Lilting Lighthouse Lore and Labor, Big Sur, California

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 13299A, Service/ Volunteer


  • Help restore the naturally significant landscape and structures of the light station
  • Observe elephant seals, sea otters, and other endangered species
  • Explore the spectacular Big Sur Coast on free days 


  • Lodge in former U.S. Coast Guard duplex units at the lighthouse
  • Home-cooked meals and comfortable beds
  • All tools and safety instructions 


DatesOct 5–12, 2013
StaffDave Garcia

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Trip Overview

The Trip

We will be staying at Piedras Blancas Light Station, located six miles north of Hearst Castle off the California Coastal Highway and adjoining San Simeon State Park. In 2008, Congress designated it an "Outstanding Natural Area" and it is part of the Bureau of Land Management's Natural Landscape Conservation System. This isolated promontory is surrounded by the largest mainland rookery of northern elephant seals. Sea otters, California sea lions, harbor seals, and peregrine falcons are common sightings here. The awe-inspiring seascape is part of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the largest marine sanctuary in the United States. Just to the north of the light station is the 90-mile stretch of rugged California coastline between Carmel and San Simeon known as the Big Sur Coast.

This eight-day service trip will include four work days and two free days, with a travel day on either end. Destinations on free days will include exploring the local beaches and their hidden caves, looking for sea otters and other wildlife. One of the largest elephant seal rookeries on the mainland is just two miles south of the lighthouse and is easily accessible for viewing. 

This trip was chosen by the Wall Street Journal as one of the top ten “Best In Volunteer Travel For 2012”. You can read the story under the title “Saving the World--One Vacation at a Time."

The Project

The Piedras Blancas Light Station Outstanding Natural Area is a spectacularly dynamic area rich in species diversity and cultural history. In the past several years, volunteers have all but eliminated a virtual monoculture of invasive iceplant from the 19-acre station site, and are now working on the adjoining state park property. There are numerous projects in progress, from exotic invasive plant removal and nature trail work to structure maintenance, repair, and restoration.


The trip will start at Piedras Blancas Light Station, six miles north of Hearst Castle, at 2 p.m., on Saturday, October 5. The four work days and two free days will be scheduled based on weather and group preferences on activities. Participants may choose to visit the nearby Hearst Castle ($25 tour), but those fees are not included in the trip.



Getting There

The nearest airports are San Luis Obispo (55 miles away), Monterey (90 miles), Santa Barbara (130 miles), San Jose (160 miles), and San Francisco (200 miles). Transportation to Piedras Blancas is the responsibility of the participants. Parking at the facility is limited and carpooling is strongly recommended. A roster will be provided in advance to facilitate carpooling. Maps and directions can be obtained on Mapquest or Google.

Accommodations and Food

We will have the rare opportunity to stay at Piedras Blancas Light Station. This area has been off-limits to the public for over 130 years. We will be staying in the former U.S. Coast Guard duplex housing units, which were built in 1960. The facilities are comfortable but old and require special care.

President Andrew Johnson approved the purchase of Piedras Blancas. The Light Station was completed in 1875 and operated by employees of the U.S. Lighthouse Service until 1939 when the U.S. Coast Guard assumed command. Sweeping vistas of the Big Sur Coast and pounding surf will encompass your daily backdrop.

Come with the attitude that food is part of the adventure. We provide delicious, healthy, balanced, and abundant meals that are either vegetarian or can be adjusted for vegetarians. We have a group commissary, with everyone taking turns helping with food preparation. Before applying for the trip, people with food allergies and/or strong food preferences are asked to contact the cook to see if accommodations are possible. 

Trip Difficulty

We will probably be working a variety of projects from exotic invasive plant removal, to nature trail work, to structure maintenance, repair, and restoration. We will be doing moderate to hard physical labor. You will be expected to dig, bend, crawl, lift, saw, and hike in performing the projects. It is critical that you can follow leader and agency staff directions. You should be in good physical condition and have the ability to get along with a variety of personalities both while working and living in close quarters. 

Equipment and Clothing

Tools will be furnished by the agency, but you will need to have sturdy boots, long pants, and long-sleeved shirts due to the sun, insects, and poison oak. You will need a day pack to carry your lunch, water bottles, raingear, sunscreen, etc. We will provide food, but you need your own spoon, fork, knife, and bowl. We will provide a first-aid kit, but you should bring moleskin, bandages, aspirin, and any medications you require.

Piedras Blancas Light Station can be very windy. It is best to have layers of comfortable clothing, as temperatures may range from 40 to 85 degrees. A full list of equipment will be sent to approved participants. If you have questions, please contact the trip leader. 




  • Henson, Paul and Donald J. Usner, The Natural History of Big Sur. University of Calif. Press.
  • Lussier, Tommie K., Big Sur -- A Complete History and Guide. Big Sur Publications, P.O. Box 340, Big Sur, CA, 93920.
  • Alder, Peter and Fred Heath, National Audubon Society Field Guide to California. Alfred A. Knopf, New York.

Gift Shop:

  • There is a gift shop at the light station that sells books and souvenirs.  


The Big Sur Coast's natural resources were exploited and abused in the 19th and 20th centuries. We'll take a look at the wildlife recovery programs that have been implemented. We'll learn about the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, the largest marine sanctuary in the United States, and the marine inhabitants of this ecosystem.



Dave Garcia was a California State Park Ranger for 28 years. He has led Sierra Club kayak, mountain bike, and habitat restoration trips. Dave's trips are about the service commitment of working hard, playing hard, making new friends, and having fun!


Francine Wai has been a lifetime Sierra Club member for over 30 years. She enjoys exploring the outdoors especially in the western U.S. while residing in Hawaii. She enjoys sharing her commitment to environmental protection with interests in food sustainability, locavore eating, and accessibility to the outdoors.

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