Point Reyes National Seashore is a strip of land separated by water from California’s mainland and is a federally protected area comprising of thousands or acres of wilderness, protected wildlife sanctuaries, California’s jaw-dropping coastline, beautiful beaches and stuff to fill up all your adventures on land or water. Most of it, sadly and understandably, is not accessible to dogs, so we made a return trip last weekend sans our dog Babu (see my previous post here on our Kehoe Beach outing) to explore the area to our hearts content. The timing was perfect since National Park Services celebrated its centennial this month and I cannot express how thankful I am for the services of park rangers for keeping them pristine, beautiful and protected for us to enjoy. This blog post is your essential Point Reyes guide and includes lists of activities and dining. If you are a nature lover, hike bunny, photography fiend or simply craving for solitude, Point Reyes is the perfect getaway for you. Also, who can resist the sighting of elephant seals basking in the sun or the majestic Tule Elks crying out loud from the distance? Read this Point Reyes guide to discover a breathtaking part of California and how to best enjoy it. We stayed there for two nights but a shorter stay, i.e. over-nighter will also do the trick if planned properly.
A) POINT REYES GUIDE STOP # 1: BEACHES
Starting off Point Reyes guide with an outing to one of the many beaches along the shoreline. Being a piece of land jutting out from the side of California’s coast, Point Reyes is blessed with a magnificent coastline on one side and the calm waters of the Tomales Bay on the other (home to several oyster farms). Our first plan of action was to head towards one of the many beaches for some R&R and we thus chose Drake’s beach, named after the famous British explorer Sir Francis Drake, who set foot on these sandy shores hundreds of years ago and was reminded of his native Bristol by the natural coves in the surrounding. Of course, this being Nor Cal, we were greeted with gusty winds (thus my completely covered up avatar) and a chilly afternoon air at the beach with dozens of seagulls and cormorants snoozing near the water with only a few people in sight. We strolled for some time to a beach left almost entirely to us and then decided to scoot off to our next destination once we could no longer bear the cold, damp air all around. A few deer sightings were an added bonus as we drove towards the elephant seal look out point, Chimney Rock and the Historic Point Reyes Life boat Station,in the farthest south east corner of the peninsula.
B) POINT REYES GUIDE STOP #2: CHIMNEY ROCK
Next in my Point Reyes Guide is Chimney Rock, which is best experienced in spring (all the more reason to make a return trip) when the wildflowers are in full bloom (Jan -March) and the elephant seals are in their birthing season. Once you get out of the parking lot, you simply walk down the paved road till you hit an enclosed area which serves as the lookout point for elephant seals that call this part of the shore their home and can be seen nesting with a pair of binoculars or a telephoto lens. We had neither, so we used some of our imagination, some extreme eye muscle squinting and decided to take a few photos of the natural beauty all around. As you walk back and cross the parking lot, another paved road will take you all the way towards the Historic lifeboat station, responsible for saving many a crew members’ lives during ship wreck in this notoriously rocky and treacherous coastline. The station was decommissioned in 1969 but is sometimes open to the public in spring when this area attracts many tourists. To read more about the lifeboat and experience the heartbreak and valor of California’s maritime history, see this link. Sriram, my husband, was not in a mood to walk all the way to the station, so we simply took a peak and then drive towards downtown,i.e. Point Reyes Station, for dinner. Point Reyes started off and still continues to be the diary capital of California with several local,family owned and famous creameries (Strauss Creamery, Cow Girl Creamery, Clover) calling this place their home and so it is not surprising to see acres of wilderness with grazing cows,completely unfazed by vehicles driving by. The well fed, content jersey cows made us feel as if we were somewhere in Switzerland, minus the lush greenery since CA is still in drought and there are patches of brown to testify for it.
