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Just a short weekend trip away from San Francisco, you can enjoy the picturesque bliss at Point Reyes National Seashore. With promises of fabulous hikes and brilliant wildflowers, it is definitely a gorgeous location, one that is worth adding to your list of places to visit in California. One of the amazing things about Point Reyes is being able to find an isolated spot, where you can dip your toes into the clear cerulean sea, soaking in the mesmerising beauty, from the gently crashing waves, wetting the sliver of golden sands, to the majestic cliffs dampening with every lick from the sea water. If you’re a bit stuck on what you can do whilst you’re in California, let me tell you – there’s an entire list of things to do – so make sure you’ve got a notepad, you might want to pay close attention, to the hikes and attractions that happen to surround this panoramic seashore.
What is Point Reyes Known For?
Located at the western tip of the Point Reyes Headlands, the Point Reyes Lighthouse is one of the most marvellous lighthouses in California, and it also happens to be a popular Point Reyes Attraction. Constructed in 1870, this lighthouse was a beacon of warning for over 100 years in an area prone to shipwrecks and thick fog. As attractive as many find it to be, it is also the windiest of places to visit – on the US Pacific Coast – and the second foggiest place in Northern America, which is quite insane!
The Best Time to Visit Point Reyes
Naturally pristine skies and blossoming meadows provide the most delighting views from April to May. If you’re looking for the best temperatures, try visiting between September and October for warm temperatures averaging below 60 degrees, and with even lower chances of fog. If you’re ambitious to spot some whales offshore then come and visit between November and May. To spot the local elephant seals, you can come in winter when they are breeding, or in April to July when they are moulting. You can find sea lions between May and July. If you have the urge to spot some local Tule elk, you’ll find them between August and October, which happens to be mating season. But let’s not forget about the spring time, with blooming wildflowers at Chimney Rock and it is one of the most delightful times to visit Point Reyes.
What to do at Point Reyes?
The most amazing thing about visiting Point Reyes National Seashore is the amount of natural beauty lurking around every curve, waiting to be appreciated. Go for a hike, immersing yourself in the atmosphere of the park spotting wildlife and spectacular scenery. Marvel at the beaches. and set out a mini picnic for you and your family, whilst fighting off seagulls as they try to run with your snacks. Let’s take a look at the list of attractions you can find, followed by things to do whilst staying near Point Reyes National Seashore California:
- Visitor’s Centre
- Tomales Point Trail
- Pierce Point Ranch
- Reyes Lighthouse
- Drakes Beach
- Heart’s Desire Beach
- Point Reyes Beach
- Alamere Falls
- Tomales Bay
- Cypress Tree Tunnel
- Point Reyes Station
Bear Valley Visitor Centre is the main visitor centre at Point Reyes National Seashore. You’ll find it along Bear Valley Road just a little west of Olema. Bear Valley Visitor Centre is a great place to stop at the park, especially if its your first time visiting. Here you’ll find current information on the status of trails and roads in the park, including weather-related closures, which can occur at short notice.
Park staff can offer suggestions on activities and places within the park tailored to your interests. View the exhibits at the visitors centre to learn about the many ecosystems in the park, local flora and fauna, as well as the park’s natural and human history. There are restrooms available at the centre, as well as a bookstore, enjoy a picnic meal at the picnic tables. Bear Valley Visitor Centre is open every day from 9.30 am to 5.00 pm.
Tomales Point Trail
If you’re planning to go on a hike, whilst visiting Point Reyes National Seashore then you should definitely keep Tomales Point Trail in mind; featuring bedazzling views every step of the way, you’ll find your fingers clamped around your camera as you snap away at the scenic surroundings. You may find overgrown bushes, and vegetation as you trundle along, but the full out-and-back trail stretches at a lovely 9.4 miles round trip, allowing you to reach the edge of Tomales Point, with the tips of your toes.
