several miles north of San Simeon stands the Piedras Blancas Lighthouse. construction of the lighthouse began in mid-1874 and the first-order Fresnel lens was first lit in February 1875. the U.S. Lighthouse Service oversaw operations until 1939, when it was transferred to the U.S. Coast Guard. the tower originally stood 100 feet tall but a series of earthquakes damaged it and, following one in 1948 centered just 6 miles away, the top three floors were removed – including the watchroom and lantern. the original lens now sits on display in Cambria.
from 1906, the station also used a sound signal to alert passing vessels of danger. the sound alert was removed in 1975 when the station was automated; the Coast Guard continued to operate it until 2001 at which time it was handed over to the Bureau of Land Management to allow “structured public access.” the light continues to operate, but the land now serves as a natural sanctuary and research station, offering tours of the light station and wildlife refuge throughout the week. the largest colony of elephant seals on the west coast makes their home on a beach about a mile south of Piedras Blancas.