Point Reyes National Seashore Overview

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Drakes Beach, Point Reyes National Seashore, California (Stockbyte/Getty)
Point Reyes National Seashore
Contact Details
Point Reyes National Seashore
1 Bear Valley Rd.
Point Reyes Station, CA 94956
Visitor Information: 415-464-5100

The craggy coast of Point Reyes National Seashore is situated just north of San Francisco, where the headlands of this beguiling peninsula jut out ten miles into the Pacific Ocean. The end result is an unusual proximity to the 20-mile-wide "highway" along which gray whales migrate, providing awesome vistas for this parade of mammalian giants, particularly at Chimney Rock and the Point Reyes Lighthouse. And that's not all—you can also see the fun-loving antics of harbor seals, sea lions, and the sheer sloth of elephant seals.

Further inland, the coastal scrub and grasslands provide sanctuary for a rare herd of Tule elk that nearly disappeared by 1860. Now a healthy herd of 400 elk roam the 70,000 acres of pristine seashore. Hikers can roam the seashore as well to explore 147 miles of trails and sleep under the stars in one of the four designated backcountry camping areas.

The seashore acquired its name on January 6, 1603, when Spanish explorer Sebastian Vizcaino sailed north out of Monterey to explore the California coastline. After enduring a one-day stormy anchorage in Drakes Bay, Vizcaino sailed back out to sea, past the rocky headlands that he named La Punta de Los Reyes (Point of the Kings) on the same day as the Feast of the Three Kings.

Watch Whales, Seals, and Sea Lions
If you want to see marine mammals at play, Point Reyes National Seashore is wet and wild. An elephant seal overlook at Drake's Bay offers an impressive vantage point from which to view the 5,000-pound elephant seals as they form a breeding colony from December to March. Listen as the adult male, called a bull, lets out deep bass saxophone-like bellows through his overhanging nose (proboscis). Watch bulls as they barrel into one another like WWF wrestlers in male dominance contests to impress the ladies. There is also a California sea lion overlook where a 54-step staircase descends the face of a cliff to a platform where you can watch sea lions basking in the sun year-round. This is also a good perch from which to view the California gray whale migration in April. The gray whale undertakes the longest migration of any mammal on the planet: 10,000 miles from Alaska to the shallow lagoons of Baja, California.

Explore Marine and Wildlife Refuges
Get your scuba gear on and climb into a submerged shark cage in the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. Here you can come face to face with some of the largest great white sharks on the planet. Great white sharks cruise the waters surrounding the Farallon Islands where they snack on abundant sea lions. And just think, the islands are only 28 miles west of the Golden Gate Bridge. If you think sharks are for the birds, then perhaps you will prefer the Farallon Islands National Wildlife Refuge, which provides refuge for over 200,000 seabirds, the largest and most diverse colony south of Alaska.

Kayak Tomales Bay
Paddle the glassy waters of Tomales Bay with its sheltered coves, tidal marshes, remote beaches, shallow lagoons, and forested ridges. The 15-mile-long bay is a pupping site for harbor seals and is the largest unspoiled coastal embayment on the coast of California. Its waters are also a major spawning ground for Pacific herring, as well as an oasis for crab, cod, perch, and halibut. Along its shores, brushy hillsides are home to coastal scrub and Bishop pines with their tight-fisted cones that only open up when exposed to the heat of forest fire. 

Published: 6 Oct 2008 | Last Updated: 13 Sep 2011
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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