If you love the mystique surrounding these striped sentinels of the shoreline, you’re in luck. There are numerous lighthouses located in stunning locations along the East Coast, starting in Maine’s rugged coastline and continuing down to Florida’s palm-tree-lined beaches. You can visit them individually or begin in Maine and embark on an epic East Coast lighthouse road trip. To help with your planning, we’ve rounded up a list of the most iconic lighthouses on the East Coast.
The general coastline of Maine is only 228 miles, but the tide coastline — which includes bays and inlets — covers over 3,000 miles. Maine has the fourth-largest coastline in the United States and has 65 historic lighthouses along its shores. Below are four lighthouses that we highly recommend visiting.
1. West Quoddy Head Lighthouse
West Quoddy Head Lighthouse is a notable landmark because it’s the first lighthouse to see the sunrise every morning in the United States. The lighthouse is located in Quoddy Head State Park in Lubec, Maine, the easternmost point in the contiguous United States. In addition, the lighthouse is surrounded by spectacular hiking trails and some cliffs with vistas, setting up stunning views of the bay. Also, the Canadian border to New Brunswick is only minutes away, so you can take an international detour if you bring your passport.
2. Portland Head Light
Maine’s oldest lighthouse, dating back to 1791 when George Washington himself commissioned it. Portland Head Light sits at the entrance to Casco Bay, a historically significant shipping channel, and is located inside Fort Williams Park. Fort Williams Park contains over 90 acres of recreational space and plenty of room to explore the coastline, have a picnic, and fly kites.
3. Cape Neddick Lighthouse
Cape Neddick Lighthouse is commonly referred to as “Nubble Light.” Congress appreciated funds in 1874 to build the lighthouse, and it has been guiding ships since construction was complete in 1879. It’s one of the few lighthouses in operation still using its Fresnel lens. It puts out a flashing red light visible for 13 miles and sits on the rocky island of Nubble, just offshore from Cape Neddick Point, located on the north end of Long Sands Beach in the village of York Beach. You can view the lighthouse from the mainland via a telescope located in Sohier Park.
Fun Fact: Not only was it the last lighthouse in North America to be automated — bidding farewell to its final keeper in 1987 — but an image of the Nubble was included on the Voyager Golden Record carried by the Voyager spacecraft as an example of a prominent manmade structure in case it encounters alien life. That makes this little lighthouse a cosmic celebrity!
4. Whaleback Light
Whaleback Light is located on the border between Maine and New Hampshire. It’s positioned on a sturdy stone structure that seems to stand alone at the mouth of the Piscataqua River and was built to protect Portsmouth, New Hampshire’s harbor. You’ll find the best views of the all-brick lighthouse from Fort Foster Park, as it sits just off the coast of Kittery, Maine.
New Hampshire doesn’t have a long shoreline, so it doesn’t have as many lighthouses as other East Coast states. However, it still has a few standouts that are well worth the visit.
5. Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse
The Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse hosts numerous open houses throughout the year, allowing visitors to climb into the lantern room and enjoy views of the harbor. Located on the island of New Castle at the entrance to Portsmouth Harbor, Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse can be found in Fort Constitution on the northeastern corner of the island.
Fun Fact: It was established before the American Revolution in 1771, and the tower that stands today was built in 1878.
6. White Island Light
Also known as the Isles of Shoals Lighthouse, the White Island Light is located, as you might’ve guessed, on the Isles of Shoals: a small group of nine islands that sit about six miles off the Atlantic coast. They border the space between New Hampshire and Maine. You would have to take a cruise or boat ride to see this lighthouse, but it’s definitely worth the ride to see its conical tower with white-and-black markings. In 2008, one of the first VLB-44 LED light units was installed as a light.
Take a lighthouse tour in Cape Cod, where you’ll find these five lighthouses within 50 miles of one another, listed in order from the southern end to the northern tip.
7. Chatham Lighthouse
The Chatham Lighthouse is located on an active Coast Guard station, so while you can’t go inside, you can still admire its natural beauty from the beach. It’s one of the few lighthouses in the United States that is still manned 24 hours a day. As the name suggests, it’s located in Chatham, on the southeastern tip of Cape Cod.
Fun Fact: The lighthouse initially contained two towers, although only one stands today.
8. Nauset Beach Light
Volunteer guides provide free tours of Nauset Light, and a functional lighthouse near Eastham, Massachusetts. Additionally, a U.S. Coast Guard station is located on-site, where search and rescue missions are carried out to this day. You can visit Chatham Lighthouse Beach, Harding Beach, or Ridgevale Beach, all within a short driving distance of the lighthouse.
