California Lighthouse – Fantastically French Icon of Aruba
Aruba’s California Lighthouse may have you feeling left out in the dark in more ways than one.
I mean, just look a the marvelous symmetry of her design and fenestration. Her stately facade. The ornate pediments crowning each window. It’s enough to have you humming La Marseillaise!
At the same time, though, the lighthouse’s name is distinctly American. Or is it…?
Fabulously French Design
Okay, the first thing to know about Aruba’s California Lighthouse is that it was, indeed, designed by a French architect. The design was approved in 1910. Construction took place between 1914 and 1916.
This was the age of Eiffel, of course. Echoes of France’s most famous attraction can be seen in the California Lighthouse’s clean, elegant tapered cylindrical lines.
(To be sure, California also recalls France’s oldest lighthouse, Cordouan, as well.)
Also like the Eiffel Tower, the California Lighthouse is the prime landmark in its destination. At 98 feet in height, the stone lighthouse is the tallest structure in Aruba. This, of course, yields the best views of the island for those fit enough to trek to the top.
The climb covers 123 total steps up a dizzying spiral staircase. Yeah, it’s not for everyone.
All-American in Name Only…Sort of
At the same time, the California Lighthouse is not quite as All-American as its name suggests.
The California in this lighthouse’s name actually comes from the S.S. California. That S.S. California was a British steamship that wrecked in the waters just off the island’s northwest coast in September 1891 while sailing from Liverpool to the Americas.
(Often, the S.S. California is mistaken for the S.S. Californian, which infamously declined to come to the rescue of the Titanic during the tragedy of its maiden voyage in 1912. That was a good 21 years after the California settled into its watery grave in the Caribbean.)
The California Lighthouse towers above the northwest tip of Aruba overlooking the very waters that claimed its namesake ship more than a century ago. While it provided a great service to subsequent ships plying Aruban waters for many years, the Lighthouse is more tourist attraction than anything else these days.
When I stopped in here in July 2016, I found the base of the Lighthouse and its attendant restaurant (formerly the home of the lighthouse attendant) teeming with tour buses, tourists, and tour-guides. The latter intermittently bellowed a cacophony of historical facts and time checks in an effort to wrangle their charges, while staying on-schedule.
This, of course, made admiring the California Lighthouse from the vantage point pictured here, a good distance down the road that leads to her doorstep, much more enjoyable for me.
How to Visit Aruba’s California Lighthouse
The California Lighthouse is impossible to miss when exploring the northwest environs of Aruba. Just head north along the coast past the ultra-touristy Palm Beach resort area and you’ll run right into it. Get there early to avoid the crowds, or stay late for one of the best sunset experiences anywhere.