For a getaway with a great view, and waterfront recreation right outside the door, rent the keeper's quarters at a lighthouse, such as Browns Point Lighthouse near Tacoma.
The experience for sale was a night in a lighthouse-keeper’s cottage, with a chance to play peek-a-boo with harbor seals and watch Tacoma-bound ships come and go from Commencement Bay. The backdrop: the snowcapped Olympic mountains.
I heard this place is one of the best-kept secrets for a quick getaway in the South Sound. I heard kiteboarders come out here on windy days, kayakers on calmer days.
I was intrigued. So off to the historic Browns Point Lighthouse we went, my friend and I. It’s only a 35-minute drive from Seattle and costs only $125 a night during the offseason.
I have an affinity for lighthouses, though not just for the maritime nostalgia. By their nature, lighthouses are stationed by the water, usually in a remote setting that’s ripe with possibilities for outdoor fun.
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When available to rent, they are often cheaper and easier to snag than a beachfront hotel.
As Jeff Gales, executive director of the U.S. Lighthouse Society, based at Point No Point lighthouse in Kitsap County, points out, “You have the proximity to the water. The location can’t be beat.”
And if you are a history buff, “if you are interested in the ocean, marine life and boating and any maritime-related subject, staying at a lighthouse property is a dream come true,” he said.
Choose from five
In Washington, the keeper’s quarters at five lighthouses are available to rent: Point No Point, in Hansville; Point Robinson, on Maury Island (connected to Vashon Island); New Dungeness, on Dungeness Spit, near Sequim; North Head, in Ilwaco; and Browns Point in Tacoma.
Views and locations vary. The New Dungeness Lighthouse, for instance, affords vacationers a view of the San Juan Islands and Victoria, B.C., to watch orca and gray whales. It’s on a remote beach with no public vehicle access. (Renters get dropped off and picked up at a prearranged time at low tide.)
The U.S. Coast Guard owns the 7-acre Browns Point Lighthouse Park. The Points Northeast Historical Society maintains the lighthouse cottage.
The cottage looks like a weekend retreat on Cape Cod; white picket fences, putting-green-like lawns jutting out to the lighthouse. The front yard, a stone’s throw from the water, is a hub of dog walkers and outdoor activities.
In good years for pink-salmon runs, shoulder-to-shoulder summer anglers line the shore. In winter, it’s Tacoma’s most popular spot for kiteboarding, with southeasterly gusts blowing those adrenaline junkies as high as the 38-foot lighthouse.
On gentler days, it draws kayakers such as Kaz Griffin, of Tacoma, who pulled up to the lighthouse for a break recently after gliding 90 minutes along the shore. “This is beautiful. I call it my playground,” said Griffin. “It’s peaceful, scenic.”
The three-bedroom cottage has been refurbished with 1930s-style antiques. In that era the lighthouse was manned by Oscar Brown, its first keeper, who kept the kerosene light burning for mariners.
Though in the last half-century modern navigation systems and automated foghorns have rendered the keeper’s role obsolete, Browns Point, like several local lighthouses, allows renters to play the role. Guests raise Old Glory up the flagpole and assist with tours during the summer. Renters can bone up on the maritime history provided and regale tourists with tales of how Capt. George Vancouver stepped on or near Browns Point on May 26, 1792.
I came too early for the tourist season, so I didn’t do the role playing. But I did go into the old pump house (which renters get access to) and rang the original 1,200-pound fog bell.
I then headed out to explore the area. About a half-mile north is a long pier where locals fish for squid and salmon. I continued two miles farther to Dash Point State Park, its beach often crowded with clam diggers, its hilly terrain popular with mountain bikers.
I hiked the park’s popular Beach Trail, lined by firs, cedars and hemlocks. Even during winter, this forest is lush, and an occasional ray of sunlight penetrating through the thicket gives the woods a surreal glow.
You can drive 10 miles farther north to Saltwater State Park for scenic walks along Puget Sound. But I was content to stay within a five-minute drive of the lighthouse.
Looking out from the front porch, I saw retrievers snatching tennis balls out of the air, beachcombers wandering along the shore and couples cuddling on the benches, looking at the Olympics at sunset.
When darkness falls and the dog walkers leave the park, the sound of the waves brushing the shore is soothing and hypnotic. Sleeping with open windows is better than having a sleep-sound machine by your nightstand.
The park gate gets locked at dusk. Renters get the gate key to come and go when they please. But why leave when you have the lighthouse all to yourself?
Tan Vinh: 206-515-5656 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @tanvinhseattle.