The Point Reyes National Seashore is a hidden gem on Northern California’s coast. Just 1.5 hours north of San Francisco, lush rolling green hills dotted with grazing elk, deer, and cows lead to white sandy beaches crowded with elephant seals. It’s an outdoor enthusiast’s paradise, and there’s much to do in Point Reyes, from hiking to kayaking to eating the best oysters in the region.
What I admire about exploring Point Reyes is that it still has a wild and untamed feel to it. Point Reyes is sometimes overlooked by tourists in favor of other locations such as Muir Woods, Napa Valley, or Lake Tahoe. To be quite honest, I grew up in the Bay Area and had just recently found Point Reyes.
Some options include hiking some of the 150+ miles of trails that lead to a breathtaking waterfall — Alamere Falls, one of only two tidefalls in California and a few dozen in the world–, visiting an amazing lighthouse, taking in the breathtaking scenery, and keeping an eye out for wildlife such as elk, elephant seals, birds, sea lions, and whales.
Do you know what is the best time to visit Point Reyes? The best views are in April and May when the skies are clear and the meadows are in blossom. Overall, the best time to visit the Point Reyes National Seashore is between January and May.
I was surprised to discover that there is so much to do in Point Reyes that there is no time for boredom. The photos were stunning; the bright sun, the magnificent black, and white cows, the fields, ahh!!
It was a thing of beauty that I will never forget. Continue reading for my travel guide which includes the best things to do in Point Reyes national seashore to Point Reyes and start planning your trip.
Are Dogs Allowed In Point Reyes?
Point Reyes has miles of beaches, rocky headlands, and estuaries, as well as dozens of bird species and one of Northern California’s last tule elk populations.
Dogs are only permitted on three beaches (Kehoe, Limantour, and Great Beach) and one trail, and they must be kept on a leash at all times.
How did Point Reyes get its Name?
When the Spanish explorer Sebastián Vizcaino’s ship, the Capitana, moored at Drakes Bay on the Day of the Three Kings (Epiphany, or the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas) on January 6, 1603, he named the area Punto de Los Reyes (“Kings’ Point”).
How do you Get to Point Reyes Without a Car?
Without a car, the best way to get from San Francisco to Point Reyes National Seashore is to take line 130 or line 68 bus, which takes 3 hours and 23 minutes and costs $35 to $45.
Can you Park Overnight at Point Reyes?
Between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m., all areas of the park are closed to visitor vehicle parking, except visitors with backcountry camping permits who may park at established trailheads and authorized visitors staying overnight at the Clem Miller Environmental Education Center or the Point Reyes Hostel.
Things to Do in Point Reyes
If you’re excited to whet your adventurous spirit at Point Reyes, here is a list of the best things to do and places to visit in Point Reyes:
- Hike the Tomales Point Trail in Point Reyes
- Tour Pierce Point Ranch, a Historic Point Reyes Landmark
- ViewPoint Reyes Lighthouse
- Enjoy the Beauty of Drakes Beach
- Admire the Tule Elk
- Look For Other Wildlife And Birds
- Swim At Heart’s Desire Beach
- Admire Point Reyes Beach
- Hike to Alamere Falls
- Go Kayaking Around Tomales Bay
- Walk the Cypress Tree Tunnel
1. Hike the Tomales Point Trail in Point Reyes
Although there are several trails to hike in Point Reyes National Seashore, one of the top things to do in Point Reyes National Seashore is to include the Tomales Point Trail on your Point Reyes agenda.
The Tomales Point Trail is a spectacular hike that leads to a coastal cliff and Tomales Point, one of Point Reyes’ most beautiful locations. The Trail is a popular hiking destination for both residents and tourists. The round trip distance is roughly 9.4 miles.
The Tomales Point Trail is a scenic hike that leads to a coastal cliff and Tomales Point, one of the most picturesque sites in Point Reyes. This Trail is a popular hike for both locals and visitors. It is approximately 9.4 miles round trip.
If you come in the afternoon, time your climb to coincide with the stunning sunset over the Pacific Ocean. On your hike, you may also see unusual local ecosystems such as birds and whales.
