In Point Reyes, deer and tule elk roam the grasslands, sea lions and seals bask on the beaches, songbirds flit through the coastal chaparral, herons and egrets feast in the marshes, and gray whales cruise near the shoreline. It’s almost impossible not to see wild creatures on a visit here, but to maximize your chances, sign up for a small-group tour with Point Reyes Safaris, led by a professional photographer and naturalist. Or set out on your own to one of these wildlife-rich spots:
Tule elk at Tomales Point
Majestic tule elk—a subspecies of elk found only in California—roam throughout the peninsula. The 500-pound elk were once common, but by the 1870s they were nearly hunted out of existence. Today Point Reyes’ reestablished herd numbers more than 500 animals. When the bull elks are in their “rut” (typically July through September), you may hear the males bugling or sparring with a raucous clash of 40-pound antlers. Year-round, tule elk graze near the road leading to Pierce Point Ranch. If you don’t spot them from your car, try hiking the Tomales Point Trail.
Elephant seals at Chimney Rock
From December to March, more than 1,000 elephant seals take over the beaches and give birth to pups at Chimney Rock. Easily identified by their massive, blubbery size—male elephant seals can grow longer than 18 feet and weigh more than two tons—the seals recline on the beaches, brawl with their neighbors, and make awkward, jerking movements as they scooch from sand to sea and back. To see them, park at the Chimney Rock Trailhead, then walk down the paved road to the Elephant Seal Overlook. By late spring, the show is mostly over—although smaller numbers of seals can be seen in almost every month of the year.
Birding at Abbotts Lagoon
You can spot birds everywhere at Point Reyes, but for sheer diversity and easy viewing, head to the brackish waters of Abbotts Lagoon and its neighboring freshwater ponds. Follow the trail along its edge and you can easily spot western grebes, pie-billed grebes, coots, black-shouldered kites, and Caspian terns. The autumn migration season is the best time to build up your birder’s life list, but you’ll find interesting sightings here year-round.