The visual history of lighthouses up and down the east coast of the USA is visible in a glance. The further north you are, the more likely you are to find highly visible red and white lighthouses – useful against the grayer northern skies. In the central coast, the first lighthouses tended to be made of red brick and left unpainted. As you head south, the lighthouses tend to be black and white – each with a unique pattern that helped ships more easily identify where they were along the low lying coastline. Every lighthouse is unique has a story of its own. Whether you seek them out to visit, climb to the top, or just admire from below, or even just enjoy them from a distance, lighthouses are a trip through time along the eastern seaboard.
Maine: West Quoddy Head Lighthouse
Many of the lighthouses on the northern coastline sport highly visible red and white paint. This short and stocky lighthouse seems ready made for a Christmas photo. You can climb to the top and walk the catwalk outside for views toward Nova Scotia. It also sits at the easternmost point in the contiguous United States.
Martha’s Vineyard: Gay Head Lighthouse
Can you move a lighthouse? This lighthouse on Martha’s Vineyard is unusual that in 2015 the old 1844 structure was physically moved 129 feet further inland to save it from eroding cliffs. The amazing feat saved the lighthouse from crumbling into the sea and did so without even a crack in the red brick. A lighthouse has been on this site since 1844 when it replaced the original wooden tower that had originally been authorized by President John Quincy Adams.
New Jersey: Twin Lights Lighthouse
This unique lighthouse looks more like a medieval fortress than a lighthouse. Built in 1828, the style has held up well against the maritime weather. It now includes a historical museum on site. →
North Carolina: Cape Hatteras Lighthouse
← One of the more striking lighthouses, the Cape Hatteras lighthouse with a spiraling black and white pattern is unique in many ways. At 208 ft tall, it is world’s tallest brick lighthouse. In 1999 it was moved inland to rescue it from erosion. Climb to the top if you are up for it for panoramic views of the Outer Banks.
Virginia: Cape Henry Lighthouse
The first lighthouse ever built in the United States, it was the first authorized by the new government and completed in 1792 to protect ships venturing in to the Chesapeake Bay. Located in Virginia Beach, the old brick structure is now a National Historic Landmark and sits near its younger brother, a black and white lighthouse built in 1881.
Photo Credit: Jim Brickett on Flickr
Virginia: Assateague Lighthouse
This tall red and white striped lighthouse sits in the marshy wetlands of a wildlife haven. The lighthouse is open to public on weekends and admission is free. Climb to the top and you may see the famous Chincoteague wild horses that inhabit the island.
North Carolina: Oak Island Lighthouse
The unique brownish toned stripes and vertical shape make it look more like a smokestack from a distance. You can climb to the top, but need to reserve a time with a local volunteer. The unique interior does not have a standard spiral staircase, instead using metal ship ladders.
Photo Credit: Chucka_nc on Flickr
North Carolina: Cape Lookout Lighthouse
The argyle pattern of black and white diamonds makes this a unique lighthouse. Located on a barrier island near the Crystal Coast and is accessible only by ferry. Once there, you can climb up the 207 steps for a commanding view.
Photo Credit: Bobistraveling on Flickr
North Carolina: Bodie Island Lighthouse
←The horizontal black and white stripes on the Bodie Island lighthouse make this iconic south coast lighthouse unique. Sitting in the marshes on south Nags Head of the Outer Banks. There are several other lighthouses on the Outer Banks, but this one is a little more secluded and thus less visited. The keeper’s quarters now house a gift shop and museum inside.
Florida: St Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum
This unique barber-pole style lighthouse has black and white swirls topped by red. It sits atop a green hill and is part of an entire complex housing a museum, maritime archaeology exhibits from old shipwrecks, a wooden boatbuilding program, WW2 era exhibits, as well as offering nighttime ghost tours. →
East Coast Cruises
Tour these lighthouses and more on an amazing East Coast Cruise!