2. Tour Pierce Point Ranch, a Historic Point Reyes Landmark
Historic ranches dot the Point Reyes National Seashore. Cattle were introduced to the region as early as the period of the Franciscan missionaries in California, and you can still see dairy cows grazing as you drive through the park today.
Pierce Point Ranch, located near the park’s northern extremity, provides a glimpse into the early days of ranching at Point Reyes National Seashore. It was founded in 1858 and was in operation until 1973. One of the most significant historical Point Reyes attractions is the ranch.
Pierce Point Ranch, one of the region’s first significant ranches, was famous for its butter. The buildings in the complex have remained remarkably unaltered, and interpretative signs provide an informative tour.
3. ViewPoint Reyes Lighthouse
The Point Reyes Lighthouse was established in 1870 and functioned for 105 years before being replaced by a new, automatic light in 1975. It is perched atop a rocky outcropping at the westernmost tip of the Point Reyes Headlands.
The lighthouse lies at the bottom of 313 stars (which can be closed during strong winds). The tourist center and observation deck, on the other hand, are positioned at the top and are entirely accessible without the use of stairs. In addition, the observation deck is an excellent place to spot whales traveling by.
This is also the windiest location on the United States’ Pacific Coast and is the second foggiest location on the North American continent, which is quite an achievement given how foggy the West Coast can be.
Please keep in mind that the lighthouse and visitor center are only open from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Fridays and Mondays. However, if the wind speed exceeds 40 mph, the stairs to the lighthouse are closed for tourist safety.
4. Enjoy the Beauty of Drakes Beach
Drakes Beach is well-known for its safe location, excellent amenities, and easy access. Drakes Beach is an excellent starting place for visiting the Point Reyes Peninsula.
Drakes Beach is an excellent site for families because there are many family-friendly activities available, including parking areas directly near the beach. You won’t have to hike or drive to get there.
There are also other activities accessible, such as boogie boarding, surfing, fishing, kayaking, and so on. So, if you’re searching for a calm space for the entire family, this is the place to be.
5. Admire the Tule Elk
Tule elk can be seen throughout the park, but the Tule Elk Preserve at Tomales Point is one of the best spots to see them. By the nineteenth century, the tule elk had all but vanished from the Point Reyes area.
Thanks to reintroduction and conservation efforts throughout the preceding century, Point Reyes now has one of the largest tule elk herds in California.
Elk can be seen while driving through the preserve, but they can also be seen while strolling along the Tomales Point Trail (just make sure to give them ample space). Elk is best shown during their mating season which lasts from August through October.
6. Look For Other Wildlife And Birds
Wildlife is one of the most interesting things to observe at Point Reyes National Seashore.
The park has over 1,500 plant and animal species to discover, as well as a variety of wildlife experiences to enjoy. There are a few of my favorites that you should not miss.
In the winter and spring, look for migratory California grey whales in the ocean. The greatest places to see whales in the park are the Point Reyes headlands at Chimney Rock and the Point Reyes Lighthouse. Gray whales migrate south to Baja in the winter and north to the Arctic in the spring.
Large northern elephant seals and harbor seals may be seen on the beaches. Between December and March, the Elephant Seal Overlook at Chimney Rock is worth a visit since there is a huge seal colony on the beach below. We generally always see many deer along the path to the Point Reyes Lighthouse observation deck.
Allow time to visit some of the park’s birding hotspots, such as Abbotts Lagoon and Limantour. During our visit to the park, we saw a variety of birds, including California quail and hawks, as well as warblers and sparrows.
Are there Mountain Lions at Point Reyes?
Mountain lions are often calm, quiet, and elusive. They are most usually seen in regions with a lot of prey and plenty of covers. Such conditions can be found at Point Reyes National Seashore. Mountain lions play a vital role in the park’s ecosystem by keeping deer and other prey numbers in check.
7. Swim At Heart’s Desire Beach
Heart’s Desire Beach, which is part of Tomales Bay State Park and is only a short walk from the parking lot, is a great swimming beach.
Heart’s Desire Beach is ideal for swimming because the seas are calm and gentle in comparison to other Pacific Ocean beaches.
As a result, Heart’s Desire Beach is particularly crowded during the holidays. Aside from swimming, there are tables along the grassy sides of the beach where you can eat. There are also restrooms available.