Fun Fact: Nauset Light is the one pictured on bags of Cape Cod potato chips.
9. Highland Light
Highland Light was the first lighthouse that sailors could see when they finally reached this side of the Atlantic Ocean, located in North Truro. The oldest and tallest lighthouse on the Cape, it’s surrounded by beautiful beaches and a golf course. The lighthouse sits 450 feet west of its original location — it was moved in 1996 due to beach erosion of the cliff where it was originally located.
10. Race Point Light
Race Point Light allows visitors to book a night in one of three bedrooms, complete with a well-equipped kitchen, lounge, back porch, and gas BBQ. However, to get there, you’ll need a vehicle with four-wheel-drive and an oversand permit (acquired through the National Park Service). If you’d rather just visit for the day, you can find a nearby rental in Provincetown, on the tip of Cape Cod. Be sure to visit Herring Cove Beach, take a bike ride on the paved Cape Cod Province Lands Trail, and check out local shopping at MacMillan Pier.
11. Wood End Light
Wood End Light is about an hour-and-a-half drive from Provincetown. To reach the lighthouse, you have to hike out to the location and cross the jetty. Wear good shoes that can endure sand and slippery rocks, and make sure you begin your trek at low tide. There are also boat rides and ferry services that can get you there if you’d rather skip the intensive hike.
The Ocean State may not be that big, but it has 21 functioning lighthouses along its shore and even more inactive lighthouses. That being said, check out these three lighthouses next time you’re in Rhode Island.
12. Beavertail Lighthouse
Beavertail Lighthouse is one of the most accessible of its kind, located on the southern tip of Conanicut Island in Beavertail State Park. The grounds are open to the public, and there’s a museum in the keeper’s house. The granite tower is open with limited availability to the public. From Beavertail Light, you can see Castle Hill Lighthouse, Point Judith Light, and Rose Island Light, guiding ships through Narragansett Bay.
Fun Fact: The name “Beavertail Point” is derived from the fact that when seen from above, the island and its peninsula resemble the semi-aquatic rodent of the same name.
13. Ida Lewis Rock Light
The Ida Lewis Rock Light is the only lighthouse in the United States named after a person. Ida Lewis took over as innkeeper when she was 15 years old after her father suffered a stroke. At that time, the lighthouse was known as the Lime Rock Lighthouse. Ida rescued 18 people from the Newport Harbor shores — the area that the lighthouse protects — and at one time was heralded as the “Bravest Women in America” by the press. You can view the lighthouse from Stone Pier at King Park and check out the original Fresnel lens in the Museum of Newport History.
14. Southeast Light
Southeast Light was recognized as a National Historic Landmark in 1997 for being one of the most architecturally sophisticated lighthouses built in the U.S. during the 19th Century. Standing guard over Block Island, it was erected after over 50 shipwrecks occurred near the shore in the early 1800s. It sits atop the Mohegan Bluffs, a beautiful setting that happens to be eroding. The lighthouse was moved back 300 feet from the crumbling cliffs in the 1990s. As a landmark filled with nautical history, this lighthouse is sure to impress.
Fun Fact: Even though this lighthouse had to be moved, its resident ghost — a specter by the name of Mad Maggie — apparently moved with it!
There are 14 active lighthouses in Connecticut. Two lighthouses are privately run, and six are standing but not actively working. These lighthouses are frequently photographed due to their stunning nature and design.
15. New London Ledge Light
Located along New London’s harbor entrance, the New London Ledge Light looks like a floating red house surrounded by water. One of the most unique lighthouse structures in the United States, according to local lore, the lighthouse is haunted by the ghost of a man named Ernie, an early keeper who perished while tending to the light.
Fun Fact: The New London Ledge Light has been featured on Scariest Places on Earth and Ghost Hunters.
16. Stonington Harbor Light
Stonington Harbor Light is located on the east side of the harbor in Stonington, Connecticut, continually rated one of the prettiest coastal towns in New England. The lighthouse was built in 1840 and was the first in the United States to be turned into a museum all the way back in 1927. It was decommissioned in 1889 when the Stonington Breakwater Light was added further out in the harbor, so it now only serves as a local museum devoted to maritime history.
17. Penfield Reef Lighthouse
This lighthouse protects mariners from running into the Penfield Reef, conspicuously known as the “Blue Line Graveyard” due to multiple Blue Line barges becoming grounded on the reef. You can see the lighthouse from the shores of both Fairfield and Bridgeport, although if you want the best view of it, then we recommend hopping on a boat.