The first couple of miles, instantly offers gorgeous views out to the Pacific Ocean, with views of pristine sandy beaches below, enjoy the sight of wildflowers throughout the spring and summer. Tomales Point Trail is the pinnacle of wildlife spotting in Point Reyes. If you’re hiking during the month of August you might catch an eyeful of tule elk, remember to bring your binoculars with you! If you prefer to drive, you still might be able to catch sight of elk as you drive Pierce Point Road up to the ranch.
Pierce Point Ranch
Point Reyes National Seashore is dotted with historic ranches, dating as far back as the time of the Franciscan missionaries in California, cattle were introduced to the region, and today you’ll find dairy cows grazing as you drive through the park. Pierce Point Ranch, located at the northern end of the park, offers a chance for visitors to take a look back into the early days of ranching at Point Reyes National Seashore. It was established in 1858 and was in operation until 1973. The ranch is one of the most interesting historical Point Reyes attractions. As one of the largest of the early ranches in the region, Pierce Point was known for its butter. These historic buildings are perfect for an educational wander.
Point Reyes Lighthouse is quite possibly the most beautiful lighthouse on the California coast, thanks to its mesmerising location, you absolutely cannot forget to visit the lighthouse when visiting Point Reyes! The lighthouse was built in 1870, to warn ships of the headlands of Point Reyes poking out into the ocean. It was active until 1975, when a more modern light was installed just below.
Access to the lighthouse can be found at the very end of Sir Francis Drake Boulevard in Point Reyes National Seashore. The area is tremendously windy, so keep a firm grip on your hats, scarves, and coats! From the car park, 0.45-mile paved roads lead to the Visitor Centre. Just beyond that is the observation deck, from where you can look down at the glorious lighthouse and take many photos.
If the lighthouse and stairs are open, then you might want to brace yourself, climbing down the 313 steps to the bottom, so that you can view the lighthouse up close, as well as looking for birds or marine life. The climb back up is not easy! Parking spaces at the lighthouse may fill up during the day, especially on pleasant weather weekends and during whale-watching season, so its best to arrive early.
Point Reyes National Seashore is home to many exquisite beaches, and Drakes Beach is quite a pleasant beach to visit. You can access the beach through Drake Beach Road, off Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, the main road through the park. The wide spread of sun burnt golden sands, has a dramatic backdrop of striated sandstone cliffs, making Drakes Beach a fascinating place to stroll and take photos.
The waves at Drakes Beach are generally not as boisterous as those at other west-facing beaches at Point Reyes. But it’s still worth being careful near the water due to naturally rogue waves and rip currents. Walk the beach, sunbathe, picnic, and let the kids enjoy some sand play. You can find a book store at Drakes Beach, there are also picnic tables near the car park. Drakes Beach is a popular beach, so arrive early for a parking spot and appreciation of its tranquil beauty.
Heart’s Desire Beach
Heart’s Desire Beach is part of Tomales Bay State Park. This magnificent beach is just a short walk from the car park. The waters are still, and warm when compared to the beaches on the Pacific Ocean side, which is why Heart’s Desire Beach is immensely popular on nice weather days. Apart from the bedazzlement of the bay, and the fact that the beach is safe for swimming, there are patches of grassy areas where you can spread blankets and lounge around; with picnic tables for meals. You will find toilets here as well, but bear in mind that dogs aren’t allowed.
You can either choose to arrive early, claim a spot and spend the entire day relaxing at the beach, or you can also walk follow the trails to other Tomales Bay beaches. Short trails lead to Pebble Beach, and Indian Beach; longer walks would take you to lovely Shell Beach, another great spot for swimming. If you love hiking, don’t miss the Jepson Grove trail, you’ll find the sign of the trail at car park at Heart’s Desire Beach. The trail is one mile away.
There is a parking fee (currently $8.00 per vehicle) at Heart’s Desire Beach, and you’ll need a credit or debit card to pay the fee. The gates close once the car park is filled, so make plans to arrive early.
