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Know Before You Go: Point Reyes National Seashore

Know Before You Go: Point Reyes National Seashore

This coastal preserve an hour north of San Francisco offers dramatic scenery, elephant seals, and a stunning cypress tree tunnel

Jutting dramatically out into the Pacific, the West Coast’s only national seashore extends across 70,000 acres of a large triangular peninsula that appears to have broken away from the Northern California coast. The coastal preserve of Point Reyes National Seashore, located one hour north of San Francisco, protects more than 1,500 animal and plant species in its watery utopia of beaches, lagoons, estuaries, and ponds that surround a densely wooded interior. Here, breakers pound remote beaches, wisps of fog wash over coastal hills, elephant seals brawl on the sand, and tule elk roam in wild meadows.

In this lush green-and-blue wonderland, binoculars and hiking boots are necessary equipment; kayaks are optional but useful. The park’s main visitor center at Bear Valley is a great place to start exploring, and kids love its interactive displays; smaller visitor centers are located at Drakes Beach and the Point Reyes Lighthouse. Get updates on whale watching (typically January to mid-April), wildflower displays (best in early-to-late spring) and hiking trail conditions. Year-round, the Cypress Tree Tunnel—sometimes called simply the “Tree Tunnel”—provides an almost too-perfect-to-be-real approach to the white, art deco–styled KPH Maritime Radio Receiving Station. Whether you are just driving through Point Reyes or planning to spend an entire day (or more) there, this page offers several helpful itineraries.

For camping, the park itself has four campgrounds; there are also numerous other nearby campgrounds. Visitors interested in wildlife watching can head to Tomales Point to see tule elk, especially during the fall rutting season. Then move on to 200-acre Abbotts Lagoon to witness rich bird life (more than 45 percent of North America’s bird species have been spotted at Point Reyes). For beach walks, try dog-friendly Kehoe Beach or kid-friendly Drakes Beach; for more adventurous hikes, the park offers multiple options, as well as a maps page that visitors can check for information of trail closures and safety pointers. When the tide rolls out, explore the tidepools at McClures Beach. When the fog rolls in, head to Bear Valley and hike trails through dense forests of Douglas fir and Bishop pine.

Five Brooks Ranch in Little River offers the opportunity to explore the seashore from a completely different vantage point: atop a trusty steed. With access to more than 120 miles of trails, expert guides lead horseback riders on trips lasting anywhere from one hour to an entire day (pony rides are also available for youngsters). The popular Fir Top Trail ride climbs 1,300 feet through towering groves to the Inverness Ridge, offering glimpses of the roaring Pacific below.

For more iconic ocean views that are well worth the effort, take the 308 steps down (and yes, up on the way back) to the 1870s Point Reyes Lighthouse. At the end of the day, enjoy a meal of locally grown oysters and artisan cheese in Point Reyes Station or Inverness, then retire to one of several intimate bed-and-breakfasts or country inns.

Know before you go: Point Reyes National Seashore hours are 6 a.m. to 12 a.m. daily.

Point Reyes National Seashore is currently following guidance from the White House, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), state and local public health authorities and is using a phased reopening approach to increase access to the park. 

Point Reyes National Seashore address:

1 Bear Valley Road

Point Reyes Station, CA 94956

Phone: (415) 464-5100

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