C) POINT REYES GUIDE STOP #3: TULE ELK RESERVE
Tule Elk reserve is perhaps my favorite must do activity in the Point Reyes guide. My hankering to see these majestic creatures, once nearly extinct and then reintroduced safely to this part of USA, is what brought me to Point Reyes again. This is the only dedicated elk reserve in North America and is home to about 250 of them. Fall is the best time to view them in their full glory and if you are lucky enough, you will see full grown bulls locking antlers over the possession of a harem of ladies. More information here from the website:
“Tule elk once inhabited the grasslands of the Point Reyes peninsula and the Olema Valley, as well as other grasslands within Marin County. They were the dominant grazers on these lands until their local extirpation in the 1850s. State and Federal legislation in the early 1970s, authorized the California Department of Fish and Game, in cooperation with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service, to reintroduce the extirpated tule elk to Tomales Point. As a result, 10 animals (8 females and 2 males) were transplanted from an existing reintroduced herd in the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge near Los Baños to a 2,600 acre fenced enclosure on Tomales Point in 1978. The site of this release was a decommissioned cattle ranching area, known as Pierce Point Ranch, which is now designated as wilderness.
Further conservation efforts resulted in an additional free-ranging herd being established at Point Reyes. In 1998, 28 animals taken from the Tomales Point preserve were released in the wilderness area south of Limantour Beach. Reintroduction of tule elk to the National Seashore and the further establishment of the free-ranging herd has been an important component of the restoration of the natural systems historically found in this unique and treasured place.”
The Tomales point trail heard starts from this now abandoned Pierce Point ranch and goes all the way to the Ocean bluffs for a mean 8 mile hike, with breath taking views of the coast and Limantour beach below. As with any other wild animal reserve,please obey all posted signs for your safety and that of the wildlife. We hiked about half way and then made our way back, with me being extremely dejected for not having spotted a single one from decently close quarters till we met the park rangers on our way back who had set up their binoculars and telescopes on the trail and at the trail head to view them up close and personal through the lenses. Saw the resting females, the guarding bull with his majestic antlers and learned many a fun fact about them. Overall, mission (somewhat) accomplished!
D) POINT REYES GUIDE STOP #4: POINT REYES LIGHTHOUSE
The disappointment of not rubbing snouts with the Tule Elk (OK I exaggerate, I so badly wanted to snap a photo or two of them elks and was hoping to catch them in action in close quarters, much like a wildlife photographer does. Why do I have such bad luck and a 50 mm lens?) was greatly overcome by a visit to the Point Reyes Lighthouse, one more elusive one of its kind that we’ve never been able to quite make to, until this weekend. Any Point Reyes guide is complete without a visit to this lighthouse and you need to plan properly for it because like most others, this one too has special visiting hours (Fri-Mon, 2:30-4:30 PM) and the lens room is only open up to 4 PM. The road to the lighthouse is closed from Dec-March due to perilous winter conditions (read strong winds to knock your socks off). If interested, there is also a sea lion lookout point that leads down Sir Francis Drake Blvd, to catch a glimpse of them roosting in the Sea Lions Cove.
It is best to arrive early, i.e. when the lighthouse opens, since there will be a swarm of people trying to do the same and so the parking lot gets pretty full and you have to try your luck fitting your car on the side of the main road. Once you get past the visitor center, you will quickly realize that this is a light house like no other, i.e. it is not perched on a rock at the edge of the water. Instead, you have to descend an unending flight of rocky stairs to get to it. The steps down and the painful hike up are all worth it because the lighthouse is a beauty and its history are fascinating. Plus who can resist the fiery red moss covered rocks flanking the steps? The lighthouse was built in 1870 in this location to warn mariners of the danger of crashing into the rocks, because this shoreline was and continues to be one the foggiest and most jagged of all coasts in USA. The 2nd order Fresnel lens used to pulse light out every five seconds to guide the ships out of danger’s path and the fog horn (one is still functional today) added as an additional warning. Simply imagining the ardous nature of the job of the principle light keeper (cleaning the lens and keeping it alight at night via oil wicks and then electricity) fighting monotony and extreme weather made a shiver run down my spine and made the hike up easy peasy. It was fascinating to get a glimpse of the keeper’s journal as he toiled through thick and thin, insubordinate seconds including some who went crazy working under these conditions. The lighthouse is no longer functional but an automated flash light still exists warning the ships from a distance. For more about the lighthouse, read this link here.