The parking fee at Heart’s Desire Beach is USD per vehicle. Arrive early if you need parking because they do not have cars after the parking lot is full.
8. Admire Point Reyes Beach
The spectacular Point Reyes Beach reflects the wild and windswept beauty of Point Reyes National Seashore. The magnificent sandy beach stretches for over eleven miles and appears to go on forever.
The parking area near Point Reyes Lighthouse is the finest place to get a beautiful overhead view of the beach. On a sunny day, you may take stunning shots of the famous beach, with the surf forming a white fringe down the sandy shore.
The parking spaces at North Beach and South Beach provide drive-up access to Point Reyes Beach. Dogs on 6-foot leashes are permitted, except in places where the western snowy plover breeds. Some portions of the beach are off-limits throughout the winter due to the presence of elephant seals.
Point Reyes Beach is not a swimming beach, and rogue waves have been known to carry visitors into the ocean, so keep well back from the water’s edge and avoid turning your back on the ocean. It’s a beautiful beach for wandering and admiring the surf and landscape, as well as looking for birds and wildlife.
9. Hike to Alamere Falls
Alamere Falls is a must-see if you’re up for a 13–14.6-mile round-trip hike. But be warned: it’s not an easy hike, so dress appropriately and bring plenty of snacks, sunscreen, a drink, and appropriate clothing.
Water cascades off a 30-foot cliff into the sandy Wildcat beach below. It is without a doubt one of the most beautiful waterfalls in California, but it is a difficult hike!
If you’re coming from San Francisco, start the 13-mile round trip hike at the Palomarin Trailhead at the northwest end of Mesa Road in Bolinas. This is the most well-known trail.
10. Go Kayaking Around Tomales Bay
Kayaking along Tomales Bay is one of the most enjoyable activities in Point Reyes. From the tranquil waters of Tomales Bay, which is packed with immense natural beauty, you may enjoy spectacular views of Point Reyes and the Bay for almost 15 miles.
Renting kayaks or going on a kayaking tour is a popular summer activity in Point Reyes to view the magnificent beauty of California’s coast.
The seas are often calmer throughout the day if you plan to kayak during the day, therefore early morning hours are preferable for kayaking. It’s also a terrific opportunity to spot birds and wildlife along the way.
In Point Reyes, there are numerous fantastic kayaking tours available. The most popular is a kayaking tour at night to see the planktonic bioluminescence that’s common in Tomales Bay.
11. Walk the Cypress Tree Tunnel
You’ll pass this AMAZING tree tunnel off the left side of the road on your way back to town from Drake’s Beach. To designate the location, look for parked cars along the road.
The gate is generally locked since they don’t want automobiles driving down it, but you may park on the main road and walk over the gate to walk down the tunnel. Visit around a golden hour to witness the light filtering through the trees — a photographer’s dream!
Look for signs directing you to the “North District Operations Center” along Sir Francis Drake Boulevard if you want to explore the Cypress Tree Tunnel. There is no parking lot here, however, you can park on the side of the road as long as you are entirely off the road.
Explore Other Hiking Trails At Point Reyes
Hiking is one of the greatest things to do in Point Reyes, and there are numerous trails to choose from. The length and difficulty of the routes vary greatly, and several offer good wildlife viewing and birdwatching in addition to magnificent scenery.
The following are some excellent trails to explore at Point Reyes National Seashore:
1: Chimney Rock Hike (1.75 miles) — Although Chimney Rock isn’t particularly attractive, this short hike through the Point Reyes Headlands is picturesque enough to make the trip worthwhile. You’ll pass by wildflowers and the historic Chimney Rock Lifeboat Station along the way. Before turning around, there will be plenty of possibilities for bird viewing around Chimney Rock, as well as vistas of the Pacific Ocean.
2: The Laguna Trail and Coast Trail Loop (6 miles) – This hike provides a fair picture of the Point Reyes scenery and topography, including meadows, a ridge with nice views, and the ocean. This is also an excellent track for observing animals, so keep a watch out for deer, rabbits, and coyotes.
3: Tomales Bay Point Trail (9.4 miles) – The Tomales Point Trail, located on the northern side of Point Reyes, brings you past secret beaches, the Tule Elk Reserve, and the Historic Pierce Point Ranch until you reach Tomales Point. Views of Tomales Bay, Bodega Bay, and the Pacific Ocean await you along the journey.
