Best Things to do in Point Reyes: The perfect weekend guide
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 is ofcourse the source of all of Northern California’s cheese and oysters. This blog post is your essential guide to the best things to do in Point Reyes which will take care of everything you need to know on what to do in Point Reyes for a weekend getaway from San Francisco. If you are visiting with your dog, this post also includes handy tips on where to take your dog in Point Reyes because many places are off limits to canines here. We’ve been to Point Reyes thrice, of which twice were with Babu, our adorable Tibetan Spaniel Mix. This post thus includes both dog friendly activities and other attractions to provide a holistic view of how to enjoy Point Reyes, with or without a dog.
[This post was originally written in 2016 and has been updated in 2019]
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Things to do in Point Reyes: Visit the many beaches in this area
Of the many things to do in Point Reyes, visiting one of the many pristine beaches dotting the shoreline definitely features at the very top. 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 which is saline rich and thus home to many oyster farms. 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) is one of the best beaches to spend some time at Point Reyes. Being a Northern California beach, it does get quite chilly due to the cold winds out there and so if you do visit, please remember to bundle up. 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. Drake’s beach is not dog friendly (see the sign in the photo below).
Dog friendly beaches at Point Reyes
Point Reyes is a prime conservation spot for marine mammals and wildlife in California and so dogs are not allowed on almost all trails and many of the beaches here (service animals being an exception). The Point Reyes website is an excellent resource for all your questions on where to take your dog in Point Reyes. Only three beaches are dog friendly, which are Kehoe beach and trail (which happens to be the only trail where dogs are allowed), Limantour Beach and Point Reyes/Great Beach. Besides this, there are several beaches lining Tomales Bay that are accessible to dogs only on kayaks and you can download this helpful PDF on all these dog friendly beaches. We visited Kehoe beach during our very first trip to Point Reyes with Babu and then Dillon Beach near Marshall (on the mouth of Tomales Bay) on our third trip (with Babu), since this beach is very popular with dogs. The vehicle entry fee is $10 for Dillon beach and although characteristically cold like other Nor Cal beaches, this is definitely pretty crowded!
Kehoe beach (dog friendly)
What to do in Point Reyes: Elephant seal sighting at Chimney Rock
Next in my what to do in 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. Dogs are not allowed at Chimney Rock.
Point Reyes started off and still continues to be the diary capital of northern California with several local, family owned and famous creameries (Straus Creamery, CowGirl 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.
Weekend getaway to Point Reyes: Visiting the Tule Elk Reserve
Tule Elk reserve is one of the most unique things to do in Point Reyes. 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 (read about our first trip here to dog friendly Kehoe Beach). 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 on the elks can be obtained from the Tule elk website. As is obvious, this elk reserve is off-limits to dogs.
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 breathtaking 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 trailhead 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!
Point Reyes attractions: Point Reyes Lighthouse
Any Point Reyes sightseeing guide is incomplete without a visit to Point Reyes lighthouse. You definitely need to plan properly for this visit 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). For current lighthouse conditions and timings, visit the website here. 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. Dogs are not allowed at the lighthouse.
It is best to arrive early to see Point Reyes lighthouse, 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 lighthouse 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 arduous 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.
How to spend a weekend at Point Reyes: The Point Reyes shipwreck
The shipwreck at Point Reyes is a stone’s throw from the Inverness Store and is definitely one of the most popular attractions in this region (plus it is dog friendly!). It is actually the impassioned photographers and curious tourists who saved this decaying S.S. Reyes, a fishing boat in its heydays from removal when the wetlands restoration firm took over the conservation efforts. This “ship” with the original words “Point Reyes” still painted across it stands tethered to the shore and is worth visiting to collect some memorable moments from your Point Reyes visit.
Things to do in Point Reyes: A photo-op at Cypress tree tunnel
One of the most romantic things to do in Point Reyes is a pit stop at the beautiful Cypress tree tunnel lane, a serene spot with a canopy of Monterey cypresses forming an overhead arch for an impromptu photoshoot. 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. Goes without saying that there is no pesky sign asking dogs to stay off and so they can very well be part of the family photo!
The best restaurants and cafes in Point Reyes: tasting California’s bounty
One of the most enjoyable things to do in Point Reyes is to eat some of the best local cheese and oysters that you possibly can because this is the cheese and oyster supply central for Northern California. In case you were wondering where to eat in Point Reyes, let me regale you with plenty of options, right from Point Reyes station all the way up to Marshall. On our second visit without Babu, we ended up sticking to dining at Point Reyes station and were really 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).