E) POINT REYES GUIDE STOP #5: CYPRESS TREE TUNNEL
Last thing on the Point Reyes guide agenda is the beautiful Cypress tree tunnel lane. If you are in the mood for some romantic photo shoot (ours was anything but that) do not miss this beautiful, serene spot with a canopy of Monterey cypresses forming an overhead arch. As for us, we clearly look awkward trying to fit in one frame but the place sure was enchanting. Google maps will get you there and more information can be found here.
F) POINT REYES GUIDE: DINING OPTIONS
The second part to Point Reyes guide comprises of your dining options while you are there. Don’t let it’s size fool you, Point Reyes has plenty of options or breakfast, lunch and dinner packed in the tiny station area. We had lunch on our way to Point Reyes in San Rafael, the largest city in Marin county closest to and south of Point Reyes. El Lucerito, a Guatemalan restaurant beckoned us on YELP and we happily responded. We got some Jamaica (hibiscus drink) to start off followed by a prawn curry for me and a whole fish for S. Food was pretty good and portions were filling. Point Reyes guide handy tip: All food and drinks have to be either sourced from the Point Reyes Station (the one tiny spot serving the entire area) or the nearby tiny town of Inverness. We ended up dining out (breakfast, lunch and dinner) at the station and were astonished by the number of choices that we had. All the handful of restaurants, true to being part of Marin county, had sustainable catch, local and seasonal produce showcasing the best of Point Reyes in wine, cheese and of course mussels and oysters (this is the reigning dairy capital of California and is known for its oyster farms such as the famous Hog Island Oyster Co for which there is a mile long line in San Francisco).
We hit up Cafe Reyes , another must visit in our Point Reyes Guide, for dinner (a wildly popular spot) for pizza with wine (yes this is how classy we are in NorCal) as their wood-fired pizzas are not to be missed. If you are not a big cheese person, do let the server know and they will not drown your food in cheese (they tend to top everything off with cheese). We also had dinner and breakfast (next day) at the Station House cafe, another great place showcasing northern Californian cuisine. Bovine Bakery is the hotspot for breakfast and chai latte and don’t forget to check out the cute farmers’ market that pops up every Saturday. We got ourselves a horchata mix from one of the vendors, which is seriously so good! Finally, do check out the insanely famous and packed shoulder to shoulder cantina by Cowgirl Creamery, the pride of Marin county and one of the most popular creameries in California. The creamery store not only sells yummy hot sandwiches, soups and salads, they have their full product line (read all kinds of cheese) laid out there for selling as well as many other food products and kitchen appliances from from local Californian merchants. The store was definitely a treat for locavorians like me. Highly recommended for out of towers to sample a slice of California’s immense bounty. We had a great lunch over veggie and meat sandwiches plus a to die for earl grey panna cotta on the picnic tables in the grassy lawn outside.
Saving the best for the last, I am ending this Point Reyes guide with a quick tasting trip to Heidrun Meadery, the only one of its kind that makes champagne style mead, aka fermented honey wine. Tasting of four meads is $ 15/person and a tasting plus tour comes to $ 25. This was my first trip to a meadery and I must say it was pretty educational. Between sips of the bubbly, I found out that the flavor of the mead comes from the honey which in turn depends on the flower pollinated by the bees. So cool! The meadery is located in a certified Bee farm (no harmful repellants or pesticides used) filled with beautiful summer blooms and the tasting room was equally inviting. Overall, two thumbs up to Point Reyes for being such deceptively simple, yet surprisingly diverse in its offerings in food and libations. Now all I need to do is wait for spring to visit again!
I hope you enjoyed this handy Point Reyes guide to plan your next weekend trip to Point Reyes National Seashore, California’s pride! Read my other blog posts on Napa for other weekend trip ideas!