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 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.

Morning in Point Reyes National Seashore
Morning in Point Reyes National Seashore
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.

abbotts lagoon, point reyes national seashore
Abbotts Lagoon, Point Reyes National Seashore

Your thoughts on "Point Reyes National Seashore"

  • Point Reyes National Seashore is a treasure. Ask any Bay Area resident where they most like to hike and the answer is likely to be Point Reyes. Tomales Bay is a wonderful kayak spot, especially when there is little wind and the bay is glassy. The hostel is a gem and is filled with people who who appreciate the solitude and loveliness of the setting.

    on February 17, 2010 at 4:38 pm Reply
  • Point Reyes is a paradise for wildlife enthusiasts and nature lovers. The place seems to be of great interest. I will surely plan a trip to this beautiful place. In addition i would like to suggest visit one of the beautiful state in India, Kerala. It is a beautiful city with palaces, art galleries, beaches, hill stations etc.

    on February 18, 2010 at 12:02 am Reply
  • This is amazing. Sort of like a little more rustic version of Big Sur. Thanks for sharing the tips, and I'll make sure to visit next time I'm in Northern California. A quick tip, if you're flying into San Francisco, and will be renting a car, the San Jose airport is often cheaper for car rentals. Also, it's certainly cheaper than Oakland, which is the other Southwest Airlines destination near San Francisco.

    on February 26, 2010 at 2:18 am Reply
  • this is wonderful! i had no idea. i'll definitely put it on a travel plan! thanks.

    on February 26, 2010 at 11:44 am Reply
  • Some good additional tips, Jack - thanks!

    on February 26, 2010 at 6:26 am Reply
  • This sounds lovely! I imagine when most people think about a trip to California they have no idea that places like this still exist there. And now that I know The Fog was filmed there, I kinda want to go. :-)

    on February 26, 2010 at 12:10 pm Reply
  • Once you get north of the Bay Area there's a ton of great spots like this along the California coast though Point Reyes is probably the largest and most well-known because it's so close to San Francisco. Everyone talks about a trip between Los Angeles and San Francisco along Highway 1 as a classic road trip, (and it is!) but Highway 1 north of San Francisco is also a gem.

    on February 26, 2010 at 12:34 pm Reply
  • I live in the US and still haven't done an across the country road trip. I will add this place to my list.

    on February 26, 2010 at 1:51 pm Reply
  • Great post! When I was in California last spring, we didn't go far enough north of SF to see Point Reyes. Now I really regret it. We did enjoy south of SF, like Half Moon Bay and Santa Cruz.

    on February 26, 2010 at 6:09 pm Reply
  • Love Point Reyes. Remember to leave your dog at home. Tule Elk and dogs, not a good pairing. If you like horseback riding at the Point Reyes National Shoreline, check out Five Brooks Ranch in Olema, California. http://writinghorseback.com/2010/02/a-horseback-riding-vacation-at-five-brooks-ranch-olema-california

    on March 22, 2010 at 12:50 am Reply
  • Hi Nancy, Good point about the dogs. The cows might not appreciate them either. I'll have to check out the horseback riding next time I'm there. Thanks for the tip!

    on March 29, 2010 at 11:42 am Reply
  • This is appealing to the semi adventurer. I really like the Abotts Lagoon it reminds me of many locations across Australia. Interesting that I have heard many people say that this part of America is quite similar to the inland of Australia.

    on June 10, 2010 at 2:47 am Reply
  • Ariel you are right Abbots Lagoon is just gorgeous. It is very much like my beloved Australia though I would add that the photograph of the Morning in Point Reyes National Seashore is stunning. This whole area, I am informed, is equally as beautiful. It has a rugged coastline where the sea breaks against the rocks. It is also home to 1000 species of plants and animals.

    on June 23, 2010 at 1:19 am Reply
  • This is often a top notch blog site. I've been back many times during the last week and want to subscribe to your rss feed using Google but find it difficult to work out the right way to do it exactly. Would you know of any instructions?

    on November 4, 2010 at 3:47 pm Reply

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