If you've seen a few pictures or taken a quick drive in, you might think Point Reyes is nothing more than a pretty park with a scenic lighthouse, but that's only a small part of what you can find in the 100-square-mile national seashore and surrounding 33,300 acres of coastal wilderness.
Estuaries, windswept beaches, coastal scrub grasslands, marshes and coniferous forests are just a few of the things Point Reyes contains. The infamous San Andreas Fault also runs through the park, and you can see a dramatic example of its movement on the short Earthquake Trail that starts near the Bear Valley Visitor Center. And then there's the wildlife, which includes a magnificent herd of once-endangered tule elk.
Scenes from Point Reyes
Enjoy some of our best shots in this Point Reyes Photo Tour
Point Reyes National Seashore Review
We give Point Reyes National Seashore 5 stars out of 5 for its extreme natural beauty and diversity.
When to Go to Point Reyes National Seashore
At the risk of sounding like someone from the local visitor's bureau, every season at Point Reyes has its own charms. Check this list to see what appeals to your interests.
- Whale migration: January-April
- Elephant seals: December-March
- Bird migration: Spring through fall
- Harbor seal pups born: March-June
- Wildflowers: Peak April-May
- Tule elk mating season: July-October
- Sand sculpture contest: Sunday of Labor Day1 weekend
Point Reyes Dining
Next to the Drakes Beach Visitor Center, you'll find the Drake's Beach Cafe, which gets quite a bit of praise for its food. Otherwise, you can find food in Olema or up at Point Reyes Station.
Things to Do at Point Reyes
These are just a sampling of things you can do. Stop in at any of the three visitor centers: Bear Valley (near Hwy 1), Lighthouse or Drakes Beach for more information, maps and current conditions.
- Visit the Lighthouse: To keep it below the fog, it's at the bottom of a steep staircase, making it a scenic subject for your camera. The visitor's center includes an excerpt from a lightkeeper's log and exhibits about the keeper's life.
- Go to the Beach: You'll find plenty of them, including Limantour Beach, Drakes Beach, Heart's Desire, and North and South Beaches.Limantour is especially nice for walking, sand castle-making, while the walk down to McClure's Beach is almost as pretty as it is, especially when spring wildflowers are in bloom. You can have a beach campfire by permit, which can be obtained the same day.
- Kayaking: For reasons that matter only to people who draw lines on maps, Tomales Bay (which forms the eastern boundary of the park) actually lies in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. To the rest of us, it's all the same place. Blue Waters in Marshall offers classes and rentals. You can also kayak in Drakes and Limantour Esteros except March 1 through June 30, when they are closed to protect harbor seals during pupping season.
- Ranger-Led Programs: One of the best bargains at any national park are the ranger-led programs. Check in at any visitor center for the day's schedule or browse their offerings online.
- Creative Workshops: Point Reyes National Seashore Association offers seminars and workshops for photographers, artists and nature lovers.
- Camping: The only campsites in the park are backcountry camps accessible only by a long hike and requiring reservations and a permit.
- Horseback Riding: Five Brooks Stables nearby offers guided trail rides
Point Reyes National Seashore Tips
- Natural hazards include poison oak, stinging nettle and ticks (which can carry Lyme disease). Wearing long pants and being aware of your surroundings can help keep them off you.
- Dogs can disrupt the wildlife, so their presence is limited. They are not allowed on any of the hiking trails and must be kept on a leash elsewhere. They are allowed on Kehoe Beach, Limantour Beach and Point Reyes Beach.
- Point Reyes weather varies widely and may not be what you think. Check the weather forecast before you go. At the lighthouse, it's almost always windy and very cold, and often foggy.
- If you plan to visit and/or photograph the beaches, check the time for high and low tide to maximize your enjoyment.
- The winding drive out to the lighthouse can be nausea-inducing for those prone to motion sickness. If you're one of them, you know what to do.
Details about Point Reyes
- Hours: Check website for current hours
- Reservations: Needed for the campgrounds only
- Cost: No entrance fee, but there is a camping fee and a fee to ride the shuttle in winter (see below)
- Location: 30 miles north of San Francisco, driving directions below
- How Long: Allow a full day or more
- Best Time to Visit: Depends on your interests. See below
Where Is Point Reyes National Seashore Located?
Point Reyes National Seashore
1 Bear Valley Rd.
Point Reyes Station, CA
Point Reyes Website
Point Reyes National Seashore is located about 30 miles north of San Francisco on California Hwy 1. You can get there by driving on Hwy 1 all the way just north of the Golden Gate Bridge, or take US 101 to Sir Francis Drake Blvd and follow the signs. A map will help you locate destinations inside the park.
Crowds of people flock here in the winter to see the elephant seals and whale migrations. To relieve crowding on weekends when the weather is nice, the park closes Sir Francis Drake Blvd beyond South Beach and runs a shuttle to the lighthouse. It usually operates from December through early April. You can catch it at the Drake's Beach parking lot and shuttle tickets are sold at the visitor center there.
1 Labor Day is celebrated on the first Monday in September.