Rolling golden hills marked by never-ending beaches. A Coastal wilderness with wildlife, including a magnificent herd of once-endangered tule elk, that live in harmony with throngs of visitors. It’s where the slow life happens and beckons one to follow suit. Point Reyes is snugly situated just north of San Francisco on scenic Highway 101. A sparkling peninsula with 80 miles of coastline holding a stunning combination of rugged cliffs, near-empty sandy beaches, windswept pastureland, a raging surf, and the quiet bay.
The tranquil scene above ground is a sharp contrast to the seismic turmoil going on below, as the San Andreas Fault separates Point Reyes, the northernmost piece of land on the Pacific Plate, from the rest of California. In fact, Point Reyes is slowly making its way to Alaska at the rate of about 2 inches per year
Near the Bear Valley Visitor Center (where you should visit first for up-to-date information and tips from the rangers) this trail goes over the famous San Andreas fault. The trail leads from the parking lot. At about 0.6 miles, it is easily walkable and illustrates the geological drama of late with a loop through the area torn by the fault. You will see rifts in the ground, separated fences, and a barn thrown off its foundation by recent earthquakes. The earth is alive here, without a doubt.
Scenic Tomales Point Trail
There are many trails at Point Reyes, but if you have time for only one, make it Tomales Point. With stunning coastal views every step of the way, the out-and-back trail is just over 9 miles round trip going to the tip of Tomales Point. The final stretch is often not maintained and overgrown with bush lupine and other vegetation. Enjoy magnificent views of the Pacific, glimpses of pristine beaches, and wildflowers in the spring and summer. Wildlife abounds and you may just get a gander at the tule elk herd, as well as numerous bird species, and even whales at the migrate in winter and spring.
Point Reyes Lighthouse
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, this is one of the most beautiful lighthouses on the California coast, it was built in 1870 to warn ships heading for the headlands of Point Reyes, which juts out unexpectedly in the ocean. It was active until 1975 when a more modern light was installed. To get here, take Sir Francis Drake Boulevard all the way to its end. The lighthouse is located at the bottom of a steep staircase, below the fog, making it a perfect subject for your camera lens. Just be prepared for the 313 steps to get back up!
Drakes Beach, 2015 Sand Sculpting Contest
Point Reyes is home to many beautiful beaches, but Drakes makes for a fun visit. The wide swatch of sand enjoys the dramatic backdrop of striated sandstone cliffs, perfect for long walks and many fine photographic opportunities. Sunbathe, picnic, sandy play, it’s all here. There’s even a bookstore and picnic tables near the parking lot. As this beach is popular, plan to get here early to grab your spot on the sand.
Point Reyes Beach
At over 11 miles long, this stunning, wild and windswept beach appears to stretch endlessly into the horizon. Get an aerial view of the beach without flying over it by hanging out at the parking area at Point Reyes Lighthouse. On a clear day, you can capture incredible photos of this iconic beach, with the surf creating a white fringe along the sandy shoreline. During the winter months, some sections of the beach are off-limits due to the presence of elephant seals. Not that Point Reyes is not a swimming beach, as the surf is too strong. But it’s a great place for a stroll, for admiring the scenery and spotting birds and other wildlife.
Admire the Tule Elk
Hunted to near extinction back in the 1800s, herds of tule elk now roam free in this area and are a magnificent sight once spotted. As part of the reintroduction in the 1970s, two bull elk and eight females were introduced into a fenced part of Tomales Point close to Pierce Point Ranch. Known as the Tule Elk Reserve, this area is now home to several hundred of these amazing creatures. Bring your binoculars; especially in autumn during the rut season, this is when the bull really strut their stuff.
Hike to Alamere Falls
Get a good day hike in and trek to one of only two waterfalls along the California coast that are also tidefalls. (The other is McWay Falls in Big Sur.) It is located in the Phillip Burton Wilderness and is a round-trip 13-mile hike. During low tide, Alamere Falls cascades 40 feet onto Wildcat Beach. When the tide is a bit higher, the waves kiss the bottom of the coastal bluffs, falling into the Pacific Ocean. It is a dramatic sight either way. You will find trailheads at Bear Valley, Five Brooks, and Palomarin. The latter offers the shortest route to the falls.
Kayak Tomales Bay
The bay boasts a 24-kilometer (15 mile) tidal water body that is the largest unspoiled coastal embayment on the California coast. Bounded on the west by Point Reyes National Seashore, the Point Reyes Station lies at the head of the bay, with Inverness to the west, and Dillon Beach at the mouth of the bay. There are several kayak launch sites and other useful landmarks to help navigate the way around the bay and information can be obtained at the Visitor Center.
Walk the Cypress Tree Tunnel
Landscape photographers will love this feature of the National Seashore. It is a beloved photo location, where you can play with angles, lighting, and learn a bit of history along the way. Exquisite cypress trees create an inviting tunnel. Planted in 1930, walking the long stretch of cypress is a wonderful experience, especially if you have it to yourself. At the end is the historic KPH Maritime Radio Receiving Station; if you visit on a Saturday, you may be able to tour the facility.
Rob Decker is a photographer and graphic artist who studied under Ansel Adams in Yosemite National Park when he was just 19 years old. Now, he's creating iconic WPA-style posters for each of our National Parks. Click Here to learn more about his story and The National Park Poster Project.
Join the growing community of 75k+ National Park enthusiasts to receive insider deals and updates.