When I tell people about my favorite US travel destination they usually haven’t heard of it. Point Reyes is only 30 miles north of the Golden Gate Bridge, making it an easy day trip from San Francisco, but you’ll want to spend more than just a day there.
The peninsula is outdoorsy in a low-key way. Though it’s not your typical young backpacker hotspot (no pub crawls for miles) it’s the perfect place to relax and recharge with plenty of hiking (I recommend the trail to Abbotts Lagoon) and chances for wildlife viewing. If you’re a photographer you’ll be in heaven. Bring extra memory cards.
Point Reyes is well known for being overcast (The 1980 horror movie “The Fog” was largely filmed here) but the sunrises and sunsets are amazing. My favorite sunrise spot is the western side of Tomales Bay with a view of both the water and the mainland mountains. Speaking of which, Tomales Bay and Drake’s Estero (a tidal salt marsh on the other side of the peninsula) are the safest for kayaking and many of the B&Bs rent out gear. Point Reyes may be nearly surrounded by water, but it’s rough water. The western coast is a long stretch of sand that’s great place for a picnic, but it’s haunted by riptides and renegade waves.
A nature-lover’s paradise
The peninsula itself is made of rolling hills filled with grazing cows and elk. (The elk preserve in the northern part of the peninsula boasts the largest population of Tule Elk in California.) A picturesque lighthouse sits on the spit of land to the west of Drakes Bay and guards what’s considered the windiest and foggiest spot in the US. When it’s clear you can see blue and humpback whales feeding and gray whales passing by on their way between Alaska and Baja. Nearby cliffs overlook the local elephant seals’ favorite beaches.
When the weather turns dramatic the best spot to watch is the southern curve of land of Drake’s Bay. (This is where the Spanish Galleon the San Agustin ran aground in 1595.) Avoid the winds by taking shelter in the little cafe at Drake’s Beach and enjoy the locally grown specials at a table by the window.
Point Reyes Station
Away from the water is Point Reyes Station (actually just off the peninsula). This little town packs a lot into its few “major” streets. Its popularity among day and weekend trippers from the rest of affluent Marin County and San Francisco means art shops and gourmet grocers. KWMR is one of the finest local radio stations in the nation.
The Cowgirl Creamery Is a must. It’s always my first and last stop when visiting Point Reyes. They make some of the finest cheeses in the country (Mt. Tam, their signature double cream is spectacular). Leave extra time to sample their selection of cheeses from around the world and see if they’re giving tours. A perfect stop before a picnic on the beach.
For reasonably-priced accommodation, avoid the B&Bs and stay at the Hostelling International hostel, or at one of the many hike-in campgrounds in the park. Camping permits from the ranger station are required. Unfortunately, the closest bus stop is seven miles from the hostel and you’ll want a car (or super-strong biking legs) for exploring the peninsula.