The area around Monterey Bay has been inhabited for thousands of years. Some residents from the area can proudly trace their heritage back to the Esselen of the Big Sur coast or the Rumsen Ohlone from the Monterey Bay area. The first European we know of to see the area was Portuguese explorer Juan Cabrillo, who sailed up the coast in 1542—just fifty years after Columbus landed on the East Coast. He named several places along the way, including "La Bahia de los Pinos" or "The Bay of the Pines." Many of his place names were later changed.
Sixty years later, in 1602, Spanish explorer Sebastian Viscaino sailed north looking for a site to build a new port. He came ashore near the present site of Monterey. It must have been a beautiful sunny day because he described the spot in glowing terms, even describing an old oak tree where a port could be built. He named the bay after his sponsor, the Count de Monte Rey and the point at the southern end of the bay, Point Pinos ("la Punta de los Pinos").
In 1770, almost 170 years later, Spain sent Gaspar de Portola north to find Viscaino’s bay. With some difficulty, Portola found the bay and the old oak tree and founded the Presidio of Monterey. It became the capital of Spanish (and later Mexican) California. In 1846 the United States and Mexico went to war, and as a result Upper California became American territory in 1848 and a state in 1850. By then, the discovery of gold (in 1849) meant that thousands of travelers were coming to California, mostly by sea.
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Point Pinos is the oldest "continuously operating" lighthouse anywhere on the Pacific. Technically, it was the second lighthouse ever built (after Alcatraz) but was never demolished or decommissioned. Although Alcatraz is slightly older, its lighthouse was demolished and later rebuilt outside the prison walls.
90 Asilomar Avenue (near Lighthouse Ave.) Pacific Grove, CA, 93950
The Point Pinos Lighthouse in Pacific Grove, California, is maintained by an all-volunteer staff of restoration experts, docents, and historians. As with all active lighthouses and aids to navigation, the actual electric light itself is maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard.