Point Reyes National Seashore is one of my favorite coastal California destinations. I mean, Greyson and I got married there, so of course I love it. Point Reyes is an easy trip from Tahoe, so when we’re feeling a need for saltwater, that’s usually where we’ll head. The fact that his parents live there and we have a free place to stay doesn’t hurt either!
The Point Reyes area has everything you could want in a coastal California oasis. There are breathtaking vistas, sandy beaches, breaking waves, wildflowers, wildlife, hikes for every ability level, a historic lighthouse, world famous cheese, farm fresh food, and much more. It’s only ninety minutes from San Francisco and even closer to wine country.
After dozens of trips to the area, I’ve amassed quite a list of recommendations, so here are just a few of my favorites.
Whales, Elephant Seals, and Other Wildlife
PRNS is famous for its varied and interesting wildlife. Depending on the time of year you visit, you might see whales, elephant seals, river otters, bobcats, weasels, harbor seals, tule elk, foxes, and dozens of species of birds. You will definitely see the happiest cows in California. If you want to learn more about wildlife viewing in PRNS, click here or visit the Bear Valley Visitors Center. Elephant seals are among the most charismatic of the megafauna at PRNS, and if you want to spot the huge nosed males that give them their name, your best bet is June & July or November through March. You’ll have a good chance of spotting some variety of elephant seal in Point Reyes every month except August, and even then you might get lucky.
If you are an avid birder, Abbot’s Lagoon is a popular location and nesting site for snowy plovers, and you can spot birds of prey like osprey, peregrine falcons, red tailed hawks, kestrels, and more throughout the seashore.
The ocean side of Point Reyes is a great place to spot the gray whale migration as they head back and forth between their northern feeding grounds of Alaskan waters to the warm shallow seas of Baja in the south. January is the best time to see them southbound, while March and April is when they head back north. I prefer the northern migration, because the mothers are traveling with calves, so their usually moving more slowly and closer in to shore. Since whale watching at the lighthouse is so popular, the park operates a required shuttle on weekends and holidays from Christmas to Easter.
Hiking, Biking, and the Great Outdoors
While Point Reyes is worth a visit year round, II love visiting in the spring. The hills are be green and the wildflowers are going off. While it’s usually impossible to completely avoid fog there, spring gives you a good chance for sunny days. Even days with some fog, it will often roll out for a few hours.
When it’s foggy, there are still great places to explore. My favorite hike for wildflowers is the Tomales Point Trail, a 9 mile out-and-back, fairly flat hike that also lends itself to whale watching and Tule elk spotting. Chimney Rock trail is another one known for wildflowers, and it’s only 1.75 miles round trip with barely any elevation change. If you’re looking for something with more of a climb, get to the highest spot on the point with the Mt. Wittenberg Loop. While the high point doesn’t have a view, there are spots along the way that will give you an incredible vantage on the seashore.
Despite being the birthplace of the sport, Marin County isn’t known for being friendly to mountain bikers. However, we often bring our bikes for a quick ride on the Estero Trail. It’s nothing gnarly, but you’ll get gorgeous views of the bay. Be sure to stop on the bridge and look for bat rays passing underneath! Watch out for cows. If you ride all the way out to Drake’s Head, you’ll get awesome views of the whole seashore.
In the summer, Tomales Bay is warm enough for swimming due to how shallow it is. Chicken Ranch Beach on the west side of the bay in Inverness is a good location, though it can get crowded on nice weekends. Parking is on the road only, so you might have to walk in for a bit to get to the beach. Tomales Bay is also a great place to kayak, since it’s usually so flat and calm. Blue Waters Kayaking rents kayaks and offer guided trips and lessons. You can kayak up to some secluded boat only beaches pretty easily.
During the fall, there’s bioluminescence in Tomales Bay and you can go on night kayaking trips to check it out. Several local outfitters offer guided tours and provide the boats. I still haven’t done this yet, but it’s on my to do list.
Eating and Drinking
Marin County has some of the best farm to table restaurants in California, and you’ll be able to find fresh, local produce, meat, and seafood wherever you go.
For quick sandwiches, burritos, and picnic supplies, I like Inverness Park Market. You can head right next door to the Tap Room for an excellent sit down meal as well. The Tap Room serves breakfast on the weekends – try the chilaquiles. For wood fired pizza, Cafe Reyes in Point Reyes Station is my favorite. If you’re looking for a meat-heavy option, there’s a tiny Marin Sun Farms butcher shop/restaurant just outside of downtown. Vegetarians be warned, there might be nothing on the menu that doesn’t have meat.
Point Reyes is famous for its cheese, and yes, the Cowgirl Creamery Mt. Tam Triple Cream lives up to the hype. You should also try local specialties Toma and Pt. Reyes Blue while you’re here. If you’re cheese obsessed, you can even follow the California Cheese Trail!
Finally, my favorite place in Point Reyes Station – Heidrun Meadery. Heidrun makes their mead champagne style, so it’s fresh, bubbly and not overly sweet. It’s definitely not your typical mead. Each varietal comes from honey made by bees exclusively collecting pollen from a specific flower. The varietals available vary season to season and year to year, but some favorites are almost always on the menu, like California Honey Blossom and Macadamia Nut. My current favorite is Arizona Desert Mesquite, which is a little weird but wonderful. Tours are by appointment only, but you can stop in to taste and buy during business hours.
I’m biased, but my favorite place to stay is the Cottages at Point Reyes Seashore in Inverness, which is owned and operated by Greyson’s parents. It’s within walking distance to the beach, has a pool, hot tub & tennis court, some of the rooms are dog friendly, the prices are affordable, and it’s the lodging that is closest to the National Seashore entrance.
Other places we’ve recommended are Tomales Bay Resort, Osprey Peak Bed & Breakfast, Motel Inverness, and The Lodge at Point Reyes. If my budget was unlimited, I’d stay at the hipster’s dream the Inverness A-Frame:
“Blythe design co created this space as a personal sanctuary from our busy city lives and a place to recharge in a truly gorgeous cabin with the wilds of West Marin just outside our doorstep… This Bohemian Modern A- Frame is a two bed two bath spacious cabin located in Northern California in beautiful West Marin county. …Commune with nature, connect with loved ones or gift yourself a personal retreat with a view amongst a forested acre of bay trees, redwoods, and mature oaks….The A-Frame is a sanctuary for all to rest, recharge and create. Designed with a ‘slow’ pace in mind, our hope is that you enjoy every part of your stay; from making breakfast in our open kitchen, to choosing the perfect record to put on as the sun sets, or relaxing on the deck in the heated seats under a moonlit sky. When the weather turns enjoy watching the storm pass over black mountain cozy by the fire with a hot drink in hand.”
There are also lots of AirBnB and vacation rental options, as well as campgrounds in the area.