Beloved Bay Area Lighthouse Gets New Caretakers

The East Brother Light Station in the San Francisco Bay near Richmond.
Photo credit Jeffrey Schaub/KCBS Radio

SAN FRANCISCO BAY — On an isolated island in the San Francisco Bay sits the East Brother Light Station, a lighthouse with a history dating back to the 1870s.

It’s also a popular bed and breakfast, and a recent search to find new caretakers for the inn received more than 1,000 responses from around the world.

KCBS Radio took a trip out to the island to meet the latest couple tasked with keeping the lights on, Tyler Waterson and his partner Tiffany Danse.

The station was managed by the US Coast Guard for decades, staffed by lighthouse keepers who diligently kept the flame burning. “Back in the day it was a whale oil lamp and the regulation was that the keepers had to keep it at a 1 13/16th inch flame,” said Waterson, but after the flame was replaced by an automated light in the 1960s “the Coast Guard was basically ready to burn all of these beautiful wood buildings down to the ground.”

After years of uncertainty over the fate of the station, a non-profit formed to take over the operations and converted the buildings into a 5-bedroom inn in the 1980s. Proceeds from the inn support the entire facility.

“We have guests come and stay out at the inn so that it can be a self-sustaining resource,” said Danse.

Running a lighthouse-slash-inn on is no simple task, meaning the many applicants seeking a life of solitude on the tiny island were met with a long list of job duties and requirements.

“You have to be able to work in the United States, and you have to have a captain’s license,” says Waterson. “So that pared it down to about 55 applicants. You also have to be able to cook, clean, make beds, fix things.” The couple is also expected to garden, give tours and ferry guests to and from the island.

There are no televisions on the island, no internet and limited cellular service. Because the island relies on rainwater catchment to supply water, even showers are rationed.

But for the new lighthouse keepers, that’s no deterrent. “Why wouldn’t you want to do it?” said Danse. “This feels a lot like home to me. I’m from Maine, the land of lighthouses.”

For visitors, a stay on the island includes a the chance to see wildlife, a tour of the grounds, panoramic views of the Bay Area on clear days and 4-course gourmet meals, which have included dishes like Caribbean sweet potato soup and Moroccan chicken with an apricot olive relish. 

Written by Jessica Yi
Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated the last name of one of the innkeepers. We regret the error.