Point Reyes Beach
The king of beaches at Point Reyes would have to be the majestic, frothy waves formed at Point Reyes National Seashore. It’s over eleven miles long, with stunning sandy beaches that seem to stretch forever. For a birds-eye view of the beach the best spot would be the car park at Point Reyes Lighthouse. On a lovely day you can capture beautiful elements of the beach with some light photography, with frothy waves splashing against the wet sandy shore.
If you’re thinking of bringing your pets along, dogs on 6-foot leashes are allowed, except for some areas that are nesting grounds for the western snowy plover. In winter some parts of the beach are out of bounds due to the presence of elephant seals. Point Reyes Beach is not suitable for swimming, as vicious waves had swept visitors out into the ocean, so stay away from the water line and don’t turn away from the ocean. Though it is an immaculate beach, especially for some light strolling whilst admiring the picturesque scenery; looking for birds and wildlife.
One of only two waterfalls along the California coast that are also tidefalls – Alamere Falls – is located in the Phillip Burton Wilderness and requires a round-trip hike of 13 miles or more. At low tide, Alamere falls cascade 40 feet down on to Wildcat Beach. At moderate to high tide, when the waves become acquainted with the bottom of the coastal bluffs which trickles down into the Pacific Ocean. Alamere Falls makes for a panoramic sight, a location that will simply take your breath away.
Despite the 13 mile hike, visiting Alamere Falls is one of the best things to do in Point Reyes. If you want to do the hike, arrive prepared because its a 7 hour commitment, bring plenty of water, sunglasses so that you can stare out into the bright oceans and more. You will find trailheads for Alamere Falls at Bear Valley, Palomarin Trailhead offers the shortest route, but parking is limited and the final stretch of access to the road to the trail ahead is extremely rough.
You can hike to Wildcat Campground and walk south along Wildcat Beach to the falls at low tide. Check the conditions of the beach before you visit, taking care that the waves are not angrily crashing against the golden sands, especially during winter and spring.
The tender and scenic waters of Tomales Bay are perfect for kayaking. Tomales Bay is 15 miles long, with multiple locations for kayaks and stand-up paddleboards. Interestingly the eastern shore of Tomales Bay is on the North American tectonic plate, while the western shore is on the Pacific tectonic plate. There are several small communities along the shores of Tomales Bay and you can glimpse kayak and SUP rentals at the head of the bay. The waters are usually tamed in the mornings, so you might want to schedule your kayaking quite early in the day. Some parts of the bay are closed to the public to protect birds or wildlife.
Cypress Tree Tunnel
The cypress tree tunnel at Point Reyes is a much loved photo location, don’t miss a trip down here to capture some memorable scenery, that you can post and share to your friends and family. The magnificent Monterey cypress trees, with tall branches that curl to create this famous tunnel were planted in 1930. Walking along the driveway beneath the embracing trees is a majestic experience, especially if you have it all to yourself.
At the end of the long driveway you’ll find the historic KPH Maritime Radio Receiving Station: you might be able to tour the facility if you visit on a Saturday afternoon and experience Morse code being sent or received. To get that good photographic lighting, arrive in the morning during golden hour on a pristine day, when the sun’s rays pour through the trees. Foggy days, will have spirals of mist twirling around the branches, also a photo worth capturing. To arrive at the cypress tree tunnel from Point Reyes Station, drive along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard towards Point Reyes Lighthouse for about 9.5 miles and you will spot the unmissable tunnel of trees, just after a sign that says “North District Operations Centre.”
Point Reyes Station
Point Reyes Station is one street running through the small town, lined with shops of all kinds, from local boutiques to appealing gift shops this place is definitely worth exploring. Head down to Bovine Bakery for some fresh hand-made pastries, like bear claws and croissants. A perfect plat stop at if you’re out cycling, and want a quick warm pastry to fuel your body. You might want to visit Cowgirl Creamery, at the ferry building in San Francisco, where you’ll find some famous California cheese. Visit their Creamery Barn Shop to have a nibble at some cheese, and pick up some picnic supplies.
