The Hillsboro Lighthouse has the two things I love about Florida lighthouses: a great story and a stunning view.
But it takes some planning to visit this romantic spot, one of the oldest structures in Broward County.
It’s only open for tours a dozens times a year and arrival is only by boat. Admission is $25 per person and while I consider that pricey, it’s worth it if you make a day out of the visit to this special spot.
Here’s the schedule for 2017 tours of Hillsboro Lighthouse:
- Saturday March 11, 110th Hillsboro Lighthouse Birthday Tours. seven shuttles from Sands Dock, 9 a.m., 10 a.m., 11 a.m., noon, 1 p.m., 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. There will be a birthday celebration with special events, including descendents of lighthouse keepers sharing stories.
- Sunday March 12, – 110th Hillsboro Lighthouse Birthday Tours. three shuttles from Sands Dock, 9 a.m., 10 a.m., 11 a.m., special events.
- Saturday April 8, State of Florida Lighthouse Day, seven shuttle boats from Sands Dock, hourly 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
- Saturday May 20, National Safe Boating Week, seven shuttle boats from Sands Dock, hourly 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
- Saturday June 10, Cousteau Day Tour, four shuttles from Sands Dock, 9 a.m., 10 a.m., 11 a.m., noon
- Sunday July 23, Independence Tour, four shuttles from Sands Dock, 9 a.m., 10 a.m., 11 a.m., noon
- Saturday Aug. 19, National Lighthouse Preservation Day, four shuttles from Alsdorf Park 8:30 a.m., 9:15 a.m., 10 a.m., 10:45 a.m.
- Saturday Sept. 9, seven shuttle boats from Sands Dock, hourly 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
- Saturday Oct. 14, Barefoot Mailman Remembrance Day seven shuttle boats from Sands Dock, hourly 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
- Sunday Nov. 12, four shuttles from Alsdorf Park, 9 a.m., 9:45 a.m., 10:30 a.m., 11:15 a.m.
- Saturday Dec. 2, four shuttles from Sands Dock, 9 a.m., 10 a.m., 11 a.m., noon
Tour boats will leave from two locations depending on the specific tour date:
- Sands Harbor Resort and Marina, 125 N. Riverside Drive in Pompano Beach or
- William. J. Alsdorf Boat Launching Park, 2974 NE 14th St., Pompano Beach.
All dates and times, and the tour boat location are subject to change, including cancellation due to inclement weather.
The tour is $25 per person. (You might as well join the Hillsboro Lighthouse Preservation Society, though, because dues are $25 for individuals and include free tours. Dues are $50 for families and $100 for business or organizations.)
A few tips for your visit:
- If you want to climb the lighthouse (and you should!) then don’t wear flip flops; they aren’t allowed. Also, children must be 48 inches tall and be accompanied by an adult.
- You can bring a picnic and make a day of it.
- You can also bring beach chairs and a beach towel to make yourself comfortable. (There are chairs on the property and a gazebo.)
- The non-profit sells water but there is no food service.
- If you kayak to the lighthouse on an open day, you still must pay the admission fee. Also, private boats cannot use the dock.
For many years, Hillsboro Lighthouse had been impossible to visit. The problem is a private club owns the land required to reach the lighthouse.
A few years ago, however, the U.S. Coast Guards approved a schedule where the volunteer preservation society can offer tours several times a year, but only if visitors arrive by boat.
Turns out, this makes this Florida lighthouse tour into a fun (if slightly expensive) day trip.
If your visit starts at Sands Harbor Marina, stop at the cheerful tiki and pool bar where you can get a sandwich or beverage. (The grilled-veggie sandwich with goat cheese was great.)
The boat to Hillsboro Lighthouse takes you about two miles along the Intracoastal Waterway, offering a little sightseeing along the way.
At the lighthouse, there are informative signs, a few interesting brochures with Florida lighthouse history, and friendly volunteers from the Hillsboro Lighthouse Preservation Society, which operates the tours.
Of course, you must climb the 175 steps of the spiral staircase and ooh and aah at the view. From there, the beaches of Hillsboro and Pompano stretch on like postcards from paradise. You can look into the clear water and see a reef that runs along the lighthouse’s Atlantic beach.
The 100-year-old wooden cottages on the grounds are beautifully preserved, and still in use. Officers in the U.S. Coast Guard can bring their families for R&R here. (Thus those properties are off limits to visitors.)
While you’re there, you can walk and wade in the beach, clamber on the rocks at the mouth of the inlet (be careful) and generally soak up the various views of the handsome lighthouse.
You don’t get to see the Fresnel lens (pronounced fray-nel, I just learned from the Hillsboro lighthouse site.) But this is one bright light.
The clam-shell lens, 9 feet in diameter, produces the most powerful light of any remaining lighthouse in the United States — visible for 28 miles to sea.
While visiting Hillsboro Lighthouse, you learn the story of the barefoot mailmen, honored with a memorial statue. The mailmen walked more than 40 miles of sandy shore each week to deliver mail between Palm Beach and Miami 1885 to 1892. One mailman died at the Hillsboro Inlet, presumably killed by an alligator. (The barefoot mailmen predate the lighthouse, built in 1906.)
Find details about visiting on the Hillsboro Lighthouse website. You also can call 954-942-2102.
Here’s some video from our tour, including more views from the top.
Things to do near Pompano Beach and Hillsboro Beach:
- Cap’s Place, a historic waterfront restaurant nearby, is actually related to the lighthouse’s history. During Prohibition, lighthouse keeper Thomas Knight’s brother built a restaurant on an island near the inlet. Called “Club Unique,” it served illegal booze brought in by rum-running boats. Club Unique became Cap’s Place and it’s still operating as a restaurant in its historic shack-like buildings.
- Good local kayaking: West Lake Park in Hollywood and John U. Lloyd State Park in Dania Beach
- Beaches: John U. Lloyd State Park has the best natural beach in Broward
- Flamingo Gardens in Davie is a good place to enjoy the plants and animals of South Florida
- Ten favorite South Florida bike trails