4: The McClures Beach Trail– It is only about a mile round trip, but it is steep and difficult. The walk descends to a picturesque cove from the trailhead along Pierce Point Road. The surf here is dangerous, so remain back from the water’s edge and keep your gaze fixed on the ocean.
5: The Estero Trail – It is a short stroll that takes you across coastal grasslands and past an ancient Christmas tree farm. We usually walk to the Home Bay bridge and back, which is about a two-mile round trip. In Home Bay, look for birds and see if you can spot leopard sharks and bat rays.
Photograph the Point Reyes Shipwreck
The Point Reyes Shipwreck, located near the town of Inverness and one of the most photographed places, is one of the best things to do in Point Reyes.
It is not one of the many natural shipwrecks that occurred off the coast of Point Reyes. It is also known as the Tomales Bay Shipwreck or the Inverness Shipwreck.
A local took the fishing boat, named Point-Reyes, to the shore intending to restore it, but he never got started. The ship washed up on shore during a storm and has been there for nearly two decades. The area of this ship is known as Shipwreck Coast since numerous ships were lost here during storms.
Snap a photo of the Bent Cypress
Point Reyes National Seashore is well-known for its spectacular photo opportunities, and the park’s bent cypresses are yet another element to enjoy and capture when you visit. Their sculpted trunks, which have been artfully wrapped with moss, are stunning.
On the way to Point Reyes Lighthouse, we noticed several bent Monterey cypress trees. The area is extremely windy, therefore it’s no surprise that the cypress trees here are bent over!
The best images are taken from the one tree nearest to the Visitor Center, which bends precisely over the road at an impossibly steep angle. We went on a bright and sunny day, and the tree was lovely, but it’s supposed to be even more wonderful when it’s foggy.
Stroll Point Reyes Station
Point Reyes Station is a small town that serves as the entrance point to the Point Reyes National Seashore.
And, despite its modest size, it’s packed with wonderful restaurants, an independent bookstore, and adorable boutiques. You’ll also discover the local gas station and grocery store if you need to refuel or get some refreshments before entering the park.
Watch Red Hawk Cheese Being Made at Cowgirl Creamery
If you like cheese, you must visit Cowgirl Creamery’s flagship site in Point Reyes Station. Their cheesemongers will assist you in selecting the ideal local, organic cheese.
Their shop not only sells their famed cheese, but it also has everything you need to put together the perfect charcuterie board or Point Reyes picnic.
Order a grilled cheese from their cantina if you’re searching for the ultimate post-hike lunch. Take your melty sandwich with perfectly toasted sourdough bread to their lawn out back for a picnic before continuing on your Point Reyes explorations.
Visit Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company
Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co. is situated on the east side of Tomales Bay, just north of Point Reyes Station. They provide farm tours and cheese tastings where you can learn about their farm and how they make cheese.
We’re all familiar with their incredible blue cheese, but they also make several other kinds of cheese, including a delectable-looking truffle cheese that I can’t wait to sample.
How to Get to Point Reyes Lighthouse
The lighthouse is located in Point Reyes National Park, which also includes Limantour Beach. The picturesque drive makes the lighthouse appear much farther away from San Francisco than it is.
You may get there through US 101, which travels north of San Francisco. Take Sir Francis Drake west to Olema, or California Highway 1 north past Stinson Beach to Olema. The trip out to the lighthouse from the Point Reyes National Seashore gate will take around an hour.
Where To Eat In Point Reyes
We’ve compiled a list of the best restaurants in Point Reyes National Seashore for you to enjoy during your visit.
- Hog Island Oyster Company
- Sir and Star at the Olema
- Tomales Bay Foods
- Station House Café
1. Hog Island Oyster Company
Take Highway 1 north for a short distance to the Hog Island Marshall Oyster Farm, the gritty mecca of Bay Area oysters.
Arrange to shuck and grill your oysters on one of the outdoor grills (all tools provided; reservations required); or, for the less adventurous, the Boat Oyster Bar is an informal outdoor café that serves raw and grilled oysters, as well as local delicacies and good beverages.
