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How to spend a day at the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse

Location: Florida

Lighthouse at Ponce Inlet, the largest lighthouse in Florida
Ponce Inlet Lighthouse

Overview


The Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse is one of the tallest and imposing lighthouses in the United States. It is located in Ponce Inlet, roughly 10 miles south of Daytona Beach and just east of New Smyrna Beach. Standing 175 feet tall, the lighthouse towers above the surrounding region. The current tower was completed in 1887 and in over a century of existence has contributed greatly to the shipping, transportation, and tourist industry of Central Florida.


Ponce Inlet’s lighthouse is the only one between St. Augustine and Cape Canaveral which makes it the perfect place to stop for the day when visiting Daytona Beach or Port Orange. Visitors to the lighthouse are able to climb all 206 steps to the top for an astounding view of the coastline below


Cost of Admission: Adult (12+) $6.95 | Children (2-12) $1.95

Hours of Operation: Daily, 10:00 AM - 5:00 PM


History


Colonial Sentiments


Ponce Inlet is named for the renowned Spanish conquistador, Juan Ponce de Leon, who visited the central and southern portions of modern-day Florida in his expeditions for the Spanish Crown. The town is a possible location of Ponce de Leon’s first embarkment upon continental America. There were many shipwrecks that occurred near the coast so it was decided that a lighthouse be erected serve as a navigational aid for naval vessels.


In 1835, the first lighthouse was constructed on the southern embankment of Ponce inlet, then Mosquito Inlet. However, just after its completion a massive wave struck the area and destabilized the structure. Then the First Seminole War broke out between the United States and the Seminole Native American tribe. During this war, the Seminole people attacked the lighthouse, destroying the entire facility.


And There Was Light


The location, north of the inlet, where the lighthouse now stands was chosen as the replacement site of the former structure. Built in 1887, the Ponce de Leon Inlet Light could be seen from over 20 miles away and has guided ships through the night for over a century. A well-known short story “The Open Boat” by Stephen Crane was inspired by a nearby shipwreck. A small crew escaped and eventually were guided back to shore when they spotted the Ponce Inlet Light.


Originally, the light flamed bright from the burning of kerosine; however, in 1933 the beacon was upgraded with the installment of an electric bulb. After changing hands from the Lighthouse Service to the United States Coast Guard, the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse fell into disuse and was eventually shuttered in 1970. Two years later, in 1972, the town of Ponce Inlet decided to take over the site to restore the iconic local structure and curated a museum dedicated to its history.


The Destination: Ponce de Leon Inlet Lighthouse


Accessibility


Ponce Inlet can be reached by road via State Road 1. This road can be taken south from Daytona Beach for a short 20-minute drive to the lighthouse and offers the opportunity for other side adventures on the journey. Other access points to Ponce Inlet are the Intracoastal Waterway and the Daytona Beach International Airport. If you are not already staying in the region, New Smyrna Beah is just 2 miles east of Ponce Inlet and offers a variety of accommodations for tourists.


The Site


Standing at 175-feet tall, the Ponce Inlet Lighthouse is the tallest lighthouse in Florida and the second tallest in the United States, after the Northern Carolinian Cape Hatteras. Since the lighthouse’s conversion into a tourist facility and complimentary museum, 170,000 visitors arrive annually to be inspired by the history and natural beauty of the destination.


Visitors can climb all 206 steps up to the pinnacle of the lighthouse for views of the seascape unmatched anywhere else in the vicinity. From the outlook point, you can see portions of Daytona Beach, far into the Atlantic Ocean, the Intracoastal Waterway, and New Smyrna Beach. The beauty of the white picket fence circumscribed around the lighthouse grounds creates an even more majestic scene. You will feel as if you stepped back in time to a romantic notion of a lighthouse bound coastline and a white sand beach at its base.


The Ponce Inlet Lighthouse is only one of eleven such buildings to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places which makes it a key component to understanding the history behind the local identity of Central Florida. It is one of the most authentic and well-preserved lighthouses in the United States. In correspondence with the site’s ties to its history, the local government established a museum dedicated to the establishment and operations of the lighthouse.