getaway to explore any of these beacons of hope will be a memory-making adventure the love of your life will cherish for years to come.
Cape Florida Light
For nearly 200 years, the gleaming white tower of Cape Florida Light has risen majestically above one of the state's most beautiful beaches on Key Biscayne. Although the light was extinguished for several decades in the 1900s, the state relit this striking structure again in 1996. Visitors who climb the 109-step spiral staircase to the top are rewarded with breathtaking panoramic ocean views.
Garden Key Light
The history of Garden Key Light stretches back to the 1820s, but the lighthouse hasn't been in use since the flame was doused in 1924. Witnessing a spectacular Gulf sunset with a view of Garden Key Light is a magical experience. Immortalized in prolific writer James Fenimore Cooper’s novel "Jack Tier; or, The Florida Reef," Garden Key Light is accessible only by boat, but your efforts will be rewarded with a day of serene salt life on Florida’s most isolated beaches.
Key West Light
The Key West Lighthouse first illuminated the border between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico in 1848. Visitors of the well-kept tower and Keeper’s Quarters Museum will revel in stories of the brave woman, Barbara Mabrity, who kept the torch burning for its first 38 years, despite three hurricanes and the great personal loss of her husband and five children. Wear comfortable shoes to climb the spiral staircase; the bird’s eye view of Key West is well worth the effort.
Jupiter Inlet Light
Towering 146 feet above sea level, Jupiter Inlet Light has been guiding seafarers around the treacherous ocean reef at the junction of the Indian River and Jupiter Inlet since the mid-1800s. This statuesque lighthouse is vibrant red and sits atop a rare tall hill, which was once a meeting place for ancient Native American tribes. Visitors today can climb 105 cast iron steps to see breathtaking seascapes, but a tour guide is required. Visit the on-site museum for tour schedules and information.
Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse & Museum
The tallest lighthouse in the state of Florida, Ponce de Leon Light stretches 175 feet into the sky. The first version of the lighthouse lasted only a few months before it collapsed in 1836. The light from today’s lighthouse, completed in 1887, can be seen 20 miles away. From the lighthouse gallery deck, visitors enjoy magnificent views of the some of the world’s most natural, uncrowded beaches.
A Time Gone By
Around the turn of the 20th century, electrical services were introduced and the need to lug large buckets of oil up the lighthouses’ winding, narrow staircases was eliminated. As electricity became more popular, it was used to provide light around dark, treacherous rivers and oceans. Soon, lights were lining docks and boathouses in abundance.
Today, dock and marina lights come in a variety of styles. Modern LED dock lights have become more popular in recent years, but some romantic marina owners prefer a nostalgic 100 percent brass bulkhead light.
Mariners once guided their boats by starlight; today, boaters look for dock and marina lights when they’re sailing through dense fog and pouring rains. On some of Florida’s sandy shores, however, lighthouses still shine through the darkness to guide our sailors home.