18. Sheffield Island Lighthouse
Sheffield Island Lighthouse is located on the Stewart B. McKinney National Wildlife Refuge. In addition to taking in all that the lighthouse offers, there are many beaches and spaces to hang out around the lighthouse in the refuge, which is a popular summer destination. Sheffield Island is the largest of the sixteen Norwalk Islands, just off the coast of Norwalk, Connecticut. Seasonal caretakers live at the station in the summer and open the lighthouse for tours.
New York City gets so much attention, it’s easy to forget that the state of New York has miles of shoreline that are protected by dozens of lighthouses. There are both historic and active lighthouses all along New York’s shoreline you can visit.
19. Tibbetts Point Lighthouse
Tibbetts Point Lighthouse — “where lake and river meet” — is located where Lake Ontario and the Saint Lawrence River intersect at Tibbetts Point along the U.S. and Canadian border. The lighthouse tower was originally built in 1827, then replaced with a circular tower in 1854. If you want to check out this lighthouse, we highly recommend hopping on a bike at Cape Vincent and cycling out to the lighthouse grounds.
20. Montauk Point Light
Located in the laidback beachside community of Montauk, Long Island, Montauk Point Lighthouse was authorized by the second congress, under the authority of President George Washington in 1792. It’s the oldest lighthouse in the state and is located where the Long Island Sound meets the Atlantic Ocean. It has a distinctive design, a black top, and layers of white and red on the tower itself. While you are in the area, make sure to get out on the water. There are numerous leisure cruises and sports fishing charters to peruse.
Bonus: National Lighthouse Museum
While it might not be a lighthouse, the National Lighthouse Museum in Staten Island is worth a visit if you’re in New York City. It has 180 different lighthouse models, making it a great place to learn about how various lighthouses work and function.
Fun Fact: The museum offers boat tours of lighthouses that can’t be seen from land, as well as ship graveyards and bird sanctuaries, making it the perfect family-friendly activity.
New Jersey may be small, but it has 18 lighthouses on its shores. There are 11 lighthouses open to the public, and since they’re located in some stunning areas of the state, they’re well worth making the trip.
21. Absecon Lighthouse
This lighthouse stands out from the rest due to its towering 171-foot height. It’s the only lighthouse in New Jersey that still uses the original Fresnel lens, protecting mariners from the dangerous shoals of Absecon and Brigantine since 1857. It’s located on the north end of Atlantic City, where there are lots of word-class restaurants, epic nightlight, and casinos to enjoy.
22. Cape May Lighthouse
The Cape May Lighthouse is located on the tip of Cape May and is easy to see from the Cape May Lewes Ferry. Best of all, you can tour this lighthouse during your visit. Give yourself some time to hike the Cape May Point State Park trails and visit the Cape May Bird Observatory. Grab some seafood at Quincy’s Original Lobster Rolls, and be sure to grab a drink at the Ugly Mug.
23. Barnegat Lighthouse
The Barnegat Lighthouse is located on the northern tip of Long Beach Island and dates back to 1857. The lighthouse offers incredible views from the top if you’re willing to climb the 217-winding staircase of Old Barney. You can see Island Beach, Barnegat Bay, and a good deal of Long Beach Island from the top. Barnegat Lighthouse State Park also has a maritime forest, perfect for bird watching. You can cool off by sticking your feet in the tidal pools.
24. Navesink Twin Lights
The building that houses the Navesink Twin Lights looks more like a medieval fortress than a traditional lighthouse. The two lights are located in Highlands, New Jersey, which was a vital strategic site for the British and colonial armies during the American Revolution. Enjoy the small-town charm while visiting the farmers’ market at Huddy Park every Saturday from early summer to the end of fall, or grab a meal at one of the many restaurants with a view of the water, such as Inlet Cafe and Bahrs Landing.
Fun Facts: Navesink Twin Lights was the first to use the Fresnel lens in the United States, and then in 1989, it was the first electrically lit lighthouse in the country.
Delaware has 22 beautiful lighthouses along the coastline. If you want to check out multiple lighthouses in one area, you’ll want to visit the five lighthouses around Delaware Bay, known as the traffic lights of the sea.
25. Brandywine Shoal Light
The Brandywine Lighthouse is located in the middle of the Delaware Bay, and was the last lighthouse in Delaware with an on-site keeper. It sits on a concrete superstructure and looks like part of a big ship rising from the water. It sits on the site of the first screw-pile lighthouse — a design that requires screwing piles into sand or mud — in the United States.
