Point San Luis Light Station, Avila Beach

Point San Luis Light Station, Avila Beach

by | Oct 28, 2021

Point San Luis is a peninsula formed by San Luis Hill, a headland with an elevation of 708 feet (216 m), that provides a sheltered harbor for Port San Luis and the community of Avila Beach on San Luis Obispo Bay, about 118 miles (190 km) south-southeast of Monterey and 7 miles (11 km) west-northwest of Pismo Beach, California. San Luis Obispo Creek drains a large coastal watershed of 54,272 acres (21,963 ha) that includes the city of San Luis Obispo. The stream begins in the Santa Lucia Mountains at Cuesta Pass in the Los Padres National Forest and flows for about 18 miles (29 km) to the Pacific Ocean at Avila Beach. The beach is less than 0.5 miles (0.8 km) long and relatively sheltered from the prevailing northwesterly winds. It is therefore usually warmer than the other beaches on the Central California Coast. Most of Avila Beach is undeveloped, except for a few blocks adjacent to the ocean with homes, hotels, and small businesses. The community was named for Miguel Ávila who in 1842 was granted Rancho San Miguelito a Mexican land grant of 14,198 acres (5,746 ha) by Governor Juan Alvarado, and an addition was granted in 1846 by Governor Pio Pico. The grant extended along the Pacific coast and included Point San Luis, San Luis Obispo Bay, and present-day community of Avila Beach. The town was established in the latter half of the 19th century when it served as the main shipping port for San Luis Obispo.

The Chumash people inhabited this area prior to contact with Europeans. One of their earliest villages lies south of San Luis Obispo and reflects the landscape of the early Holocene when sea level was higher and estuaries extended farther inland. During the Spanish colonial expansion northward into California, Junípero Serra, a Spanish Roman Catholic priest and missionary of the Franciscan Order received orders from Spain to bring the Catholic faith to the natives of Alta California and unify the empire under the same religion and language. In 1769, an expedition led by Gaspar de Portolá entered the San Luis Obispo area from the coast by following San Luis Obispo Creek and then turned north to Monterey Bay where he established the Presidio of Monterey and Junípero Serra founded the Mission San Carlos Borromeo but moved it to Carmel in 1770. In 1772, the people of Presidio of Monterey and Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo faced starvation, and a hunting expedition was sent south to bring back food. Over 25 mule loads of dried meat and seed were sent north to relieve the missionaries and soldiers. It was after this that Junípero Serra decided on the location of another mission in this area that had abundant supplies of food and water, the climate was also very mild, and the local Chumash were very friendly. In 1772, Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa was founded by Father Junípero Serra and named after Saint Louis of Anjou, the bishop of Toulouse. This mission is the namesake of the community of San Luis Obispo. Miguel Avila was the son of a Spanish soldier stationed at the Presidio of Santa Barbara. In 1824, Avila was a corporal of the guard at Mission San Luis Obispo. In 1826, he was transferred to Monterey where he married Maria Inocenta Pico, a member of the prominent Pico family of California. She was the daughter of Jose Dolores Pico and the cousin of Pío de Jesús Pico who was the last Governor of Alta California under Mexican rule, and one of the wealthiest men in California at the time and a hugely influential figure in Californian society. In 1842, Avila was granted Rancho San Miguelito. Following the Mexican-American War and the cession of California to the United States, the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo provided that the land grants would be honored. In 1852, a claim for Rancho San Miguelito, filed with the Public Land Commission as required by the Land Act of 1851, was confirmed.

In 1873, a pier was built that extended into San Luis Obispo Bay for 540 feet (165 m). This was extended to 1500 feet (457 m) in 1876. A narrow-gauge railroad ran along the wharf and eventually connected the port facility, then known as Port Harford, to San Luis Obispo and other Central Coast communities. With these connections, Port Harford became a vital link for transporting both passengers and commerce to and from the area. On May 1, 1888, the steamship Queen of the Pacific began taking on water 15 miles (24 km) out from Port Harford. The captain headed for the wharf at around 2 am, but with no light to mark the harbor, he was forced to go very slowly because of the dark and for fear of hitting rocks at the harbor entrance. The ship made it to within about 500 feet (150 m) of the pier, where it settled to the bottom in just 22 feet (6.7 m) of water. Fortunately, the passengers were safely offloaded, but this event was the final impetus for the construction of a lighthouse on Point San Luis. The light station was completed and lit for the first time on June 30, 1890. A steam-powered fog whistle was added in 1891. A 4th Order Fresnel lens flashed a red and white light every 30 seconds that was visible for 17 nautical miles (31 km) out to sea. In 1969, the Fresnel lens was retired and replaced by an automated electric light. In 1974, the Coast Guard decommissioned the light station, and in 1992, the Port San Luis Harbor District received the lighthouse site from the Federal Government, with the understanding that the light station is a historical, educational, and recreational facility. Today, the bay has three piers including the Avila Beach Pier which is 1,685 feet (514 m) long and open to the public, the original Port Harford Pier which is used by commercial fishing boats, and the California Polytechnic State University Pier which is for their marine research program and not open to the public. Read more here and here. Explore more of Point San Luis here:

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About the background graphic

This ‘warming stripe’ graphic is a visual representation of the change in global temperature from 1850 (top) to 2019 (bottom). Each stripe represents the average global temperature for one year. The average temperature from 1971-2000 is set as the boundary between blue and red. The color scale goes from -0.7°C to +0.7°C. The data are from the UK Met Office HadCRUT4.6 dataset. 

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