The combination of long rugged beaches nestled beneath steep cliffs will immediately impress you as you dip your toes into the soft powdery sand. The heavy and strong waves breaking into the rocks and exploding into mesmerizing white water splashes make this ocean view even more astonishing. All of this and even more is waiting for you at Point Reyes National Seashore – a wilderness paradise near San Francisco. Keep reading as today we have prepared the ultimate guide to plan your visit to this preserved area on the West Coast.
Location of Point Reyes National Seashore
Situated less than 40 miles to the Northwest of San Francisco, California, Point Reyes National Seashore is a protected area preserving beautiful steep rocky cliffs, deep forests and more than 1500 plant and animal species. Covering more than 70,000 sq miles, the park spreads on the territory of the entire Point Reyes Peninsula, providing stunningly beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean.
Getting to Point Reyes National Seashore
The close proximity to San Francisco, makes Point Reyes National Seashore an excellent day trip or weekend destination for anyone who would like to escape the hustle and bustle of the crowded city and enjoy a few relaxing days. At approximately 60 miles, San Francisco Airport is the closest air hub to the park. Another two Californian airports that are nearby are San Jose and Oakland International Airports. Check out the best flights deals here.
If you will be driving yourself, the journey will take less than an hour to reach Point Reyes National Seashore from San Francisco’s downtown area. Follow Highway 101, as you are crossing the popular Golden Gate Bridge. You will need to keep driving along the motorway, until you reach exit 450B towards San Anselmo. Driving along Sir Francis Drake Blvd will take you through San Anselmo, Fairfax, Lagunitas and Tocaloma. At Olema, you will have to join Highway 1, for less than a km and then turn left on Bear Valley Road. In another km, you will find a lot of signs that will be showing you the way towards the visitor center.
An alternative route is the longer, but extremely scenic drive along Highway 1, which you can join a short distance after you have crossed the Golden Gate Bridge. It is good to know that even if you do not have a car, there is a public transport, which can take you to Point Reyes National Seashore. Operated by Marin Transit, Bus number 68 leaves from Iverness Store at Sir Francis Drake Blvd every hour, seven days per week.
Working Hours and Entrance Fee
Point Reyes National Seashore is operational year-round. Working hours are typically from 6AM until midnight, however, the visitor centers tend to be closed on December 25 and hours vary based on the season.
Compared to other preserved areas, there is no entrance fee for visiting Point Reyes National Seashore. The costs that you need to have in mind are the camping fees. Depending on the number of visitors, each site charges between $20 – $50 per night. The shuttle bus, which serves as the only way to get around the park during the winter season, when Sir Francis Drake Boulevards is closed costs $7 per person.
When to Visit
Despite being a relatively well-known park, Point Reyes National Seashore rarely gets too crowded. Contrarily to popular believes, the best time to visit the preserved area is not during the summer. The period from July to September is characterized with fogs and winds, which make the mornings quite chilly. Winter is also the rainy season, but locals tend to visit the park hoping to get the chance to witness the gray whales migration. As the temperatures start to increase and the spring flowers begin to bloom, spring guarantees great clear skies, warm weather and outstanding views. Hence, best time to pay a visit to Point Reyes National Seashore is around April!
Staying Overnight at Point Reyes National Seashore
Visiting Point Reyes National Seashore on a day trip from San Francisco is a fantastic idea, however, getting to spend the night in the park surrounded by the untouched beauty and serenity of the area is even better! Keep in mind that the accommodation options within the preserved territory are fairly limited, though. Situated just two miles away from the beach, visitors will find Point Reyes Hostel. The cottage type rental units will certainly make you feel like you are spending a remote and secluded getaway. For those, who would prefer to go back to the basics, the park also offers two types of campgrounds. The backcountry campsite is only available for visitors, who will be exploring the park on foot or by bike. If you enjoy water activities on the other hand, and will be visiting Point Reyes National Seashore by kayak, canoe, or a sailboat, you can head to Tomales Bay boat-in campsite. You should have in mind that reservations are normally made more than 6 months in advance.
If you are not lucky enough and do not manage to find an available spot within the park’s territory, do not worry as there are other accommodation options in the entire area around Point Reyes National Seashore. Just 5 km away from the preserved area’s entrance, visitors can find the Dancing Coyote Beach Cottages and Manka’s Inverness Lodge. Both of these are excellent choices, which will allow you to be relatively close to the park, but still enjoy the peace and quiet.
Note: Due to the recent Californian fires, which affected the area significantly, only the boat-in campsite is open for visitors. The other campgrounds are currently closed.
Where to Eat
The next thing to consider when heading to Point Reyes National Seashore is where you can get some food from. Unfortunately, within the park’s boundaries, you will not be able to find any restaurants or cafes, so you need to have this in mind, especially if you are planning on staying overnight. In very close proximity, however, you will find numerous good places where you can grab some delicious lunch from. At Inverness, for example, you can stop by Saltwater Oyster Depot, which serves freshly caught seafood. You might need to drive a bit longer, but Sir and Star at Olema, is one of the best restaurants in the entire Marin County. You will find very rich menu offering everything from seafood to local duck livers. Last but not least, the nearby town of Point Reyes Station is home to various different types of restaurants, many of which deserve a visit. One of them is the Italian inspired Osteria Stellina, which is the perfect location if you would like to try some mouthwatering pastas and pizzas.
