Lighthouses have traditionally been sources of comfort and welcome, their unwavering beams of light calling weary sailors home after a long journey at sea. Today, these pillars of strength and stability are part of a different kind of journey – one that sees two people pledge their lives to each other as they head off to the land of marital bliss.
Not only are the coastal locations exquisite with their sandy beaches, rolling surf and fragrant sea air, but the lighthouses themselves evoke images of days gone by; a time of hope and joy as the sea allowed the long-awaited return of husbands, fathers and sons.
Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse
Unmistakable thanks to its brilliant red exterior, this 138-year-old lighthouse in Palm Beach is the county’s oldest structure and one of its most recognizable landmarks. Years ago, the lighthouse’s brilliant beam drew early mariners into the Gulf Stream while warning approaching ships of the area’s treacherous reefs and shoals.
Florida’s fourth tallest lighthouse (standing 105 feet in height) still operates today, serving as a useful daytime landmark and a welcoming sight at night. Inside, the bricks lining the stairwell are plastered and whitewashed to ward off any dampness. Outside, red art cement protects the walls from dampness and discoloration.
In 1994, the lighthouse’s Visitor Center was opened by the Florida History Center and Museum, signaling the start of public tours and special events.
Boca Grande Lighthouse Museum
All it takes is a visit to the Boca Grande Lighthouse to realize that these historic structures exist in many shapes and sizes. With its wraparound porch and one-storey wooden frame, it wouldn’t be hard to mistake the Boca Grande landmark for a beach house – aside from the hexagonal, glass-encased light perched on top.
Located in Gasparilla Island State Recreation Area, the century-old building was home to lighthouse keepers and their families until the 1950s when the light became automated. Today, its bedrooms, kitchen, parlor and sitting room have been transformed into a museum and visitors center, filled with exhibits detailing the history
Ponce Inlet Lighthouse of Boca Grande
Though it had been operating as a working U.S. Coast Guard light for years, the lighthouse’s museum just opened last March. Near the lighthouse is the restored Amory Memorial Chapel which is ideal for weddings, receptions, meetings and other gatherings.
Perched on the Boca Grande Pass in the Gulf of Mexico, the area offers incomparable ocean views, particularly as the setting sun dips into the Gulf in a blaze of brilliant color. Visitors are welcomed Wednesday through Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. The museum is closed for the month of August.
St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum
More than 50 weddings took place last year on the St. Augustine lighthouse grounds, not to mention the many engagements that sparked return visits on the couples’ wedding days. In fact, this working lighthouse and museum has seen a number of employees tie the knot; one on the front lawn of the lighthouse keeper’s home and another at the top of the tower framed by a glorious sunrise.
The lighthouse dates back to the 1500s when Spanish settlers erected a wooden watchtower at the inlet to colonial St. Augustine. Nicknamed “crazy banks,” the coast’s shifting sands were dreaded by all who sailed into the historic city. It wasn’t until the early 1800s that the tower officially became Florida’s first lighthouse, later replaced by the existing tower in 1875. Today, the 165-foot St. Augustine tower remains an active aid to navigation, its beam seen for 19 nautical miles.
Visitors who venture up the tower’s 219 steps can enjoy a breathtaking, panoramic view of St. Augustine and the surrounding beaches along the Atlantic Ocean. The lighthouse grounds are just as scenic with their lush trees and gardens, and the picturesque Victorian lightkeeper’s house.
No two lighthouses are identical, which serves to help mariners establish their location during the day. The St. Augustine lighthouse is characterized by its fiery red lantern and black and white spiral stripes that encircle the tower.
Sanibel Island Lighthouse
One of Florida’s most scenic and private spots is beautiful Sanibel Island, located off the southwest coast in the Gulf of Mexico. At the eastern tip of the island at Point Ybel is a T-shaped wharf built 162 feet out into the Gulf which became the lighthouse site in 1884. Along with the construction of the keeper’s quarters, the lighthouse became the island’s first structure to remain standing until present day.
Unusual in appearance, the lighthouse is a circular steel cylinder standing 104 feet high supported by a framework of iron braces. Inside, a spiral stairway contains 127 steps leading up to the tower’s light. Though it originally burned oil, the lighthouse is now powered by electricity.
A 400-foot, wheelchair-accessible boardwalk leads visitors to the lighthouse, which is the most frequently photographed landmark on the island.
Weddings are allowed year-round on the beach near the lighthouse. Couples must first obtain a permit from the island’s administrative offices located at City Hall.
Ponce Inlet Lighthouse
Though the days of the blue uniformed lighthouse keeper are long gone, the lighthouse at Ponce Inlet continues to watch over seafaring mariners who approach the inlet with a sense of caution. Perched on the Ponce de Leon Inlet just north of New Smyrna Beach, the signature red brick tower soaring 175 into the sky is one of the tallest lighthouses in the United States. Open daily to the public, visitors who brave the climb to the top are rewarded with a breathtaking view of the area, including the Atlantic Ocean, New Smyrna Beach and Daytona Beach.
The Ponce Inlet lighthouse is a popular spot for weddings. About a dozen ceremonies are performed each year, most on the tower’s white granite steps which stand out in sharp contrast against the brilliant red walls. Several months’ advance notice is required for weddings.
The Ponce Inlet landmark is one of the country’s few light stations to have all of its original buildings intact. Also located on the grounds are the original keepers’ dwellings which have been transformed into museums, the oil storage house containing an exhibit of navigational aids, outbuildings including a woodshed that now serves as a theater, a gift shop and the lens exhibit building. Visitors can also admire the F.D. Russell, a 46-foot tugboat built in 1938, located in the boatyard.
St. Marks Lighthouse
Located in the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge on the Gulf Coast south of Tallahassee is the St. Marks Lighthouse, an 80-foot tower built on the shores of Apalachee Bay in 1829. Today, its bright beam of light can be seen 15 miles away on a clear evening.
Weddings are permitted at this classic white lighthouse, provided each guest purchases a day pass to the park.
One of its most characteristic features is the reflector lens shipped from Paris, France and installed in 1829. It resembles a giant glass pineapple and still bears the scratches and chips that resulted when the lens was removed and hidden in the salt marsh by Confederate troops during the Civil War.
The lighthouse’s history is filled with dramatic events, including the tale of a storm in 1843 that washed away every building but the tower. The lighthouse keeper and his family survived by clinging to the tower’s garret floor, while 15 others drowned.
Today, the U.S. Coast Guard maintains the light while the St. Marks Refuge staff take care of the house and grounds.
Egmont Key Lighthouse
The historic island of Egmont Key at the mouth of Tampa Bay on Florida’s west coast is home to the Egmont Key Lighthouse, built in 1847 at a cost of $7,000 by the U.S. government. Accessible by private charter or aboard the excursion vessel Miss Cortez, the island and its lighthouse have been battered over the years by hurricanes and torrential storms.
The tower continues to operate as Florida’s sixth brightest lighthouse, boasting 200,000 candlepower. Weddings are allowed on the grounds at the base of the lighthouse. Though visitors aren’t permitted to climb the tower, they can step inside during public admission on the second and fourth Sunday of each month.