There are also one-hour agricultural tours ($25) offered. Seating at the Boat Oyster Bar is by reservation only, so plan.
2. Sir and Star at the Olema
This old roadhouse (located within the Olema Inn) attracts both rants and raves, often from customers sharing the same table, with its stunning garden views, innovative and cryptically named meals, and upscale-rustic decor that somehow integrates taxidermied animals.
The seasonally changing menu of California cuisine focuses on local ingredients; on Saturday evenings, a special prix fixe is available by request. If you want to stay longer, five upstairs guest rooms are occasionally available.
3. Tomales Bay Foods
This collection of upscale food shops is located in a renovated hay barn off the main drag and features local organic fruits and vegetables, premium packaged foods, and an international assortment of beautiful cheeses. On-site cheese production is done at Cowgirl Creamery. Grab some before heading to Cowgirl Cantina, where you can enjoy innovative sandwiches, salads, and soups both inside the café and outside in the picnic area.
This sisters-owned venture invites you to sit back, relax, sip some wine, and enjoy the flavors and scene Bolinas is known for, from the town’s laid-back lifestyle and quirky decor to the natural beauty and fresh coastal air. The wine bar and bistro’s brief but ever-changing inventive and thoughtful menus change daily based on what’s available and reflect the diversity of this region’s foodshed, which is regarded as one of the most diverse in the country.
5. Station House Café
The Station House Café has been a stalwart venue for local music and a firm supporter of local farms and food artisans since it was relocated to the space where it first opened its doors in 1974. The neighborhood restaurant delivers a mix of innovative and classic California meals made with organic seasonal produce, sustainable hormone-free meats, and wild-caught seafood. There’s daily breakfast, a happy hour on weekdays, and live jazz, bluegrass, and other music on Sunday afternoons.
Where To Stay in Point Reyes
There are various hike-in and boat-in campgrounds in Point Reyes to select from if you want to camp. Backcountry hike-in campsites include Wildcat Camp, Glen Camp, Sky Camp (currently closed due to the 2020 Woodward Fire), and Coast Camp.
There are many boat-in campgrounds on the west side of Tomales Bay. The whole list of options can be viewed here.
There are no options for car camping or RVs within the park, although there are a few close. The lists of nearby campgrounds are viewed here.
The HI Point Reyes Hostel, which offers dorm-style accommodation and a few private rooms, is the only place to stay in Point Reyes.
However, there are a few lodging options in the Inverness neighborhood on the west side of Tomales Bay.
Aside from that, the finest places to stay are in Olema, Point Reyes Station, or Marshall.
Here are some suggestions:
- Motel Inverness (Inverness)
- Olema House at Point Reyes (Olema)
- Nick’s Cove (Marshall)
- Point Reyes Country Inn (Point Reyes Station)
Airbnb has a few options around Point Reyes if you’re seeking a home away from home. My suggestions are as follows:
When Does it Snow in Point Reyes?
On average, Point Reyes Station receives precipitation 70 days per year. Rain, snow, sleet, or hail that falls to the ground is referred to as precipitation. To count precipitation, you must have at least.01 inches on the ground to measure.
The annual snowfall in Point Reyes Station is 0 inches. The average yearly snowfall in the United States is 28 inches.
Closest City to Point Reyes
This is a list of major cities in the vicinity of Point Reyes, California. A big city typically has a population of at least 200,000 people and a significant airport. If you need to book a flight, look for the airport closest to Point Reyes, CA.
- 36 milesto San Francisco, CA
- 42 milesto Oakland, CA
- 64 milesto Fremont, CA
- 78 milesto San Jose, CA
- 86 milesto Sacramento, CA
- 91 milesto Stockton, CA
- 111 milesto Modesto, CA
- 196 milesto Fresno, CA
- 198 milesto Reno, NV
- 285 milesto Bakersfield, CA
Things to Do in Point Reyes- FAQs
For many visitors, Point Reyes is a one-of-a-kind site on California’s foggy and windswept coast. If you’re planning a trip to its shores, make sure to pick up this guide to the greatest things to do there.
Point Reyes is a destination for breathtaking natural wonders and scenic escapes so pack your bags and prepare for a fantastic time on the coast.