For starters, we hit up Cafe Reyes for dinner (a wildly popular spot) for pizza with wine 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. Cafe Reyes is one of the few dog friendly restaurants in this area and although they have a patio for alfresco dining, it does get really cold and chilly in the evenings. We also had dinner and breakfast 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 locavores like me. Highly recommended for foodie visitors 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.
Dog friendly restaurants in Point Reyes
Besides dining at Cafe Reyes at Point Reyes Station, Marshall too has several options for dog friendly dining at Point Reyes. Nick’s Cove at Marshall has its own patio dining as well as a “dining in the shack” option where you order the food at the bar, pick it while waiting at the shack on the boardwalk and then proceed to dine at the shack itself. This option is available upon prior reservation and for those particularly blustery evenings when the wind and cold make it difficult to dine outside. Tony’s Seafood restaurant, super popular for its grilled oysters, is also dog friendly and a must stop dining spot for delicious seafood, something that you must have on the California coast if your diet permits!
Wine tasting in Point Reyes (including dog friendly winery)
Point Reyes is no Sonoma or Napa, but it does have a few spots for wine tasting. One of them is actually a one of its kind meadery that makes fermented honey wine or “mead”. I am talking about going on a tasting trip to Heidrun Meadery, that specializes in champagne style mead. Tasting of four meads is $ 15/person and a tasting plus tour comes to $ 25. 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 is equally inviting.
The other place to hit up for wine tasting is none other than Point Reyes Vineyards which doubles up as an inn where you can even book an overnight stay so that you don’t have to venture far for your wine. I am not sure about how dog friendly the living arrangements are but the vineyard sure is! The tasting room does not allow dogs but there is an outside patio as well as a shaded area and surrounding garden with benches that are all dog friendly! For a mere $10, I had a fantastic wine tasting experience comprising of both red and white wines made from local grapes. The ladies at the tasting room were extremely nice, knowledgeable and showered Babu with a lot of affection. For those of you looking for more wine tasting option, Sonoma county is only a short drive north and there are plenty of wineries in Healdsburg and Kenwood to quench your thirst!
Where to stay in Point Reyes (including dog friendly hotels)
This national seashore is a narrow strip of land jutting into the Pacific ocean and so lodging options are limited. Besides Point Reyes station, the towns of Olema, Inverness and Marshall have accommodations that you can check out. Based on my personal experience, here are the places I recommend:
a) Cottages at Point Reyes Seashore: This is a series of beautiful cottages on a sprawling property adjacent to the beautiful Tomales Bay which are very dog friendly and charge a small fee ($ 20) for staying with a pet. The cottage grounds are dog-friendly but dogs have to be on leash at all times.
b) Nick’s Cove: Nick’s cove at Marshall is not only a popular lodging venue but also famous for its restaurant and dog friendliness. Although expensive, you get to stay in beautiful cottages, some of which overlook the water. They have a very helpful staff and the concierge even provides ideas on lots of dog friendly things to do around here plus tips on where to eat and things to do. Breakfast is free and for a change, really delicious and is delivered to your room every morning. Best of all you can order several treats for yourself (cheese platter, oyster plate etc) anytime of the day and it will be delivered to you (of course, you will be charged for it).
Olema house (only 5.5 miles from Inverness) is another excellent dog friendly place to stay in Point Reyes. This lodge spans over four acres of land, is perched right on coastal highway 1, has 24 private rooms and is highly rated for their yummy breakfast! I am planning to book it for my next trip to Point Reyes since it seems to be more reasonable in price than Nick’s Cove.
My memory does not serve me right as to where exactly we stayed in 2016 during our second trip to Point Reyes sans Babu, but you can click here to compare prices on all Point Reyes Hotel options!
Point Reyes is not only an excellent weekend getaway from the hustle and bustle of city life but the perfect example of how beautiful and abundant natural wilderness can be, thanks to the efforts of conservationists and scientists. Besides the splendor of nature and teeming marine life, the food is topnotch and represents the best of Northern California seafood and diary. I highly recommend spending 2-3 days since there are so many things to do in Point Reyes and witness a slice of the good California life! I hope you’ve found this post on what to do in Point Reyes useful.Thanks a lot for stopping by!