26. Delaware Breakwater East End Light
Located inside Cape Henlopen on the southern side of the bay, the Delware Breakwater East End Light‘s foghorn was infamous for blaring hours on end. It’s located near the town of Lewes, where you can enjoy Cape Henlopen State Park, with its abundant opportunities to swim, fish, surf, and bike. There are also campsites if you want to spend a night under the stars by the ocean.
There are over two dozen lighthouses in Maryland, and many of them are still active. So while you have plenty of options to choose from, we’ve listed our top three choices below.
27. Concord Point Lighthouse
Concord Point Lighthouse is the second-oldest lighthouse in Maryland. Its classic white design guided sailors through the Upper Chesapeake Bay until 1975. The lighthouse has been fully restored, and you can visit both the tower and the keeper’s house during the weekends from April to October. It’s located in Havre de Grace, the gateway to the Chesapeake Bay. Visit one of the many antique shops in the area, hit the links at Bulle Rock Golf Club, or take a stroll on the Promenade while shopping and dining.
28. Cove Point Light
Cove Point Light is an active lighthouse located on one of the narrowest parts of the Chesapeake Bay. Visitors can rent the innkeeper’s house, which fits up to 16 guests. The Cove Point Lighthouse was automated in 1986, eliminating the need for an on-site innkeeper. It’s Chesapeake Bay’s oldest operating lighthouse, so it’s well worth the trip to see this historic landmark.
29. Drum Point Lighthouse
Drum Point Lighthouse is an iconic hexagonal cottage-style lighthouse constructed in 1883. Today, it is one of four remaining screw-pile-style lighthouses, previously used to aid watermen across the Chesapeake Bay. After it was decommissioned in 1962, the Drum Point Lighthouse was moved from its original location at the mouth of the Patuxent River to a pier in Johnstown and converted into a museum. While you’re in the area, be sure to visit the Calvert Marine Museum next door.
Virginia only has nine active lighthouses, but that doesn’t mean you should skip this state, as these lighthouses are very picturesque.
30. Assateague Light
This lighthouse is located right off the coast of Virginia on Assateague Island, famous for its wild horses. Even though the light is still used as a navigational aid, you can ride out to the lighthouse and climb to the 142-foot top. It’s one of the most beautiful lighthouses in the state, and it stands out with its red-and-white stripe design. You can also take a cruise or kayak trip and explore both Assateague Island and neighboring Chincoteague Island.
31. Cape Henry Lighthouse
This lighthouse is located in Fort Story, an active military base near Virginia Beach and Norfolk at the southern end of the Chesapeake Bay. It has a distinctive white-and-black vertical striped design that stands out against the natural landscape and is accessible by land. While in the area, be sure to stop by the Virginia Beach Boardwalk and dip your toes in the water.
Fun Fact: The Cape Henry Lighthouse is situated near the original landing site where English settlers first set foot on their way to settle Jamestown in 1607.
You can find seven lighthouses located in North Carolina — from the Outer Banks to the Brunswick Islands. If you decide to see some of the lighthouses in the state, be sure to check out the two listed below.
32. Roanoke River Lighthouse
The Roanoke River Lighthouse stands out, in part because it’s located near the Lost Colony of Roanoke near Edenton, North Carolina. The current lighthouse is a replica of the original and sits along the Roanoke River. The local maritime museum – located right across the street – also has information about this historically significant port city, so be sure to stop by while you’re there.
33. Cape Hatteras Light
Located along the picturesque Outer Banks barrier islands in the town of Hatteras, the Cape Hatteras Light is located on one of the most hazardous areas of the Atlantic Coast due to how the Gulf Stream connects with the Virginia Drift. The lighthouse is painted in a distinctive black-and-white candy-cane pattern to stand out for miles away. It’s the tallest lighthouse in the United States, standing at 198 feet tall from the ground to the peak.
Fun Fact: The area the lighthouse protects is known as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic,” a nickname for the treacherous waters and countless shipwrecks off the Outer Banks.
There are eleven lighthouses in South Carolina — however, only two are still functional, and the U.S. Coast Guard runs them.
34. Hunting Island Lighthouse
Hunting Island Lighthouse is the only publicly accessible lighthouse in South Carolina, with an admission of only $2. You can climb all 167 steps and stroll around the observation deck for great views of Hunting Island and the Atlantic Ocean. It’s made from brick and has a cast-iron shell with a black top and a white bottom, giving it a very distinctive look.