Facilities at Point Reyes National Seashore
Besides the previously mentioned facilities, such as the campgrounds and winter shuttle bus, there are a number of other basic facilities around the park. For example, visitors will be able to find restrooms close to the three visitor centers. Despite not having places to buy food from, there are numerous picnic areas to choose from, where you can stop by and enjoy the day. With 21 picnic tables and 5 grills, the Bear Valley Picnic Area is the largest. Water fountains, toilets and a parking lot can be found by the Bear valley Visitor Center as well. If you would like to escape the crowds, you can head to the Kenneth C. Patrick Visitor Center, where you will find a few tables and grills, some of which are just next to the beach. Overall, the facilities at Point Reyes National Seashore are quite basic, but enough to allow you to have a fabulous day at the park.
Things / Activities to Do / See
Now that you have all the basic information needed to plan your trip to Point Reyes National Seashore, it is time to dive in the fun part – all the things and activities you can see and do!
Covering the entire Point Reyes Peninsula, the park is home to over 80 miles of shoreline along the Pacific Ocean. So as you can imagine, there are at least a dozen of beaches, worth exploring. Starting with the longest and most popular, Point Reyes Beach is a 11 mile untouched beachfront. It is a fantastic spot if you would like just to take a long walk. If you do, we suggested visiting as the sun is kissing the ocean goodnight, as you will be able to admire the stunning colors of the sunset. During the day, waves can get quite strong and heavy, so if you are looking forward to some water activities – this is the spot. Always be cautious, though, as waves here can be quite dangerous as well.
Kehoe Beach is another fabulous location, which deserves to be visited. It might be just a kilometer long, but the large sand dunes, the narrow stream and the steep cliffs make the beach quite impressive and fun to explore. The soft sand feels like powder under your toes, while the dramatic Pacific Ocean waves contribute for this picture-perfect scenery.
Those who would like to follow the off-the-beaten-paths of Point Reyes National Seashore can head to the South by bike. You will be able to first enjoy the refreshing breeze and admire the breathtaking ocean views along the way. Once you reach Wildcat Campground, you will find yourself at rugged, secluded shoreline of Phillip Burton Wilderness Area. The 2.5 mile long Wildcat Beach rarely gets visitors, due to its remoteness. The dramatic cliffs rising high above the ocean, and the pristine beach quietly tucked beneath them make for a fantastic spot, which will bring you memories to cherish long after you have left the park.
Another two not so popular beaches are McClures Beach and Palomarin Beach. Both of them can be a bit dangerous and it is a better idea to visit only during low tides. What is more, they both look like small coves hidden beneath the strong rocky cliffs. That is also the reason why, reaching the shoreline can be a bit of a challenge. Narrow winding trails will take you downhill, before you will be able to dip your toes in the soft like powder sand.
Last but not least, Sculptured Beach is another quite unique spot worth exploring. As you can guess by its name, the area is characterized by the interesting rock formations. This is not really a place for sunbathing or relaxing by the beach, as the area is very rough. Throughout the years, however, the naturally formed stone arches have become home to different marine organisms. As a result, the beach is a great location for tidepooling during low tide.
If you are a nature lover and you are not afraid to explore Point Reyes National Seashore wilderness, you should certainly do some hiking while in the park. It might come as a surprise, but the protected area has over 150 miles of hiking trails, so regardless what your abilities are you will definitely find something for yourself. The Earthquake, Chimney Rock and Abbotts Lagoon trails, for example, are considered as easy, as neither of them exceeds 2 miles. Approximately 1.6 miles long, the Chimney Rock Trail is quite popular especially during the spring, when wildflowers start to bloom and create a stunning colorful carpet along the path. Visitors are also able to admire the breathtaking views of large waves breaking into the rocky cliffs.
If your furry friends will be joining on this journey and you have around 3 hours to spare, you should head to Bolinas Ridge Trail. The first 2 miles will take you through the open space, so you will be able to enjoy the Olema Valley views. Those of you who decide to follow the trail further, will enter the deep green forests of the park.
Last but not least, if you are ready for a true adventure, but also some outstanding views, you should visit Phillip Burton Wilderness. The absolutely breathtaking 30 feet tall Alamare Falls is situated to the Southern edge of Wildcat Beach. The views are absolutely spectacular, as you are standing under the majestic waterfall cascading from the rocky cliff. As previously mentioned you can bike to the Wildcat Campground, but there are also numerous hiking routes, the most popular of which is the 6.3 mile trail from Bear Valley Trail-head.
Are you ready to pack your bags and head to Point Reyes National Seashore? This wilderness paradise near San Francisco will take your breath away and you will wonder, why have you not visited it earlier!