East Brother Light Station Reopens to Visitors
Plus, a Recipe for the Victorian Lighthouse’s Warm Carrot Soup
Between an 18-month closure due to the pandemic and a damaged underwater power cable that cut electricity to East Brother island earlier this year, the historic East Brother Light Station faced a dark and uncertain future. Perched atop a small island in the strait that separates San Francisco and San Pablo Bays, the 148-year-old East Brother Light Station is home to one of California’s last remaining Victorian lighthouses.
In the 1960s, the U.S. Coast Guard began replacing California’s old lighthouses with automated beacons on steel or concrete towers to save on salaries and maintenance costs. The old wooden buildings were destroyed.
East Brother Light Station was slated for demolition as well, but the Contra Costa Shoreline Parks Committee stepped in and secured recognition for the lighthouse on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1979, a non-profit organization was formed with the goal of raising money to restore the lighthouse and making it available for public use. With the help of private donations and hundreds of volunteers, the lighthouse and other island structures underwent an extensive restoration and opened as a bed and breakfast inn in 1980. For the past 40 years, revenues collected by the inn have paid for the ongoing restoration and maintenance required to keep the historic buildings and equipment in good working order.
But when the pandemic forced the inn to close to visitors in March of 2020, revenues began to dry up. Then, in April of 2021, the underwater power cable that supplies electricity to the island failed, and the inn and the lighthouse went dark. The U.S. Coast Guard, which owns the power cable and is tasked with ensuring the flashing beacon stays lit, determined they could more economically restore power to the LED beacon with a small solar panel rather than repairing the cable. But electricity for the rest of the island, including the inn, hinged on repairing the cable or installing another source of power. The non-profit organization that runs the inn launched a GoFundMe campaign and managed to raise enough money for an emergency repair to the damaged cable, which has temporarily restored power.
Far more work remains to be done to ensure a reliable power supply to the island, but in the meantime, East Brother Light Station was able to reopen their doors to guests in September.
Just 30 minutes from downtown San Francisco and a 10-minute boat ride from the mainland, visitors to the island can be swept away to a bygone era with stunning views of the San Francisco skyline, Mount Tamalpais, and the Marin coastline. Inside, the lighthouse is a virtual living history museum filled with books and vintage photographs. The five guest rooms are imbued with luxurious warmth and coziness that even in the fiercest of winter storms can’t shake. The delightful innkeepers regale their guests with tours of the island, stories of the lighthouse’s fabled past, and an extraordinary dining experience that take most guests by surprise.
A stay at the lighthouse includes champagne and hors d’oeuvres upon arrival, dinner, and a full gourmet breakfast every morning. The four-course dinner (served with wine) is especially lauded. Guests often describe their dining experience at the light station as “creative,” “done to perfection,” and “among the finest anywhere in the world.”
The meals are made from scratch and artfully prepared with a variety of cultural influences. They feature seasonal ingredients chosen with care, much of it harvested from the inn’s own garden. This time of year, as the days get cooler and damper, the recipes reflect the changing seasons. A fall menu might include coconut and red lentil soup, an orange marcona almond salad with pickled shallots, fennel, and arugula, roasted chicken with herbs de Provence and garlic-goat cheese mashed potatoes, and homemade vanilla ice-cream with sea salt and blood orange olive oil.
In honor of the inn’s reopening and the arrival of fall, we’ve selected an older recipe to share from East Brother Light Station for a simple but elegant carrot soup. The soup is perfect for a cool, crisp day and surprisingly delightful, especially considering its few ingredients and easy preparation. Fresh carrots give the soup a vibrant color and unmistakable earthiness, while onion and chicken broth bring in savory notes and fresh thyme adds the perfect herbaceous accent. A splash of milk or cream before serving infuses the soup with body and richness, without disturbing the soup’s light, garden-fresh flavor.
Warm Carrot Soup
Courtesy of East Brother Light Station
Makes 4 to 6 Servings
- 6 carrots, chopped
- 1 onion, chopped
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 teaspoon fresh thyme
- 2 cups chicken broth
- Cream or milk for finishing
Heat the olive oil and butter in a pot, add chopped onion, thyme, pepper and salt.
When the onions begin to turn golden brown, add the carrots, chicken broth, and four cups of water.
Cook on low heat for about 20 to 30 minutes (until carrots are tender).
Blend the soup to a smooth consistency. Add water, cream, or milk to reach desired consistency and taste. Warm the soup before serving.