35. Harbour Town Lighthouse
Harbour Town Lighthouse is located on the popular Hilton Head Island. The lighthouse’s traditional red-and-white candy-cane color and boxy design gives it a distinct look. You can see all the Lowcountry areas from its lofty heights. A museum is full of information from various historical periods, and there’s lots of shopping nearby. While on the island, check out the 12 miles of beautiful beaches, and enjoy endless paved bike trails, fishing charters, and dolphin cruises. When you are ready to eat, head over to Harbour Town, where there are numerous dining options.
There are five lighthouses in total along Georgia’s coastline, but only three that you can visit and tour, so we’ve outlined those options for you below.
36. Cockspur Island Light
Cockspur Island Light is located on the south channel of the Savannah River. Its white structure stands out against the sea. Due to the challenges of accessing the lighthouse, It’s currently not open to the public. However, you can view the lighthouse by hiking the 1.7-mile out-and-back Lighthouse Overlook Trail inside Fort Pulaski National Park. Or you can take a kayak out on the water and see it up close.
37. Tybee Island Light
Tybee Island Light is one of the few surviving colonial-era lighthouses in Georgia. It’s the oldest and tallest lighthouse in the state, standing at 145-feet tall. It’s open every day of the week except for Tuesdays throughout the year, and you can climb all 178 steps to the top to take in the breathtaking views. If you go, make sure to grab some seafood at the Crab Shack or Stingray’s Seafood in Tybee Island.
38. St. Simons Island Light
St. Simons Island Light was originally constructed in 1810 and still uses a Fresnel lens to help guide ships to safety. You can climb the 129 steps to the top of the lighthouse and visit the Keeper’s Dwelling, which is a Victorian-era structure located nearby. St. Simons Island is a beautiful place to visit, with beautiful beaches, golfing, and fishing opportunities.
In a state with so much shoreline and potential hazards, it makes sense that there are still 30 active lighthouses to help guide ships to safety. So while you may not want to visit them all during your trip to Florida, below are the top two that deserve your time and attention.
39. St. Augustine Lighthouse
This lighthouse offers fantastic views of the city of St. Augustine, Matanzas Bay, and the Atlantic Ocean. You can sign up for multiple kinds of tours, including Sunset Moonrise, Dark of the Moon, and Lighthouse Ghost Tales while enjoying drinks and appetizers.
Fun Fact: While the current lighthouse was originally built in 1874, Spaniards built the first lighthouse on this site in the late 1500s to protect their settlement.
40. Ponce de Leon Inlet Light
The Ponce de Leon Inlet Light is located near New Smyrna Beach and is the tallest lighthouse in Florida at 175 feet. The lighthouse has a distinctive red design, making it a must-see site if you’re in the area. It’s located just 10 miles south of the world-famous Daytona Beach, where you can lay on the beach, enjoy a dinner charter, or see a race at the Daytona International Speedway.
East Coast Lighthouses FAQ
The United States has been home to the most lighthouses in the world for hundreds of years, with the United States Lighthouse Society estimating that at their peak, there were at least 850 in operation.
However, lighthouses are far more than just utilitarian instruments; they also do a good job of capturing people’s imaginations. The reason behind their broad appeal partially lies in their location, as lighthouses are often gatekeepers placed on the thin boundary between ocean and the mainland, and their design — oftentimes bright, solid colors in contrast with their natural surroundings to make them appear more visible.
If you have questions pertaining to East Coast lighthouses, we have answers! Keep reading for everything you want to know about East Coast lighthouses.
Why Does the East Coast Have So Many Lighthouses?
Lighthouses were integral structures in the United States starting from the earliest days of commercial sea travel in the 18th century. As commerce expanded from the colonies into greater America and the world, so too did the abundance of beacons along the East Coast. Even then, lighthouses were considered venerable public objects, worthy of respect and a visit. Today, some 700 remain in the U.S. — a reminder of America’s maritime history.
What State Has the Most Lighthouses on the East Coast?
While Michigan boasts the most lighthouses in the U.S., with over 115 still standing along the Great Lakes, Maine has the second-most with about 80.
What Is the Tallest Lighthouse on the East Coast?
Not only is Cape Hatteras Lighthouse the tallest traditional brick lighthouse on the East Coast, but it’s also the tallest lighthouse in the United States, measuring 198.49 feet from the bottom of the foundation to the pinnacle of the tower.
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