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Hillsboro Lighthouse spiral staircase
It’s 175 steps to the top of Hillsboro Lighthouse. (Photo: David Blasco)

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.
Hillsboro Lighthouse in Broward County, Florida
View of Hillsboro Lighthouse from the east

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 where you can get a sandwich or beverage. (The grilled-veggie sandwich with goat cheese was great.)

Hillsboro Lighthouse keeper's historic cottage
Historic cottage of Hillsboro Lighthouse keeper.

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.

Memorial to barefoot mailman at Hillsboro Lighthouse
Memorial to barefoot mailman at Hillsboro Lighthouse. (Photo: Bonnie Gross)

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:

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