As you drive down in Point Reyes, you’ve probably spotted the farmland in every direction. Just outside Toby’s Feed Barn explore some fresh produce at the Farmers Market, on Saturday mornings during the summer. You might find the best coffee in Point Reyes tucked just inside Toby’s Feed Barn, it’s worth having a little poke around the gardening supplies, and gift shops, you might find something you like!
Places to Eat
Ever wondered why there are so many oysters in San Francisco and the wider Bay Area? It’s because they’re harvested locally. The shallow waters of Tomales Bay is the perfect spot to find oysters, in fact there are a couple of places along the eastern edge of Tomales Bay, where you can buy and eat oysters. A good meal of raw oysters is the perfect way to round up your visit to Point Reyes Nation Seashore. And here you can get the drizzled in sauce, BBQ’d, or splash them with a little cocktail sauce. If you’re on the lookout for some freshly caught and cooked oysters, then try these spots:
- Tomales Bay Oyster Company
- The Marshall Store
- Nick’s Cove and Cottages
- Hog Island Oyster Farm
Tomales Bay Oyster Company
Tomales Bay Oyster Company has picnic tables dotted along the edge of the water, each with a small state-park style grill – first come first served, which means you’ll need to get there as early as 11am. You’ll need to bring a cooler and ice, charcoal, a lighter, shucking knife and gloves. You’ll need some hot sauce, cocktail sauce, sliced lemons, artisan sourdough, triple cream brie, side of quinoa salad, chips, dips, plates, and more importantly some beer! You might want to bring a friend, who actually knows how to burst the shells of the oyster, so that you can get to the tender, squishy, yet ever so slimy meat.
The Marshall Store
The Marshall Store has great bayside seating so you can enjoy the scenic views, whilst shovelling a BBQ’d oyster past your lips. If you’re not looking to spend the entire day shucking oysters, they’ve got six types of prepared oysters – including raw – all sourced from Tomales Bay Oyster Company down the road. There are sandwiches and other prepared foods available, but the oysters are enough to make an entire hearty meal.
Nick’s Cove and Cottages
An actual restaurant, with solid walls and seats might be what you’re looking for when you’re seeking the infamous oysters at Point Reyes National Seashore. There are a variety of cooked and raw oysters, including oysters that have been dunked in your favourite sauces, ready to be devoured. This restaurant has full lunch and dinner menus with appetisers like garlic fries, devilled duck eggs and more!
Hog Island Oyster Farm
Hog Island might be the most popular stop for oysters on the Pacific Coast Highway. The spectacular views of Tomales Bay is second to their chipotle bourbon butter barbecued oysters. The menu consists of oysters – raw and bbq’d – salad, charcuterie plate, and a variety of local cheeses and bread. The only downside, is that it may take a lot to get your belly full, so beware of the cash escaping your pocket whilst eating here.
With alternating menu options, this place will have you appreciating its levels of creativity when it comes to their beverages. Compare their oysters to the other restaurants, enjoy a beer with your mates and go about your day, happy that you’ve managed to taste the oysters that are caught and cooked to perfection.
With attractions and natural delights at your fingertips, why not take a summer trip with your friends or family, to enjoy the natural, serene and picturesque views of the cerulean waves beckoning their visitors closer – but not too close! Walk the 313 steps down to the much loved lighthouse in Reyes, snap some memorable photos, and continue with your visit. You’ll need more than a day at Point Reyes National Seashore, that’s for sure!
Is Point Reyes Worth Visiting?
Point Reyes is definitely worth visiting, whether you plan to come alone, or with some friends to enjoy the wonderful outdoors, you will not be disappointed here.
How Do You Spend a Day at Point Reyes?
Take a hike, go camping, eat some oysters, go kayaking, catch a glimpse of whales frolicking in the waters, spy on tule elk, and take lots of photos!