What to Do in Point Reyes
By Tienlon Ho
is a triangular shard of land bordered by Highway 1 on one side and by water everywhere else. It’s green, golden, and windswept, with views of the churning blue surf or glassy smooth bays, depending on which way you turn your head. It’s a rugged landscape so different from the urban wilds that when you’re there, it’s easy to forget that San Francisco is about only an hour’s drive south – just close enough for an easy day trip and still plenty remote for a real escape.
You go to Point Reyes to be outside, but the local towns of Olema, Inverness, and Point Reyes Station each have their own charms, thanks to locals who realize it’s a shame to be a jerk when you live in one of the most beautiful places in California. Here are a few ways to experience some of what makes them so happy.
President Kennedy established the Point Reyes National Seashore as a haven for seabirds, elephant seals, and elk in 1962. It’s nice for people too. Hike the Tomales Point Trail to Windy Gap, which winds an easy two miles starting at Pierce Point Road through the Tule Elk Preserve. Take it another seven miles all the way to the precarious Point itself for a spectacular showcase of wind, fog, and sea. If you want to keep closer to the water, the Estero Trail, a nine-mile hike off Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, offers a chance to glimpse bat rays and leopard sharks cutting through the water.
You’ll notice the Point Reyes Lighthouse perched on the western headlands from lots of vantage points. If you want to get up close, it’s a climb down a few hundred steps. The Lighthouse Visitor Center is open from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Thursday through Monday.
One of the best ways to see the harbor seals, otters, and grebes is to view them from a kayak – although, make sure to keep a distance of more than 300 ft. Most likely, though, they will spot you long before that as you bumble on the shore with your kayak. Blue Waters Kayaking leads tours year-round that include a picnic, paddling through bioluminescent plankton, or even camping (from $68).
You can pet dairy cows and eat their cheese at Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company, which is hidden in the rolling Point Reyes Station hills (look for the Giacomini Dairy sign). Wine and cheese tastings and farm dinners happen regularly at the Fork, their new tasting room.
Learn to capture what you see with the help of the Point Reyes Field Institute, which leads photography and art workshops (from $89).
The sheltered waters of Drakes and Tomales Bay are home to some of the world’s best oysters. Throw down Miyagis at Hog Island Oyster Company or Kushis at Tomales Bay Oyster Company, both on Highway 1 in Marshall. Drakes Bay Oyster Company is fighting to stay put in Drakes Estero just off Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, so get there while you can. Reserve picnic spots in advance.
Tomales Bay Foods is an old hay barn on Point Reyes Station’s main drag that now serves as a tasting room/creamery/cheese shrine for the beloved Cowgirl Creamery. There are constant tastings and cheese-making demonstrations, as well as a deli.
For sit-down meals, the Inverness crowd favors the coastal-town vibe at Saltwater Oyster Depot (mains around $18). Across the water, Sir and Star at the Olema puts only the best of Marin’s ingredients on its plates (go for the $45 Saturday set menu).
Everyone passes the cluster of cottages that make up Nick’s Cove in Marshall as they explore the area. It’s worth a stop, even just to take a glass of wine and some oysters to the boat shack at the end of the pier for the sunset (cottages from $229).
The Point Reyes Hostel is a ranch house with all the carefree energy of a hostel plus its own private beach right smack on the National Seashore (dorm beds are $25, and private rooms run from $82).
Camping here is not to be missed, and each season presents a different type of adventure. In late fall and winter, you’ll be bundled up, but your reward will be the most spectacular sunsets. In the summer you can actually swim. Plan for a permit ($20) and to backpack in; kayaking is also required to reach sites on the west side of Tomales Bay. Most kayakers stop at Marshall Beach, but it’s better to sign up early for Wildcat Camp, a secluded bluff that’s within a stroll of the striking Alamere Falls. Or, if you like harbor seals, you can sleep near them on Blue Gum Beach. Farther afield there’s an unofficial camping spot at Lairds Landing, the site of a Miwok village that Clayton Lewis turned into an artists’ commune in the 1960s.
November to January
when the salmon return from the ocean to spawn in Lagunitas Creek
January to April
when 20,000 gray whales roll past town on their way to their annual orgy off Baja, and the elephant seals do it without shame at Chimney Rock
March to July
when the egrets and blue herons nest in the cypress at Audubon Canyon Ranch
June 22 to November 2
when the Point Reyes Farmers’ Market runs on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Toby’s Feed Barn
is the time to build castles and R2-D2 out of sand for the annual sculpture contest on the beach at Drakes Bay