Point Reyes National Seashore

Scenic Driving
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Lighthouse in Point Reyes National Seashore
Lighthouse in Point Reyes National Seashore (Corel)

The best place to begin your visit is Bear Valley. From Calif. 1 at Olema, a one-minute drive brings you to park headquarters. As you turn onto the entrance, you will cross the San Andreas Fault Zone. At the visitor center you will find an extensive display of exhibits, specimens, and artifacts. Other points of interest are the Earthquake Trail, a 0.7-mile walk along the San Andreas Fault, a 0.7-mile self-guided Woodpecker Nature Trail, the Morgan Horse Ranch, and Kule Loklo, a replica of a Coast Miwok Indian village.

Bear Valley Visitor Center to Limantour Beach
The impact of Point Reyes is most dramatic at the meeting of land and sea. Many such areas can be reached by car, so begin by leaving the headquarters area—all distance figures are from this point—and turning left onto Bear Valley Road. The drive will take you to Limantour Beach where you can wade, watch the birds, beachcomb, or picnic. No lifeguard is on duty. The nearby Estero de Limantour is a favorite for birdwatchers for its variety and number of birds.

Bear Valley Visitor Center to Point Reyes Headlands
A few miles past the town of Inverness, the Sir Francis Drake Highway forks. The right fork, Pierce Point Road, leads to Tomales Bay State Park, where you can picnic and swim and Abbots Lagoon, where you can canoe and watch migratory waterfowl. But pounding surf and treacherous currents prevail along these beaches, so beware. The Pierce Point Road ends at the tule elk range. Before 1860 thousands of tule elk roamed here. After an absence of almost a century, a herd has been returned to this wilderness.

If you leave the side trip to Tomales Bay for another day, continue along Drake Highway. At 8.7 miles take the road to the Mount Vision Overlook for a panoramic view of the entire peninsula.

Back on Drake Highway, head west and south to Point Reyes Beach, a windswept stretch of sand that is divided into two areas: Point Reyes Beach North at 13.2 miles and Point Reyes Beach South at 15.7 miles. These are ideal places for a picnic. But don't go in the water! The hammering surf and rip currents are extremely hazardous and the entire area is subject to severe undertow.

A good protected beach for picnicking or just lying in the sun—if it's out—is at Drakes Beach. No lifeguard is on duty here. Stay away from cliff bases. You can get food at Drakes Beach Cafe and park information is available at the Kenneth C. Patrick Visitor Center. The turnoff is at 15.7 miles from headquarters.

On Drake Highway continue south to the Point Reyes Lighthouse, at 20.5 miles. Even if you don't elect to descend the 300 steps to the lighthouse, the view can be impressive. But be prepared for fog and windy weather. The rocky shelves below are home for thousands of common murres, and sea lions bask on the offshore rocks. The lighthouse observation platform is the best place to see gray whales on their southward and northward migrations from January to April. The lighthouse and visitor center are open Thursday through Monday, weather permitting. The nearby Sea Lion Overlook is an excellent spot for viewing harbor seals and sea lions.

Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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