Last updated on May 8th, 2021 at 09:32 am
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 $35 per person and while I consider that a lot, it’s worth it if you make a day out of the visit to this special spot. (You might as well join the Hillsboro Lighthouse Preservation Society, though, because dues are $35 for individuals and include free tours. Dues are $50 for families of four.)
A few tips for your visit to the Hillsboro Lighthouse
- If you want to climb the Hillsboro 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 expensive) day trip.
Most boats leave from Sands Harbor Marina, so we suggest a stop at the cheerful tiki and pool bar Sands Harbor Bar & Grill, where you can get a sandwich or beverage.
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 Hillsboro Lighthouse 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 Mizell-Johnson State Park in Dania Beach
- Flamingo Gardens in Davie is a good place to enjoy the plants and animals of South Florida
- Ten favorite South Florida bike trails
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The author, Bonnie Gross, travels with her husband David Blasco, discovering off-the-beaten path places to hike, kayak, bike, swim and explore. Florida Rambler was founded in 2010 by Bonnie and fellow journalist Bob Rountree, two long-time Florida residents who have spent decades exploring the Florida outdoors. Their articles have been published in the Sun Sentinel, the Miami Herald, the Orlando Sentinel, The Guardian and Visit Florida.